Sweetcorn and Sweethearts are on the agenda Thursday through Sept. 7 at McFerren Park for the "Historic 66 Years’" of the National Sweetcorn Festival.

In addition to the scheduled events throughout the five-day event, about 50 tons of sweet corn is cooked by an antique steam engine and distributed free to the crowd. Sweet corn distribution begins at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5 until 5 p.m. and continues noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 6 and 7.

For those who love a parade, the grand parade will begin on East Main and Third Street by the historic Lorraine Theatre at 10:30 p.m. Sept. 5, with the steam engines leading the parade.

"Forty queens will be in the pageant this year," said Andrea Glotzbach, parade chairman. "We also are having the motorcycle hearse again this year from Anderson’s Funeral Home."

Grand Marshall for the 66th National Sweetcorn Festival is Dan Breeding, formerly of Hoopeston and a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program in Ventura, Calif., who manages Wild Animal Encounters Inc., a non-profit animal sanctuary on his farm in North Carolina. Breeding has 65 exotic animals on his farm and has on several occasions come back to Hoopeston at the request of the Hoopeston Public Library to do educational programs on exotic animals for area children. His Web site is http://www.wildanimalencounters.com.

Cornjerker fans also will see the updated version of the Jerky, Hoopeston Area High School’s mascot, in the parade. Jerky was unveiled at the Meet the Cornjerkers on Monday. His costume, according to Kevin Root, Hoopeston Area athletic director, cost $4,200, totally funded through Root’s marketing class over a period of two years.

New this year in the parade is a float contest for Hoopeston and Rossville businesses, with a traveling cup for the best full float in the parade. The winner will keep the cup until the next Sweetcorn Festival parade.

"We just wanted to have more floats in the parade," said Jaycee President Shawn Sullivan. "We’re trying to bring that (floats) back."

Other main events scheduled for Labor Day weekend are the truck/tractor pulls on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Demo Derbys I and II on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at the park annex; the children’s petting zoo and pony and camel rides that begin Sept. 5; children’s fishing derby at noon Sept. 6; a chili cookoff in the beer tent near the annex at 2 p.m. Sept. 7, and the antique auto show at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 7 at the south end of the park.

The festival also will feature two country singers on Saturday afternoon, Greg Rhodes and Jenni DeMarco who, according to Brewster, sounds like Taylor Swift. Local area band MyPsalter will play a variety of music to entertain the public at 4 p.m. Sept. 6.

One of the highlights of the festival this year is the possibility of the presence of two former Miss Illinois contestants, Alexandra Hasbargen (2008) and Brooke Judy (2009), both local young women, former Miss Hoopestons and Hoopeston Jaycee members.

"We don’t know that they will be here," said Liz Brewster, festival chairman. "It depends on their class schedules at college."

She added, "Terra Scharlach, Hoopeston’s Miss Outstanding Teen, a contestant at the 2009 Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen Pageant, will be in the parade."

The Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival was organized by local businessmen in 1938 with the first Miss Hoopeston’s nominated by shoppers in local businesses who stopped and voted while they were shopping. The National Sweetcorn Festival originated in 1941, an adaptation of the Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival. It was discontinued in 1942-1947 during World War II and reorganized under the sponsorship of the Hoopeston Jaycees in 1948.

"I just want to thank the Chapter, Senators, and project chairmen for all this hard work, and my oldest son Andrew Finke III who helped pull together my design for the festival," said Brewster. "I’d be bald if not for them."

IF YOU GO

Hoopeston’s McFerren Park is on Penn Street just east of Illinois Route. Gate fees are $1 on Thursday and Sept. 7 for bracelet nights and $2 Friday, Sept. 5 and 6. Children under 7 years old are free. The Sweetheart pageant preliminary rounds will be 7 p.m. Friday and Sept. 5, with the finals at 7 p.m. Sept. 6.

For more information, gate passes or ticket information, contact the Hoopeston Chamber of Commerce, 283-7873.

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