SOMERS POINT — Bud Kern would be happy if he could see what the annual Good Old Days Festival hasn’t become.
The 35th edition of the festival, held Saturday at John F. Kennedy Park, is still free, still an end-of-summer celebration for the entire town, and still organized by a dedicated group of volunteers.
It’s certainly bigger. More people attend to listen to live music, eat hamburgers off the grill, view antique cars and watch their children on pony rides, but it hasn’t become anything it wasn’t originally.
The first festival, which Kern was organizing in 1979 before a heart attack took his life at just 52, would have wanted it this way.
“He’d be proud of all the volunteers,” his daughter Maureen Kern said. “It wasn’t about making money. It was a community event. He was into volunteerism, and that’s what keeps this thing going.”
The event does raise some money, about $10,000, but that goes into the Lawrence Bud Kern Scholarship Program for college-bound high school graduates in Somers Point. Organizer Sean McGuigan said those seniors have to exhibit the spirit of volunteerism that made Bud Kern, a former Little League coach, so popular.
Kern was the one who cleaned up an old junkyard to construct ball fields, which are now named after him. They say when he died, the town had to hire four people, and pay them, to do what Kern did for the town for free for many years. He would not accept pay. And he didn’t want credit.
There was no way they wouldn’t follow his dream of an annual community festival the Saturday after Labor Day.
“Bud Kern was one of those fellows that did everything. Whenever you wanted something done, you called Bud. We kept it going in honor of his spirit,” McGuigan said.
His five daughters, who work at the festival, remember that when they sat down for dinner, the phone would ring with somebody asking Kern for help.
“He never got to sit down. There was always a phone call,” daughter Kathy Kern Smith said.
Smith said her father would be happy taxpayers were not asked to foot the bill for the event.
“That was his whole thing,” Smith said.
Cindy Kern said a year before her father died, the city wanted to pay him for all his work.
“He said, ‘If you start paying, I quit,’” she recalled.
Cindy Kern said the festival was only in “the thinking process” when her father died. He was talking to people about it, but nothing was set yet. The first Good Old Days Festival was held about one month after he died. Kern said it says something about her father.
“He was such a genuine, kind, person,” she said.
Maureen Kern, president of the City Council, recalled it being a much smaller affair in the early years. They used a big rope to have tug-of-war competitions. Now there are three stages for the bands.
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