The Hemingway Days Festival, held in Key West every July since 1981, has gone through several incarnations over the years. One of the highlights of the festival has always been the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest or as one look-alike observed, “A beauty contest for chubby old men with gray beards.”
Following the 1996 Hemingway Days, some members of the Hemingway family expressed a desire to hold a more family-oriented festival in honor of Hemingway in another location and the Hemingway Days Festival was cancelled for the next year. The powers that be at Sloppy Joe’s and the Hemingway House decided to reinstate the festival, holding the look-alike contest with past winners as the judges and an event at the Hemingway House. At that time the literary conference portion of the festival was discontinued. Lorian Hemingway instituted the Short Story Competition that is still held today.
During Hemingway Days 1997, as the number of look-alike winners (“Papas”) grew, a meeting was held and the Hemingway Look-Alike Society was born. Fred Johnson was elected Charter president along with other officers Frank Meitz, George Burley, Bob Anderson and Bart Barton. The purpose of the organization was a little unclear at the time, but the idea was received enthusiastically. Article 1 By-Laws states simply; “Have fun.”
As dues were collected and contestants and friends were invited to join as Associate members of the society, the money collected exceeded expenses. The idea was proposed to honor the memory of Ernest Hemingway by providing a scholarship or two to students attending FKCC in the field of writing - a noble purpose for the growing treasury. Beginning in the year 2000 Bill Young (Papa 1981) was selected as scholarship chairman, , and he worked closely with Community College to set up the guidelines and select the recipient. Two deserving students each received a $1000 Hemingway Scholarship. The next year, a scholarship was named in honor of Shine Forbes, Hemingway’s sparring partner, and as additional money became available, nursing students were offered scholarships as well.
Fred Johnson became chairman the scholarship program in 2005. From that time forward, ten $1000 scholarships were awarded each year to students in writing and nursing.
In just 14 short years more than $150,000 in scholarships has been awarded to students in the Florida Keys. Current scholarship chairman, Fred Johnson (Papa 1986), is proud of the many supporters of the scholarship fund and of the society’s association with both the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys and the Florida Keys Educational Foundation. He states, “Membership in these foundations will allow us to continue awarding scholarships to Florida Keys students as we pursue our goal of building an endowment fund that will be sustainable over the long term.”
While embracing the camaraderie, enjoying a few cool ones and building friendships is still essential to the activities of the society, raising money for the scholarship fund has now become part of the fun. A fund-raising drive is held in March each year and donations are collected during the many activities held in celebration of Hemingway’s birthday; donations for pictures taken with look-alikes atop the menacing “bulls” during the Running of the Bulls raised over $1,100 this year. And somewhere along the way it was discovered that John Stubbings (Papa 2004) was really an auctioneer in disguise. During one of the first auctions of Hemingway memorabilia, a framed t-shirt from the very first Hemingway Days sold for $3200. The fun(d) was off and running! Each year Hemingway look-alikes from all over generously donate both money and auction items to the scholarship fund. It is the society’s way of giving back to the Key West community that has welcomed it with open arms every July. No longer just a party for “chubby old men with gray beards,” the society is proud that they now embrace a higher purpose. Anyone wishing to donate to this worthy endeavor may do so by contacting Fred Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or a student you know is interested in applying, please have them contact their Florida Keys Community College counselor.