History of Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival

(1991 – Present)

The First Annual Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival brings the celebration of the pumpkin to mid-Missouri on Saturday and Sunday, October 12-13, 1991, Self-claimed “Missouri’s Pumpkin Patch,” Hartsburg will be filled with outstanding arts and crafts, musical entertainment, Halloween decorations and tens of thousands of pumpkins. In true Halloween spirit, the festival features pumpkin carving, pumpkin pie eating competitions, hayrides in the pumpkin patch, pumpkin painting, apple butter making and a straw maze. Pumpkin baked goods can be sampled at the Hartsburg Café and a Pumpkin Festival Cookbook will be available for purchase. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, the spectacular Missouri River Bluffs covered with trees in full autumn bloom, will serve as a backdrop for the Missouri Tourism hot air balloon as it launches from the Pumpkin Patch. The Pumpkin Festival, sponsored by the Hartsburg Bike and Social Club, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday…

…So began a community festival in the fall of 1991, organized by a local group of eight people known as the Hartsburg Bike and Social Club. That first year, no fee was charged for booth spaces (because we didn’t know if anyone would come), the all-pumpkin cookbook sold for $3, t-shirts for $9, and 90-year-old Henry Klemme was crowned Pumpkin King. Twenty-five crafters participated and 6,000 people attended the two-day event. Patsy Dalton, Southern Boone County Commissioner addressed the festival goers. We held a Pumpkin Festival Auction of donated items, which generated money to pay our festival bills. Our first year’s budget was $3,000. (To date our highest attendance has been 50,000 people, with a budget of $18,000.)

Our second festival year, 1992, saw an attendance of 8,000 people, and craft booth fees of $20 were instituted ($50 for businesses). The Festival Parade included the SOBOCO High School Marching Band. This was the first time in many, many years that Hartsburg was to witness to a marching band along its four streets! The Sunday musical entertainment this year focused on gospel music, as it still does today. The Festival Cookbook, still $3, covered a variety of good foods. The official festival t-shirt was designed by Terry Hilgedick, a local farmer.   Terry became our festival t-shirt designer for several years to come.

Herschel Hughes, retiring Pastor of Peace United Church of Christ, became our second Pumpkin King. Two Wagons provided rides for excited children into the pumpkin patch. A Hartsburg history display and quilt show added interest to the 50 varied fall craft and food booths.

The year 1993 was the year of the Great Flood. The Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival was canceled. Our town of 131 people was flooded twice in July, with up to 12 feet of water in some homes for three weeks. Forty of our 50 homes and buildings were extensively damaged by the flood waters and required rebuilding. We were in no shape to host a festival. What’s more, we had no pumpkins. Flood waters had washed away thousands of pumpkin plants and good farm soil, leaving heavy deposits of sand in their place. Gone were future opportunities for rides into the pumpkin patch.

Organizationally, we identified various work assignments for our planners: parking, trash and toilets, crafts and food, cookbook and t-shirts, music, advertising, and street logistics. The eight members Hartsburg Bike and Social Club realized that a Pumpkin Festival Committee needed to be created. John Thomas was elected president, Jo Hackman and Kathy Diederich shared crafts and food duties, and Nancy Grant became the secretary-treasurer. Initially Jon Motter lined up the music groups, but Dennis Groves has assumed those duties in subsequent years. Donnie Cunningham contributed greatly to early street logistics and Information Booth construction. Mike Rodemeyer directed parking in those early years. The Hackman yard has always been demonstration venue for apple butter making. Lauretta Hilgedick directed the making of apple butter, as well as coordination, along with Ganelle Cunningham, of the parade.  (Initially, Donnie and Mike did the parade.) David Kelly was the instrumental with the press contracts’ and advertising strategies. Anja Beckmeyer gathered recipes for the cookbook. Jenny Neikrasz, a local weaver, was liaison to the craft community. Wayne Meyer created the festival logo, and has always laid out the program design through the years. Nancy Grant has always been the Information Lady during the festival.

