By Danza Johson/NEMS Daily Journal
VERONA – After 150 years, the old gal showed she still knows how to party.
Nearly 500 people attended the sixth annual Verona Heritage Festival where they helped celebrate the 150th birthday of Verona, the oldest chartered town in Lee County. Even though the day was filled with music, family fun and plenty other festival activities, this one felt a little bit different, according to some.
“This isn’t a festival this year, it’s a party for our favorite girl and her name is Verona,” said Johnny Matthews, who has attended all the previous Heritage festivals. “When you’re talking about a town that just turned 150 years old, the word heritage is the perfect name for it. Verona is where it all started for Lee County. I don’t care if you live in Tupelo or Saltillo, if you are from Lee County, your roots are right here.”
Even though the name of the festival is heritage, the theme of the day was history.
James Bean and Bobby Kelly both grew up in Verona but have not lived there for many years. Bean, who lives in Jackson, said he doesn’t get to visit home much but being a part of the 150th celebration was special enough to come.
“I was going to be in Starkville this weekend anyway and had no plans of coming home,” said Bean. “But when Bobby told me about the festival today I couldn’t stay away. Verona is a great little town and for it to be 150 years old is amazing. When I tell people where I’m from they have no idea what I’m talking about. All they know is Tupelo. But Verona was here long before Tupelo.”
Ward 4 Alderman Julian Riley is Verona’s resident historian. Riley said those who didn’t attend the celebration skipped out on a piece of history.
“Verona is only going to turn 150 once and no other town in Lee County can turn 150 before Verona,” said Riley. “So I am proud to say I’m from here and I’m proud to see so many people here enjoying our town.”
Tupelo is getting ready to celebrate its 140th birthday this week, and Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. stopped by to wish Verona a happy birthday.
“I have family ties to Verona,” said Reed. “One of my relatives helped to start the Bank of Mississippi right here in Verona, which is now BancorpSouth. So I have some roots here as well. It’s a great town.”
Several new events were added to the festival this year, including a checkers tournament and pony rides for the children. Riley beat out Mayor Bobby Williams to win the checkers crown. But the bread and butter of the festival stayed the same.
Many people came to see the wedding re-enactment of Elvis’ parents Vernon Presley and Gladys Smith. Riley said he believes the King’s parents got married in Verona.
Amanda Kellum played the role of Gladys and Josh Green played Vernon. The couple is said to have been married on June 17, 1933, in Verona by Robert Emmit Kelly, the justice of the peace.
“You can’t get this in Graceland in Memphis, you can’t get this in Tupelo at the Elvis Presley Birthplace, you can only get the wedding of Vernon and Gladys right here in Verona,” said Mary Lee Ware. “Now that is history. No matter who else has Elvis stuff, it all started in Verona with that marriage.”
Matthews said he’s glad he got to see the 150th birthday of Verona, because he doubt he’ll be around for 200.
“I’m 73 now so It’s a pretty good bet that I won’t be at the next party in 50 years,” he joked. “But there were people who celebrated the 100th who aren’t here for this one, so it all levels out I guess.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.