Chili Challenge raises $9,356 for Hubbard County Food Shelf

Chili chefs answered the call, hungry diners sampled 21 varieties of chili, and a generous community raised $9,356 for the Hubbard County Food Shelf. Sponsored by the Park Rapids Enterprise, the Chili Challenge was held Wednesday at the American ...

Theora Goodrich and Sharon Natzel of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations were "Keeping It Reel" Wednesday. In honor of Lent, they made both meatless and meat-filled chilis. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

Chili chefs answered the call, hungry diners sampled 21 varieties of chili, and a generous community raised $9,356 for the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

Sponsored by the Park Rapids Enterprise, the Chili Challenge was held Wednesday at the American Legion. Over the past decade, the annual event has garnered a grand total of $103,533 - with 100 percent of proceeds going to the food shelf.

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 wooden vases and bowls crafted by Dennis Ernst.

Sheriff Bufford L. Bean (a.k.a. assistant food shelf director Denny Ulmer) made a special appearance, swaggering in all the way from Chili County, Texas, with his 10-gallon hat.

"You can spell that Chilly or Chili, either way," he said.


Sheriff Bean stood ready to "keep the peace."

"I'm going to be citing people that I see ain't eating enough chili. They'll be getting a citation. I'll be carrying them out," he said, armed with handcuffs and Prilosec. "Just in case of a heartburn emergency, I'm prepared."

Appropriately, Hubbard County Food Shelf volunteers brought "Texas Red Chili."

Twenty-one contestants offered their own unique blend of chili, often with outrageously fun names. TEAM Industries' concoction was "Engineered to Perfection," while the Itasca-Mantrap Co-op Electrical Association brought "Jerry's Electrified Chili."

The Nevis Lions completed a rare clean sweep as both the top fundraising entrant at $1,870 and their brew, "Hungry, Hungry Lion," was voted People's Favorite as the best-tasting chili.

Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) dished up "Keeping It Reel Chili." Their team finished a close second, raising $1,708.

"We're reeling you in with great chili," said Theora Goodrich, a COLA member.

"Keeping it 'reel,' too," added COLA president Sharon Natzel.


This was COLA's seventh year at the Chili Challenge, having won it three times and placing second twice.

Citizens National Bank has participated since the event's beginning in 2009.

"We might have been the inaugural winner," recalled Jason Funk.

This year, they served "CNB's Chili-licious Chicken Chili," bringing $1,074 in donations.

Cwikla ACE Hardware were this year's "newbies" to the Chili Challenge. Avid hunter Jeff Cwikla supplied the elk for "ACE's Elk Chili."
"I had a good year on elk hunting, so I had to put it in chili," he said.

It was also the first year for Park Rapids American Legion Auxiliary members Jean Prater and Dorothy Pierzinski. Their "White Fish Chili" drew a great deal of attention. It featured walleye.

"When we found out it was Ash Wednesday, we knew we had to have a meatless chili, and we just put it together. Our brew base is mashed potatoes and half-and-half, lots of celery and onions," said Pierzinski. "And since we live on a lake, we decided we had to empty out our freezers of all the fish we've been catching."

Pierzinkski lives on Moran Lake, Prater on Potato Lake.


"A lot of people are saying they're curling up their noses, and then they're back for seconds," Prater observed.

"It's for a good cause," Pierzinski said.

Both enthusiastically said they will return to next year's Chili Challenge.

Enbridge's "Piping Hot Chili" earned much praise, with its zippy blend of cilantro, pork and bruised whole cumin.

Sick of the polar vortex, Tammy Zunich-Andersen of Northwoods Bank presented "It's a Tropical Vortex Kind of Chili," filled with fruits like pineapple, mandarin orange and mango.

ACTION Park Rapids, the Park Rapids Lions, Park Rapids Rotary, Beagle and Wolf Books, North Country Trail Association, Park Rapids Masons, First English Church of Dorset, Calvary Lutheran Church, Dorset Chick 'N Coop and Northview Bank were among the local businesses or organizations vying for the title of People's Favorite.

"We really appreciate the community's support and the Enterprise's support," Ulmer said.

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


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.

Per tradition, the hot pots of chili briefly blew the breakers along one wall, but Parks quickly got things back up and running.

And to whoever brought the yummy blueberry crumble for the dessert trays: We want to know your recipe!

The next Chili Challenge is slated for March 4, 2020.

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