This year's Sweet Corn Festival drew record crowds thanks to perfect weather and many new improvements to the 70th annual event.
MENDOTA – This was a special year for the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival. To mark 70th years of the community’s celebration of corn, the annual end-of-summer event was picture perfect with record crowds enjoying many of the traditional activities that have continued through the decades along with some exciting new ideas to make the Festival better than ever.
Blessed with near-perfect weather throughout the four days, the 2017 Festival kicked off a bit earlier than usual on Thursday afternoon with a Special Afternoon for Special Kids event at the carnival. From 3:30-5:30 p.m. a private armband was available for anyone with special needs and their immediate family. Mendota Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Jesse Arellano and Chamber board president Jan Phalen both agreed that there was good attendance for this new feature and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Arellano explained that the carnival offers this special event in communities willing to host it. “It’s a matter of time constraints and when you can get the streets closed because it has to be a special time when the general public is not there,” he noted. “But the carnival is more than willing to do it and it’s very generous of them because it means they have to come earlier to set up.”
Next year, Arellano plans to improve on the Special Afternoon and make it even bigger. “This being the first year, we didn’t know how much to do with it or how much staff we would need to make sure there were enough people in place,” he said.
Speaking of the carnival, Phalen and Arellano said they could not have been more pleased with Windy City Amusements and they will definitely be back next year. Arellano noted that he wanted to get this carnival for a long time but the Chamber was under contract with another carnival and had to wait. “I actually scoped them [Windy City] out in 2014 right after my first Sweet Corn Festival,” he explained. “So, I knew who I wanted.”
Not only did the new carnival bring an array of colorful, well-maintained rides and games, Arellano said they were very easy to work with and willing to help wherever needed. “They’ve already given us suggestions for next year and a list of the armbands they want to do so we can get the word out in advance,” he added. “With them being new, this year was a trial run to see what times worked best but now we can start planning for next year.”
Phalen noted that the carnival Mega Passes sold well this year but now that people have seen the carnival, she expects the Mega Passes to be an even bigger hit next year.
Another hard-to-miss addition to this year’s Fest was the Chamber’s new, bright yellow mobile information booth. Set up directly across the street from the Chamber office, Phalen said this was a huge improvement for the functionality of the Festival. “I think it also helped with T-shirt sales and 50/50 sales . . . it was right in the hub of things, easy to find and just all around it was 1,000 percent better to have it there,” she said.
Arellano agreed, noting that for the last two years he wanted to make the information booth bigger so there would be more storage. “I just wanted them to knock down a wall and make the booth a little bigger,” he laughed, “but they rolled with it from there and came up with this whole new building.”
One of the longstanding traditions of the Festival took place on Friday evening with the crowning of the 2017 Sweet Corn Festival Queen Gillian Sutton, daughter of Barry and Laura Sutton. She was sponsored by the Mendota Business and Professional Women’s Club. This year’s attendants were Connie Arteaga, daughter of Angie Arteaga, and Valerie Leonard, daughter of Marty and Rita Leonard. Arteaga was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Mendota and Leonard was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council #2090.
Chosen as Miss Congeniality for 2017 was Kathryn McNally, daughter of David and Joanne McNally. She was sponsored by Mendota Elks Lodge 1212.
On Saturday morning, it was time for the younger generation to take the stage for the annual Mini King and Mini Queen Pageant. This year, 27 young contestants gathered on the main stage and one-by-one answered questions from emcee Jan Phalen. Selected as the 2017 Mini Queen was London Jones and Mini King was Camden Pawlowski. London is the daughter of Mike and Lisa Jones and Camden is the son of Eric and Ashley Pawlowski.
Throughout the weekend, Arellano said there was more entertainment than ever packed in starting on Thursday evening with a performance by the Meerekat Mobsters on the main stage. He noted that there were significantly more people at the Fest on Thursday night, a plus for the carnival and vendors. “Most [vendors] said they never had a Thursday like that before,” he said. “Having the Mega Pass and the wristband Thursday night and having a concert on the stage in the park, which we’ve never done before - and we had the info booth open longer this year, it was great.”
Sunday’s grand parade stepped off at 1 p.m. and was led for the 19th year by Mendota Police Chief Tom Smith accompanied by his 1-year-old granddaughter, Amelia. Grand marshal of the 2017 parade was Del Knowlton, a long time community member who was recognized for his many years of service in Mendota. Knowlton not only served for two decades as an alderman, he was a member of the Mendota Fire Department and a past president of the Mendota Chamber of Commerce along with membership in many other civic organizations.
