Wait no more, the 43rd annual Chatham Jaycees Sweet Corn Festival is here! We spoke to 40-year-old Chatham Jaycees President, husband, and father of four Daniel Lund – who has been with the organization for 10 years – to learn more about the history and importance of this fun filled, delicious, event.
Why did you become involved with the Chatham Jaycees and Sweetcorn Festival?
I became active with the Chatham Jaycees because I enjoy community service and helping make my community a better place. The Sweetcorn Festival is our largest fundraiser that allows us to help the community in a variety of ways including clothes and shoes for kids, supporting youth sports teams, Eagle and Girl Scouts projects, park projects, and much more.
Who started the Sweetcorn Festival?
We believe…“ that service to humanity is the best work of life.” The closing line of the Jaycees’ creed is an ideal the Chatham Jaycees live to the fullest in our quest to serve the community of Chatham. As part of that service, the Chatham Jaycees conducts its renowned Sweet Corn Festival (SCF) each July. The annual summer festival brings together residents of Chatham and the surrounding area for a weekend of food, family, and entertainment.
The SCF was started in 1973 by a newly established Chatham Jaycees chapter as a service project to raise money for the club and provide a fun-filled weekend for village residents. The club was started with the assistance of the Springfield Jaycees chapter and it planned to use the event to establish and sustain the new chapter as an independent club.
The SCF has grown dramatically in 43 years from its humble beginnings, from being held on one block of one street next to the Village Square, to filling all of Chatham Community Park. Initial profits started and sustained a small Jaycees chapter, and now profits provide for a wide range of community support, from construction and park improvement projects to educational support to charity for those in need, and to sponsorship for other organizations that support Jaycees’ ideals.
How do the Jaycees put on such a large event?
The Chatham Jaycees is a 100% volunteer-driven organization, and the SCF is no exception. In fact, it takes the volunteerism of the current club members and expands it throughout the community for a summer weekend each year. Early festival planning and organization occurs within the active membership of the Jaycees and the year’s event chairs. These volunteers set the framework and parameters for the festival. Over 43 years, the SCF has grown so large that it is impossible for the current club members to run the event all on their own. That is where the large-scale community support of the project really shows up.
In order to staff the food service lines and quickly serve the thousands of people that came through the festival, a local Boy Scouts troop volunteered to serve food the entire weekend. Thetroop members, troop leaders, and many parents filled the food line shifts with as many as 24 volunteers at once to keep up with customer demand. Behind the line, a team of dedicated grill masters (referred to as the ‘engine room’) is staffed with volunteers of current and former Jaycees and some dedicated family members.
The soda wagon provides the festival’s non-alcoholic drinks. In 2013, numerous shifts were staffed by local Girl Scouts troops, troop leaders, and overseen by Jaycees area chair volunteers.
Beer wagons were located throughout the festival grounds, with the large Pirate Bar providing a hub in the center. Each location was lead by Jaycees volunteers, and the manpower necessary to keep up with the demand was filled with volunteers from friends, family, and former club members. Each wagon master (person in charge of the station) and the team took time before the festival to go through ID training provided by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Operation Smart ID to enhance the safety of the festival. All on-site purchases were made through a ticket system at the festival’s ticket booth. The Jaycees partnered with the Chatham Chamber of Commerce to recruit volunteers to sell tickets from open to close each night. The Chamber volunteers represent all aspects of the village’s business network, and their participation shows our business leaders recognize the importance of the festival.
At the entrance to the park was another team of volunteers collecting parking donations. The second troop of Boy Scouts patrolled the park the entire festival picking up trash, keeping all the bins and recycling boxes cleaned, and the park it top shape. Volunteers lead by an active Jaycee member manned the various events and demonstrations, which occurred during the festival.
The community support shown to the Jaycees for the SCF is unparalleled. The volunteers for all these areas are not difficult to find, and no area showed up wanting for more help. From start to finish, everything was well staffed and flowing properly. The SCF is not just a Jaycees event. It has been adopted as a true community event with a place for everybody — working or enjoying the fun. Local government support is shown in the same fashion. The only request made by the Jaycees for the SCF was the issuance of a temporary local liquor license and permission to use the park. Both requests were granted with the unanimous support of the village president and trustees.
Parking donations are requested at the entrance to the park, but nobody was turned away, and there was no admission fee to the festival. Contests such as the volleyball tournament, Illinois Championship Cow Chip Throw, and the Sweet Cornhole bags tournament provided the remaining revenue of the festival.
About how many visitors does the festival bring each year?
We estimate that we park over 2,500 cars over the two days with an estimated 7,000 visitors to the festival.
Are there any special vendors or features during this year’s event?
New features include: 1st Annual Chatham Jaycees Sweetcorn Festival Dunk Tank featuring local officials and dignitaries, the kids’ zone will feature new inflatables including the Human Hungry Hippo, the Wrecking Ball, and Knockerball.
Is there anything first-time visitors should know or expect?
Come for the corn and stay for the fun. The Chatham Sweetcorn Festival is a free event that includes many activities occurring over the two days (Friday, July 21st, and Saturday, July 22nd) – there is something for everyone to enjoy. Friday night highlights include: Miss Sweet Corn Pageant at 5pm followed by live music by After Sunset and X-Krush. Saturday highlights include: Illinois Championship Cow Chip Toss at 2pm with live music provided by Take 10 and Broseph E. Lee.
How could those interested become involved in the Chatham Jaycees and Sweetcorn Festival in the future?
The Jaycees is a leadership training organization composed of people age 18-39. But, if you were 40 or older, we would still love to have you get involved and join us.
We are actively seeking new members who are interested in personal growth through community involvement. If you are holding back because you are concerned about not having enough time to commit, consider this: many hands make light work. Our members and volunteers participate when they can. The annual Sweet Corn Festival is a huge event and we need all hands-on deck. It’s a great opportunity to serve your community, but it’s also a great opportunity to make a lot of great friends right here in Chatham while making it a better place.
We highly encourage you to come out to any one of our upcoming meetings or events to learn more about us – no obligation. We meet twice a month, the first and third Thursdays of each month, at 8pm. You can find us at the Chatham VFW Post 4763, 501 W. Mulberry St., Chatham.
Do you have any fun or historical facts that you would like to share?
In 1996, the Chatham Jaycee President, Dave Schall was a featured guest on the Late Night Show with Conan O’Brian. On the show, Dave and Conan discussed the sport of Cow Chip Throwing.
Address: 9505 S. Main Street Chatham, IL 62629