The bean dinner – one of the oldest and largest festivals

By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

A favorite event among Westside residents is just around the corner.

This year’s Historic Hilltop Bean Dinner Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29 at Westgate Park, 455 S. Westgate Ave.

One of the largest and oldest community festivals held on the Westside of Columbus every year, the event is known for serving guests its “secret recipe beans.” However, the festival also includes many other activities, from live musical acts throughout the day to a children’s area that features inflatables.

Fred Berkemer, president of the Hilltop Business Association, says this year’s event also will include vendors selling arts and crafts, local nonprofit organizations showcasing how they serve the community and several food trucks featuring a wide array of options. Bob Evans also will be on hand selling its various popular dishes.

Local businessman honored

At this year’s festival, the Hilltop Business Association will honor its “member of the year” at around 1 p.m., Berkemer said.

This year’s honoree, Chris Haydocy, was chosen for his work to redevelop the West Broad Street corridor. Haydocy is the president of Haydocy Buick GMC, Haydocy Airstream and RV, and Road Adventures RV Rentals.

Berkemer says Haydocy has worked with other business owners to bring new business to the West Broad Street corridor, and is the founder and chairman of Weston Vision Inc., a nonprofit corporation designed to help bring revitalization to the Weston District of the Hilltop.

In addition to working with investors to redevelop the Westland Mall area, Haydocy also has plans to develop an RV park so that visitors can park and visit Columbus Hollywood Casino and other businesses in the area, Berkemer said.

“It’s going to create some great business opportunities along West Broad Street,” he said.

Event history

The bean dinner’s roots date back all the way to the Civil War, HBA executive secretary Nancy Rhynard said in a Messenger interview conducted for a previous Bean Festival article. Veterans from the war would gather for reunions and cook simple food – usually beans and coffee.

“These events came across the Ohio River from Kentucky and West Virginia into southern Ohio,” she said. “Soon, politicians running for local offices looked at the bean dinners as a way to meet and greet residents in one location. Strong coffee mixed well with politics.”

Before the 1930s, the Hilltop Businessmen’s Association sponsored yearly picnics at Buckeye Lake, but during that decade began searching for an alternate way to thank their customers for their business throughout the year. That’s when the idea of a bean dinner came forth, she said.

“After a few years, the Bean Dinner was held on three days, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from noon until around 9,” she said. “Beans were cooked in large pots on open fires, and businessmen could display their goods or hand out samples.”

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, organizers added carnivals as attractions, drawing people from areas outside the Hilltop.

“Trouble ensued as security became a problem,” Rhynard said. “Unrest at local high schools contributed to the mix. By the early 1970s, it was decided to cancel the Bean Dinner, not only for the security problems, but also due to the decline of businesses on the Hilltop.”

In 1981, however, a renewed Hilltop Business Association began the Bean Dinner again, with the first event located at Franklin Heights High School. Wanting to return it to the Hilltop, organizers sought permission from the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department to hold it at Westgate Park.

“The Hilltop Business Association has worked diligently to maintain this community event for Hilltoppers and others,” she said. “Many folks return from across the country to see old friends and visit. It is truly a reunion, just like the first bean dinners.”

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