Charlie Brown and the whole Peanuts gang took center stage in this year's annual Great Pumpkin contest hosted by the Dundee Township Visitor's Center. Ryan Saxon, 13, of Cary took home the top prize in the best-decorated category with a seven-pumpkin tower of carved, colored and garland-festooned pumpkins that showcased his love for all things Peanuts.
"I've been collecting Peanuts stuff all my life, and I love Halloween," Saxon said. Saxon won second place for the biggest pumpkin last year, so his change of strategy worked.
Area businesses donated $1,200 in prizes that went to winners in two categories: heaviest (by weight) and best decorated/carved. The 13th annual contest also marked the end of the season for the Dundee Farmer's Market.
A whole table of creative entries gave the panel of 10 judges a challenge, since only the top three vote getters took home prizes for best decorated/carved pumpkins. Designs included a multi-faced ghoul, an elaborate witch, a tiny ghost (with little Brussels sprouts for ears) and a vegetarian cannibal.
Contest organizer Bill Zelsdorf of Carpentersville was on hand to announce first- to third-place winners in the weight and decorated categories.
Winners received $300, $200 and $100, respectively, in combined gifts and gift certificates from local merchants such as Olive Garden, Old Country Buffet, Piece A Cake Bakery, Haeger Pottery, local author Phil Aleo, Walmart, Best Buy, One Cut Above the Rest hair salon, Liberty Lanes bowling alley, Barb's Studio 104 hair salon, Jewel-Osco, Diamond Jim's restaurant, and Dundee Nursery.
Mary Kay and Colleen Bocain of East Dundee said an early Christmas display at Target inspired them to overlap seasons with Mr. and Mrs. Snowman/pumpkin that won third place. Second place went to Marianne Hamilton of Carpentersville for an elaborate witch complete with a snaggletoothed grin, rat and snake accessories, and stuffed olives for eyes.
In the largest pumpkin category, a 175-pound gourd earned $300 in merchandise and gift certificates plus a framed certificate for Mike Wilson of East Dundee, who said this was the first pumpkin he ever grew.
"I just went out and looked at it every day and said, 'grow!'" he said. "I live on the edge of the river, so the soil is really, really rich," he added. "I planted sunflower seeds one year that grew over 13 feet tall."
Blake Brewer of East Dundee won second place with a 132-pound pumpkin, and third place went to Rose and Zoe Rudd of West Dundee for their 113-pound pumpkin.
This year's total package of $1,200 for the day again guaranteed greater prize values for the six finalists. Bill Zelsdorf, the contest and Farmers market coordinator, encourages local residents to support their dedicated sponsors, also listed on the website.
"As always, we had great entries, and we're always so grateful to the businesses that donate all the prizes," Zelsdorf said. "It's a fun way to bring people down to the market, and it's a nice way to end our season."
Visit the website dundeedepot.com for complete contest results and photos.
The Dundee Township Visitor's Center will remain open weekends through Dec. 4, which is the weekend for Dickens in Dundee. For more information about the Visitor's Center or next year's farmers market, visit dundeedepot.com, or find "Dundee Depot" on Facebook.