WEST FRANKFORT — The Old King Coal Festival will return this year after being cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival runs May 13 through 16 and will feature a carnival midway and entertainment.
“We are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the first Old King Coal Festival this year,” Marcia Raubach, a member of the Old King Coal committee, said.
Plans for the 2020 Old King Coal Festival were finalized in March and included naming Bill Griggs as the 2020 Old King Coal.
When the pandemic halted those plans, the committee hoped that it could be held later in the year. As the pandemic continued, organizers chose to abandon plans for 2020 and concentrate on the 2021 festival.
On Feb. 14, 2021, 92-year-old Griggs passed away. The Old King Coal Festival committee has named Griggs Honorary 2020 Old King Coal. They will present his family with a plaque at this year’s Coal Miners Memorial service.
Raubach said that there will be few changes to this year’s festival, and those attending are asked to observe pandemic safety rules, such as wearing masks.
The annual parade has been cancelled this year.
“There’s quite a bit of construction on Main Street. For everyone’s safety, it just wasn’t feasible,” she said.
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Other events will be held as usual. The Coal Miner’s Memorial Service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday and the memorial in downtown.
Luehr’s Ideal Rides will bring its midway to town once again. The midway, located on Poplar Street, will open at 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“They put into place some protocols for COVID,” Raubach said.
Free entertainment will be featured every night on the main stage behind People’s National Bank. Raubach said many of the acts that were booked last year agreed to perform this year.
Gentleman Jack Band will perform at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night.
Hoot N Holler Band will take the stage from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, followed by Johnathan Len and Double Edge Band at 9 p.m.
On Saturday evening, We Got It Covered Band will play from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with Rockin Terry Lee Band taking the stage at 9 p.m.
Presiding over this year’s festival will be 2021 Old King Coal Jerry Harkins of West Frankfort and 2021 Princess Flame Julia Mohr, of Herrin.
Harkins began his coal mining career in 1964 and worked in numerous positions at five mines, including 10 years as a safety inspector.
He was in seventh or eighth grade when the Orient 2 exploded in 1951. His father was fire chief at the time and helped identify the victims. Harkins could see then through the glass in the gym door.
“I won’t ever forget that,” he said.
Harkins also serves on West Frankfort City Council as fire and police commissioner.
Harkins calls the festival first class with nice rides and lots of fun.
“I like what it (the festival) stands for. I’m a coal miner and it’s good for the town,” he said.
He was surprised to be chosen as this year’s Old King Coal.
“I’m blessed to be picked to be Old King Coal. I knew some of the guys picked before me, and I’m in a good group,” Harkins said.
Mohr, 18, is a senior at Herrin High School where she is a high honors student, member of National Honor Society and Herrin Hospital Auxiliary. The daughter of Lori Mohr and John Mohr, she plans to study nursing at SIUC and wants to become certified in nurse midwifery.
The Old King Coal Committee has selected the late Bill McKee as the 22nd person named to the “Walk of Honor” for his many years of service to the West Frankfort Park and Recreation Association and the youth of West Frankfort.
McKee is a coal miner, veteran, lifelong resident of West Frankfort and graduate of Frankfort High School. He is probably best known for his love of baseball.
McKee played Minor League baseball in the 1940s and was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates, playing for their Triple A team. He helped organize the West Frankfort Recreation Association in 1963 where he served as a volunteer for over 40 years.
He also managed the American Legion baseball team and was the 25th District Coach of the Year in 1973, served on West Frankfort Park Board, was field director for Pony Baseball, and coached and managed numerous other teams, including his granddaughter’s softball team.
For more information on this year’s Old King Coal Festival, visit www.oldkingcoalfestival.org.