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Pumpkin wine anything but a smash hit

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Pumpkin wine anything but a smash hit

Past Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair chairmen include, back row from left, Ethan Allen Ives (1985-87), Steve DeBrum (1993-95), Dave Dias (1988-89), Chuck Crutchfield (2000-01), and David Cox (...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED September 28, 2011 8:44 p.m.

Don’t expect to see pumpkin wine again anytime soon at a Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair.

Pumpkin wine was rolled out 27 years ago when the service club assumed responsibility for staging the venerable Manteca Pumpkin Fair tradition that can trace its roots back 42 years.

It was anything but a success.

“It was awful,” recalled inaugural Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair chairman Ethan Allen Ives. “We couldn’t give it away. We tried every possible mix as well as hot and cold.”

The Sunrise Kiwanis were convinced by an Oakland distributor that pumpkin wine was the perfect match for the Pumpkin Fair. It took years for them to give away the cases.

It wasn’t the only time that the Kiwanis tried to tie a pumpkin beverage of food product to the Pumpkin Fair. Another was pumpkin ice cream in 1993 when Steve DeBrum chaired the Pumpkin Fair when it was conducted on the grounds of West-Pac in Lathrop. They couldn’t give that away either.

“Pumpkin pie is about the only thing that works,” Ives said.

Ives was among a group of former Pumpkin Fair chairmen who gathered last week to share stories. Ives came with a Pumpkin Fair T-shirt from that first year where the word “pumpkin” was missing the first two letters.

“The shirt has shrunk over the years,” Ives said with a chuckle.

That first year the Kiwanis cleared $47.38. It was a far cry from the $36,000 they generated for distribution to non-profit endeavors from last year’s fair. So far in 27 years the Kiwanis have earned $539,000 from the fairs during the first weekend in October that they have turned around and donated to community activities.

Ives noted there were two other “disasters” that first year. They paid a fee to secure one of the hottest TV personalities - the Pepsi Look A-likes. It ended up being cold, the turnout was low and the guys who were The Pepsi Look A-likes froze. The other “mistake” was having a fun run finish in the middle of the vendor booths.

“It was a total disaster,” Ives recalled.

The Kiwanis have conducted the Pumpkin Fair at numerous locations including the Manteca Industrial Park on South Main Street, West-Pac in Lathrop, the Scaregrounds (now Dell’Osso Farms), Oakwood Lake Resort, the former site of the Manteca Rodeo Grounds, and then returned it to its original roots downtown where pumpkin growers led by George Perry started it all 42 years ago.

That decision to drop big name entertainment and corresponding budgets of $300,000-plus and return to free admission and less high key entertainment pumped up attendance and the amount of money they have been able to give back to the community.

They had no problem selling adult beverages the year they had BTO open for Charlie Daniels when the Pumpkin Fair was staged at Oakwood Lake resort. They sold 13 kegs of beer during the BTO concert. Things kicked up a bit when Charlie Daniels took the stage. The club went through 281 kegs of beer - 294 in total for the night. It was an event record that stood for years with beer supplier San Joaquin Beverages.

The year they were at the Manteca Rodeo Grounds they had signed a little known country singer by the name of Ty Herndon. A week before the Pumpkin Fair, a single release literally skyrocketed Herndon to the top of the country charts.

“Traffic got so bad on the 120 Bypass that the CHP threatened to shut us down,” Crutchfield recalled.

Crutchfield didn’t have better luck with crowd control when the Isley Brothers and other groups were playing on a stage surrounded by corn fields at Dell’Osso Farms when it was the Scaregrounds.

They had to get some people out before the bands could perform. When Crutchfield made the announcement the crowd proceeded to throw anything they could at him although it was mostly cups of beer.

When Dave Bricker - who is now police chief - chaired the Pumpkin Fair - one of the vendors was robbed at gunpoint.

Success stories, though, far outweigh “mistakes” that provide more than a few laughs for the 50-member-strong service club.

The year David Cox was chairman in 1997-98 they brought back the crowning of Miss Pumpkin Fair that has been a tradition ever since. Veronica DeBrum’s tenure in 2007-08 saw the introduction of baking contests, the first tractor show, and the moving of Special Access Day to Dell’Osso Farms.

Carol Davis’ Pumpkin fair chair reign (2009-10) saw the return of the carnival after a four-year absence and the rolling out of the car show.

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