Great times in spite of clouds

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

The sun finally convinced the clouds to move on as the winner of the &uot;Peanut Butter Sculpture Contest&uot; was announced Saturday at the &uot;Silver Anniversary Peanut Fest.&uot; Patrick Evans-Hilton was named the grand prize winner of that auspicious contest that tests the talents of those who proclaim their love of peanut butter.

Taking second-place in the contest was Laura Harris, the Lakeland High School student who serves as one of the princesses to Peanut Fest Queen Sarah Catherine McPhail. The third-place winner was Kerri Shavaun Brown, also of Lakeland and also a Princess in the Queen’s Court.

This locally famous contest challenges contestants to create something from the 12-pound block of special peanut butter whipped up by Producers Peanuts over on Moore Avenue in town. The owner of the business, Jimmy Pond, donates the blocks of sticky stuff each year, and though it’s only peanut butter, it’s not the usually delicious type that he manufactures – the &uot;Peanut Kids,&uot; brand – but an extra thick type with a consistency like children’s play clay.

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The three winners faced a tremendous challenge in coming up with their creations. Evans-Hilton, the publicity coordinator for the 2002 Peanut Fest, admitted to the master of ceremonies of the event, Joe Hoppel of WCMS-Radio’s &uot;Morning Crew,&uot; that he is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, the school famous for its chefs. He said he’d learned to carve ice sculptures and that may have given him the edge over other contestants.

Harris brought her own cheering section to the acclaimed contest, and when Hoppel introduced her, they sent up a cheer that was possibly the element that brought out the sun. She told him that she &uot;kinda’ had an idea&uot; when he questioned contestants in &uot;pre-game&uot; interviews.

Brown showed up looking beautiful – as all the princesses and queen did – wearing her Lakeland High School sash, but all that didn’t give her a clue as to what to create from that block of brown goo. She told Hoppel, &uot;I don’t know yet.&uot; Kerri, it was time for the contest! Still, for someone without a plan, she managed to pull it off and added another award pin to her already decorated outfit. She carved something that was supposed to be a fish, but try as she might, she couldn’t convince Hoppel that thing was a fish. Good thing he wasn’t the judge!

Speaking of judges, those duties fell to Nancy Grace Parr, a former prosecutor for Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and the chief deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Chesapeake. She was teamed with Erin Gregg, a public information officer for VDOT, whose claim to fame was that she &uot;lives for peanut butter.&uot; Standing in for Jimmy Pond was the manager of the gift shop at Producer’s Peanuts, Monica Beaton.

Other contestants in this event included Peanut Fest Queen Sarah Catherine McPhail, who lost this contest even though she did a pretty good &uot;Mr. Peanut.&uot; Oh, well, there’s still that beautiful tiara on her head.

Brynn Portife, also a princess, went all-American with a flag, a star, and a cross, but no win here. Hoppel noted to the hundreds of people watching the contest that she had achieved one thing: she’d used her carving knife to slice that peanut butter and cut the carving table to pieces!

Heather Carroll, a student at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and a festival princess, created a flower from a peanut plant that stumped Hoppel when she told him what it was.

&uot;I didn’t know peanuts had flowers ’cause the peanuts are underground!&uot; he remarked. Pretty as it was, that flower won no prize.

Nichole Tomasone, a princess and a student at Nansemond River High, was also a contestant who managed to keep her title as princess but won no prize for sculpting.

Suffolk Mayor E. Dana Dickens III also lost out, and since so many people asked about the peanut butter he gallantly tossed them a ball of the stuff once his creation of the twin towers lost out.

Billy Wyatt, the 2002 Peanut Fest Chairman, fared no better, with his creation of a crocodile in honor of Maralyn &uot;Mad Dog&uot; Hershey, who was scheduled to be a contestant. She is mourning the loss of her mother this week after appearing in the 2002 Peanut Fest Parade last Saturday. Hershey is the &uot;Survivor&uot; who lost out on the CBS-television show of the same name. She did promise to make an appearance soon in Suffolk and sent apologies to all her fans.

Speaking of Fest chairmen, the 2003 Peanut Fest Chair, Jessie Johnson, has already been named and told Hoppel that the 400 volunteers of Peanut Fest are already hard at work on next year’s event. While working on what he called &uot;the sun&uot; as his sculpture, Johnson said next year he’s gonna’ have sunshine piped in for Peanut Fest. Can we hold you to that, Chairman Johnson?

When Wyatt spoke of Peanut Fest volunteers, he praised their efforts and it’s through the work of Volunteer Cathy Wolford that the peanut butter contest was such a success. This marks her first year as a Peanut Fest volunteer and she can stand proud for organization on this one. Cathy and your team of volunteers, take a bow!

Peanut Fest volunteers work hard all year to make each fest a success and this year is special since it’s the Silver Anniversary of the event. The rains came at first but like all good &uot;performers,&uot; the volunteers knew the show must go on.

It does just that today. Come out to enjoy the festivities, crafts, shows, rides, games, food and entertainment. There’s plenty to see and do and just about any type of carnival foods one could want. Top of the day with a live, on stage performance by none other than &uot;Tracy Byrd,&uot; a country star extraordinare. He’ll be live on stage at 4 p.m., but look around and enjoy the day first.

Visitors from the Shenandoah Valley attended Saturday, in spite of the dampness of the day. Arlene and Jessie Staton said they were going to see the tractor pull, and that they come to Peanut Fest every year they can. They just found out about Suffolk’s fabulous celebration of harvest time five years ago and they’ve been fans since.

Fans from Virginia Beach, Fred and Dottie Devel, came over to enjoy the festivities four years ago and said they came even though rain threatened Saturday’s events.

&uot;We come every year now to enjoy the foods and the craft shows,&uot; said Dottie. &uot;It’s just so much fun and there’s so much to see and do. We really love Suffolk’s Peanut Fests.&uot;

Ron and Sally Gradine of Smithfield said they were making their first visit and didn’t like the clouds but were having a great time anyway. Both agreed that the festival has something to entertain any age and foods for all tastes.

The &uot;Silver Anniversary Peanut Fest&uot; opens today at 10 a.m. Don’t miss it!