Mr. Peanut creator to be honored

Published 9:53 pm Monday, September 26, 2016

Peanuts — and one particularly dapper peanut specifically — will be the cause for celebration this Saturday as activities get under way in preparation for Peanut Fest next week.

This year is the 100th birthday of Mr. Peanut, the spokesnut of the Planters Peanuts company. He was born in Suffolk’s Hall Place neighborhood in 1916 when Suffolk teenager Antonio Gentile drew him for Amedeo Obici, the founder of Planters Peanuts. Legend says Gentile drew him in response to a contest to come up with an advertising icon for the company and received a $5 cash prize.

A century later, Gentile’s legacy will finally be recognized in Suffolk with a historical marker near the spot where his family lived. The marker will be unveiled at 8:30 a.m. at the Hall Place Park in the 100 block of Hall Avenue.

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The effort to get the historical marker has been nearly 10 years in the making, said Susan Blair, a former member of the Hall Place Civic League.

The group submitted an application for the marker in 2007, and it was approved. But the group was not able to come up with the funding to pay for the marker, Blair said this week.

Fast-forward to 2016, and a member of the Peanut Pals group, an organization of Planters and Mr. Peanut memorabilia enthusiasts, decided to pick the effort back up again.

Mike Chmiola lives in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the first adopted hometown of Obici after he immigrated from Italy as a boy. Obici started Planters in Pennsylvania before moving operations to Suffolk to be closer to peanut growers.

Chmiola re-started the process and even footed the bill of about $1,700 by himself, said Scott Schmitz, president of Peanut Pals. The group has raised about $450 to help defray Chmiola’s cost and is hoping to raise more donations.

“I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do — the right thing for Planters, the right thing for Mr. Peanut and the right thing for history,” Chmiola said. “This is something that will last forever, essentially. It’s a long-lasting memorial to the company, and in this case it’s Planters, but it’s also Antonio Gentile and Mr. Peanut.”

“This is almost like Christmas,” Schmitz said this week. “We’re all coming down because Mr. Peanut’s 100. He’s only 100 once.”

Blair, who also lives in Hall Place, said she is excited the effort is finally coming to fruition, albeit many years later.

“It is a long overdue recognition for Antonio Gentile,” she said. “I’m very, very grateful to (Chmiola) for doing that.”

The Planters NUTmobile and a 30-foot inflatable of Mr. Peanut will be on site.

The celebration will continue later in the morning with the Peanut Festival parade through downtown, which will also include the NUTmobile. It will take place at 10 a.m.

Later will come the Peanut Pals swap meet at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, 110 W. Finney Ave. Schmitz said about 20 members will have all things Planters and Mr. Peanut on hand to buy, sell and trade. Members will also be able to answer questions and give appraisals, Schmitz said.

Kicking off the morning prior to the historical marker dedication will be the Suffolk Partnership’s free Peanut Fest 5K and 1-mile runs through downtown. Check-in begins at 6:15 a.m., with warm-up at 7 a.m. and the start at 7:30 a.m. Registration is free and can be done online at www.suffolkpartnership.com through Wednesday.