Those who roll pumpkins down the M-15 hill in Vassar from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday hope their orbs land in one of several barrels lying on their sides. Pumpkin-throwers who hit those spots win 2-liter bottles of soda pop. Anyone whose pumpkin rolls up a ramp and lands in a large bucket wins $500. (File photo)

Pumpkins — and zombies — go down Vassar hill Saturday

Those who roll pumpkins down the M-15 hill in Vassar from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday hope their orbs land in one of several barrels lying on their sides. Pumpkin-throwers who hit those spots win 2-liter bottles of soda pop. Anyone whose pumpkin rolls up a ramp and lands in a large bucket wins $500. (File photo)
Those who roll pumpkins down the M-15 hill in Vassar from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday hope their orbs land in one of several barrels lying on their sides. Pumpkin-throwers who hit those spots win 2-liter bottles of soda pop. Anyone whose pumpkin rolls up a ramp and lands in a large bucket wins $500. (File photo)

Pumpkins, and the hill on M-15 in Vassar in Tuscola County, share a long history in October.

So when Vassar’s Pumpkin Roll takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday for the 22nd consecutive year, some visitors bring memories that are, well, somewhat colorful.

While the goal for children – or adults – is to roll a pumpkin into a barrel to win a 2-liter bottle of soda pop Saturday, Vassar Mayor Pro Tem Dan Surgent recalled a time in his youth in Vassar when his purpose was more mischievous.

“A buddy and me got on the side of the hill one night, and we had some small pumpkins, and we were gonna hit the first car that came down the hill,” said Surgent, 72.

“We flung the pumpkins at the first car, but it was a police car, and Gordon Carter, the police chief at the time, hit the brakes and jumped right out of the car. I didn’t know that old man could run that fast, but he chased us up Prospect Street, and I don’t know how far we went before he ran out of wind.”

Visitors to Saturday’s Pumpkin Roll won’t need to move so quickly when assembling near the spot where Madison Street meets  M-15 on the hill. Those not bringing their own pumpkins pay 50 cents per pumpkin to roll an orb down the hill at the event sponsored by the Cook GM Super Store in Vassar.

If someone’s pumpkin rolls up a ramp and into a barrel at the bottom of the hill, that person wins $500, though no one has accomplished the feat since the prize was first offered several years ago.

About 2,000 pumpkins were rolled down the hill about six years ago – the all-time high for number of pumpkins sent down M-15. Lately, about 1,300 pumpkins per year have been rolled down the hill, according to Pumpkin Roll volunteers.

“We’re going to try to bring her back around,” said Vassar Police Chief Ben Guile, director of the Pumpkin Roll. Weather forecasts for Saturday call for partly sunny skies and a high temperature of about 65 degrees.

“We’ve added a ‘Zombie Walk’ at the end of the Pumpkin Roll,” Guile said. “The people really get into that, and they enjoy the (zombie-related) TV shows and stuff, so we’re hoping it will bring some more folks out.

“The kids are going to get to trick or treat in the downtown businesses. We’ll have that available for them.”

Guile said Mike Sanders and Vassar area Cub Scouts are organizing the zombie walk, with proceeds benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.

Volunteers apply makeup to help walkers look more zombie-like, at a cost of $2 per person or $5 per family. The walk takes place about 4:30 p.m. after all pumpkins have been rolled down the hill. Would-be zombies gather at Madison Street and M-15 to pay to enter the walk and receive makeup.

“It’s been rainy and cold the last couple years, so we moved the Pumpkin Roll up a week, hoping for some warmer weather,” Guile said. “It looks like the weather’s going to be good for us.”

Surgent said he hasn’t missed a Pumpkin Roll since John Horwath, a former Vassar police chief, founded the event in the 1990s.

“I started out taking my kids, and then I was taking my grandkids, and this year I’m taking my great-grandson,” said Surgent, who plans to bring his 3-year-old great-grandson, Wyatt Sawyer of Hemlock, to the event.

A chili cook-off takes place during the Pumpkin Roll on Saturday in the Cook Budget Lot at Huron Avenue and Division Street. Prospective chili cooks may contact Toni Scribner at 989-863-8192 or by email at: tscribner@vassar.k12.mi.us.

After judges have chosen winners of the cook-off, customers can buy chili by the bowl for a donation, until the soup is gone. Proceeds from the cook-off, and from the Pumpkin Roll, benefit Vassar’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Justin Whitney plays recorded music during the Pumpkin Roll.

Vassar’s Bullard Sanford Memorial Library, 520 W. Huron Ave., hosts Joel Tacey’s Spooktacular Halloween Comedy Show at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Guile said Horwath’s idea to let kids roll pumpkins down the hill – legally – caught on.

“It was his idea to get the teenagers and the kids to quit rolling the pumpkins down the hill, and it worked like a charm,” Guile said. “When it wasn’t dangerous or risky anymore, and everybody could do it, they quit doing it.”

Surgent said he and some friends once rolled a few pumpkins down the hill in the 1950s, and successfully fled Max Harpham, then a Vassar police officer, after their caper.

“The only cop who ever caught us was Don Larsen,” Surgent said. “He could run, and that’s how he caught us after we rolled pumpkins. People don’t think about their (city) council members doing such things, but we were kids once, too.”

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