The creativity and ingenuity of Imperial Valley women has shined at the core of every Palate and Palette Fall Festival since its start in 1959.
“It was always organized by women,” Fall Festival President and Chairman Frances Rice said during a conversation in mid-July within Sts. Peter and Paul Episcopal Church in El Centro.
The church’s annual fundraiser gained popularity throughout its 60 year run as the premier wine tasting and art show event to launch the fall social season, explained Rice.
“There were a lot of older couples at these, but there were also young people,” Rice said. “They all loved the opportunity to dress up.”
Patrons to the annual Fall Festival of Palate and Palette were treated to a formal affair showcasing a variety of local artwork displayed all along the church walls. Artists’ entries included watercolors, oils, acrylics, mixed media and photography. Accompanying the art were wine, beer, exotic pâtés, savory cheeses and fresh fruit with something to satisfy everyone’s palate.
“They had it really well-organized,” Rice said, recalling the group of women that had led the Fall Festival committee when she first joined in 1997.
Throughout the years, committee members have grown the Fall Festival into a formal occasion which at its height hosted more than 800 event goers with more than 70 unique art pieces on display.
Each festival, the committee would decorate centerpieces and string lights along the church’s back courtyard. A section of the area was also designated for a live jazz band to perform as guests mingled throughout the evening event.
However, beyond the festival’s dazzling decor and lively music, was a consistent team of dedicated women working together to chop, arrange and carry out trays of beautifully arranged appetizers from the church’s community room.
“There was a way of doing it, a way we had done it and a way it worked,” Rice said. “Every tray was labeled and every item was prepared according to a schedule.”
By 2004, Rice was asked to officially lead the festival’s logistics as committee chairman. At the time many of the original organizers were no longer able to devote as much time to the committee as they were either relocating out of the Valley or could no longer help due to health reasons.
“They asked me if I would take over the chairmanship of the Fall Festival and I said only if the people that have been doing their certain jobs… the ticket sales, the cheese buying, the grocery buying, only if those people would continue doing it,” Rice recalled. “Well it wasn’t very long before the person who was doing the art said, ‘I’m 80-years-old and I can’t do it anymore.’”
Luckily for Rice, committee members waited until after her first year as chairman to slowly transition out of event planning. As a result future years came to rely more heavily on Rice’s leadership to offset the lack of committee involvement.
“I had it done as efficiently as I could possibly figure it out,” she said. “Little by little I have made those kinds of changes.”
Rice held the committee’s last Palate and Palette event in 2019, marking the church’s 60th year hosting the fundraiser and Rice’s 22nd year.
“The pandemic came so it was a natural break for us,” Rice said.
The fundraiser’s unique ability to be both refined and affordable has left many former festival guests longing for its return to the Imperial Valley’s social calendar.
“This was my favorite event and I was so disappointed when I heard it was no more,” Imperial resident Marty Dineley said during a conversation in August. “It was fun to talk, eat and meet new people I had never met before.”
The opportunity to discover local art, try delicious food paired with a robust array of wine and beer made the event an absolute treat for couples, friends and newcomers alike.
“The first ones I went to had hundreds of people,” Dineley recalled.
Despite its official end in 2019, the legacy of the dedicated women who established Palate and Palette will continue to live on as the festival finds a new home at the Imperial Valley Food Bank.
“I’m really pleased to have turned it over to a group that does so much for the community,” Rice said. “We were trying to do things for the community with this event and the Food Bank does a great job of that.”
The community will be able to experience a fresh take on the traditional event during the Imperial Valley Palate, Palette & Pallet festival hosted by the I. V. Food Bank this fall on October 27th.
To learn more about the event and the women heading the local festival read on to page 16. f