Ashlyn Kennedy, center, was chosen as this year’s Sweet Corn Festival Queen on Aug. 9. Named as her attendants were Michaela DeLong, left, and Rachel Barr. (Reporter photo by Jennifer Sommer)
MENDOTA - Queens were crowned, trophies were won and tons of corn was consumed during Mendota’s 66th Annual Sweet Corn Festival held Aug. 8-11. Taking advantage of nearly perfect weather, a larger than normal crowd attended Mendota’s longstanding celebration of corn. Except for a brief cloudburst prior to Friday evening’s Sweet Corn Festival Queen Pageant, pleasant temperatures and blue skies were enjoyed throughout the four-day festival drawing locals and visitors by the thousands to the streets of Mendota.
Mendota Police Chief Tom Smith estimated this year’s attendance at 60,000-65,000 people, noting that there seemed to be a larger than usual crowd lining the streets to watch the parade on Sunday. Chamber of Commerce executive director Alison Wasmer agreed, saying attendance seemed better throughout the festival and especially on Sunday. “I know the corn serving line was longer,” Wasmer said. “At one point someone said the line was all the way down to the [Hume-Carnegie] museum. I don’t know if it got that far but the line lasted longer than usual.”
What would entice thousands of people to stand in a line – at times two blocks long – in downtown Mendota on a Sunday afternoon? Free Del Monte sweet corn, of course. Plates of the hot, buttered ears were served by volunteers as quickly as they were cooked, which kept the line moving at a reasonable pace. Serving began at 2 p.m. and three hours later, the line was still a block long stretching down Illinois Avenue, another sign that this year’s crowd was larger than normal. “Usually by 5 p.m., people aren’t waiting in line any more,” Wasmer noted.
Even with the large attendance, Wasmer said this year’s festival ran smoothly all weekend. The only potential concern was the brief downpour on Friday, which could have affected the location of the Queen Pageant. But even that did not cause worry for Wasmer nor Chamber executive secretary Roberta Friedlein. “I wasn’t concerned because Roberta’s son, Matt, works for the weather service, so he texted me updates,” Wasmer explained. “He said it’s going to rain, but it’s going to stop by 6:45 p.m. Sure enough, it did. I said, ‘OK Matt, I’m trusting you that we don’t have to move the pageant.’”
The Festival officially kicked off on Thursday evening with the opening of the carnival and food vendor booths downtown and the WGLC/Q Idol Contest for youth on the Main Street stage. Wasmer said she noticed right from the start that the crowds seemed larger than usual.
On Friday, the first full day of the festival, an armband special at the carnival again drew a crowd. Kids of all ages packed the streets while enjoying unlimited carnival rides all afternoon. Entertainment was provided by Billy the Balloon Guy, who made unique balloon creations, and magician Cory Leonard, who displayed his astonishing street magic for young and old.
The highlight of Friday evening was the crowning of the 2013 Sweet Corn Festival Queen Ashlyn Kennedy, daughter of Tim and Kim Kennedy. She was sponsored by Mendota Community Hospital & Auxiliary. Her attendants were Rachel Barr, daughter of Terry Barr and Cheryl Barr, and Michaela DeLong daughter of Michael and Janet DeLong. Barr was sponsored by Mendota Women of the Moose #1567 and DeLong was sponsored by the Mendota Quarterback Club.
This year's Miss Congeniality was Tiffany Newell, daughter of Kimberly Newell of Mendota and the late David Newell. She was sponsored by the Mendota Elks Lodge 1212. Prior to the pageant and during intermission, entertainment was provided by the Decatur Park Singers.
Saturday morning brought the opening of the Craft and Vendors Market, always a huge attraction at the Fest. Nearby, in the Hume-Carnegie Museum driveway, a steady stream of book lovers browsed the annual Friends of the Library book sale. For the first time this year, the Mendota Farmer’s Market joined the Saturday morning marketplace, setting up shop in the Elks Lodge parking lot.
The annual Mini King and Queen Pageant also took place Saturday morning as about 25 little ones lined the main stage and answered questions from emcee Jan Phalen. Mia Trolinger was selected as the 2013 Mini Queen and Julius Arteaga was chosen as the Mini King. Mia is the daughter of Roger and Carrie Trolinger and Julius is the son of Jaime and Nikki Arteaga.
