MARIETTA, Ga. — Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and his wife Penny jumped out of bed early Monday morning, donning their chef’s aprons and shouldering a boxful of decorations before heading over to Jim Miller Park.

It’s the same thing they do every summer about this time in preparation for the Sheriff’s Annual Corn Boilin’, a bustling fundraiser complete with music, scores of elected officials and more than 1,500 hungry guests looking to chow down on plates full of delicious Southern cooking.

Warren and his wife got to work cooking and decorating along with more than 100 volunteers who helped husk corn, fry food and set up for all their excited guests.

“We’ve been on the move all day and it is hot,” the sheriff said after finally getting everything set up. He recalled how someone once asked why he didn’t host his annual event in the fall when it wasn’t 90 degrees out.

“If you can find me somebody who has corn this fresh in the fall, I’d be glad to do it,” he laughed.

The heat didn’t keep the Warrens, the volunteers or their guests from converging on the park and enjoying themselves.

Classic country songs played as children devoured ears of corn. Their parents mingled through the audience, shaking hands with those they knew and introducing themselves to their elected officials and candidates who hope to replace them.

Among those in attendance were several gubernatorial hopefuls: state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Dishes served included freshly-husked boiled corn, ripe summertime melons, fresh tomatoes, beans, hoe cakes and fat back, a freshly-fried, super salty pork.

The charity gathering was started by former Cobb Sheriff Bill Hutson in 1990 as a campaign event, but over the years has evolved into something much greater: a community gathering where Cobb residents can mingle with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, a place where folks can catch up with each other before diving into plates of delicious food.

What began as an event for about 50 or 60 people quickly grew and now boasts crowds of closer to 2,000, organizers said. Proceeds from admission prices go toward funding the Cobb County Youth Museum, which teaches local youngsters about historical events that helped shape the world.

To date, the fundraiser has raised well over $200,000 for the museum, which was presented a $10,000 check following Monday’s supper.

Mark Justice, president of the Youth Museum’s board, said he is grateful for the event and the donations it brings. The money, he said, goes toward staffing the museum and bringing in groups of school children from across the state throughout the year.

“This has a big impact, not just on students from Cobb County, but those who come from other districts as well,” Justice said. “The fundraisers make it possible to keep prices low and about 15,000 students come through the museum each year so this is great for us.”

Hutson, who’s originally from Blairsville, said growing up, his family and their neighbors would celebrate the corn harvest by gathering together and cooking.

“We would have corn, watermelons and sliced tomatoes. It was an old mountain tradition,” he said, calling the event a “poor man’s fundraiser.”

The idea to raise money for the museum, Hutson said, started when the county cut funding for the arts back in the early ’90s.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, who spent all afternoon cooking in the hot sun, spoke with the MDJ after pausing to take a seat and enjoy a chocolate covered ice cream bar.

Tippins has volunteered for the event each of the last 28 years. The Corn Boilin’, he said, began with them cooking around an old wash pot they heated with burning wood.

They now use slightly more sophisticated cooking methods and prepare food for far more people, he said.

Penny Warren said she has amassed a great group of dedicated volunteers.

“They know what to do and they make it easy,” she said. “The 28th Corn Boil — isn’t that something?”

Iris Goode and John Hawes sat together enjoying each other’s company. The high school sweethearts, who attended Campbell High School’s prom together in 1967, reconnected after more than 40 years. Now they’re going steady and enjoy attending the event.

“We like Neil Warren and we like the food,” the Marietta residents said. “We try to come when we can.”

Warren said the camaraderie of his annual Corn Boilin’ is something he and his wife look forward to each year. Carrying on in his predecessor’s footsteps, the sheriff vowed to raise $10,000 a year for the Youth Museum when he first took office.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that,” he said.

Information from: Marietta Daily Journal,