Hello fellow huskers and friends! I am writing this article in the middle of August, the beginning of the favorite time of the year for me. The workload of summer is winding down and a little slack time is ahead for me. Hay season was a struggle for us this season. In July we received over twenty inches of rainfall in our immediate area in a climatic zone that averages around forty inches of annual precipitation. Consequently, we used our hay tedder a lot, and hay season is just now coming to an end. The best weather week in July was the week that I participated in the Missouri River 340. So, not any haying accomplished that week. The river race was physically grueling and left lots of blisters on my hands. Shoulders, also, took a pounding in the sixty-two hours that it took me to paddle the 340 miles. I slept a total of four hours during the three days-two nights of my run. My $150 homemade canoe left me at a disadvantage in the speed category against the racing kayaks, so I felt pretty good with a twenty-third placing out of the eighty-one menís solo contestants. I sure appreciated the support and interest from our interim-editor, Patrick Fruth. I am a little suspicious, however, that some of the support may have been due to the fact that if anything had happened to me he would have no longer received anymore of my historianís articles. But, let us assume for now that his interest and concern was really genuine.
Well, the summer season is fast expiring and fall will be here next month. With fall come what we all love, cornhusking competitions and reunions with our husking friends. With the National competition in my neighbor-state of Illinois, a little review of Illinois contest history is in order for this issue of SHUCKS.
Illinoisís involvement in National competition actually goes back to 1923 and the first interstate match between two huskers from Iowa and Illinois. According to Leonard Jacobs in his book Battle of the Bangboards, the first interstate contest sponsored by Henry A. Wallace, editor of the Wallaces Farmer, occurred in late November 1923. Held shortly after the second annual Iowa state contest near Des Moines, the match featured the Iowa state champion, John Rickelman, and an Illini by the name of Dallas Paul. John Rickelman was twenty-five years old at the time of his state championship, and was a Lee County, Iowa, farmer. He was known for husking down ears by grabbing them in his left hand with the thumb pointing up and toward the butt of the ear. With his right hand, he would strike the ear with his thumb hook to brush aside the shucks. He would remove the ear by twisting it with the right hand while simultaneously squeezing the butt of the ear with his left hand. Henry Wallace later described his technique in his magazine as "the Rickelman method." Dallas Paul was twenty years old in 1923 and came into the match without qualifying in a state contest. He did come into the match with a record of husking 235 bushels and 30 pounds of corn in eleven hours of field time. The unloading of his corn had been done by others, and his record was made on the farm of Arthur Brown near Ipava just southeast of Macomb, Illinois. Paulís husking challenge to the Iowa champ had been made in the form of a letter written to Henry Wallace by J.R. Shinn, farm advisor of Fulton County, Illinois. The contest ended after 140 minutes of morning and afternoon husking with a victory for Rickelman. He had shucked a net total of 44.59 bushels while Paul finished with a net load of 40.53 bushels.
In 1924 Illinois hosted its first state contest as did Nebraska to join Iowa in sending qualifiers to the first Midwest Contest (National) held near Alleman, Iowa. Champion and runner-up of the first Illinois contest were Henry Niehaus and Pearl Mansfield, both from Montgomery County.
The year 1925 was particularly significant because the Midwest Contest switched from Alleman, Iowa, to the Frank Cole farm near Burgess, Illinois. It was also significant because two Illinois huskers came away with the top two spots. Champion of the second Midwest Contest (National) was Elmer Williams, the just crowned Illinois champ from Stark County. The runner-up was Walter Olson from Knox County. According to Leonard Jacobs, the crowd size was in the neighborhood of six thousand spectators.
Illinoisís next rotation for the National occurred in 1932 when it hosted the contest on the Robert Peterson farm near Galva. As with the 1925 Midwest, the champion was an Illinois husker named Carl Seiler. He broke Elmer Williamsí National record load of 35.8 bushels by picking a net load of 36.91 bushels.
When 1941 rolled around it was, again, Illinoisís turn to host the National. As in 1932, the contest managers faced very poor field conditions for the big event. The contest field was located on the Schafer farm near Tonica. Twenty inches of rainfall during the few weeks before the Contest created very muddy conditions. The 1941 Illinois National was an historic event because it was the last pre-World War II contest. As in its 1925 and 1932 national contests, the Tonica champion was a home-grown contestant, Floyd Wise of LaSalle County. The runner-up was another superb husker from the host state, Leland Klein of Woodford County.
After World War II, Illinois did not have a state contest until 1983. However, on October 8, 1983, forty-two years after the Tonica National, the state held its first post-War state contest. With the inspiration and organization of Warren Simons, his family, and friends, Illinois became the ninth state to officially revive its state contest. Prior to the 1983 contest, Mr. Simons had held contests at his farm in 1981 and 1982. By 1988 Illinois made a return as host to the national contest. On October 23 on the Warren Simonsís farm near Fairview, the state organization conducted its first national since the Tonica Contest. Unlike its pre-War Nationals, an Illinois husker did not win the title. However, a young competitor by the name of Frank Hennenfent finished in tenth place behind a strong field of Menís Open contestants.
The National returned to Illinois in 1997, but by now the site had moved from the Warren Simons farm. The twenty-third annual post-War National was held on Fred and Jane Brideís farm on October 19 at Monmouth next to Highway 34. Unlike the í88 National, an Illinois farmer out-dueled the rest of the Open contestants to claim the national crown. It was the first time in post-War cornhusking history that an Illinoisan had won the national title. The forty-two year old farmer that won was the same man who had placed tenth at the 1988 Fairview National, Frank Hennenfent from Smithshire. He edged out Robert Ferguson the í96 National champ and a seven-time National champ. He would follow up his victory with two more titles in 1998 and 1999 to become the first husker to ever win three consecutive titles since the inception of the contest in 1924.
Well, as you can see from this brief account of Illinois National history, the state has fielded its share of National champions. It also has the distinction of being one of the original states along with Iowa and Nebraska to send state qualifiers to the first Midwest match in 1924. If history is an accurate measure of a state organizationís success in hosting a national contest, then, we have lots of reasons to expect a wonderful National this fall from President Dick Humes and the Illinois organization. In a conversation with Dick a few weeks ago, the corn looks pretty good at the contest site near Roseville.
I hope all of you enjoy the rest of the summer, and wish all competitors good husking as the contest season approaches. Until our reunion at Roseville, I wish you Godís best!
Mitchel Burns, NCA Historian