New to the Fest this year was a performance by Robin’s Dog Stars following the mini pageant. Robin Bengtson, handler, brought a trio of trained canines who performed a variety of tricks for the crowd – everything from jumping through hoops to counting and climbing a ladder.
Prior to the mini pageant, visitors were entertained by world record holding rope jumper David Fisher, “The Rope Warrior.”
Returning for a second year on Saturday was Mr. Steve, who gave three entertaining performances of his musical comedy show at the corner of Illinois Avenue and Jefferson Street. Another return event on Saturday was a bags tournament held on Main Street for over 20 teams. Winners of the bags tournament were Jimmy Matsko and Josh Purvis, 1st place, and Cory Demay and Ryan Windsor, 2nd place.
Sunday's grand parade stepped off at 1 p.m. led by Chief Smith. Grand marshal of the 2013 parade was Mendota native Dr. Robert Krenz. In addition to practicing dentistry in his hometown for the past 63 years, Krenz has been very active in community service through the years and is a very devoted Mendota sports fan. He was joined in the parade by his granddaughter, Jessica Krenz Richards, who was the 1996 Sweet Corn Festival Queen.
Parade winners included Marching/Precision Units – Jesse White Tumbling Team from Chicago (1st) Golden Knights Drill Team of Chicago (2nd) and Mendota VFW Memorial Squad (3rd) and for Musical Units - Clan MacAlpine Pipes & Drums of Rockford (1st), Grand River Singers of La Crosse, Wis. (2nd) and Fifes & Drums of Janesville, Wis. (3rd).
In the Antique Vehicles Division, a 1936 Ford 1 1/2 ton truck owned by Leonard Funfsinn of Mendota won 1st place; a 1930 Model A Ford Coupe owned by John Kehoe of Utica and Rebecca Duke of Mendota took 2nd place; and a 1932 Chevy Fire Truck owned by the Sublette Fire Department got 3rd place.
In the Classic Vehicles Division, 1st place went to a 1970 Chrysler convertible owned by Otto Meyer of Mendota; 2nd was won by a 1980 Seagrave fire engine owned by Jim Burke of Warrenville; and 3rd place was a 1964 Lincoln convertible owned by Tim Phalen of Mendota.
In Antique Farm Implements, 1st place went to a 1923 Rumley oil pull owned by Leonard Funfsinn of Mendota; 2nd place was a 1952 Case DC-3 owned by Chad Hamrick of Spring Valley; and 3rd place was a 1951 John Deere G owned by Robert and Pauline Bulfer of Sublette.
Trophy winner for Best Use of a Sweet Corn Theme was the Mendota High School cheerleaders “Cream of the Crop” float and corn cheer, Mayor’s Choice went to Del Monte Foods “Garden of Quality Goodness” float and the Queen’s Choice was the Jesse White Tumblers.
In the Organization Division, 1st place went to the Mendota High School cheerleaders “Cream of the Crop” float and corn cheer, 2nd place was First United Presbyterian Church of Mendota float and Notaboutus Band and 3rd place was the Rochelle Migrant Program float and dancers.
In the Commercial Division, 1st place was won by Grossman Calliope – Farmer’s State Bank of Sublette, 2nd place was Del Monte Foods “Garden of Quality Goodness” float and 3rd place went to No Place Like Home float from Earlville.
The Village of Sublette float was awarded first place in the Friendship Division and the City of Amboy received second.
At the close of the festival on Sunday evening, a large team of volunteers took to the streets for the huge job of cleaning up. But Wasmer said even this final step of the festival went surprisingly well. “We had a lot of help and clean up went really fast,” she said. “We really appreciate all the volunteers who came out to do that.”
Reflecting on the four days of the 2013 Sweet Corn Festival, Wasmer said from her perspective this year was nearly perfect. “Nothing went wrong - we lucked out,” she said. “Some years it seems people are in a frenzy, worried about setting up and tearing down. But this year it all flowed.
“We have people who have been doing this for years,” she pointed out. “That’s absolutely an advantage. They show up every year – for corn serving, for tear down – they know how it goes and can show the new volunteers what to do. Without that it would be a lot harder.”