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Chili Challenge raises over $77,000 since 2009

Calvary Lutheran Church took top honors for raising the most funds: $4,033. Dennis Aanenson and Dorothy Meyer served up their hearty chili creation with big smiles. (Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise) 1 / 2
A colorful assortment of chili greeted diners Wednesday. Kelly Hall loaded her plate with numerous selections. "That was a balancing act," she said. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)2 / 2

Appetites were sated Wednesday — and the Hubbard County Food Shelf received 100 percent of the $15,449 raised at this year's Chili Challenge.

Sponsored by the Park Rapids Enterprise, the ninth annual event packed the American Legion and brought the grand total to $77,200 raised since 2009.

Raffle ticket sales for a hand-carved loon by Bob Landrigan and a quilt donated by the Park Rapids Crazy Quilters also contributed to the final total, as did a silent auction of vases and bowls made by Dennis Ernst. The Park Rapids Rotary Club donated $500.

"The generosity of the Park Rapids community is unbelievable," said Candy Parks, advertising manager at the Enterprise. She has coordinated the event since it began.

Calvary Lutheran Church was the top fundraising entrant, collecting $4,033 in food shelf donations.

With their "Chili 2.0" concoction, the Nevis Lions Club won People's Favorite Award for the second year in a row.

Lion Aaron Majors clearly had an effective sales pitch to hungry guests.

"I've got venison and beef and we're reigning champs from last year. You can't go wrong," he said.

This year's Chili Challenge featured 22 contestants, each offering their own special blend of chili.

"We have awesome, creative chili chefs and we have fun," Parks said.

Chefs are notoriously secretive about their recipes. Case in point: The Park Rapids Masons labeled their offering "Guess What?"

After serving beaver-flavored chili last year, the Masons decided to leave ingredients to diners' imaginations this year.

"Beaver was very popular last year," said Mason Colin Perry. "People were very curious."

"I wanted to make chili out of muskrat," said fellow Mason Wayne Smetanka, "but I couldn't find any muskrat. Maybe next year."

Dale Schmid would only confess to putting fresh pinto and kidney beans from his dad's garden into his chili, along with five secret ingredients.

"Hot on the Trail," served by the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, was a 100-year-old Park Rapids family recipe, according to Bruce Johnson and Carter Hedeen.

The Alternative Learning Center (ALC) from Park Rapids School had the youngest participants, with three students on hand.

"We do a chili cook-off in the fall, but this is the first time we've participated in the Chili Challenge," teacher Terry Schroeder said. "We do have families from the ALC who use the food shelf. When I brought it up to a few kids, they were fired up to try it, so we just went for it."

He said their offering, "Atomic Chili," was a combination of ideas from various online recipes.

"We grabbed things that we thought sounded good together and we could not replicate the recipe tomorrow if we tried," he said.

ALC student Kaila Tipton said it was fun talking to everyone and serving the chili.

"It was really nice to raise money for the food shelf which is a great cause in our community," she said.

ALC student Marco Castro-Pallas agreed that making and serving the chili was a fun experience.

"I would like to do it again next year," he said.

Plans are already in the works to participate next year, according to Schroeder.

"They had a good time with it," he said.

"I thought it was cool to see the kids involved," Parks said. "I really thought their chili was delicious and I'm glad to see a new generation joining us. That's how we keep going. We had a few new teams this year and a lot of returning teams. We have some teams who have been with us almost every year since we started."

Enterprise sales and editorial staff launched nine years ago when demand at the food shelf was on the increase and resources were on the decline.

The original founders — Parks, Linda Warmbold, Jean Ruzicka and Betty Norlin — reunited at this year's Chili Challenge, as they do almost every year.

Warmbold wasn't sure if she would make it due to the lambing season, but the ewes cooperated by delivering triplets the day before the event, but none on Wednesday.

Ruzika volunteers at the food shelf during the year as well.

Parks said she appreciates everyone who helped with the set-up, serving, clean-up and everything else needed to make the event run smoothly, with special thanks to the Legion for their use of the space and other contributions.

"Yesterday Jerry found a couple of extra power strips when we were short," she said. "We blow the breakers and he gets things back up and running."

Parks is already making plans to celebrate the 10th annual event next year.

"I wrote ideas down last night and we'll see where they go," she said. "I'm so thankful for the community support because that's most important thing."