Most large towns can claim home to famous celebrities. With small towns the chances of “home-growing" a celebrity are not so good. In nearby Gary IN they can claim home to Michael Jackson. In Valparaiso we claim home to Orville Redenbacher. Quite a character that Orville. Gary can have Michael and his…umm..baggage, we’ll take Orville and his popcorn any day.
Surprisingly, Indiana has spawned many famous people who have contributed to a better America. Larry Bird,
John Wooden, David Letterman, Kurt Vonnegut, James Dean, John Dillinger, John Mellencamp, Cole Porter,
Axl Rose, David Lee Roth and Beulah Bondy (she was born in Valpo and played the mother in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) among others. OOPS…I left out Red Skelton and Alex Karas. Oh well.
Wikipedia tells this story about Orville (and it holds true to what the locals say):
Orville spent most of his life in the agriculture industry, serving as a Vigo County Farm Bureau Extension agent in Terre Haute, Indiana, and at Princeton Farms in Princeton, Indiana. He earned a small fortune in fertilizer, but in his spare time, he indulged in an obsession he had had since he was a child in 4-H with developing the perfect popcorn. He bought the George F. Chester and Son dent seed corn plant with partner Charlie Bowman, later named Chester Hybrids, in 1951 near Valparaiso, Indiana, and tried tens of thousands of hybrid strands of popcorn before achieving success. He and Mr. Bowman initially named the hybrid RedBow but were advised by an advertising agency to use the name Orville Redenbacher to market the corn. It was good advice which they adopted, and Orville was suddenly everywhere. For example, Redenbacher can be first seen on national television around 1972…
After the initial sale to Hunt-Wesson, the City of Valparaiso started their first Popcorn Festival in 1979. Celebrating Redenbacher's development of his popcorn in Valparaiso, the Festival featured Orville and his nephew Gary appearing several times as Grand Marshal of the signature event, the Popcorn Parade.
On September 19, 1995 at 6:00AM ET, Orville was found dead in the jacuzzi of his condominium in Coronado, California. He had suffered a heart attack and drowned. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. He was 88 years old.
So yesterday again I attended the annual Valparaiso Popcorn Fest. Rode my sickle into town because they close off the streets and bus people in from remote parking lots. On the sickle I can cut through alleys and yards for a quick in-and-out. So I strolled the streets and watched the parade. I’ve been doing this since we moved in fourteen years ago. A lot has changed and not for the better.
I have many fond memories of the Valparaiso Popcorn Fest. Seeing Orville in person was like seeing a cartoon character come to life. He was very approachable and friendly. He was available for hand shaking and photo ops. I would eat a lot of popcorn and drink a lot of beer but the most fun for me was to watch the parade.
While he was alive, Orville was in the lead vehicle of the parade, usually riding in a convertible antique car. A real sight it was. Orville was followed in the parade by the obligatory high school band, local and county law enforcement, fire trucks, emergency vehicles, politicians and plenty of motorized “Shriners”. More about the Shriners later. Here is yesterday's lone Shriner entry.
Popcorn Fest is just not the same as it was in previous years. For one, the floats did not have much popcorn on them as was the case years ago. Just as the Tournament of Roses has floats made of roses, the popcorn floats are supposed to be made of popcorn. Adding insult I saw only two popcorn vendors. There used to be many and they were creative with their popcorn recipes and offerings too. Maybe it’s because Orville passed away and a few years back Hunt-Wesson pulled out of town and took their sponsorship money with them. Most of the vendors yesterday sold cutsey crap that overweight, middle aged women can’t resist wasting their money on. This is nothing more than Holly Hobby run amok. This garbage usually ends up in garage sales or the trash. You know, crap like this.
The crowd was thinner than I remember too and I believe it is because they banned adult beverages. A few years ago there were some rowdy drunks who acted like fools so they ruined it for the rest of us drunk fools who don’t act rowdy.
HEY LOOK KIDS! LOOK! OVER THERE...IT’S DR. VEGETABLE!
Well, I’ll be breaded and dipped in deep fried trans fat! Dr. Vegetable seems to be everywhere!!!
Did you know that the Doctor only uses 100% canola oil to deep fry his crumb coated veggies? Yup, it’s true! I even asked the sweet young gal at the counter and that is what she told me. I have to believe her.
UMMM..healthy! Nothing like greasy deep fried fiber!
Now for my Top Ten List.
Ladies and gentlemen, from the home office in Valparaiso Indiana, here are the Top Ten ideas that the Valparaiso Popcorn Fest organizers can do to increase attendence and make it fun again:
#10. Hooter's Girls on floats
#9. Serve vegetables deep fried in trans fat oil
#8. Cook some actual popcorn and sell it
#7. Invite biker gangs and their old ladies
#6. Get the new creepy virtual Orville guy to ride with the Hooter's Girls on the float
#5. Move the fest to Chicago
#4. Bring back the Shiners
#3. Offer a prize for the world's largest popcorn ball
#2. Have a 5k popcorn panic race (oops they already do that)
And the number one idea to increase Popcorn Fest attendance and make it fun again is