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Posted on Wed. Jul. 23, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Pickle Festival the real dill

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Pickle Festival

What: An annual festival in St. Joe, home of Sechler's Pickles.

When: 4-9 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday; 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Most activities are at St. Joe Church of Christ, 507 Jefferson St., St. Joe. From Fort Wayne take Interstate 69 north. Take Exit 316 and continue northeast on Indiana 1 for about 17 miles until you come to St. Joe.

Website: www.stjoepicklefestival.com

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The St. Joe Pickle Festival didn't start out as a picklefest.

The tiny town in DeKalb County started a Fourth of July festival in 1995, recalls Paula Roberts, 82. The town held it for two years, but "it just didn't work," she said. "We needed a gimmick. The gimmick was, we had a pickle festival."

It was a logical extension to what the town is probably best-known for: Sechler's Pickles, a small pickle company in St. Joe that has produced pickles since the 1920s.

"It's the only thing we've got going for us," Roberts said. "We're just a little town of about 450."

This year the Pickle Festival is Thursday through Saturday.

Roberts was involved in planning the first Pickle Festival in 1997. She said the committee asked the factory owner's daughter, Karen Sechler, about the idea of a pickle festival. "She told us to go ahead without consulting her dad," Roberts said. As it turned out, the owner, Franklin Sechler, wasn't too keen on the idea.

However, he had a change of heart. "After the first Pickle Festival he was thrilled to death," she said.

For the first couple of years downtown St. Joe streets would be closed for the festival, but that proved to be too much of a hassle. Now the festival is at the St. Joe Church of Christ, mainly on the ball diamond.

The festival has the usual activities such as food and craft vendors; live entertainment; a pancake and sausage breakfast; a kid's tractor pull; a cruise-in and fireworks.

But this quintessential small Midwestern town festival has a few unique elements, such as a pickle-decorating contest, in which kids decorate pickles like people. There's also a pickle derby, where kids put wheels on pickles, decorate them and race them. Think of it as a pinewood derby using pickles.

Sechler's offers tours of the factory. There's a giant pickle with a cutout for people's faces, so they can pose as a pickle. And the Lion's Club serves pickle-flavored ice cream. Roberts said it is pretty good. "They use sweet pickles," she said.

All the pickles used in the contest are supplied by Sechler's. The company also offers free tastes of its 54 varieties of pickles, relishes and salsas.

Roberts said the festival has really grown over the years. She believes it attracts families because most of the activities are free. It's even attracted people from out of town, places like Fort Wayne and New York, she said. "People like pickles."

The festival even was featured on the Food Network four or five years ago, she said.

She was a volunteer from 1997 to 2012. If anyone remembers Grandma Pickle, "that was me," she said. The character was retired several years ago.

Roberts doesn't have an active role planning the festival, but despite several health issues, "I still go to meetings and help in any way I can."

As for the fun and activities over the three days of the festival, she said, "You couldn't keep me away."

clarson@news-sentinel.com


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