PLANT CITY, Fla. (AP) — The man who has led Plant City's Strawberry Festival for 43 years has resigned, saying it's time for a change.
Al Berry, 78, attended his last board meeting as director on Tuesday.
"I just feel like it's time. We need new blood. I've had a real good run at it," Berry told The Tampa Tribune (bit.ly/1n7aUyn ).
Under his guidance the festival became Plant City's signature event, doubling its duration to 11 days. The festival, which started in 1930, added big-name entertainers — starting with an appearance by Dale Evans, wife of cowboy actor Roy Rogers. More recently, the festival has added top shelf country music entertainers, including Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift.
Festival general manager Paul Davis said the group will miss Berry's leadership.
"I don't know of anyone who works harder for the festival and the community than Al Berry," Davis said. "His enthusiasm is contagious."
Berry is a former radio broadcaster who says he's proud of what the e adds that he's proud of what the Strawberry Festival has become.
In the early days, the Strawberry Festival consisted of risque sideshows along a midway.
"We'd had girlie shows for years at the festival but local pastors got together to protest. There was such an uproar that the board eventually got rid of them," he said.
The event is now very family-friendly.
While he'll miss his job, Berry plans to stay involved, serving as a director emeritus. And, he'll continue in his role as the festival's mascot — Mr. Berry — greeting people as they enter the gates.
Retired city manager Phil Waldron will replace Berry after serving as an associate director for 16 years.
He said it's difficult to take Berry's place "because Al can't be replaced."
Information from: The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, http://www.tampatrib.com