The vast majority of Marathon residents are very passionate about the Original Marathon Seafood Festival because they have a personal stake in it. In other words, they not only come out to enjoy the festival but are also volunteering in some aspect. And by volunteering, we don’t mean standing around handing out official program guides; that’s the easy job of The Weekly Newspaper staff. Other locals spend their time marking off the field, cleaning tables and to-ing and fro-ing gathering essential items to make sure the festival flows smoothly.
Randy Mearns of Marathon Sign and Electric and his crews put in long hours setting up the festival and tending to its success.
“Why? Because it’s good for the community. We get a chance to do something different,” Mearns said. “You know, there’s a lot of people that I only see once a year in this tiny, little town and that’s during the seafood festival.”
Mearns and friend Tom Coppedge actually start work on Thursday before the event. They show up early to organize the field and figure out the logistics. They put out the trashcans and the port-a-potties. Then the team switches into operational mode on Friday by helping the vendors get situated.
“I’ll have two crews down here running the electric lines for the cooking stations and the chamber booth. Will put down the lines that go down the center of the vendor booths,” he said.
The hours are long. Mearns said he starts at sun up and works until past midnight most nights.
“Hey, it’s great,” he said, dismissing the tremendous amount of work involved. “We all get to eat a little fish.”
Art Stevens has perhaps the most important job at the festival.
“If it weren’t for me, there would be no festival!” he said, laughing.
Stevens is charged with coordinating the beer sales. He works with Eagle Brands, the Key West Budweiser distributor that provides the driver and refrigerated truck to store the keg beer at drinkable temperatures. Stevens helps set up the tables at the beer booth, string the lights, organize the help and sling 150 kegs worth of suds.
“My friends always tease me that our job is just to sit around and drink. Trust me, we’re running 100 mph,” he said.
Every time someone adds something to the tip jar, the server rings the bell and another kid gets a chance to play sports in the Middle Keys.
“Our tip money supports teams and we also host a little league softball and baseball clinic every year. We have former professional ballplayers come down. It’s a pricey item, but the kids enjoy it. It’s something that we want to continue doing,” Stevens said.
The Organized Fishermen of Florida, the group that co-hosts the seafood festival with the Marathon Chamber of Commerce, donates proceeds back to the community. For example, the local chapter of AYSO soccer has volunteered to clean tables for two days. They will be rewarded with a sponsorship check from the fishermen.
“We’re going to have about 40 kids and adults out there working, both days, all day,” said Arno Silva. “The donation helps us keep down our program costs. With lower registration fees, more Marathon kids can afford to play soccer.”
For as many people as are visible before, during and after the seafood festival, there are just as many behind the scenes. Trudy Coppedge is the festival “bank” and manages the event finances. Plus, she makes four chocolate cakes that are sold by the slice at the sweets booth.
“Two for Saturday, and two for Sunday,” she said. “But they go fast, so you ought to get there early!”
The Marathon Seafood Festival