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With new leadership, Rattlesnake Festival will live on

The Thomas Promise Foundation will take over the annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival from the San Antonio Rotary Club.
The Thomas Promise Foundation will take over the annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival from the San Antonio Rotary Club.
Published Mar. 1, 2017

SAN ANTONIO — Just weeks after the announcement that a 50-year-old local tradition had come to an end, there's been a revival.

Come the second weekend of October, the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival will go on as usual, this time under the direction of a local nonprofit organization, the Thomas Promise Foundation.

"A lot of people in town are happy it is going to continue after 50 years," San Antonio Rotary Club member and former festival organizer Betty Burke said.

Last week, San Antonio Rotarians met with several organizations that stepped up to take over the festival, which had become too overwhelming for the 15-member club. After mulling it over, the club decided on the Thomas Promise Foundation, particularly because the original altruistic and educational mission of the event — which is centered around venomous snakes and gopher tortoises — would continue.

"When we heard that the Rattlesnake Festival was ending, we reached out to them," said Dianna Thomas, president of the Thomas Promise Foundation. "We didn't want to see a 50-year event go away. With us being a nonprofit that only uses our money here in the local area, it seemed like a perfect fit to keep the history going."

Now in its fifth year, Thomas Promise serves 1,200 children in 25 local schools by distributing backpacks filled with meals and snacks so those in need will have food to eat over the weekend. The idea for the foundation's Operation Backpack program came after Thomas noticed that her daughter, Brooke, then a first-grade student at Centennial Elementary, was putting a hefty dent in her lunch money account. It turned out that Brooke was purchasing food for classmates in need. The Thomases delved further, saw there was a need and decided to do something about.

That the Rattlesnake Festival will continue to benefit the children of east Pasco County is a big plus, Burke said, noting that the foundation's solid presence in the community will help assure future success.

"This is a big event to put on, and you need a lot of help to do that," she said. "They already have good relations with sponsors, so they will not have problems getting sponsors. They have relations with the schools, so they should be able to get volunteers with the schools."

The event will go on much as it has in recent years, Thomas said.

"Fifty years is something to be proud of. We are definitely honored that (the Rotarians) are allowing us to take this over for them so it won't go away," she said. "Our main goal is to keep it where it is, have it on the same weekend, in the same location, with the same people."

Contact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.