Chester's HILLarity festival offers smiles for city that deserves it

10/16/2010 12:00 AM

10/16/2010 9:55 AM

If there ever was a place that deserved some hilarity, it is Chester.

Today comes just when Chester needs it. The city, with the downtown on the hill, is a place that in the last three months has seen only bad news. Chester, the city and county, hasn't seemed to be able to catch a break.

Today, though, everybody gets a smile.

Today is the 19th Annual "HILLarity" - the festival that shows that Chester is a place of broad shoulders and smiles. A day when Chester spit-shines itself for the rest of the world and asks them to come and visit.

Do yourself, and Chester, a favor - go.

Today is not a day in Chester to worry about cholesterol.

Today is a day to take a hand greasy from fried foods that are terrible for you - but taste like heaven - and extend it to a friend or stranger.

Today is when Chester shows what most there know already - that Chester is not bad news.

"We are overdue this one day when all of us get together and smile together," said Mitch Foster, Chester's mayor.

There is no denying that recent events - a shoot-out at a now-closed nightclub, more gunshots and deaths outside the county hospital emergency room - have hurt Chester's image.

That applies to its own self-image, as well as how others see it from the outside.

The county has the fifth-highest unemployment in South Carolina.

There was an anti-violence march a month ago that, rightfully, ran on the front page of this newspaper as so many demanded an end to senseless violence.

But that stuff is not what Chester is most days and nights. For most of the proud, good people who live there, Chester is not sirens. It is today's streets of frying fish and funnel cakes. It is friendly.

It is home.

I asked Lt. Furber Gregory, an 18-year veteran of the Chester Police Department, what the goal of today's HILLarity festival is. Gregory did not hesitate: "Smile."

"Last year, there was no trouble at HILLarity, and we sure plan that there won't be any this year," Gregory said. "We have all our officers working - not because we expect trouble, but to be out there among the good people of Chester."

Today, all those good people who do get up and go to work every weekday, or help out those who aren't working, get a chance to prove it - right there in the middle of it all today.

Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey will be doing what he does best - talking non-stop. Roddey will be live on the radio, a streaming emcee and salesman for Chester.

"You walk down the street at HILLarity, and you see black and you see white, you see people who have a few dollars and a few who don't," Roddey said Friday afternoon as he prepared to broadcast the Chester High School football game. "But what you see is a place where we care about each other no matter what we look like or if we have a dollar.

"I guarantee that somebody comes to Chester today, they leave happy."

Some years, the festival has drawn as many as 30,000 people - triple the population of the city of Chester.

Today the weather will be great. The downtown is gleaming.

Chester the city, and Chester the county, are waiting to catch a break.

Here's hoping they catch one today.

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