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Jubilee draws thousands to Martinsburg park

June 14, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Sometime in the late 1940s, a group of Martinsburg-area residents, in an effort to honor Berkeley County's war dead, especially the 120 who died in World War II, built a city park in their honor.

They called it War Memorial Park.

Today, several monuments stand on the hill next to the one honoring those who fell in World War II. They list the names of the 41 who died in World War I, the 20 who lost their lives in Korea, the 15 in Vietnam and one each from Afghanistan, Iraq and Beirut.

Those early park pioneers began to fade away with the passing of the decades, along with the park itself.

By the 1980s, the then-park's board of directors decided it could no longer properly care for the park and turned it over to Martinsburg/Berkeley County Parks and Recreation. The agency today has an annual budget of $2.5 million. It's responsible for the county's 16 parks, two public swimming pools, ball leagues and playgrounds, plus recreational and cultural programs, said Steve Catlett, executive director.

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In 1987, members of the parks and recreation board, seeing that public use of the park was not up to snuff, decided to hold the first June Jubilee "to bring people back to the park," Catlett said.

"You can see it's working," he said Sunday afternoon as he gazed across the crowds taking in the day's activities.

"It's a nice crowd today. Everybody's having a good time," he said.

He credited the success of the day to Sunday's fine June weather, compared to last year when the thermometer hit 106 degrees. That kept the crowd to less than half of this year's turnout, he said.

Catlett estimated that about 6,000 patrons would come "in and out" Sunday to take part in the family fun events -- the main focus of June Jubilee.

It was shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday when Ted Morgan observed that "we've already sold a couple of hundred arm bands." The bands, at $5 apiece, let those who wore them go on all the rides all day.

Morgan, a parks and recreation board member, and his wife, Betsy, came up with the June Jubilee idea 22 years ago. He's chaired the event every year since.

In the last two decades, major park improvements include a new swimming pool, pavilion, bleachers, the war memorial, restrooms and a concession stand, Morgan said.

Everywhere one looked Sunday afternoon, there were families enjoying the day. Kids were swarming into the moon bounce, climbing into the mouth of the giant dragon balloon's mouth and sliding out the other end, taking pony rides or being fascinated by the three lop-eared rabbits, three ducks, two chickens and small goat in the petting zoo.

DeWayne Izer of Greencastle, Pa., aka "Uncle Bean" the magician, was facing a crowd of 40 youngsters who were more than willing to yell "abracadabra" as he sought their encouragement for his next trick.

A big draw for the adults were the pristine, 100-plus antique and street-rod cars and trucks parked over a large chunk of the park grounds.

A half-dozen food vendors kept busy throughout the day selling their menu items to deep lines of hungry customers.

Fees charged to vendors and antique car owners, plus money from corporate donors, help the recreation board turn a profit, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 every year, Catlett said.

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