Q&A with 4th Fest Executive Director Bernie Keisling

Bernie Keisling, the executive director of 4th Fest, in his "4th Fest Office" in his home in Stormstown on Sunday, June 26, 2011. This is Keisling's eighth year as the executive director.
Bernie Keisling, the executive director of 4th Fest, in his "4th Fest Office" in his home in Stormstown on Sunday, June 26, 2011. This is Keisling's eighth year as the executive director. CDT photo

It’s not difficult to find Bernie Keisling, especially in the weeks leading up to 4th Fest.

If he’s not directing logistical traffic on site behind Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, he’s got his cell phone on him 24/7 with an answer for every volunteer’s and spectator’s question.

There will be a change of pace for Keisling soon.

He’ll step down after 12 years as the 4th Fest’s executive director to spend more time watching his grandchildren play spring sports. He’ll try to catch a few more trout. And he’d like to travel more with his wife.

The torch will be passed to Karl Libhart, next year’s 4th Fest executive director, but the impact Keisling had on the event will remain.

Q: Is the first year any different from the 12th year?

A: It’s dramatically different. The event has changed so much that my first event we had so many fewer activities and certainly not any special activities. The audience was smaller. The number of volunteers trying to pull it all together were smaller. We weren’t as organized in those early days. Now it’s a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it. The event has taken a whole new shape and scope with all of the activities and events adding to 4K race and fireworks, which have remained the same.

Q: What’s a typical week like for you before the 4th of July?

A: (Laughs). Oh, a typical week before the event is like being a ring master at a goat rodeo. That’s really what it’s like. Every team is fully engaged in the execution of their plans, and even then there are always questions about how we should do something the best we can. All I try to do is break down barriers and help those team leaders get it done.

The community also fires up when it dawns on them that 4th Fest is coming. They all have questions about parking, RVs, dogs, tickets. They have all of those questions, know I’ll know the answer, and my name and phone number are out there. To give you an idea, most people are courteous, but this morning I was awakened at 4:07 a.m., and someone made an inquiry about the Craig Morgan concert and VIP passes. 4:07 in the morning, but that’s what you get with your name and phone and number out there.

Press activity kicks up, too, so there are a lot of things that all culminate in the last 10 days. It’s become normal for me, and you want that type of engagement, particularly from attendees, so that we can invite them to our patriotic birthday party.

Q: Are you expecting more calls next year?

A: My number has been out there for 12 years, and even though we’ll take it off the website the truth is that enough have it that I’ll still answer it. The difference is that I will be transferring those calls. Knowing me, I’ll still answer some questions.

Q: Have you had time in the last few weeks to reflect on your time as executive director?

A: Not at all. it’s been so busy, so hectic, so normal that there’s no time for that what-so-ever. I’m sure I will next week. After the event is over, and we’ve cleaned, prepared the thank you sponsor ad, the thank you volunteer ad, I’m sure at that point it will be very nostalgic to think of all the things we’ve done and how we’ve grown the program.

Q: Why is now the time to take a step back?

A: There are things I’d really like to do in my personal life. I have grandchildren who play spring sports that I’ve never seen them play. I have places I’d like to return to and travel around the world, and spring time is a wonderful time to do that. I hear the trout really do enjoy feeding in the spring time when the water is cool. I get out there in August when the water is warm, and they laugh at me. There are so many things I’d like to do, and I felt in my gut it was a good time to transition to a new executive director.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your time as executive director?

A: I couldn’t possibly think of one. I could think of 30, but not one. Maybe it’s the way we’ve been able to organize and get our planning focused and get it into repeatable steps and processes, so that volunteer leaders are in a position to do things without a lot of scurrying around and confusion. That’s an element I’ve induced into the 4th Fest I’m really proud of, but that’s also behind the scenes.

Q: How much are you going to miss it?

A: I told the board at our meeting last week there are so many things I’m going to miss about the 4th Fest. There are probably some things I won’t miss, too. There are so many characters in this 4th Fest organization and so many stories. It would make a great book with so many wonderful chapters in it. I will miss many, many, many things, and there are some things along the way you just smile at and go, “I wouldn’t miss that if that didn’t happen again.”

Q: Are you going to be back here next year watching the fireworks?

A: I don’t know. By tradition I would be. By habit I would be, because it’s July 4th. I don’t know. I could be somewhere else in the world next year, because that’s where I need to be at that point in time. My plan would be to be here, but we’ll have to wait and see. Honestly, I can’t imagine where I’d rather be than be here.