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Baileyfest celebrates 25th year of community togetherness, honors event founder Sam Bailey

By Staff | Oct 20, 2010

Sam Bailey founded Baileyfest 25 years ago.

The 25th annual Baileyfest, hosted by the Bailey’s Center Merchants Association (BCMA), will take place this Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Bailey’s Center, located on the corner of Periwinkle Way and Tarpon Bay Road.

While the BCMA is thrilled to be celebrating the silver anniversary of this cherished community tradition, this will be the first year that Baileyfest will be without its founder, Sam Bailey, who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 87.

“Around this time 25 years ago, Sam was in the throes of just about single-handedly putting together this event that we call Baileyfest,” said Bailey’s General Store Manager Richard Johnson. “It’s one of those keystone events that Sam was very proud of. Community was always very important to Sam. You saw that in his life here on Sanibel and in his life in Tampa.”

It was Sam Bailey’s passion for his Sanibel community that made him create Baileyfest 25 years ago.

“The original intention of Baileyfest, which we carry on today, is giving back to the community. It’s our way, as members of the Bailey’s Center Merchants Association, of saying thanks to the communities of Sanibel and Captiva for supporting our businesses, which allows us to support the community. Without one, we can’t have the other,” Johnson said. “Sam had another huge tradition focused on the community, which is Islands Night. Baileyfest and Islands Night will continue on and they’ll live on past Sam and everybody else, hopefully. We’ve actually already started laying the ground work for Islands Night.”

BCMA members welcome guests to Baileyfest 2009.

This year’s Baileyfest will feature many of the traditional elements that Sanibel and Captiva residents have come to know and love: a wide variety of games for the kids, food and beverages, the crowning of Baileyfest King and Queen, mule and wagon rides, pony rides, a bounce house, incredible raffle prizes from the BCMA and lots of live entertainment.

“Sam didn’t like professionalism. Hiring a bunch of people to come help put this event on was not his idea of a fantastic Baileyfest. His idea of a fantastic Baileyfest was all of us rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty and getting involved in putting on the event,” Johnson said.

“But, at the risk of offending Sam, we will have a little bit of professional entertainment. The Hat Boys, a local duo that plays music from the 1950s and 60s, will be performing. We’ll also have a young man demonstrating his immense yo-yo talents.”

The Baileyfest stage will also feature performances from the BIG ARTS Community Chorus, the Kellyn Celtic Arts Irish Dance Academy, The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater and much more.

Johnson said that this year’s event would take place in tribute to Sam and his contributions to Baileyfest and, in honor of Sam, Island Cinema owners Randy and Kim Bacik are going to play two special films throughout the event.

Lily Lockard enjoys the cotton candy at Baileyfest 2009.

One film, Johnson said, features Sam and Francis Bailey at the Community House telling stories about growing up on the islands. The evening of story-telling which took place a few years ago was captured on film by Rusty Farst, who edited the footage and added photographs chronicling the Bailey boys’ life on the islands.

The other film is a tribute that was featured at the celebration of Sam’s life at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, held shortly after Sam’s passing.

“Rusty Farst, who is a magnificent cinematographer, created an eight minute film he titled ‘In His Own Words.’ It’s Sam Bailey telling his own story on the island,” Johnson explained, noting how grateful he was that, in true Sam Bailey fashion, the community pulled together to make the celebration of Sam’s life an incredible event.

But the 2010 Baileyfest will serve as a continuation of that well-attended event — more than 500 people showed up at the Historical Village to pay their respects to the island icon.

“There will be a little bit of sadness this year because Sam’s not there, yelling at us to get things done at the last minute,” Johnson said, laughing at the recollection. “We used to have to yell at Sam to keep him from going out there and doing all the work. The man was 87 years old and he still put in more than a full day’s work at Baileyfest.”

Johnson also quoted Salli Kirkland, who coined the phrase, “What would Sam Do?”

“And I think what Sam would do — if this happened to one of us — would be to continue on the tradition and invite everyone from the community. He would keep moving forward and I fully believe that he would expect us to do the same,” Johnson said. “My wife Mead and I feel that it’s very important that the history and the traditions that have been built, not only in the Bailey family but in the Bailey business, continue. Our goal is to continue to let the business to evolve, just as it has over the past 111 years.”

The BCMA is made up of Bailey’s General Store, Bailey’s True Value Hardware, The Grog Shop, Nick’s Place, Hillgate Communications, Island Cleaners, Island Cinema, Sanibel Barber Shop, Lily & Co. Jewelers, Sanibel Shell Automotive, Select Vacation Properties, Video Scene and Coffee Bar @Bailey’s.

“And we all hope everyone in the community comes out and joins us,” Johnson said. “As Sam would say,’This is for you, so don’t miss it.'”

All proceeds from the 2010 Baileyfest will benefit several non-profit organizations on Sanibel and Captiva.