BIRTH OF THE GREAT ROTARY CHILI COOK-OFF
Members of the Rotary Club of Fremont Sunrise were making plans to initiate a Tri-City Rotary Club fundraiser as early as December of 1991. A chili cook-off was selected as the fundraiser because chili cook-offs were popular, and because of the ease in preparing and judging the food. It was thought that a Chili Cook-Off would be an ideal way to accomplish joint funding with the other five Rotary clubs for the free medical clinic that opened on January 18, 1992 and to have fun and good fellowship while doing so.
The event was set for Sunday, March, 15, 1992, at the Niles Country Dance & Banquet Hall in Fremont. Five judges would select the top three chilies. Prizes were donated by sponsors. A western theme with music and a casual atmosphere was chosen.
Temporary rules were set up to include:
- Each club must furnish their own equipment, food and cooks.
- The chili had to be cooked on site (1 – 3 varieties of chili, 5 gallons each per club).
- Each club had to set up & break down their work site.
- Each club had to sell tickets to their own club members, family members and friends.
The charge would be $5.00 per person to attend and sample as many varieties as people wished plus soft drinks or coffee.
Fremont Sunrise issued a challenge to the other five clubs. They wanted to find out which club had the best cooks? Which club was the most full of beans? And which club was the most competitive? Other Service Clubs would be eligible to enter the cook-off and sponsors were sought.
All proceeds would benefit the free medical clinic.
The event was a huge success even though it rained. There were more guests than available room and chili allowed. Of course many lessons were learned. A larger site had to be selected. Contestants had to prepare more chili. Tasting samples had to be limited. The following year The Great Rotary Chili Cook-Off was held at Holy Spirit Church in Msgr. Breen Hall. Eight gallons of chili were required from each competitor. The tasting samples were limited to five because the first year in order to taste each chili many guests ate one spoonful and threw the rest away. Other community organizations, firemen, policemen, restaurants etc, were invited to compete.
The location of the chili cook-off has moved several times to the following areas: South 40 Club, Parking lot at Washington Hospital West, and the Saddle Rack. At these locations the event was held outdoors. Rain was always a threat so through the years the month of the event was changed from March to June and now is held in June or July.
The International Chili Society joined The Great Rotary Chili Cook-Off in 1998 at the South 40 Club. That year it started to rain at the end of the event. So everyone was huddled inside for the awards ceremony. In 2006 the area leader for the International Chili Society moved and the schedules for the two organizations did not coincide any longer for ICS to participate in The Great Rotary Chili Cook-Off.
Fred Weibel Jr. and Doug Richards chaired the Chili Cook-Off for Fremont Sunrise for a couple of years (2001-2003). Some clubs had started to drift away from the fundraiser. Fred and Doug met with the Presidents of the other clubs to regain their support. They reorganized the committee for the Chili Cook-Off to be made up of members of all six Rotary clubs. The chair of the committee would rotate from club to club each year. Following the reorganization a natural leader, Daren Young, Rotarian from Niles, took command and the Great Rotary Chili Cook-Off rose to a new level. The proceeds increased tenfold. Most Area 3 clubs have many members now participating in the event.
With the increase in proceeds, the Rotary Clubs decided to increase the number of organizations that would benefit from them. Along with the Tri-City Rotary Clinic, Washington on Wheels and the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation were added to the list of those receiving benefits. In 2008 the HOPE Project Mobile Clinic was added to the list.
Moving the location to the Saddle Rack improved the atmosphere and production of the event. Gary Robinson, Rotarian from Niles, chaired the cook-off in 2008 and brought in the Firefighter Combat Challenge. This move greatly increased the number of attendees.
The original goals of all Area 3 Rotary Clubs in District 5170 are still being met. A new club, F.U.N. Sunset, started in 2004 and they too are on board to help provide funding for the Tri-City Rotary Clinic. With the success of “The Great Rotary Chili Cook-Off,” this area fundraiser is able to help three other organizations as well. It has turned out to develop goodwill and better friendships between club members and they certainly have never stopped having fun.