by DANNY WADE | Senior Editor
Although Strawberry Festival President Anne Short has known whom she wanted to select as her general chairman, the announcement became official last week. Mitzi Privitt will be festival general chairman of the 86th West Tennessee Strawberry Festival. The duo of Short and Privitt will make for an exciting, fun team to lead next year’s Strawberry Festival.
Short said she began thinking about a general chairman immediately after last year’s president, Shane Lynch, asked her to be his general chairman, even before Short accepted.
“I knew who I wanted,” Short recalled. “My list consisted of Mitzi and Jerry Privitt. I wanted either one because if you get one, you get the other.”
Short approached Privitt after last year’s chamber banquet and asked if she was interested in being general chairman.
“I stood there and had one of those ‘you gotta be kidding me’ moments. I had no idea that was coming. It was pure silence, which is odd for me,” Privitt joked.
Privitt and Short have known each other for many years. Their daughters, Brigham Short and Allie Privitt, were in dance school together, and performed and competed on stages across West Tennessee. The two ladies bragged on their daughters, saying Allie and Brigham would always be the top in their categories. Both families have built floats that their daughters rode on in parades. Now, their daughters are grown young ladies, but Short and Privitt have remained close friends.
Short said Privitt’s passion, enthusiasm and experience are key elements that made her the perfect choice to be general chairman and the following year, be president.
But before Privitt said yes, she and Jerry talked it over. There was a big hurdle that was keeping Privitt from saying yes—Allie’s graduation. Allie was set to complete graduate school from the University of St. Augustine in Dallas, Tex. to get her doctorate in physical therapy. Graduation would be during Strawberry Festival week. Then, Allie’s graduation got pushed back.
“It was divine intervention,” Privitt said. “At that moment, we knew it was meant to be. The next time we met, I gave her a high-five!”
Privitt has been involved with the Strawberry Festival for many years, but the thing she is looking forward to the most is attending every event—something she has been unable to do since so much of her time had been spent in the float barn building floats.
Privitt recalled how she got the job of being the official float builder for the Strawberry Festival, a job she has held for 31 years.
“In 1993, Mike Barker (who was festival president in 1982) and Danny Smith (president that year) were looking for a float builders,” Privitt recalled. “I had built floats for the Gibson County Fair for two years and other festivals. They asked me to be the Strawberry Festival float builder and I took the job.”
The next part of Privitt’s story was very interesting. Privitt said one day she was at the barn, rolling around on the ground and underneath a float when President Smith came in, along with Jerry Privitt. Smith had asked Privitt, who is his brother-in-law, to check the floats’ tires. This was the very first time Mitzi and Jerry had met.
“Jerry started coming down to the float barn,” Privitt said. “I had to build a float that wasn’t started. He helped finish the float in two days and stayed until four in the morning to roll it out and get it in line (on Main Street) for the parade. The Strawberry Festival helped me find my hubby!”
Over the years, JP and Mitzie have built over 600 floats. The majority were for the Strawberry Festival, but built for other festivals across West Tennessee. Once she built a float for a festival in Nashville that was hauled in a semi-truck.
Privitt has finally given up the position of official float builder and is in the process of finding her replacement. Even though she does not hold the position, she and other float builders plan to hold float building workshops with hopes of having more floats in the Strawberry Festival parades. Beverly Bolton, Tammy Turner, Teresa Lawry, Bonnie Cagle and Glenda Lane will teach everything from the basics, to how to build the frame, to the finished product.
Privitt said there is a game plan to find the new float builder. She also offered advice to those who may be new to building floats. She says to start out small and not take on a big float project.
“Don’t start out with a big float—it’s a work in progress,” Privitt said for first-time float builders. “It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s about building memories.”
Short and Privitt are already looking forward to the first full week in May for next year’s Strawberry Festival. They have discussed the importance of keeping tradition, while keeping it fresh. The 86th West Tennessee Strawberry Festival is set for May 5-11, 2024.
“We want to honor the tradition, embrace the present and look forward to the future by looking at new ideas,” Short explained. “We are lucky to have the great leadership and direction of the Chamber of Commerce, especially Events Coordinator Beth Culpepper. They work tirelessly for the Strawberry Festival. Our job is to promote, provide new/fresh ideas and be ambassadors of the West Tennessee Strawberry Festival.”