A HISTORICAL JOURNEY
After 30 years, the passion and commitment is still alive for Brad Spencer, founding father of the Mushroom Mardi Gras. Still serving on the Board of Directors, Brad is just as involved in the planning and preparation, as he was 30+ years ago.
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 fundraiser 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 the Community Center in Downtown Morgan Hill.
Over the past 30+ 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 50,000 people throughout the Bay Area and beyond. While proceeds from the festival still support many non-profit clubs and organizations, the majority now goes towards scholarships to high school seniors in the Morgan Hill Unified School District.