Thousands of people flocked to the 43rd annual Irmo Okra Strut at the Irmo Community Park this year. The festival began Friday evening and ran throughout the day Saturday with plenty of music, local entertainment, an hour long parade and plenty of festival food and okra.
There were plenty of people in line waiting to eat okra but one man deemed the festival man took to wearing more than a few pounds of okra. Dwayne Schumpert lives for festivals across the state and in bordering states and on Saturday he was known as okra man.
“It all started with the Okra Strut,” said Schumpert, “I just wanted to do something to be odd and different.”
Wearing between five and six pounds of okra, Schumpert said it took him about three hours to create his costume. He enjoys meeting people everywhere he goes and standing out in the crowd. There was one time at a Columbia Fireflies baseball game when he wore a hat with plastic baseballs. He said that some guys exclaimed, “It’s the festival guy.”
“People have come to expect the weird stuff so I have to keep it up,” said Schumpert. In fact, he remembers meeting a Chinese couple at the Taste of Atlanta and the translator mentioned to Schumpert they had never seen anyone with utensils on someone’s head. They requested a picture to take back home with them.
After the Okra Strut festival is over, Schumpert is attending the Taste of Charleston, Taste of the Town in Myrtle Beach, Taste of Charlotte and also the Pelion Peanut Party. If there’s a festival, attendees can expect to see Schumpert nearby.
Schumpert is not the only okra man having a good time. The Lake Murray Rotary Club are the owners and sponsors of the Okra Man float. Okra Man is 45 years old, said Joel Collins, explaining Stan Folk ordered it and eventually gave it to the service club. Okra Man welcomes all festival goers at the front of the entrance allowing for many photo ops.
The Rotarians are not the only service club working the festival. The Lake Murray-Irmo Woman’s Club were busybodies serving up pounds of okra as fast as the people lined up. Lake Murray-Irmo Woman’s Club are the founders of the festival who had a mission to build a library for their town. That library currently stands as the Irmo branch library of Lexington County.
Nanette Butler is president of the woman’s club and said they’ve already gone through 22 cases on Friday night and are well on their way to exceeding that Saturday. Each case holds about 20 pounds of okra, Butler said. She adds, “We’ve gone through lots of okra.”
Today, the woman’s club still donates to the Irmo library, said Butler. Other community projects they fund include scholarships for Dutch Fork High and Irmo High along with Leeza Gibbons’ Care Connection organization.
Featured image: The Okra Strut even united USC and Clemson fans like Erin O’Neal and June Cannon (photo by Natalie Szrajer)