By Leanne Cook
The world is watching the Olympic Games in Tokyo this week — including Trion High’s own Brody Malone (click sports), while Georgia commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Olympic Games held in Atlanta in 1996. Here in Northwest Georgia, Summerville is simultaneously celebrating its contribution to the 1996 Olympics with World Friendship Week, leading up to the first annual Friendship Festival Saturday, July 31, in Dowdy Park.
In 1995, the World Friendship Flag Project, promoting peace and friendship, across the world, began in Summerville. It was spearheaded then, and is cheered on today, by John Turner, now retired but previously an art teacher at Chattooga High School and Rotary International’s high school student club advisor in Summerville. Thanks to efforts by Turner and many others including Summerville’s world-renowned folk-artist Howard Finster, Summerville has become known as the “Friendship Capital of the World.”
According to Turner, “Howard Finster spent his life spreading a message of love, compassion, and friendship. This project was one way that I, and Rotary, could help spread that message worldwide. The world’s largest friendship flag [literally 20′ x 30′] has been to, and flown over, almost every part of the world. Here in Georgia, it has flown from the peaks of Brasstown Bald to Lookout Mountain and Stone Mountain, and was taken to the lighthouse on Saint Simons Island. Friendship, in the form of this flag that features Howard’s own ‘seven spirits of friendship,’ has gone around the world. And we are just getting started.”
Summerville Main Street will host the festival as a celebration of unity and hope for world peace. The festival is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature events such as a recognition of Rotary International’s District 6910 adult and student clubs at noon, a “Sister Cities in Friendship” Pedestrian Parade of Flags & Banners in the park at 1 p.m., and an old-fashioned hymn singalong at 3 p.m. Throughout the day attendees can enjoy live music, food by at least ten food vendors, free children’s activities, miniature train and pony rides, and more.
The week leading up to the festival has also been proclaimed as a “Week of Friendship,” by the City of Summerville. Each day activities such as Take a Walk with a Friend Day (Sunday), Buy a Friend a Cup of Coffee Day (Monday), Thank you for Being a Friend Day (Tuesday), Take a Friend to Lunch Day (Wednesday), Go Shopping With A Friend Day (Thursday), and the celebration of International Friendship Day on Friday will invite residents and businesses throughout Summerville and all of Northwest Georgia to actively participate in friend-making activities. “If there were ever a time the world needed friendship and peace, it’s today,” said Summerville Mainstreet Manager Susan Locklear, originally from Lindale, but a resident of Summerville for more than three decades.”People who visit us always exclaim what a friendly, welcoming city Summerville truly is, and this first festival, which we believe will only grow in the coming years, is the perfect embodiment of our spirit.”
Interested vendors, civic groups, businesses, or municipalities wishing to participate are encouraged to contact Summerville Main Street via email for registration.
Learn more about the original mission of the World Friendship Flag Project, the involvement by Rotary International’s District 6910 (with clubs in Rome, Cartersville, Calhoun and Summerville) and the student clubs sponsored by Rotary. In the compilation video below from the 1990’s, you can see original footage of world-famous folk artist Howard Finster and hear the story of how John Turner created the World Friendship Flag:
Learn more about the World Friendship Flag Project here.
Photos courtesy of John Turner.