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Benedict hosts fall festival

The "peanut gallery" of Hudson Smith, left, Braeden Paavola and Gibson Smith chanted "Eat! Eat! Eat!" during the hotdog contest. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 7
This cherry pie took top honors. Contestants won cash for their efforts. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 7
Kyle Cyr, at left, Jim Erdman and Steve Fenzel sipped water to help the hotdogs go down the gullet. Fenzel was the ultimate winner. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 7
Vince Picha is proprietor of the "Fort Benedict Superstore" in Benedict. He also serves as ringmaster to the town's antics and unofficial public information officer. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 7
Pie contest director Maria Patton (at left) explains the scoring rules to judge Marlys Storm. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)5 / 7
Pie contest director Maria Patton (at left) explains the scoring rules to judge Marlys Storm. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)6 / 7
This pumpkin won the carving contest. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)7 / 7

In a town the size of Benedict, you make your own fun, especially when the 2010 U.S. Census estimates your population at ZERO.

So the 67 alleged residents of the town held their own (and 7th annual) Fall Festival & Pie Baking Contest Saturday.

It was a rollicking good time, a collaboration between the Laporte-Benedict Lions Club and Vince Picha, owner of the "Fort Benedict Superstore," conveniently located at the crossroads of Minnesota Highway 200 and Hubbard County 31. (For those still mystified as to its location, it's on the east central section of Hubbard County south of Laporte).

Picha explains the population discrepancy this way: "It's kind of a strange thing," he said. "The actual sign on the highway does not have a population on it and I guess they don't call us a 'Star City' and I'm not sure what that all means either."

Population notwithstanding, the Benedict bash got off to an early start after some minor squabbling about Picha acting as "sidewalk superintendent," moving vendors about to make room for the tents and everyone selling, He shrugged it off.

Then kids entered the pumpkin-carving contest in three age groups. Picha picks up the story here:

"The carving contest the first place was Cole Lego... It was Jimmy? I'm sorry. His brother Jimmy won. Jimmy Lego, also from Benedict. They had three age categories...Jimmy Lego won first place as far as all of the pumpkins. He was very happy. They're great kids, too. Kids we can hope will be our future generation."

Pumpkin judge Vicki Michaeu took her job seriously scrutinizing the art of each gourd.

And what were her pumpkin-judging qualifications?

"They asked," she said with a shrug of her shoulders. Her criteria were appearance, originality and how the carving fit the pumpkin.

A pie-baking contest followed with 16 entries, all from the Benedict region.

Scrumptious looking pies decorated a long table as organizer Marie Patton lined them up with military precision and assigned a number to each.

Three judges got their scorecards. Each pie was to be judged (from 1 to 5) based on appearance, then crust, then flavor.

"If we have a tie then a fourth judge breaks the tiebreaker," Patton announced.

Once again the criteria for being a judge was a bit amorphous.

"They just told me I am," Marlys Storm said of her conscription, hastily adding, "I'm a pie baker. I like pies."

Pieces were cut for judges to sample as the anxious crowd salivated nearby.

"Believe me everybody here is waiting for them because we're all starving for pie," Lions member Winnie Dau Schmidt told an anxious youngster.

Patton tallied the votes by hand and added up the scores.

Has there ever been a contested election or a demand for a recount?

"Not while I've been doing it," she responded.

According to Picha, Sonja Berg won with her cherry pie. "She was already in this morning and she was very excited," she reported Monday.

"Deborah Carpenter won second and her mother-in-law won third, Picha reported.

"Let's just say the Carpenters put in a respectable showing. That way we won't get in trouble missing anyone's first names."

Berg "had kind of a fancy name on it before that but I can't remember what it was," Picha said of the winning pie's moniker. "She had a very nice pie holder that she made herself with cherries on the handles."

The pie line is then opened to the public, 50 cents a slide, 75 cents for a la mode.

Some went through the line three times to finish off the last of the pies.

Everyone won in that go-round.

Then came a hotdog-eating contest. It almost got canceled due to lack of interest when three hungry guys wandered in.

As Patton went over the rules, contestant Jim Erdman interrupted her.

"You realize we haven't eaten lunch?"

The three men, all friends and co-workers, mutually agreed to coat their dogs with mustard.

"We can't have anyone with an unfair advantage," Patton explained.

But there was a bit of collusion. The men were given eight hot dogs and four minutes to eat them.

"Let's get through the first eight, then we get four more," Erdman suggested in a conspiratorial whisper.

Erdman and Steve Fenzel actually tied after the four-minutes were up. Contestant Kyle Cyr looked like he was about to be sick.

With a peanut gallery of kids standing around chanting, "Eat! Eat! Eat!" the runners-up began dog number 9. Fenzel emerged the winner. It turned out Erdman's eyes were too big for his stomach. The final round of dogs had catsup and mustard to help them slide down more easily.

The day turned out to be a good one.

"The honey vendors did very well," Picha said.

"I'm really pleased that it's locally raised honey and it's been a great contribution for the community although I'm not too pleased about all the bees flying around my building all the time."

The event, which moved to Laporte for two years and struggled, was pronounced a success as it returned to its "homesake."

"Usually the turnout is much better of course, with the weather," Picha said. "Two years ago there was a funeral the day of the contest and it was drizzling and it pretty much shot it."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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