Get to know a Maconite: Carolyn Crayton

Carolyn Crayton was struck by the beauty of the Yoshino cherry trees as she drove down Ingleside Avenue in 1970. She was new to Macon and envisioned creating a role for herself within the community.

“I literally dreamed when we moved here that I would line the streets with cherry trees,” she said.

William A. Fickling Sr. had been donating cherry trees to locals for several years. When the Craytons first arrived, they received a gift of their own.

“Mr. Fickling gave us three cherry trees to welcome us. They are still living in our front yard,” she said.

Crayton holding one of the many honors she has received over the years.

After thousands of cherry trees had been planted around the city, Crayton founded the International Cherry Blossom Festival in 1982. She is also the founder of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, which, in 1974, was one of the first to partner with Keep America Beautiful.

Crayton helped Macon become an affiliate with Keep America Beautiful because of her connections with other beautification projects. She was involved with organizations in Tennessee and her home state of North Carolina. Both of these organizations beautified areas in Chattanooga and Greensboro.

The Macon-Bibb Commission reduced the amount of litter in the city by 88 percent within its first few years, she said. Along with former mayor Buck Melton, they upgraded the city’s disposal methods. The commission introduced recycling and replaced older tin trash cans with covered, roll-out containers. The new trash containers were jokingly called “Buck’s buckets,” Crayton said.

Crayton wanted the Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the city’s beauty and also one of its most generous residents: Bill Fickling Sr.

“When the festival originally began, I really wanted the meaning of the gift from Mr. Fickling to shine. He didn’t want praise for anything, but it was a gift of love that created beauty for this community,” Crayton said. To this day, she is humbled by the outreach and support from residents in keeping Macon beautiful.

“I had a volunteer base and the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, and they loved the idea of continuing to plant the trees and to celebrate every March,” she said.

The festival, which originally began as a tribute to Fickling on his birthday, was a huge success and from there its growth ”just wouldn’t stop,” Crayton said. The festival’s organization stopped recording the number of cherry trees once the number exceeded 360,000. The Fickling Family Foundation continues to donate cherry trees each year.

Crayton has fond memories of her involvement with the Cherry Blossom Festival; she is a life member on the board of directors. She also remains on the board of both the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and Keep America Beautiful.

“It is an amazing thing that both the International Cherry Blossom Festival and the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission have grown to the height that they are now at,” she said.

Painting of Wesleyan Woods during Cherry Blossom.

Because of her hard work and dedication to her community, Crayton has received recognition worldwide. She has been awarded the Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson Award, The Queen Mother Award in England, as well as the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. She is one of 15 women to have received this award from the Japanese government since its inception in 1875, she said.

Crayton is humbled and honored to have served her community in such a meaningful way. She hopes that Macon’s residents will continue to support the festival and the beautification of the city. She sees the youth as the future of creating a cleaner, safer town.

“I want our students to always be made aware of the importance of keeping our community clean and green and beautiful. Education is so important in our lives. However, love is even more important. We have to learn to love each other and work together.”