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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Child playing with colored balls at Funfest
Children's activities at FUNFEST Photo courtesy of Hazelton Area Camera Club

Hazleton FUNFEST

Every year since 1979, on a weekend early in September, nearly 60,000 people crowd into downtown Hazelton, Pennsylvania, for FUNFEST. The roots of FUNFEST stretch back to the Hazelton Mummers' Parade, which entertained the people of Hazelton up until 1977. By the mid 1970s, they were having financial difficulty maintaining the event, so the Mummers Association approached the Greater Hazelton Chamber of Commerce for help. A committee, "Actions for the 80s," agreed to maintain the parade, but wanted to expand the event to include food and entertainment. In 1979, the first FUNFEST was held with a budget of $2,500; an estimated 10,000 attended.

In 1986, under a new executive director, FUNFEST was reborn as a two-day "Super Weekend." To the classic street fair and parade, it added a host of new activities: the first FUNFEST Bed Rally, the first Miss FUNFEST Competition, and the first Fireman's Competition. The Alliance to Revitalize Center City Hazelton encouraged center city businesses to offer special promotions and sales for the thousands who would come downtown for FUNFEST. In 1989, a craft show was added; corporate support was recruited, upping the budget to $25,000.

By 1990, the Hazelton Chamber of Commerce had hired a full-time employee to its staff whose full-time responsibility was the organization of FUNFEST. Full corporate sponsorship was obtained to pay for the ever-increasing logistical needs, such as security, clean-up, sanitation, and insurance. An annual Muscle Car and Street Machine Show became an instant success when it first appeared in 1990; also in that year a Chili Cook-Off, later converted to a Wings Cook-Off, was added to the schedule.

1991 marked the celebration of Hazelton's Centennial year. In that year,"A Taste of Hazelton," which helped raise funds and give local restaurants and food vendors a boost, was added to FUNFEST events. Lining the streets at the site of the old Lehigh Valley Station in the FUNFEST weekend, 1993, were hundreds gathered to watch the arrival of the steam locomotive; 30-minute steam locomotive train rides through Hazelton, so popular that year, were unfortunately discontinued the next year because of failure of negotiations between the parties involved.

In the years since have been added the Battle of the Garage Bands, Hazelton's Hunk Contest, and the Pizza-Eating Contest (including cold pizza, a local specialty). There are also fireworks and a 100-unit parade, one of the largest in the region, with marching bands, string bands, drum and bugle corps, and floats. While many aspects of it have changed over the past 20 years, FUNFEST has remained true to its original purpose: to entertain its crowds and provide an opportunity for local non-profits to raise funds. Each year an estimated $40,000 goes to 40 local charitable organizations who have set up booths for the event; another 35 sell raffle tickets.

Project documentation includes a six-page written report, 10 color slides with accompanying descriptions, promotional brochures and program, local press coverage, and a FUNFEST lapel pin.

Originally submitted by: Paul E. Kanjorski, Representative (11th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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