NEW: HIGH HONORS
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
A local event that was exceedingly and overwhelmingly popular out of the gate received statewide recognition last week when the South Dakota Chislic Festival (SDCF) was honored with the Peter Norbeck Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pierre.
It was one of seven awards presented by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Ramkota in the capital city; on hand to receive the honor were chislic festival board members Andrea Baer, Jay Hofer and Abby Streyle, as well as Carol Eisenbeis, the marketing and development coordinator with the city of Freeman.
“It was a great surprise, first of all,” said Baer, “This is the very first time they have ever given this award, so that makes it extra special for us.”
Baer noted that, while local representatives from Freeman and the SDCF were encouraged to attend the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, they were not aware of the honor until it was announced by Gov. Noem.
“She was a couple of words in and I looked to Jay and was like, that’s us,” said Baer. “It was quite an experience to hear something you have put your blood, sweat and tears into for the past five years being described by the governor on the state stage.”
In announcing Freeman and the South Dakota Chislic Festival as the recipient, Gov. Noem noted that the Peter Norbeck Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award takes into consideration innovative marketing, special promotion and improvements to their attraction.
“Tonight’s winner has constantly been improving since it held its inaugural event in 2018,” Noem said in her remarks last week. “It was a huge success, but the massive influx of attendees from around the nation overwhelmed the organizers of this event. Lines were very long and slow, parking was overcrowded, and event organizers spent the following 10 months planning for the next one to try to be prepared.
“The second year the event was a smashing success and it ran much smoother,” Gov. Noem continued. “In the past few years they continued to add entertainment and vendors to grow their attendance. They even attracted state, regional and national media attention.”
“It was very nice — quite the honor,” said Hofer, who has been heavily involved with the SDCF since that first year. “I don’t get to schmooze with the governor every day — that was a high honor.”
The South Dakota Chislic Festival is the brainchild of former marketing and development director with the city of Freeman Joshua Hofer, who came up with the idea after the South Dakota Legislature named chislic the official state nosh in early 2018. The festival debuted that July at the softball park, with as many as 8,000 guests clogging the area over the course of four hours.
Organizers regrouped and reassembled the following year making two major changes. The first was to hold the festival over the course of a full day, and the second was to move it to the spacious Prairie Arboretum grounds on the southwest corner of town, forming a healthy working relationship with Freeman Academy — which owns the property — in the process.
After taking 2020 off because of the pandemic, that was repeated in 2021 and again last July, with the number of attendees estimated around 10,000 people. Over the course of the last 4 ½ years, an infrastructure has been identified, a well-functioning board of directors has settled in and a volunteer force that Baer describes as “the best in the world” have turned Freeman’s biggest event into a well-functioning one — one that last week earned the accolades of Gov. Noem and the state department of tourism.
“It was exciting, but at the same time we’ve never done this for recognition,” said Baer. “We want this to be a platform for the promotion of our community and the entire chislic circle.”
In doing so, Baer continues, “we have improved our bottom line and frontline. The chislic festival is how we’re putting our community on the map. We are so appreciative of all the support and the volunteers who step up every year. We’re excited for what’s to come.”
Hofer said he has the award received last week on display at his business, Hootz, and people have taken notice.
“Lots of positive input, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “This is not our award; it belongs to the community and people should be proud of it.”
The 2023 South Dakota Chislic Festival is scheduled for Saturday, July 29.