SYCAMORE – The familiar scene of children in Halloween costumes, decorative pumpkins scattered across the courthouse lawn and a giant cake ready to satisfy the hundreds in attendance marked the beginning of the Pumpkin Festival on Wednesday in downtown Sycamore.
But the one missing staple of the festival loomed large: “Mr. Pumpkin” Wally Thurow was not there to greet residents and kick off the event he created in 1962. Thurow, who died in February, was honored before the ceremonial cake cutting.
“For the younger kids, Wally will just be an idea from now on,” said Jerry Malmassari, president of the planning committee. “But for the parents and grandparents ... it’s going to be bittersweet.”
A moment of silence was observed for the man who created the event, which organizers estimate has attracted 3 million people in its 50 years before they announced ways in which Thurow’s legacy will be preserved.
Miniature pumpkins will be displayed at Sycamore schools for families to make donations for a bronze statue of Thurow that could be constructed on the northwest corner of Somonauk and Elm streets. The life-size bronze statue would depict Thurow next to his trademark penny-farthing bicycle.
A book on the history of the festival, titled “Mr. Pumpkin & the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival: A 50 Year History,” is also available for purchase at Sweet Earth.
“Wally is on everybody’s minds today,” said Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy. “But the last thing he would want is for people to be sad. ... He always wanted the young people to have fun and use their creativity and imaginations.”
And that creativity and imagination was once again on display all over the courthouse lawn as children and families set up their displays.
Nine-year-old Abi Payne, dressed as Derrick Rose, displayed her owl pumpkin while her 7-year-old brother Trey, dressed as Anakin Skywalker, created a hawk pumpkin. Their mother, Kim Payne, said the festival has been enjoyable each of the eight years she has attended and is one of the best times in the city.
“It’s just a fun family event and it’s always great to come out on Sunday and see the parade and all the creative pumpkins,” she said. “It’s a great tradition.”
There were a number of intricate pumpkin displays including one from brothers Jake and Cameron Carani. The boys were still hammering nails into their pumpkin-man display Wednesday, putting the finishing touches on a creation that included candy coming out of the head.
“It was quick,” said 10-year-old Cameron Carani of constructing his masterpiece. “But it was fun and it was a good time.”
Candy could be found in more than the Caranis’ pumpkin display as downtown businesses opened their doors for a huge trick-or-treat event.
Jenny Kingren, owner of Huckleberry’s Pet Parlor, set up a booth on State Street and handed out treats to children and pets, sneaking a dog treat into each brochure she gave to families. Kingren said it was the fifth year she has participated in the trick-or-treat event and it has become one of her favorite ways to connect with customers and the community.
“This is the busiest year we’ve ever had,” she said as she handed out her last brochure. “We love it every year ... it’s about giving back to the community.”
With the hundreds of smiles that filled downtown Sycamore, Amie Schwellenbach – Thurow’s granddaughter – said it was clear Mr. Pumpkin would never be too far from the festival.
“It’s awesome,” she said of the community support. “You can see it’s still fun and grandpa would want us all to have fun.”