Chicken flippin’ (Toledo Blade)

Mom recently sent me the following article on the annual Delta Chicken Festival. Hard to believe that my hometown ever had a movie theatre, let alone five grocery stores. I remember when for a time Delta had no grocery stores. I actually lament the decline of retail services in the village, as local shops bring vitality to any community. At any rate, it’s good to see people come together for the Chicken ‘Fest.

Chicken flippin’ festival celebrates 50 years in Delta
By Jane Schmucker (Toledo Blade)

When the Delta Chicken Festival parade makes its way through this eastern Fulton County village this afternoon – led by about a dozen former festival chairmen being honoured as grand marshals – it will celebrate an event that has continued for 50 years much the way it started, in a village that has changed significantly.

Fifty years ago, Delta had five grocery stores, four new-car dealerships, three hardware stores, a men’s clothing store, a women’s clothing store, a jewelry store, a movie theatre, and a distinctive hotel with a restaurant, bar, and barbershop operating inside it.

Today, the village has about 800 more people than it did then, pushing its population up to 2,948, according to the US Census Bureau’s estimate for 2004. But the retail scene is vastly different than it was in the mid-1950s.

There are at least three antique stores and a shop selling used clothing and other items, none of which existed in the village 50 years ago. But there’s only one grocery store, one used-car dealership, one hardware store, and no stores devoted to new clothing or jewelry. The very idea of a village movie theatre or full-service hotel seems impossible.

Through it all, however, Delta annually has gathered hundreds of volunteers to raise money for its community park by barbecuing chicken and putting on an art show, flower show, and concerts that together are expected to draw some 20,000 people for this year’s three-day festival that ends today.

“Frankly, the [festival] hasn’t changed much,” said Village Administrator Gary Baker, who was a festival co-chairman in 1973, 1984, 1990, and 1991.

Even the newer additions to the festival have marked several anniversary years of their own. Yesterday’s 5K Chicken Run was the 33rd, making it one of the oldest such runs in the area. The car, truck, and motorcycle show, which is to open at 9 this morning, is in its 21st year and is expected to draw 200 vehicles.

Preparing the festival’s namesake chicken – this year 9,000 halves are expected to go over the fire – is “just a real job,” said Gene Patterson, who’s helped for 47 years and was scheduled for duty again this morning.

Over the years, area folks who work the barbecue pits have learned how to spin the heavy racks – they each hold 30 halves of chicken – to keep them cooking evenly, despite a fire that’s grown hotter than expected or untimely winds.

And festival-goers have noticed. “People wait all year for how good the chicken is,” said Sue Davis, who has been co-chairman with her husband, Mike, for the last 10 years.

Festival chairmen also have learned much about simply making money from the event, which raised as much as $22,000 several years ago.

When the Delta Jaycees headed up the festival in the 1970s, they compiled a 250-page book of specific instructions on organizing each show and food stand. They included in it their mistakes, in hopes that future organizers wouldn’t repeat them.

One of the worst blunders that Russ Dailey, co-chairman in 1979, recalled was choosing a mechanical ride company that proved so unreliable that festival organizers helped transport the rides to Delta and set them up.

The festival’s biggest controversy was almost certainly changing the schedule so that its last day was on Sunday instead of closing Saturday night. That change was made in 1970 and the Jaycees met with the local ministerial association, which Mr. Dailey recalled was not too happy with the idea of selling chicken and playing bingo on the Lord’s Day.

An earlier change was moving the festival from downtown to the park area. Highway officials ordered that move, saying tractor-trailers and all the other traffic on Delta’s Main Street, which is U.S. 20A and State Rt. 2, and in the western part of the village State Rt. 109, could no longer be redirected onto village side streets.

Such are the stories that will be remembered this afternoon when former festival chairmen – there have been about 45 over the years, though many are now deceased – are to be honoured as grand marshals of the more than 100-unit parade that is to step off at 2 p.m.

The theme is “50 Years of Flippin’ Chicken,” and organizers hope that it generates excitement among younger people to take on leadership roles in the festival.

Over the years it has yielded several hundred thousand dollars profit to help give Delta Community Park a swimming pool, tennis courts, playground equipment, restrooms, concession stand, and parking lot. And the community coming together to barbecue and eat chicken every summer has been a constant over decades when much else has changed.

“It’s just a friendly time,” said Ray Falor, who was co-chairman in 1963. “And the chicken is also delicious.”

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