The Catfish Stomp returns to Elgin Saturday, marking 37 years since the first festival in 1975. Former Elgin Mayor Pete James recalled its inception as a concerted community effort, just as it is today.
“I was elected to council 1975 and Ms. Eva Bowen was on council as well,” James said. “Now, Ms. Eva was a person that would get behind you and get you to do something. She encouraged me to get a committee together and we had a parade which was successful. Then in 1976, which was the bicentennial of the country, Ms. Eva said again why don’t we have something like Sally, SC.
“So I got a committee together which formed the first Catfish Stomp. Sunny Smith was the one who came up with the name.”
According to James, Smith was working for the S.C. Department of Agriculture in public relations at the time and did a great job getting the word out.
“Sunny was our publicity man and I was chairperson of it and stayed chairperson for five years. He would send out news releases and there were people as far as Ohio who told me that they had heard about it on the radio. It ended up exceeding our expectations,” James said.
Bringing truth to the old saying that many hands make work light, James notes that there have been many individuals that contributed to the success of the Stomp during the festival’s 37 years. He recalled a few of the folks that have given their time to make the festival possible.
“The first head cook was Ross Boulware. Jim Salter and Madge Strickland headed the parade. Idell Ray worked at school and did the serving. If I have left out any names, I am sorry. Many wonderful people have worked at the Catfish Stomp … whether passing out fliers or peeling potatoes, everyone has an important role to play,” James said.
Strickland remembered when Smith came up with the name.
“I was sitting in the room when we voted on the name. There were a lot of folks who where catfish fishermen and just liked to eat catfish,” Strickland said. “Lem Wooten in particular could cook a good catfish stew. It just seemed to be the right fit.”
Funds raised at the festival have traditionally gone to various groups in the community, depending on the areas of need. Strickland recalled that, initially, the funds were collected to help the fire department purchase equipment.
“At times we raised a lot of money. Some of the money went to help with the fire department, the building of a library, money went to the schools and to various things in the community,” James said.
He admitted the current festival differs from others, mainly due to the growth and development of the town.
“We used to use the old school to serve the food, that is where the Food Lion and those other stores are now,” James noted, “but the town has a green space now so most of it will be held there under tents. There are also new volunteers who bring fresh ideas. Some folks have been working there a long time, too, and have a lot of experience -- George Marthers’ daddy, Vic Marthers, was involved in the cooking, and George helped out as a boy. Now George is heading it.”
James said he will not be directly involved in the Stomp this year. He has an old car and might drive his car in the parade, but is leaving the organizing to Marthers and his crew.
James demurred when asked who makes the best catfish stew.
“There are only two types of catfish stew - good and gooder,” he replied instead.
Marthers, who serves as chief of the Blaney Fire Department, said Saturday’s stomp will include the traditional parade, live music, 600 gallons of catfish stew, fried fish and “all the fixin’s.’”