By Mark Barnes, Editor
Fifty years ago, Kuna Days began with a purpose that carried it through its first 42 years, to pay for the community center shared by several service organizations in Kuna. Originally referred to as the “Kuna Barbecue,” the community came together to host events, a parade, entertainment and, most importantly, a big cookout. The shared organizational arrangement served its purpose well. The original groups that included the Lions Club, the American Legion, the Jaycees, and the Chamber of Commerce all took turns for many years organizing the annual event. Other organizations contributed and volunteered as well through the years. This helped to avoid burnout among everyone involved.
Eight years ago, after the community hall was paid off, it fell upon a Kuna Days organizing committee to pull it all together. While the original organizations, and some new ones still have contributed time, money and volunteers to the overall event, the overall burden of responsibility fell into a select few individuals who not only donated time but money as well. The pool of volunteers has shrunk over the years as new, younger residents have not stepped up to help.
Pat Jones has been deeply involved with organizing Kuna Days for the last six years. This year, he has announced he is stepping down but no person or organization has stepped forward as of yet to take it over. When he talks about it, you get the sense that he has a little touch of burnout. Nobody doubts that he has done a great job over the years. Nobody has complained, much. But he’s tired, and he says he’s done. He speaks with passion about Kuna, and Kuna Days, but moving forward he needs someone else to do the heavy lifting. He says he’ll be happy to act in an advisory role for whomever takes on the event but he won’t be in charge.
Kuna Days has always relied upon the community members to volunteer and make it happen. People like Lloyd Stubbs, Richard Cardoza and Sheri Russell, who fondly remembers coming to Kuna Days when she was a child. As an adult she contributed by volunteering and taking on some organizational leadership roles.
In a small town, you have a core group of citizens and business owners that wear many hats from clubs to boosters to serving in city government. After 50 years, however, the big donors, sponsors and heavy lifters that make Kuna Days happen through their labor or financially aren’t the same as even just 10 years ago. Passion and energy fade. Money is tight in these times and tough decisions have had to be made over the years.
This current lack of volunteers and help isn’t new. Events at Kuna Days have come and gone and it has evolved over 50 years.
Kuna Days used to host races in the park, beauty pageants, and, believe it or not, water fights between the fire department and teams during the early 1970s. (The current “wet” water fight with the fire department part of the parade is only three years old.)
Lloyd Stubbs started the fireworks 25 years ago on Friday night to keep people hanging around the park after the BBQ so that the vendors could sell things and be happy. This year organizers have moved the fireworks to Saturday night for the first time and replaced the Friday night entertainment with an outdoor movie at the baseball field. (Disclosure-Kuna Melba News is sponsoring this event.)
In 1983 when it looked like the annual BBQ wouldn’t happen, Carl & Patty Nicholson stepped up and made it happen until the Lions Club took it over years later. Fundraising in later years slowed down for the BBQ event somewhat because in an effort to make Kuna Days larger, other food vendors were allowed in the park. That, and stricter health department regulations over the years made it more costly and impractical to do the BBQ the way it was done 50 years ago.
For many years it was hard to get vendors because Kuna Days was Friday and Saturday, not on Sunday. Sheri Russell organized a softball tournament for 4-5 years that brought many more people to town during Kuna Days in the 90s, but that too is no more. Sheri also misses the Sunday
gospel music groups in the park, another event that has gone by the wayside.
Over the years events were carved off and eliminated because of higher costs like security, health department regulations, and simply the aging and lack of the core volunteers. Some changes were for the better, Russell and others have said, like first gating off the street dance, then making it 21 and over because some unsupervised children were allowed to misbehave.
This year Main Street will be reopened after the parade for the first time in years, and the street dance has been moved to the west end of Main Street at Cowgirls parking lot. It is another change in tradition that many think is for the better.
Hundreds of Kuna residents and many businesses over the last 50 years have contributed time, money and a little bit of their souls to make Kuna Days happen. Their efforts are not to be dismissed. Kuna Days is what it is today because of their contributions. And while some of them are long gone, their children and grandchildren are still here, enjoying what Kuna Days has become.
Those that carried the heavy burden in the past, however, can no longer do so. It is the cold, hard truth of time. Yet even as Kuna has topped 16,000 residents this year, there doesn’t seem to be enough younger folks in the community stepping up to take over.
Pat Jones said that this year, oftentimes he’d be the only one at scheduled Kuna Days meetings. Unless the residents of Kuna want to see Kuna Days fade away, they’re going to have to
While we here at Kuna Melba News don’t believe this is the last Kuna Days, we do want you to think about everything you enjoy about this weekend including the fireman’s BBQ, the quilt show over at the high school, the car show, the street dance and all the businesses and organizations that pull together to help make it a great event. Thank all the volunteers you see. Thank Pat Jones and his wife Shelly. Then ask them how you can help next year. Ask if there’s anything you can do for them this year too. Let’s keep Kuna Days going for another 50 years.
Diane Cullen, a member of the Lions Club and Entertainment Chairman for Kuna Days in the 1990s says “As long as there are people whose hearts belong to Kuna, there will be a Kuna Days.