By Gene Axton, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — For two long-time local union members, the NEPA Labor Day Celebration and Festival is a labor of love.
Festival co-chairs Patty Krushowski and Wayne Namey, who have a combined 50-plus years of experience as union members, have organized the last three iterations of the event. This year’s festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 5 at Kirby Park and will host music, food vendors, activities, contests for children and, for the first time in the event’s four-year history, a dunk tank.
Like its name suggests, the event’s dual purpose is to celebrate the local history of organized workers while providing a community picnic environment for area residents.
“I’m trying to not only make it an exclusive union thing; I’m trying to make it something that is community oriented,” said Krushowski, 53, of Wilkes-Barre. “That’s my true goal in this thing.”
Krushowski aims to achieve that goal by providing a variety of family-friendly activities like coloring, drumming to live music, a silent auction and the aforementioned dunk tank, which will feature Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George. She hopes the event will become an annual Labor Day gathering place for community members, and she is working to include local high school marching bands in the coming years.
Funds raised during the festival will support the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center’s Community Living Center, a care facility for veterans. Namey said the first year of the event was for the benefit of the local chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project, but the beneficiary for the NEPA Labor Day Celebration and Festival was changed to recognize Americans who have endured dangerous working conditions after serving their country in similarly dangerous circumstances.
“The men who served in World War II and the Korean War, if they were lucky enough to come home, they worked in the coal mines — that went hand-in-hand,” said Namey, 58. “I heard so many sad stories of people surviving D-Day (or) Iwo Jima only to come home and die in a coal mine accident, so we honor them.”
The fourth annual NEPA Labor Day Celebration and Festival aims to offer a no-work, all-play Labor Day for area families, but for Krushowski and Namey, the festival represents their work as the event’s co-chairs and their commitment to its goals: to recognize unions, honor veterans and welcome members of the NEPA community to Kirby Park for a day of food and fun.