This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom Festival, one of the oldest civic celebrations in Virginia. During the 1930s interest in the Apple Blossom Festival was declining and profits were in the red. A decision had to be made whether to continue the Festival or drop it completely. The turning point came in 1938, when Mr. Tom Baldridge was appointed Executive Director of the Festival.
Baldridge, born 1909 in Jackson, Tn., had come to Winchester, Va. to manage the Capitol and Colonial theaters. At the same time, he also held a full-time job as a promoter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, organizing promotional events and movie premieres on the East Coast. With his Hollywood connections, Baldridge was instrumental in bringing stars such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Lucille Ball to Winchester, and the festival has never looked back since.
“I’ve been in the celebrity business,” Baldridge told The Winchester Star in 1997. “Celebrities would thank me for the publicity, but I was just doing what my boss paid me to do. They thought I was being special to them, so I asked them to be a part of the festival. No one turned me down.”
Working with Baldridge was “an experience,” said Ginny Trenary, who worked at festival headquarters for 34 years before retiring in 1998.
“If you didn’t work with Mr. Baldridge, you really missed out,” she said.
Baldridge would work all night and through weekends for the festival “with maybe a catnap every now and then,” she said.
“It was nothing to have a meeting at 11 o’clock at night,” Dutton added.
Some late nights, a crack could be heard in the office, Trenary said. Baldridge was smacking himself to keep himself awake.
“That was a Mr. Baldridge thing,” she said.
Baldridge retired as executive director in 1968.