A HISTORICAL JOURNEY
(A TRIBUTE TO BRAD SPENCER)
After 36 years of passion and commitment to the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras Festival, our beloved founder, Brad Spencer passed away last July. As the founding father, Brad continued to serve on the Board of Directors for 36 years and was as involved in the planning and preparation as he was with the first annual festival.
It was in 1978 that the state overwhelmingly approved proposition 13, which reduced property taxes for California residents. Almost immediately, Morgan Hill Fire Chief Brad Spencer saw an already lean capital expense budget whither away to nothing. “We were down to barely affording light bulbs, PG&E bills – the bare essentials,” Spencer said.
With the City’s population growing by leaps and bounds, Spencer searched frantically for a way to keep up with the increasing demand for fire protection. The department tried various fund raisers – dances, dinners, and other small endeavors. “But when we found out how much money was raised after all the stress and work involved,” Spencer said, “it would have been easier to go around and ask each firefighter for $10. It just wasn’t worth it”.
Still looking for a one-time fund raiser to buy sorely needed equipment, Spencer took inspirations from a weekend trip to the annual Charles Dickens Christmas Faire in San Francisco. “I’m what you call a festival junkie,” Spencer said. “After the fair, I thought ‘this is just what I want to do in Morgan Hill for the Fire Department.’ “So we (Chief Spencer and his firefighters) sat around the table and came up with this festival”.
Spencer, along with Irv Perlitch, owner of Hill Country and Ed Lazzarini, put on the first Mushroom Mardi Gras in October 1980, which was a huge success. A net profit of $400,000 was raised and divided between non-profit organizations and new fire equipment for the fire department. After two years, the festival was moved from October, to Memorial Weekend, due to cold weather and the threat of rain.
Hill Country was home to the Mardi Gras for the first seven years. It moved to Cochrane Road for two years, where a shopping center now exists, before moving to Community Park, finding a home from 1989 to 2004. In 2005, due to construction and remodeling at Community Park, the Mardi Gras was once again forced to move from the place they called home for 15 years, to Downtown Morgan Hill. The first two years moving downtown, the festival was located on Monterey Road between Main & Dunne but soon became too large and had to move to its now permanent home, the Community & Cultural Center Grounds and Depot Street from Dunne to Second Street.
Over the past 38 years, the Morgan Hill community has seen the Mushroom Mardi Gras evolve from a small hometown get together to a festival that is now attended by 70,000 – 80,000 people throughout the Bay Area and beyond. While proceeds from the festival still support many non-profit clubs and organizations, the majority goes towards scholarships to high school seniors in the Morgan Hill Unified School District.
As a dedication to our founding father and this year’s festival, we have awarded two special Brad Spencer Memorial Scholarships which will be awarded with the other 50 scholarship recipients at the Amphitheater Stage on Sunday, May 28th at 1:30pm. Brad, you will always be in our hearts and your memory will live on with each Mushroom Mardi Gras Festival.