WHAT: 28th annual Sunrise Kiwanis downtown Manteca Pumpkin Fair
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 6, and Sunday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days
WHERE: Downtown Manteca in the triangle formed by Center Street, Main Street and the railroad tracks
DIRECTIONS: From Highway 99 take the Yosemite Avenue exit and head west to downtown
Pumpkins and people – it’s been a Manteca tradition for 43 years.
What better way to spend a warm fall weekend than meandering through downtown Manteca with family and running into friends and neighbors as you browse the various booths, enjoy pumpkin bread baked by the Manteca Junior Women’s Club or some other street fair-style creation, listen to home-grown entertainment, watch kids spit pumpkin seeds or pick out the perfect pumpkin beneath the stately sycamore trees in Library Park or just people watch.
Although it started 43 years ago as a way to demonstrate community pride after the upstart Half Moon Bay folks tried to declare they were the Pumpkin Capital of the World. That’s kind of hard to claim, of course, when almost 80 percent of the commercially grown pumpkin crop in California comes from the fields surrounding Manteca.
The original pumpkin fair was put together by pumpkin growers who piled a bunch of pumpkins and hay stacks in Library Park and had an impromptu crowning of Miss Manteca Pumpkin.
That led to a challenge from Half Moon Bay, press coverage in “People” magazine, and the birth of a Manteca tradition.
The fair kept getting bigger, had a carnival on the same site and pulled in big name acts when they were hot including Tim Herdon. They also moved from venue to venue each year.
Twenty-eight years ago the Sunrise Kiwanis took over the event and eventually returned it to its roots downtown.
They found out that good old-fashioned, laid back, hometown fun was the way to go. They routinely draw 35,000 people over the two-day fair to the downtown triangle formed by Center Street, Main Street, and the railroad tracks.
By keeping the event free, they were able to make it affordable as a simple family outing.
As entertainment goes it’s pretty tough to beat watching kids bury their faces into slices of pumpkin pie with their hands behind their back, trying to spit pumpkin seeds, rolling pumpkins or any of the Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn type of games that are all free.
Longtime Manteca residents also know the best place to buy pumpkins is at the Kid Zone given the pricing made possible through generous donations of the orange gourds to the service club from area pumpkin growers.
The Pumpkin Fair debuted back in the 1970s as a small event for several hours within the confines of Library Park.
The fun activities back then were mainly pumpkin-related - pumpkin roll, pumpkin pitch, pumpkin-seed spitting contests and the like.
Manteca area pumpkin growers George Perry, John Azevedo, Dave Celli, and Albert Fonseca started the Manteca Pumpkin Fair rolling.
Then it mushroomed and mushroomed, and then the Jaycees took over.
Then the “debate” that made it to the pages of “People” magazine and in the columns of the Wall Street Journal broke out between Manteca and Half Moon Bay.
That’s when both cities were involved in a friendly competition over who grew the biggest pumpkin to decide who should have the title of Pumpkin Capital of the World.
Each city challenged the other on both counts. The friendly quarrel soon attracted the attention of the national news media with Perry being interviewed and photographed by People Magazine. Later, the Wall Street Journal picked up the story.
As far as the title of Pumpkin Capital of the World, Perry will tell you Manteca unquestionably is the one truly deserving of the title.
Half Moon Bay used to raise a lot of pumpkins “but never nothing like Manteca,” Perry once noted.
The friendly challenge was all that the Manteca Pumpkin Fair needed to really take off and get worldwide attention.
— DENNIS WYATT
209 staff reporter