Also featured in the parade were Earl and Marion Barnickel of West Brooklyn, who this month celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Earl, a long time supporter of the Sweet Corn Festival, was also recognized as a participant in the very first SCF Parade in 1948 as a member of the Waltham baseball team.
Another special look back during the parade was a reunion of former Sweet Corn Festival Mini Queens and Mini Kings who have reigned since the Mini Pageants started in 1970.
The 2017 parade winners included Performance Units: 1st Place – Just For Kix Dance Team of Mendota, 2nd Place – Ballet Folklorico Xochiquetzal Dancers and 3rd Place – Mendota VFW Memorial Squad.
In the Commercial Division, 1st Place – Sullivan’s Foods of Mendota, 2nd Place – Diamond Bros. Insurance of Ohio, Ill., sponsors of Grossman Calliope, and 3rd Place – Financial Plus Credit Union of Mendota.
Organization Division prizes went to 1st Place – Mendota High School Class of 1967, 2nd Place – Mendota Mat Masters and 3rd Place – Paw Paw Lions Club.
The Friendship Division 1st Place - Village of Sublette.
In the Antique Vehicles Division, 1st Place – 1942 Ford Fire Truck/Compton Fire Department, 2nd Place – 1930 Model A Ford Coupe/John and Becky Kehoe of Mendota and 3rd Place – 1927 Peter Pirsh Fire Truck/Henry Fire Department.
Winner in the Classic Vehicles Division was, 1st Place – 1963 Chevy SS owned by Ken Arjes of Mendota and 2nd Place – 1970 Olds Cutlass owned by Craig Pohl of Mendota.
In the Antique Farm Implements Division, 1st Place – 1949 Oliver Standard 77 owned by Ryan Furar of Mendota, 2nd Place – 1923 Advanced Rumley Oil Pull owned by Funfsinn Family of Mendota and 3rd Place – 1951 John Deere AW owned by Dwight and Margaret Frick of Mendota.
Trophy winner for Best Use of a Sweet Corn Theme was Mendota Area Senior Services – “CORN” fused about the “Golden Y“EARS” Sail through Medicare with MASS, Grand Marshal’s Trophy went to El Zarape Mexican/American Restaurant of Mendota and the Queen’s Choice was the Operation Christmas Child Float sponsored by Good Samaritans Purse.
Helping people navigate the Festival again this year was a shuttle service provided by the Mendota Police Department as a fundraiser for Special Olympics. Phalen said there was more advance notice about the shuttle this year and their phone numbers were included in the Festival brochure. Not only was the shuttle successful in raising money for a good cause, it also helped people get to the festival, some of whom might not otherwise have been able to attend.
“It was an amazing support network to have them around town,” she added. “Hopefully we can make adjustments and improve the shuttle service even more for next year.”
With the great weather and the Festival’s 70-year milestone, crowds were bigger than ever in 2017. Mendota Police Chief Tom Smith estimated overall attendance of 60,000-65,000 this year compared to 45,000 in 2016. Del Monte also posted larger numbers this year with 56 tons of sweet corn used during the Festival compared to 30 tons last year and the 50/50 drawing reached a record $16,005 with Andrea Rolando of Spring Valley winning the $8,003 prize.
As always, making a successful event of this magnitude requires enormous help from the community. “We couldn’t do this without our volunteers,” Phalen emphasized. “People are amazed that so many individuals can come together and put something like this on. We even had a couple volunteers who were new to the area - one person came out to see what was going on and dove right in. That was pretty fun.”
Along with the volunteers are the city employees who help with prep and clean up. “When you come out here on Monday morning, you don’t know a festival happened - it never ceases to amaze me,” Phalen added. “All the volunteers, you can never thank them enough and all the people that come. We’re just glad that people keep coming.”
For Arellano, there is no time to sit back on the success of the 2017 Festival, however. “Yes, I’m thinking about next year – it’s never ending,” he laughed. “Even on festival weekend, we tell everybody on the board and the ambassadors if they see something that could be improved, write it down so we can compare notes. That has to be the mentality, otherwise you get into the same routine. This year we went all out – these were things we wanted to change for the last few years, things that didn’t work or that we wanted to make better.
“You have to always keep an open mind and listen to the feedback you get from people who come to the festival and listen to any complaints and figure out how to fix that for the next year,” Arellano added. “There’s really no down time in the planning process. If you take a break, you don’t have enough time to make some of those changes.”