Saturday was damp and rainy, a great day for eating a hot bowl of chili.
Unfortunately, it was not a great day to be eating one outside.
Still, Saturday’s 37th annual charity auction and regional cook-off went off smoothly, and was comparatively well-attended, despite the occasion downpours that forced people to duck beneath the chili teams’ tents.
“It was a great day, despite the weather,” said Mason Bean, who heads up the cook-off’s board of directors. “People were paying at 3:30 to get in.”
Bean said the estimated $65,000 taken in on Saturday, plus another $22,000 from the auction, and $8,600 from the beer booth, plus lots of support from 34 corporate, organization and individual sponsors should lead to a gross of about $102,000, a fairly good year given the daunting weather that greeted Tallahasseans when they awoke that morning.
The long weekend began with a well-attended golf tournament at St. James Bay on Thursday morning, the traditional start of the cook-off.
The scramble format tourney drew 54 golfers. “That’s a good turnout,” said organizer Bob Landiss. “We have to do it on Thursday because so many golfers volunteer for the cook-off.”
The winning foursome of Stacy Kirvin, Patrick Sparks, Mac Rochelle and Clint Taylor shot a 20-under par 52,
Following the Friday evening art preview at the fire house, the cook-off got started early Saturday morning with the annual 5k Red Pepper Run.
Then at 11 a.m., Bean opened the annual auction with a plaque presentation, and the dedication of a Lifetime Achievement Award brick paver at the lighthouse, to longtime cook-off supporters Alice Collins and Harry Arnold, both of whom were on hand 37 years ago when the event first got started.
Bean recounted the history for the first cook-off, which Collins won, and she donated the prize of a case of beer, and things snowballed from there, leading to $7,000 in monies raised.
The next year, the cook-off continued to grow, until now it raises six-figures annually for the island’s volunteer fire department
Collins, who helped found the fire department along with her husband, shared her memory of the second cook-off, in which Bean, then the fire chief, promised to shave his head in public if the event raised more than $15,000, which it did.
“At 10 a.m., they had $17,000. They shaved my head on the stage,” he said. Joining him were Woody Miley, Bruce Drye and two other men.
With a pair of professional auctioneers from Atlanta, the auction went smoothly, with the 150 items being cleared out in a matter of two-and-one-half hours. Bean said the golf cart went for about $2,500, and the Hobie Cat sailboat about $350.
The Miss Chili Pepper and Mr. Hot Sauce contest were combined this year, and were unusually subdued, with Georgia Judge William Rambo picking up top honors.
The top honor went to longtime competitor, and winner of most every place in the competition, Wanda Gangwisch, formerly of Panama City and now of Helen, Georgia.
She had not planned to bring her “Three Sheets to the Wind” team down this year, but competition organizer Grayson Shepard convinced her.
“I didn’t think I’d ever come back here again. Grayson reached out to me and I spoke to my friends and they said they would help me. I couldn’t do it without all these friends helping me,” she said.
After renting a house on the island, Gangwisch stayed busy all morning, and was delighted to win it, so much so she immediately donated her $500 first prize money back to the fire department. She plans to attend the world championships in Des Moines, Iowa this year.
Also donating her prize money back was St. George Island’s Cathy Korfanty, who took third place with her Over the Limit team.
Finishing in second place was the Red Hot Chili Preppers, from Panama City, while the Spice Boys, from Vestavia, Alabama, took third and Uncle Bugs’ Gary Carlson, from Connecticut, took fifth.
The Spice Boys’ J. G. Carver won the crockpot competition, which is not governed by International Chili Society rules, which do not allow beans or pasta.
In second place was the Forgotten Coast Parrot Heads, and in third place in the crock pot competition, which drew a bumper crop of competitors, was Levi Stanley, who is from Apalachicola.