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A Labor Day tradition for 58 years continues in Martinsburg

September 04, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When Robert Foltz started getting ready for the traditional Labor Day breakfast at War Memorial Park on Monday, he was there by 7 a.m. firing up grills for the hundreds of steaks he would help cook.

It used to be earlier.

In the early days of the event, Foltz said he and other volunteers cut 40-gallon barrels in half and used them for grills.

Unlike the gas grills now used for the breakfast, the barrel halves were filled with charcoal and Foltz said he would get to the park by 3 a.m. to get the charcoal ready.

"It was a whole lot different years ago," Foltz said Monday morning as he stood over dozens of fat, mouth-watering steaks cooking on a grill.

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Monday was the 58th installment of the Martinsburg tradition, and about 520 people came, which Steve Catlett considered a good crowd.

The breakfast is a fundraiser for the park along Tennessee Avenue, and about $7,000 was raised Monday, said Catlett, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation's board of directors.

For $20 in advance or $25 at the door, guests could choose between a steak or ham breakfast with scrambled eggs and other offerings like juice and coffee.

The meal is a folksy, down-home event where park supporters and local politicians come out for a morning of food and conversation. Local officeholders and political hopefuls often work as servers, and among those filling that role Monday were Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, spokeswoman for Berkeley County Schools Jaimee Borger and Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders.

Other officials spotted at the breakfast were Berkeley County Assessor Preston Gooden; all three Berkeley County Commissioners; Christopher Wilkes, a 23rd Judicial Circuit judge in Berkeley County; and local state delegates, including Bob Tabb, John Overington and Walter Duke.

"I've been doing this for about 15 years, I think," Sanders said as he waited for steaks to come off the grill. "This is great fun."

War Memorial Park is a popular recreation spot in town, with throngs of people regularly enjoying its pool, miniature golf course and other offerings in an attractive tree-lined atmosphere.

The park dates to 1947. Although the park is supported by tax revenue, it wasn't always that way, and city residents donated their time to maintain it, officials said Monday.

Doug Fries, who was helping cook steaks Monday, is a former Martinsburg Fire Department member who used to donate his time mowing grass at the park.

"You just kind of get caught up in it. It's a good thing," Fries said.

The breakfast was sponsored by the War Memorial Park Association, which ran the park from 1947 to 1987, when the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation took over operating the park, Catlett said.

The War Memorial Park Association has continued as a friend of the park organization, Catlett said.

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