CHISLIC FESTIVAL DELIGHTS THOUSANDS AGAIN
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
As has been the case at each of the past five years, Kerry Kepplinger and his gang at Kepp’s Chislic served up mutton per tradition at Saturday’s annual South Dakota Chislic Festival. But the Scotland-based business also had a secondary option — chicken chislic, which featured a lower per-dozen price point than sheep.
The reason for the chicken, Kepplinger said, is because he wanted to offer something that was more affordable to accommodate those concerned about spending. In other words, he wanted to accommodate everybody.
That’s not much different from the chislic festival itself.
Since its debut in 2018, the popular event has aimed to be one that is appealing to all walks of life — something that was again on full display throughout the day on July 29 as hundreds milled about the grounds of the Freeman Prairie Arboretum.
“Everything went very well,” said Andrea Baer, president of the board of directors that oversees the festival. “Honestly, I woke up on Thursday and Friday in a panic worried that nobody was going to come, so when I started seeing people rolling in, I could finally relax and breathe a little bit.”
Indeed, by late Saturday morning a steady stream of people entering the grounds of the arboretum had turned the main area of the festival between the food vendors and the beer tent into a snug environment, and the steady buzz continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening. But — different this year — at no point was the congestion overwhelming, which reflects a decline in attendance.
“We expected that because of all the other events in the area (including the Sioux Falls Airshow),” said Baer. “Our first estimates are between 5,000 and 6,000 people. We’re happy with that; we planned for 6,000, so it was right on our target.”
Those attending the festival were treated to ideal July weather and a host of offerings, from a variety of chislic and other fair-like foods to cold beer served by the Menno Volunteer Fire Department to live music throughout the day to non-food venders and activities for children across the way.
Marnette D. Hofer, executive director with Heritage Hall Museum & Archives, and Ian Tuttle, a member of the chislic festival board of directors, gave engaging presentations on the history of chislic on multiple occassions, the museum welcomed a throng of guests throughout the day and a tram carried guests to and from the festival to festival parking, which included the junior-senior high school lot three blocks away.
The Miss South Dakota organization helped manage the kids play area for the second year in a row, the Parker FFA once again facilitated the bingo stand and the VFW headed up a bean bag tournament in the morning and another one in the afternoon.
And among the attendees were United States Representative Dusty Johnson, a Mitchell resident, and South Dakota First Congressman Bryon Noem.
All of it made for another successful event designed around the official South Dakota state nosh.
“There’s not a lot of changes that need immediate attention,” said Baer. “We are already talking about next year. In fact, we already have a couple of things in place.”
And she notes the effort put forth by nearly 300 volunteers who helped make the festival a success, including Kevin Waltner, who was recognized publicly for five outstanding years as a key volunteer at the festival.
“We are so thankful for all the volunteers,” said Baer. “Some of those days leading up to it were hot and miserable, but people showed up. Even the soccer team came over and lent a hand in getting up the tent. Every volunteer showed up when and where they were needed and made the job so much easier.
“I know we say thank you a thousand times, but it doesn’t seem like enough.”