The Kern family of Lawrence County has sold a lot of snow cones, caramel corn, cotton candy and candy apples over the years they’ve been at the Jackson County Fair.
They also like to feel they sold something just a little more important — memories.
“We have had people come up to us and they would be in their 60s or 70s and say, ‘I bought my first snow cone from you,’” L.C. Kern said Thursday from his home in the Fayetteville area.
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They’ve had more than 80 years to sell those memories … until this year, that is.
You won’t find Kern Concessions on the corner in the middle of the fairgrounds this year because of the July 15 death of Darlene Steele McSoley, a Bedford attorney who is the sister of State District 44 Sen. Brent Steele.
Kern said the family decided not to open up shop at the fair out of respect for McSoley, who was known as The Cotton Candy Queen and because there wasn’t enough time to get prepared for it.
Instead of renting the Kern family’s prime piece of real estate near the grandstand, the fair board decided to leave it empty to honor the family’s loyalty to the Jackson County Fair, board president Mark Norman said.
“You just don’t see that anymore,” Norman said.
Kern said he found the board’s action incredible.
“We have always had a lot of respect for the fair and the fair board,” he said. “They would look out for us, and we looked out for them.”
The Kerns, in fact, have had a monopoly on selling snow cones at the fair during the years. No one else can sell or even give away snow cones at the Jackson County Fair.
Other than this year, Kern’s Concessions has been at the fair every year since 1935 when the fair was still being conducted around the square in Brownstown.
That was before 1939 when the Jackson County commissioners used a $25,000 Works Progress Administration grant to purchase the land for the present fairgrounds at 476 S. County Road 100E.
In 1953, Kern’s Concessions moved to a spot near the center of the fair. They only thing between the Kerns and the grandstand is Building 3.
After learning the family would not be coming this year, Norman said the fair board decided to erect a tent in its place and name it Kern’s Family Lawn Chair Area.
Norman said the board hasn’t decided to make that a permanent fixture at the fair, but he expects them to do so during a meeting after the fair.
“Unless the Kerns decide they want to come back,” he said.
Kern said that’s likely a good possibility.
In 2003, Kern’s father, Jim Kern, said he began coming to the fair in 1934 when his dad and L.C.’s grandfather, Roy Kern Jr., bought a snow cone machine as a way to supplement his income from farming during the Great Depression.
At one point, Kern’s father operated four concessions trailers run by Jim and his siblings. Jim always managed to draw the Jackson County Fair.
“I always liked coming here,” the retired principal and school teacher said in 2003. He also had quit farming by that time.
Jim Kern, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served during World War II, had plenty of family ties to Jackson County.
His brother and sister lived in Seymour, and his father and mother, Roy and Bess Myers Kern, had spent the last 10 years of their lives in the city.
The Jackson County Fair also was close to home, he said of why he continued to show up at the fair every year.
At that time, Jim Kern said he planned on coming to the Jackson County Fair for as long his and McSoley’s health allowed.
The two had been longtime companions at that point.
“She loves the concessions business and takes a week off to come over here to work,” said Kern, who died in December 2006. His son, L.C. Kern, who later moved back to the area from Seattle, Washington, took over the business.
At that time, L.C. Kern said the concessions business had helped put a lot of kids through school and bought a lot of school clothes.
In 2009, when Kern’s Concessions received a plaque for being at the fair for 75 years, McSoley said working for Kern’s Concessions was a great vacation for her and a break from her job as an attorney, where she dealt with unhappy people, including those going through divorces.
“Here, everybody’s happy and just out here for a good time,” McSoley said.