September 5, 1938, the day of the first National Potato Picking
Contest and Celebration arrived! Weatherwise, it was not a day
to their liking — threatening skies and a strong, chilly
wind. Fortunately, the rain did not appear until the final event
was over, though some modifications had to be made in the events
schedule. Heavy winds forced the cancellation of the “Bat
Man” plunge from the airplane, so a series of motorcycle
stunts was substituted.
The potato picking contest was a huge success despite threatening
weather. Mr. Louis Ernst was declared champion potato picker of
the First Potato Picking Contest, picking 25 1/2 bushels of potatoes
in 38 minutes. It was estimated that between 2000 and 3000 onlookers
witnessed the event in the field.
As was written following the close of the
First Annual Potato Days program, “All in all, the Celebration was a fine success...and
plans for a still bigger and better one in 1939 is in the minds
of those in charge”.
Plans indeed were made to host the 2nd Annual Potato Days Celebration
in 1939. The Celebration was planned for September 4th. The potato
picking contest was formatted with a few rule changes, and was
again deemed a great success. It was estimated at the time that
3000 people witnessed the event in 1939, larger attendance than
in 1938. Louis Ernst, the original potato picking champ from the
1938 contest, had a bad day and failed to defend his championship
in the 1939 contest. The honor of potato picking champion in 1939
went to Joe Kara, who won over 15 other contestants. For his efforts,
Joe Kara received a cash award of $25 and a trophy.
An important featured event was added for
the 1939 Potato Days Celebration — a women’s only
potato peeling contest. The only requirement to enter is that
you had to be a woman between the ages of 1 and 100 (and furnish
your own peeler). The first-time winner of this event was Mrs.
Max Peppel, who won over nine other contestants.
So “Potato Days” was started. The initial events were
huge successes, as noted by the planners. Celebrations were scheduled
again in 1940 and 1941. The war years interrupted this event, and
Potato Days wasn’t resumed until 1949, and scheduled each
year following through 1957. Potato Days fell by the wayside following
the 1957 celebration and wasn’t celebrated again until 1991,
a lapse of some 34 years, and continues today. By actual celebration
of the event, year 2002 marks the 25th “Annual” Potato