0414GARRISONaudGarrett Saunders talks about his 19-year association with the Garrison family and the annual Easter egg hunt. He served as the announcer at Sunday's event.
HOMER - Never were there any expectations it would grow so huge, let alone earn a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.
But the Garrison family's annual Easter egg hunt did just that, drawing thousands of people through the years to its green, open fields off Ga. 51. It had become for many families a multigenerational tradition.
"I see people here today who ... hunted with me in 1959," said Mack Garrison Jr., who kept the event going after the passing of his grandfather, father and uncle.
After 50 years without ever canceling a hunt because of weather or other factors, the Garrisons are bowing out as the event's sole organizers. Garrison cited finances, including spending $10,000 alone for the eggs, and the exhaustive preparation to put on the event.
The news cast a slight pall over Sunday's event, where workers were sharing stories and emotions during the traditional lunch preceding the hunt.
"It's kind of sad. We've grown up with Mack and the family, so it's kind of a sad day," said Wilma Hill, who helped with the event for all but two years.
The first hunt grew out of the desire of O.S. Garrison, Mack's grandfather, to give back to employees and church members. He held an egg hunt in the front yard of the home of his son, Herbert, Mack's uncle.
"The second year, he opened the door and told all the churches in the community to come up and have a good time with us," Garrison said.
"The next year, he opened it to the school system. And after the school system, it went on the radio and went public."
Mack Jr., whose father "Buster" also was a primary organizer, was 4 years old at the time of the first hunt.
"I don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do every one after that," he said.
In the early years, "we were using fresh, off-the-farm-that-week hen eggs, boiled, colored and dyed and hidden individually in the field, and that (number) got as high as 72,000, plus about 50,000 candy eggs," Garrison said.
In the mid 1980s, Herbert's youngest son did a school project.
"He gathered all the information from all the years that the hunt was put on and submitted it to (Guinness) and got it entered as the world's largest (egg hunt)," Garrison said.
"Records are going to be broken. We held (the record) for eight years, maybe, and after that, it got broken by some city or town in Florida. We never intended to set a record and we never intended to get it back."
A sign on the property, just off Ga. 51, proclaims the site as the host of Georgia's largest Easter egg hunt.
This past Sunday, hundreds of children scampered across the grounds, dodging anthills, to pop the candy delights into brightly colored baskets.
Hunt, by the way, is too strong of a word. You couldn't go more than a few steps without stumbling across an egg.
The real competition was in the search for 100 plastic eggs that gave the bearer the choice of one of three prizes - a live rabbit, stuffed rabbit or an Easter basket.
"I just get a joy of being able to look out there and see all those kids and remember and fantasize about me being 5, 6 years old and know what's going through their heads as they run through that field," Garrison said.
Garrett Saunders, the announcer at Sunday's event, helped with the event for 19 years after moving to Banks County from Atlanta.
"The Garrison family has been very good friends of mine - they're like family - and anything I could ever do to help them and return all the favors they have done for me over the years, I'm glad to do," said Saunders, who teaches and coaches at East Hall Middle School.
"It's great to see all the kids (who) come out and get to enjoy this," he said. "My own two boys are here, and it's just fun to be part of."
As far as the event drawing to a close, Saunders shakes his head.
"I hope it's not, you know. I hope that the community leaders will step up and make sure that this is not the last one.
"This is something the Garrison family has done for a long time out of their own pocket. And in this day and time, with the economic situation, it's been very tough for them to be able to continue to do it, if they don't get some help from outside sources.
"... If it is (the last), I'll be real sad and I think all these people out here will be sad."
Garrison expresses the same wish, saying he hopes community groups will help out.
"If they do, I'll work with them any way I can," he said.