In 1974, Hardeeville's Marine Rescue Squadron wanted to create an annual fundraiser that would bring the community together as a celebration of Southern culture.

"As Skipper of the Hardeeville Marine Rescue Squadron then, I was the chairman for about 11 years," says Bill Stanley, who again presides as Catfish Festival chairman this year.

He attributes the 40 years of success to "the support of the community and the hard-working volunteers over the years, as well as the support of the city of Hardeeville, the Jasper County Council, the Hardeeville Marine Rescue Squadron, the Hardeeville Chamber of Commerce and our sponsors.

"But most of all, the public that attends from all over the Southeast as well as our hometown locals," he adds.

This year's anniversary festivities kick off Sept. 19 with rock music by Harry Santana, followed by a children's parade and wrapped up with salsa band Son Del Coqui.

Plenty of rides and food will also be on-site, including catfish stew and of course, fried catfish.

"This event allows people of all walks of life to enjoy their community as a whole. There is no admission cost for the entertainment and due to the variety, it allows us to share our different cultures with one another," Stanley says.

On Sept. 20, the Grand Parade starts at 10 a.m. featuring Miss July pageant contestants, who range in age from newborn to 99 years old.

Following the parade, local bands take the stage, including Saved by Grace, Graham's Turnout, Mark Bonds and The Holiday Band, a two-time Beach Music Band of the Year.

Dance performances, a cornhole tournament and a catfish stew competition round out the fun, with fireworks capping off the weekend's celebration.

Stanley notes that "40 years is special in anything. It is a demonstration of how successful the festival has been and it's never-ending appeal to the community and visitors from other areas.

"And I would like to personally invite everyone who reads this to come out to the Catfish Festival and enjoy Friday or Saturday or both days with us. Hope to see you there!"