EDITORIAL:Â S.D. Chislic Festival is here to stay
Any doubt about whether the South Dakota Chislic Festival had the legs to be a sustainable, viable and always-evolving festival was trampled by thousands of people last weekend as the third event of its kind generated an off-the-charts kind of response.
Thousands of visitors came to Freeman on Saturday for the relatively new event that celebrates South Dakota’s official state nosh, which the people of this community and the surrounding area have been enjoying for generations.
It’s not that there was a serious question about whether the chislic festival had what it took to survive, but still …
That first year of 2018, when organizers were overwhelmed by thousands of people, was it a fluke?
The following year, after the festival moved to the Freeman Prairie Arboretum, crowds were once again strong, but not necessarily as big as organizers were expecting.
Last year, of course, the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of what would have been the third annual chislic festival, which begged the question: Could it come back?
Organizers hedged their bets that, not only could it come back, but that it had the potential to be the biggest of the first three, and boy were they right!
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people turned the arboretum grounds into a great big playground on Saturday, delighting practically speechless organizers.
“You imagine what it’s going to be like, and then you actually get to see what it’s like,” Ann Pankratz, a member of the board of directors, said early Saturday afternoon, after an estimated 3,000 people were on the grounds. “I never in my wildest dreams expected it to be like this at this time of the day. This is crazy.”
As was the case with the successful VFW State 14u Baseball Tournament in Freeman the weekend before, the chislic festival was the product of a lot of people putting in a lot of hard work. A capable board of directors and strong volunteer force that numbered close to 400 spent months putting a plan in place — unsure of whether people would actually come — and then executed it to near perfection. They benefited from a beautiful summer day and the pent-up energy of a large number of people who had spent much of the past 16 months largely doing nothing, or course, but the reviews from patrons and vendors alike indicate it was a job well done.
This is, of course, good for the festival, but it’s good for everybody. Think of the number of people here on Saturday who had never been to Freeman before, never seen the arboretum, didn’t know about neighboring Heritage Hall Museum & Archives, the Menno Pioneer Power Show (which had a presence at the festival), the Salem Mennonite Home (which hosted a Mutton Run to kick things off Saturday morning) or any of the area vendors setting up shop and welcoming the hundreds who stopped by.
It’s impossible to say how many people filled up with gas, happened to stop by a grocery or convenience store or wander around town to stop in one of the shops, but it’s certainly more than would have been the case were there not a South Dakota Chislic Festival.
And therein lies the biggest benefit to this event and the biggest reason this community should feel excited about its success. There’s little if any doubt that the festival will return in 2022, and organizers are already thinking about ways to make it bigger and better.
“The possibilities are just endless,” said Joann Smith, a key volunteer since 2019. “It’s going to continue to grow organically; there’s just so much to offer.”
Indeed there is, and Freeman can now confidently and proudly declare it is home to the South Dakota Chislic Festival, one of the state’s premier annual events.
And that sounds pretty good.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher