MIDDLETON — Tomorrow and Saturday's Middleton Pumpkin Festival will have pumpkin carving, cider, lunch, face-painting, magicians — seemingly just about everything. Just about everything, that is, except the full-time participation of the two people who founded the festival 24 years ago.

Selectmen agreed this month to name the festival after Geri Shipley and Georgia Lewis, who scrounged free pumpkins from area farmers. Shipley said, "We put it together, little by little, and it's grown."

Amy Ogden Benoit, then 9, was there for the very first Middleton Pumpkin Festival. Now she and co-worker Barbara Masse Zagami have teamed up to keep the tradition going. Benoit said it wasn't easy taking over the tradition, with most of the work coming in just the last month.

"It's been a little crazy, but I think we've got it under control," she joked.

Both Zagami and Benoit have long family ties to Middleton and see the festival as a way of giving back. Zagami said she's been friends with Shipley for ages.

"I want to live this tradition on for her," she said, adding that she hopes the festival will continue for decades more.

Lewis, 84, died at her home in June. Shipley said she'd been trying to recruit other people to run the festival so she could retire.

"It was fun at first but not anymore," she told selectmen this month to laughter.

Shipley recruited her help on a trip to dentist Frank J. DiMauro. Hygienist Benoit and receptionist Zagami volunteered to run the festival. Shipley said she still put together a book of advertising, but she hopes to ease out of that next year.

"I'm training two very wonderful young ladies, very bright and wonderful, to take over the daytime thing. And then next year I'll train them to do the pumpkin ad book, and then I'll be out of it," said Shipley, 79. "I'm ready to retire."

Fall festivities

The Middleton Pumpkin Festival opens at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Fuller Meadow School with pumpkin carving, candy and cider.

Festivities continue at noon Saturday at Howe-Manning School, with food, face-painting and more. A magician and a balloon twister start at 12:30 p.m. Howe-Manning students will collect canned food or gift cards for the Salem Mission.

On Saturday night, festivities move closer to the Middleton Green, Central Street and Maple Street, opening with a 5:30 p.m. costume parade, music until 8 p.m. and hayrides on the Haunted Row beginning at 6 p.m. In case of rain, only the evening activities would be rescheduled to Sunday night.

The complete schedule of events is online at tinyurl.com/midfest08.

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