For Wilmot Schott, the Beaufort Water Festival means memories of his first date with wife, Julie, watching his kids participate in festival activities and hosting family picnics by the bay.
A volunteer with the festival since the 1980s, the senior building inspector for the Beaufort County Building Codes Department is this year’s commodore — a role that involves organizing more than 500 volunteers.
“You always hear the saying, ‘Bigger is better,’ ” Schott said. “But I don’t really think it could get any bigger. It’s a 10-day event and the longest community event in South Carolina.”
With that in mind, Schott said he planned the 54th annual event to project the “Beaufort spirit” to residents and festival newcomers.
That spirit encompasses hosting a traditional Lowcountry supper for more than 3,000 people, a series of pre-festival sporting events that involve as many residents and tourists as possible and a week’s worth of outdoor fun for what he calls “the Water Festival family.”
“It’s a great, group,” he said. “I feel in my heart, I could be in Pennsylvania and call on any one of them for anything and they would do it.”
Over the years, Schott said the festival has not only become a Beaufort tradition but a family one, too. Even those in his family who have moved away return every year to celebrate the town they grew up in and their love for life on the water.
Julie Schott said she remembers festival days as a child, when kids would have washtub races instead of raft races and there were contests to see who could sit on a block of ice the longest.
Thirty-five years ago, she and her husband had their first date at a Water Festival dance. Julie Schott that year was a member of the Pirettes, the group of teenage girls who serve as festival ambassadors throughout the year.
As young adults, they partied on shrimp boats, which often hosted live music during the festival. As a married couple, they took their own boat to the festival, docked at downtown restaurants and drifted home with dinner on board. And they taught their children a love for the water by crabbing, fishing and tubing, they said.
Schott said his experiences and his wife helped him come up with this year’s theme: “Rivers of Everlasting Memories. Family. Friends. Fun.”
“The whole time you come through the festival, you grow with it,” Schott said. “Just like anything, I really feel when you get to the top, you look back and think of all the good times you’ve had, the good things you’ve been able to do for the community, and you think how lucky you are.”
Schott said Beaufort residents have taught him what a close-knit community is all about — taking time to know one another, watching out for neighborhood kids and supporting efforts to make Beaufort a stronger community.
For those who don’t know Beaufort, Schott said the festival will show them how a community comes together.
“Julie and I have traveled a lot, but there’s no place to compare to this,” he said. “I really think when you live in an area, you can sometimes take it for granted, and I just hope I never take this place for granted. It’s a gorgeous place and a great area to raise a family.”