(March 7) LAKE TAHOE, Nev. — The National Watermelon Association’s 92nd annual convention drew a record attendance and raised a record amount of money.

More than 400 people attended this year’s convention at Harvey’s Casino Resort on Feb. 22-26, compared with 350 from last year, said Bob Morrissey, executive director of the Plant City, Fla.-based association.

They got to see the Alabama Watermelon Queen, Candice Celeste Fralish, crowned 2006 National Watermelon Queen.

The association’s annual auction raised more than $472,000. One bid raised $1,700 for a toilet seat decorated with watermelons.

The auction raises about 75% of the association’s annual funds, Morrissey said.

Last year’s auction raised $312,000, and the 2003 auction had been the association’s best, raising $426,000.

Increasing membership was a major theme this year. Morrissey said membership had increased by 30 since last year’s convention, to a total of 631 members, and he encouraged state chapters to aggressively pursue members.

“Our goal is to have 200 new members before Asheville next year,” Morrissey said.

The 2007 National Watermelon Association convention is scheduled for Feb. 22-25 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., he said. In 2008, the association plants to have its convention in Orange Beach, Ala., and in 2009, the association has chosen Charleston, S.C.

During the Feb. 25 awards banquet, the association honored the following:

  • The marketing award went to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., and was accepted by Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables;

  • The membership award went to the North Carolina Watermelon Association, Raleigh, for recruiting 19 new members in 2005;

  • The outstanding service award was given posthumously to Vern Highley, the association’s public affairs director, who died Jan. 17.