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Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival: After 20 years, three founders are retiring

Saturday, October 8, 2011 | 9:01 p.m. CDT; updated 10:46 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 8, 2011
Pat Singer, left, helps Catherine Craven fish a big gourd out of Hackman Farms' bins at the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival on Saturday. Craven borrowed a wagon from a neighbor to bring to the festival. She filled the wagon with pumpkins and gourds.

HARTSBURG — Children stumbled on the uneven ground of the U-Pick Pumpkin Patch in Hartsburg as they searched for the perfect pumpkin. One little boy, who was wearing a dirt-covered one-piece Cardinals outfit, giggled as he investigated the patch. 

At another farm, boys and girls almost fell into cardboard tubs while trying to lift pumpkins out. Toddlers posed on giant pumpkins.

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Teenagers with their faces painted laughed and ate as they sat on the curbs. Parents ate pretzels or blooming onions and watched their children. Crowds of people flooded the streets walking from booth to booth to see what each vendor had to offer.

Once a year, for the past 20 years, Hartsburg has opened its community to thousands of people for the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. This year, 266 vendors were present, offering knickknacks, food, corn mazes and helicopter rides.

And also this year, three of the original planners of the festival have decided to retire.

Ganelle Cunningham, Nancy Grant and Jo Hackman were the last three of the original founders of the festival that draws thousands of people to their hometown.

"There were six or eight of us. Nancy, Jo and I are the only ones left," Ganelle Cunningham, former president of the committee, said. The others have passed away or just moved on, she said. 

In the past, the three women and others began planning the festival in January, meeting monthly.

They "just did it for the town," Cunningham said. "Something for the town to be identified by."

She said she felt the festival had helped form the community. After the flood in 1993, people who had attended the festival came to help out. She said she felt they might not have come had they not known Hartsburg from the festival.

The festival began in 1991, Cunningham said. David Kelly, the owner of a local cafe at the time, had come up with the idea after doing some traveling around the state.

There were only two pumpkin farms then, Hackman's and one owned by Russell Sapp, this year's pumpkin king. Sapp no longer sells pumpkins, though, Hackman said. The two current pumpkin patches belong to Hackman and Landon Nahler, who grew the U-Pick patch.

Since 1991, the festival has grown. The first festival only took up one street, Cunningham said, and now it takes up most of the town. According to the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival website, attendance has reached 50,000.

"The first year we had about 1,000 people," Hackman said. "Who would have known it would bloom into this?"

Festival leaders honored the three women retiring from the planning committee.

"That's where I got this," Hackman said, smiling and pointing to a sunflower corsage pinned to her orange "Hackman Farm" T-shirt.

Hackman and Cunningham both felt this year was the right time for them to step down.

"I think it's time. I'm getting to the point where it's gotten so big ... I just think it's time for the younger ones," Cunningham said.

Despite retiring from the planning committee, Hackman has chosen to stay busy selling pumpkins.

The festival will continue Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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