Our third festival year, 1994, saw an attendance of 12,000 people. Fritz Arnsmeyer, past Hartsburg Mayor for 20 years, was crowned Pumpkin King. In addition to the usual good singing, entertainment included square dancing, a juggling act and puppeteers. Harold O’Neal loaned us his big trailer to use as our center stage on Center Street. The town tractor pulled a borrowed wagon to aid tired festival-goers in their return to their cars. A beautiful orange street banner was created and stitched by Nancy Holland. Walter Sanderson coordinated a Tool Show in the Hartsburg Community Room (Fire Station).

Letters went out to all the Hartsburg area farmers, because their cooperation is vital for an uninterrupted festival. This festival falls (second weekend in October) during the height of harvest activities, and takes pre-planning on the part of a farmer to not disrupt festival browsers with a giant combine lumbering down Main Street. This year commenced the tradition of community payback. We wanted to support flood relief in other parts of the country (Hartsburg had been tremendously helped by volunteers from 27 different states in 1993). We were able to contribute $350 toward a Georgia (rebuilding) Mission Trip. Eight Boone County Sherriff Deputies helped us this year with crowd control. And, we had an ambulance stand by during the two-day event, in case of health emergencies.

The year 1995 drew 18,000 in attendance, and a long-time community volunteer Carl Thomas was crowned Pumpkin King. Carl has been our Town Clerk for over 40 years, and a founding member of the Southern Boone County Firefighters. The Sherriff Deputies’ presence was increased to 15 this year. Our own volunteers struggled to maintain orderly parking. Center Stage was moved to Volunteer Park, its current location.

The year 1996 saw Walter Sanderson, also a long time community volunteer, crowned Pumpkin King, and attendance of 28,000 people. Vernetta Guier joined our ranks, specializing in t-shirts and cookbooks. We had our first “accident” (a car hood got scratched), and we began gifting helpers with Thank you Certificates. The year 1997 continued the attendance growth (29,000), while Al Beckmeyer, a prominent farmer, was made Pumpkin King. Craft booth fees increased to $25, and we began paying service groups for parking assistance. Because of limited real estate, we had to limit total craft booths to 150 and major food booths to 15.

In 1998, we incorporated as not-for-profit organization. By-laws were written and officers were elected. Wayne Hilgedick, a distinguished Hartsburg farmer and serious community volunteer was this year’s Pumpkin King. Attendance reached 35,000 people. The outdoor Sunday festival church service always combines both Hartsburg churches – Hartsburg Baptist and Peace United Church of Christ.

In 1999, we returned to our payback tradition by contributing $2,000 to the Hartsburg Lions Club for the building of a large gazebo in Volunteer Park. The Deputy force was increased to 20, the present day strength. Booth fees increased to $30, but attendance dipped to 30,000. For the first time, we gave and Appreciation Dinner for the Sheriff Deputies and their families, an overture that no other community does for their Deputies, and which we continue to this day. Les Hilgedick was crowned Pumpkin King.

Beginning with the new millennium, those recognized as Pumpkin Kings generally represented the next generation. David Kelly (2000), John Thomas (2001), Dennis Groves (2002), Roland Walker (2003), Clifford Sapp (2004), Dale Lenger (2005), Orion Beckmeyer (2006), and Fred Klippel (2007), Booth fees continued to climb, hitting $60 in 2006 ($10 of which goes to the City of Hartsburg).

We faced our worst fears in 2001, when it rained ALL day that Saturday, but we learned that 5,000 serious shoppers do come out in the rain. Attendance figures peaked in 2005 with 50,000 eager festival goers.

Our crowning achievement occurred in 2004, when we won the “Innovator Award” from the Missouri Division of Tourism. We were considered the “Little Mouse That Roared,” by hosting a festival which drew thousands of participants with such a small budget.

Community contributions of $2000 yearly with lit Christmas decoration purchases in 2000-2003, help on the Fire Department flag pole in 2002, help with the Hartsburg Lewis and Clark Festival in 2004, $3000 contribution toward the town tractor in 2004, purchase of the memorial statue in 2005, and a $1000 contribution toward the John Thomas Ambulance base in 2006.

Though Hartsburg is a small town (population 103 census – 2011), people from the Midwest flock to it during festival days, we think, because of its big family-friendly charm and hospitality.

Happy Pumpkin Festival going, you all!