Tuscola County Pumpkin Festival in peril?

Organizers faced with pie-making dilemma after Caro Knights of Columbus calls it quits

By Bill Petzold

CARO — Unless someone steps forward, this year’s Tuscola County Pumpkin Festival may be the last.

Pumpkin Festival board president Roger Reid and board member Louise Hodges spoke with The Advertiser on Thursday evening, saying that funds are in place to put on this year’s event, but after that the future is uncertain.

The Caro Knights of Columbus Council No. 3224 recently informed Pumpkin Festival organizers that it no longer will help bake the more than 4,000 pumpkin pies it baked annually — sales of which provided a majority of the funds used to put on the Pumpkin Festival.

The following letter ran in Wednesday’s Advertiser under the heading “All good things must end”:

Editor, Advertiser:

The members of Council #3224 of the Knights of Columbus would like to take this oportunity to thank the Tuscola County Pumpkin Festival for the longstanding partnership that our two organizations have had over the years. But, as noted English author Geoffrey Chaucer said, “All good things must come to an end”.

For over 30 years, the Caro Knights have donated their facilities and manpower to bake tens of thousands of pies for the Pumpkin Festival. The time, talent, and treasures that the Knights have given to this project cannot begin to be counted in dollars or hours. It has been a pleasure to provide this community service to the Festival.

We wish the Tuscola County Pumpkin Festival best wishes in their future endeavors.

Sincerely, John Papp, Jr., Grand Knight, Caro Knights of Columbus.”

The letter does not explicity say why the K of C is discontinuing its association with the Pumpkin Festival at this time, and neither Reid or Hodges would speculate as to the reason for fear of creating a rift between two groups that have worked together for decades to benefit the community at large.

“We lost $18,000 last year,” Reid said. “What we do is we sit down every year, decide on things that we want to put on for the community for the Pumpkin Festival. The whole idea of the Pumpkin Festival is that it’s a free weekend for the residents of the Thumb. It’s always been that way, and it should always be that way. What we did last year, we put on a few more events. Sponsorships were down, but we still have a lot of great sponsors. We overspent, but we have some reserve. And through our sponsorships and by selling the pumpkin pies, that is where the money comes from to pay for everything that goes on.”

“We have to pay for dumpsters, port-a-johns, we have to pay for the pumpkins, we have to pay for the upgrading of the courthouse lawn as far as the fence and bleachers,” Hodges added. “We have to pay for all the barrels that are up and down the street for trash control and to make our community really presentable – the lights in the trees; everything has got to be paid for, and it all comes out of the money — the general fund — which is 90 percent (from) the sales of the pumpkin pies.”

Hodges said that whatever ingredients for the pies are not donated for the event are purchased by the Pumpkin Festival board. Traditionally, the K of C’s role was to fold the thousands of pie boxes and bake the pies to put in them, a massive undertaking made simpler by many hands. It was reported in 2010 that 4,300 pies were baked and sold at $7 apiece — funds which benefitted the Pumpkin Festival, funded the next year’s event, and for years funded $4,500 in scholarship money — $500 to a student from each of Tuscola County’s nine high schools. Reid added that he and his son or other Pumpkin Festival volunteers would transport the finished pies from the K of C hall on Ryan Road to the vendor tables along State Street in downtown Caro.

Reid said that his mother, Ruby Reid, was one of the founders of the Pumpkin Festival, along with Gary Fulgham, Carol Ellsworth, John Sauber, Paul Golsch, and Elvie Hayes, who joined forces with the great Pat Boylan from Caro’s K of C to create the Pumpkin Festival, which will celebrate its 34th year October 1 through 5, 2014.

Aside from another group with a commercial kitchen and enough volunteers to bake more than 4,000 pies stepping up to take over the pie-making effort, this year’s Pumpkin Fest will be the last. The festival’s bylaws provide for the spend-down of leftover funds.

“Our (dilemma) is now, if we don’t have the pies, there will not be another Pumpkin Festival,” Reid said. “We have enough money to put it on one more year. There will be some money left, and in our bylaws it states that when (the Pumpkin Festival) is done and over with, we have to donate that money. If this is the last year and there is money left over, we will donate it to different places as a board. If we can’t agree, it goes to the circuit court judge, and the circuit court judge will determine where the money goes. It’s right in the bylaws.

“So we are looking for other organizations that can help out with the pies. What we heard from the KCs was, ‘Can’t you find something else to sell to make money?’ but it’s always been the pumpkin pies. We have people from Saginaw and all over the Tri-Cities that drive over just to buy pies.”

Hodges said if an organization were looking to take over, the ingredients are available free of charge.

“We need an organization that is willing to step up to the plate, and all the ingredients that we have for these pies are available; we puchase those,” Hodges said. “We get some of the products donated by Michigan Sugar, but the sugar, the cinnamon — everything that we need to make those pies — will be available, so no one will have to purchase that stuff. The organization that wants to take this on, they have to cook in a commercial kitchen; it has to be state registered and it has to be state regulated.”

With volunteers in short supply these days, Reid said finding a group to raise their hand and say, ‘Sure, we’ll bake 4,000 pies for you’ is a longshot.

“We’re going to put the festival on this year the same way we always have,” Reid said. “If we don’t have any pies, we don’t have any pies. The way we’re looking at it right now, this is the last year. This is it. Some miracle is going to have to happen to keep it going.”

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  • justwondering25

    I think we need to relax and see what more information comes out …… but if we didn’t have the festival again I don’t think it would be a big deal ….. I usually only go to the parade once in a great while …..

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