As has been reported on the eve of Fun Fest 2021, this is the 40th anniversary of our summer festival. Because I had a small hand in its creation and a somewhat larger hand in its execution, I thought it might be worthwhile to attempt, as best as my poor memory will allow, to document where Fun Fest came from and how it got off the ground.
I recall that I went on the Kingsport Chamber board of directors in 1978. To the best of my recollection, the Kingsport Chamber held a planning retreat at Wolf Laurel in 1979. Fun Fest was one result of that board retreat.
The Kingsport community, including Colonial Heights and Indian Springs, was very divided at that point in time. Indeed, there remains a somewhat unharmonious relationship even today, unfortunately. The city of Kingsport had initiated serious processes to bring Colonial Heights and portions of Indian Springs into the city.
The city was not loved, to say the least.
Combined with the athletic rivalries of the time between Dobyns-Bennett/Sullivan South, Dobyns-Bennett/Sullivan Central, and Dobyns-Bennett/Sullivan North, there was much ill will.
The late Frank Brewer was the moderator of the chamber board retreat. He presided over a discussion of where Kingsport stood as a community, and he sought from the board possible solutions to the “ill will.” Someone, and I do not remember who, suggested the chamber consider creating and sponsoring a community festival whose central theme would be: “Community Unity.”
The next question the group attempted to address was what would be the format of the “festival” and, of course, where would the sponsorship money come from. As was common then and also today, it was suggested the large employers pony up to the bar, make donations, and help with logistics. At the time, the largest employers were Eastman, of course, Mead Paper, AFG Glass, and Arcata Graphics. All agreed to put money into the project along with many small businesses and professional firms.
It also became apparent that many volunteers would be needed, but some person would have to be the coordinator, with unpaid volunteers assuming the role of officers and directors. Once again, the employers stepped forward, and for several years — commencing in 1981, the first year of Fun Fest (that name evolved) — a loaned executive from one of the large employers would serve as the coordinator at no cost to the Fun Fest organization, which was part of the Kingsport Chamber.
Frank Brewer was the first chairman of Fun Fest, occurring, as noted, in 1981. The T-shirts, parade, ice cream at Allandale, concerts, and the many other events were gradually added. From 1981-1988, the loaned executives served as coordinators, and the Fun Fest Board was made up of representatives of sponsors, community groups, and community activists. The festival grew every year, and by 1989, when the writer served as chairman, the major sponsors had made it known it would be better if Fun Fest/the Chamber hired the coordinator.
We did hire an individual who, ultimately, did not work out. That left the job of coordinator, cook and chief bottle washer to Bob Miller, who, at the time, was also the executive director of the Chamber.
While I certainly had to perform duties that were unanticipated when I became Fun Fest chairman, Bob Miller pulled off the lion’s share of “coordination” along with the tireless assistance of many volunteers. Our concerts drew thousands, and the fireworks, sponsored then and now by Eastman, culminated a great, if incredibly hot and humid, week. I still maintain my 1989 T-shirt was the best ever.
Many have served as chairman, from the late Frank Brogden to 2021’s dynamic Elaine Washington. The Chamber hired Lucy Fleming many moons ago to become the full-time coordinator and mother hen to all chairmen, officers and event coordinators. Lucy has assumed emeritus status, but she sure did perpetuate the festival along with Miles Burdine and a cast of thousands.
It was an honor to work on Fun Fest. I believe the purpose of the festival, “community unity,” was achieved.
There are thousands of back stories about calamities, divas, wild times, and thoroughly entertained children which probably were not documented for posterity.
So, as we zoom into Fun Fest 2021 (and not the remote Zoom, thank God): Eat at the Taste, enjoy the concerts, march in the only parade around here that everyone can participate in, and eagerly anticipate those Eastman fireworks.