Lincoln National Bank is the granddaddy of Lincoln Days' donors

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Lincoln Days: A weekend for food, fun and friends

By Linda Ireland

The 38th annual Lincoln Days Celebration goes into full swing Saturday in downtown Hodgenville. The festival is the culmination of a year of planning that began as soon as the 2009 version ended.

The theme is “Made in Kentucky” " a nod to native son Abraham Lincoln and the festival itself.

The event wasn’t always held in October. In the early years, about 1972 (before the festival was chartered), it was on Feb. 12 " Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

“A lot of the old-timers jumped in and got it going,” said A.G. Back, CEO of Lincoln National Bank, and one of the original planners. “There were many people involved.”

Sometimes the weather was good in February " other times, not so good.

“Some of the (early festivals) were miserable,” Back said. “It was so cold, the valves would stick on the instruments (of the marching band).”

But the iffy weather didn’t dampen the spirits of those early organizers, according to Back. Businesses and individuals came up with the funding to keep the event entertaining.

“Even in February, we drew crowds,” Back said. “Now it’s more competitive. Every community has some type of festival " Sonora, Upton, Ham Days, Sorghum Days ….”

Despite the competition from surrounding festivals, Hodgenville’s celebration was unique. No other community could bank on the Lincoln Birthplace connection.

Back saw the festival as a way to grow the community and he wanted the bank to become synonymous with that effort.

“What’s the main thing we’ve got around LaRue County?” Back asked. “Lincoln.”

Charlie Setters, who has been on the Lincoln Days Board for about 15 years, saidLincoln National has contributed financially to the festival since the beginning and was the first business to sign on as a corporate sponsor. It also sponsored the art show for many years.

“Lincoln National led the way but others followed,” Setters said. “It speaks highly of that industry that they care about local events.”

Besides financial contributions from the bank, many of the bank’s employees participate in the festival, said Doc Meredith, president of Lincoln National and Back’s grandson.

“We’ve got a young energetic group,” Meredith said. “They started working on the float for the parade (last week).”

Meredith provided the farm wagon for the float and a space for the volunteers to work. The theme is “Lincoln: Past, Present, Future.”

Last year’s “One Nation, One Man, One Bank” won the award for Most Beautiful Float, said Meredith. It featured a “Rocking Abe” with Nick Yount portraying Lincoln.

As the festival has expanded, adding new events and paying premiums to winners of contests, so has the need for sponsors. Local businesses foot most of the bill, Setters said, although last year’s economic woes stifled some long-time donors.

“The lack of sponsorship means having events or having to shuffle priorities or downgrade the level of what we are able to accomplish,” said Lincoln Days President Jeffrey Hughes. “Last year two of our contributors canceled or reduced their sponsorship and we were forced to reduce or suspend awards to participants.”

Other businesses, like Lincoln National, “stepped up” their support, Setters said. This year, for instance, Bluegrass Cellular is a major sponsor, providing a stage for performers on Lincoln Square. Others include CUB Bank, Magnolia Bank, Sunrise Manor, Fort Knox Federal Credit Union, the City of Hodgenville and LaRue Fiscal Court. 

The festival gains new supporters each year " sometimes from newcomers to the community " such as Campbellsville University, Snap Fitness, IMI and Lincoln Parkway Pharmacy.

Back and Meredith are committed to future support of the festival.

“It’s a vital part of LaRue County,” Back said.

“There’s no reason why it should decline,” Meredith added. “It’s a good, local community event and that’s what we’re about.”