SYCAMORE – Grab your cowboy boots, 10-gallon hats and saddle up your horses, because this year’s Sycamore Pumpkin Festival is headed to the Wild West, thanks to first grader Hannah Anderson.
Anderson, 7, a student at Southeast Elementary School, beamed as she was announced this year’s winner for her theme, “A Wild West Pumpkin Fest,” for the county seat’s 58th annual festival. She picked it because she loves horses, she said, and loves watching the popular Netflix show “Spirit: Riding Free,” along with the 2002 Disney movie of the same name.
Since 1976, Sycamore elementary school students from kindergarten through fifth grade have tried their creative hand at coming up with new theme ideas for the festival, which runs
Oct. 23 through Oct. 27, according to the festival website.
“I like seeing all the pumpkins,” Anderson said, as she sat on the steps outside the DeKalb County Courthouse, 133 W. State St., after the theme unveiling Wednesday.
Her father, Matt Anderson, 40, sat next to her and asked what she thought people might carve in their pumpkins for her theme.
“Horses, pigs, cowgirls,” she answered, as she held the one-of-a-kind Matchbox-style car she was given as part of her winner’s goody bag package.
The father-daughter duo were headed next to Ollie’s Frozen Custard for a celebratory banana split.
The festival takes place the weekend before Halloween each year, and has seen crowds average 100,000 people for the parade alone. With a family-friendly atmosphere, the festival will draw painters and carvers alike to decorate pumpkins based on Hannah’s theme.
Hannah received a $50 check, along with a Pumpkin Fest-themed postcard set, a book and drawstring backpack, and will ride in the winner’s car during this year’s parade. Southeast Elementary will receive a $100 check to go toward student enrichment thanks to Hannah’s selection.
“I’m going to put it in my room,” Anderson said of her toy car, adding that she wants to use her prize money to buy a horse Barbie doll.
Matt Anderson, who runs the Spartan news program at Sycamore High School, said Hannah was excited to submit her theme because her older sister, Emma, 11, has always participated in the contest and talked it up. The Anderson family, along with mother Tara Anderson, 40, attends the festival every year.
“[Hannah’s] always gone to the festival and now she gets to be in it,” Matt said. “Southeast did an awesome job pumping them up for it.”
Hannah beat out 172 entries from all seven elementary schools in Sycamore. Semifinalists got to celebrate Wednesday, too. Alise Goodman, a fifth grader at Cornerstone Christian Academy, earned an honorable mention for her theme “Pumpkins Around the World,” as did Beckett Jackson, a third grader at North Elementary School, for “Pumpkins of the Future.”
Jennifer Diehl, theme chairwoman and Sycamore Pumpkin Festival committee president, said three finalists were chosen from each school.
“This process is never easy,” Diehl said. “There were lots of great themes this year.”
Diehl’s a third-generation Pumpkin Festivalgoer, and proud of it. She said her late grandfather, Tony Malsmassari, was good friends with festival founder Wally Thurow, who began the annual fall event in 1956. Her uncle, Jerry Malmassari, is the historian of the 11-person festival committee.
“It’s just something that our family just really, really enjoys,” Diehl said. “We love to gather. Parade day is always really huge for our family. And to many of us, we’re bringing back the next generation; it’s all about the tradition.”