2017 commodore honored to lead fest

Photo above: Jason Berry dons the traditional blue blazer after being named the 2017 Beaufort Water Festival commodore during the Change of Watch ceremony in 2016. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

By Sally Mahan

Will the weather hold up?

Will all of the more than 400 volunteers know what to do?

Will the events come off without a hitch?

Those questions and so many more are just a part of the Beaufort Water Festival’s commodore’s job.

It’s a job that is handed off every year at the end of the festival, and in 2016, Jason Berry was officially named the 2017 commodore.

It’s not a job for the weak at heart.

There are a million details to oversee and a million things that can keep you awake at night.

But Berry is definitely cut out for the gig.

He has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and retired as a Naval Hospital corpsman after 22 years. He then worked another 10 years as a safety and occupational health specialist for the U.S. Navy.

This is his 14th year volunteering with the Beaufort Water Festival. Festival Director Adam Aimar and festival consultants Paul Howe and Rand Thacker serve under the commodore.

Berry said he started giving his time because it was something that was so important to him in the military: really being involved in the local community and volunteering.

“I was always raising my hand for deployment, so when Bob Bible, the chief of the Naval Hospital suggested I get involved, I went ahead and became a volunteer for the Water Festival,” he said.

Over his 14 years as a volunteer, he has helped out in many areas. One of his favorite things to do was help organize the sporting events.

“I’m a big sports person myself so I got involved with the golf tournament and the softball tournament,” said Berry. He did everything from helping set up tents, putting together the awards and prizes for the sports events, organizing food, beverages and so much more.

Over the years he has worked as a festival coordinator, helping with productions, sponsors, organization and more.

“It’s not just one time out of the year,” said Berry. “It’s one of the things that kept me involved back then, and then when festival came around I found myself helping out.

“For those 10 days of the festival you’re part of something,” he said. “It’s a good feeling seeing all those people having a great time.”

He harkened back to how far the festival has come since he first started as a volunteer.

“Back in the day we had to build the stage, put up the tents, the fencing, the craft market, the lights, electric … there’s whole a lot to do.”

So what worries him the most about the festival in his role as commodore?

“The biggest thing with Water Festival every year is to not have rain,” he said. “We’re a nonprofit and when one event doesn’t happen it really hurts the bottom line. Rain is always the biggest thing. We’ve found a way to overcome most of the other challenges with  the help of the city.”

He also said the Boundary Street construction is a concern, but he is excited that the festival is offering a shuttle service from the Beaufort County Government Center to some of the events.

Berry said his favorite event is the opening ceremony.

“After working long hours to set this up and that Friday when everything is ready to go and the crowd is there to listen to the Marine Corps band and people come together, well, I walk through that crowd and it feels so good to have helped put this together.”

He’s particularly excited about a free Thursday concert with “American Idol” winner Candice Glover, the air show and the fact that the ski show is returning to the festival.

Berry added that when he was chosen as commodore, “it was absolutely surreal for me. Not being a local person makes it even more special. The community has put their faith and trust in me. That’s really worth everything.”

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