Dunwoody’s Lemonade Days. Here’s how it all began.

Lemonade Days opens April 24 and runs through April 28 at Brook Run Park. Before you go, take a minute to learn a bit about its history.

By Kathy Florence

This story first appeared in the Dunwoody Crier and in the Dunwoody Preservation Trust newsletter in April 2018 to recognized the 20th anniversary of the Dunwoody tornado.

First there was the wind. Then there were trees. And then lemonade. 

The F-2 tornado hit Dunwoody just after midnight. It was the week of Spring break for DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett county schools.

Twenty years later and that simple sequence has proven to define so much of our city — both in its resilience and profound capacity for pulling together in time of need, and for the spectacular and treasured community celebration we enjoy each April.

The wind came in the wee hours of April 9, 1998, in the form of a series of F-2 tornados that wreaked havoc through two states and then zenithed its force onto Dunwoody. The grim aftermath was wide-spread and paralyzing.

But not for long.

In a spectacular showdown of Mother Nature vs. human nature, Dunwoody rallied. Neighbors helped neighbors; community, county and federal leaders came to assist in phenomenal ways; the churches and synagogues formed an Interfaith Action team; and a host of fearless leaders stepped forward to coordinate the efforts.

None the least of which, was Joyce Amacher. Co-founder of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, Joyce and a team of volunteers quickly founded the Replant the Dunwoody Forest initiative with the lofty (and fully realized) goal of replanting 20,000 trees. 

By the tornado’s first anniversary in April 1999, the community had much to celebrate. A ceremony was held on April 9 at Brook Run to commemorate the victims and rebuilding efforts, followed by a community-wide Mass and reception at All Saints Church, and potluck dinners organized by individual neighborhoods. That weekend was filled with the planting of 900 more trees, the inaugural Replant the Dunwoody Forest 5K through the streets of Kingsley, followed by an a community prayer service.

By April of 2000, Dunwoody had made lemonade from its calamity and Lemonade Days was born. Under the direction of the DPT, the 5K race became the Lemonade Days 5K and the event included a children’s carnival on the grounds of the Cheek-Spruill House, complete with pony rides, a petting zoo and face painting. Games, including a homemade beanbag toss and balloon-popping games were made by volunteers and children played for tiny trinket prizes. The highlight of the three-day event was a home tour of seven homes that had been destroyed and rebuilt following the tornado.

A year later, Lemonade Days 2001 opened with an outdoor art show at the Shops of Dunwoody sponsored by the Dunwoody Arts and Crafts Guild, followed by a second home tour, this one also including several historic homes. The event also repeated the road race and carnival games at the Cheek-Spruill House.

By 2004, Lemonade Days had been moved to Brook Run Park. The homemade carnival games, pony rides and an inflatable moonwalk were relocated to the grounds of the city’s new park and the celebration opened with a theater production featuring Dunwoody performers in a show created just for Lemonade Days in the now-demolished Brook Run Theater.  The Fine Arts and Arts and Crafts Guild held shows and sold wares around the theater and the area of the Veteran’s Memorial. The 5K race ran through the park.

A similar line-up took place for Lemonade Days 2005 when Stage Door Player’s created the two-night Broadway-style production and the festival line-up included a rock-climbing venue, a Sunday family picnic and Sunday night musical performances. 

It was in 2006 , however, that Lemonade Days as we know it today began. 

A contract was signed with Peachtree Rides to bring full-scale carnival rides and midway attractions to Brook Run Park. Peachtree Rides’ owner Ray Guthrie had doubts for the success. A long-time carnival owner, he warned then-DPT Co-president Danny Ross that Brook Run was too remote to attract visitors and suggested instead the parking lot of Perimeter Mall. But Ross insisted, seeking a country fair-style event filled with corn dogs, funnel cakes and ferris wheels. Guthrie agreed, but brought only a minimal number of rides, fearing low attendance.

But the community came in droves. The days-gone-by ideals of an old-fashioned carnival resonated with families, children, teens and seniors, and Lemonade Days quickly became Dunwoody’s largest and favorite community festival.            

Since that time and under the guidance of past chairs Tom McGurk, Jeff Glick, Lisa Victory and Hope Follmer, the festival has grown in scope, expanded to five days, and welcomed new features each year. The major fundraiser for the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, proceeds have funded the organization’s efforts throughout the community, including renovations to the city’s landmark Cheek-Spruill House, and have been solely earmarked to the rebuilding and refurbishment of the historic Donaldson-Bannister Farm since 2010. 

A befitting testament to the mantra, “When life gives you lemons… make lemonade,” Lemonade Days is a welcome and beloved treat for springtime in Dunwoody — and its bountiful history makes it sweeter still.