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Begonia Festivals Final Bou/ By Calvin Men beginning the end K started in No vember. It was the end of the month when Laurie Hill, president of the Capitola Begonia Fes tival, got a call Golden State Bulb Growers executive Justin Brown. The company supplied the begonias for the festival and was instru mental in the promi nent growth of the festival. But the com pany's patriarch Barclay Kirk Brown died weeks earlier. At the same time, the company was pivoting away from growing begonias, be ing the last grown of tuberous begonia bulb in the U.S. Begonias would still exist, just not in the Western Hemisphere, Hill said. The reactions have been all over the spectrum, Hill said. Organizers fielded tear ful calls from people in disbelief, answered questions from people who have come to the festival for decades and quelled the anger of people demanding organizers continue the tradition. In its heyday, the festival was a spectacle to be seen. It featured an old-fashion home and business decoration competition. Skeletons for the begonia floats could be seen in any space remotely near Soquel Creek, said Nels Westman, a longtime participant and former festival committee member. One of his fondest memories is a tradition that's not done any more. Years ago, when the festival and bego nias were more robust, the weekend would end with a cathartic if not chaotic destruction of the floats. Something dubbed the begonia wars where people would snatch flowers from the floats to hurl at one another. "It was basically destroying the float. A little bit of the Burning Man vibe to it," he said. But interest in the flower and festival waned in the last de cade compared to years before. Whereas the festival had more than a dozen floats in various categories in its prime, festivals of recent memory were lucky to get five or six. "I mean it was 65 great years of fun and creativity," said West man, a 74-year-old resi dent. "But the trajec tory was clear: Begonias were becoming less popular, they were less available." As inevitable as the end seemed, Westman said it still hurt when he heard about the decision to end the festival. While the 2017 Begonia Festival was still 10 months away, Hill and others were already well into plan ning for it when they received the call. They convinced Brown to grow begonias for the 2017 festival and give a dignified end to the long tradition. "We want to go out with a bang. We want to celebrate," Hill said. "We want to show our appreciation for de cades of free begonias." That sentiment is what's driving the preparations for the fi nal festival. Organizers are asking for historical photos from past par ticipants and asking the community to come out in full force for the last festival. Hill said another group is discussing carrying on aspects of the festi val. The sand sculpture competition and the "If you want to be a part of the last Begonia Festival, please come out and participate in whatever way you can," she said. The festival may end but its legacy won't. The official committee behind the event is offi cially calling it quits but horse shoes game. "I'm encouraging that group — as they're beginning to talk — to be prepared to make an announcement in September so people know that there may be something to follow," Hill said. SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL FILE PHOTOS

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