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First Pumpkin Fair netted $46 for Sunrise Kiwanis endeavors
George Perry talks about the Pumpkin Fair at Thursdays Manteca Historical Society meeting. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The first year that Ethan Ives served as the chairman for the Manteca Pumpkin Fair, the event cleared a whopping $46.

The year was 1984. It was the first time that the Sunrise Kiwanis had hosted the event that the now defunct Manteca Jaycees had started in 1975 initially dubbing it “The Manteca Pumpkin Festival.” The Jaycess operated it for nearly a decade before interest started to dwindle.

But Ives and the rest of Kiwanis colleagues refused to give up. For the first two years, he said, it was nearly a full-time job researching, traveling and learning what was needed to run a successful community festival.

And while he only served as the chairman for the first two years and it took the group roughly a decade before they discovered a permanent location – downtown Manteca – that suited the event adequately, it has grown into something that draws tens of thousands of visitors the first weekend of October every year and pays tribute to the fact the Manteca region grows more than 70 percent of all pumpkins in California..

“I made a very good living here in this community selling insurance and I got involved with this as a way to give back,” Ives said. “I’ve heard people say that as many as 35,000 come though over the weekend and I’m not quite sure if it’s that many but it’s good to see it grow into what it is today.”

Ives joined fellow Sunrise Kiwanian Don Allen Thursday night at the Manteca Historical Museum for the Manteca Historical Society’s monthly program. They gave a brief history of the 28-year run of the event that just wrapped up last weekend.

The evening, however, also paid tribute to the “Pumpkin King” – George Perry – for the role that he played in the formation of the festival and the philanthropic work that he and his family have done in the community over the decades that Perry and Sons have been an agricultural staple.

It was also a chance for a few laughs.

Perry recanted the time that a People Magazine writer and photographer came out to interview him for a story – in which they dubbed him the “Pumpkin King”. They wanted him to pose for a picture for the Nov. 1, 1982 issue. Initially wary of the camera idea, Perry – who gave his bio in the article (which can be found on People’s website by searching for the issue date) ultimately relented and a photo of him with a carved jack-o-lantern on his head ran with the article.

Allen said the Sunrise Kiwanis made him a lifetime member two weeks ago for his work in the community and as one of the largest pumpkin growers and exporters in the nation.

“I really appreciate this,” Perry said after the Historical Society presented him with the certificate. “You’re talking to an old man now. I think this is just a great thing.”

Proceeds from the annual Pumpkin Fair are distributed in a variety of ways. Broken into thirds, one-third is disseminated to three charities that are selected before the event begins, one-third goes into a foundation that has been growing and will eventually be used to benefit the community and the final third is used as seed money for the following year.

After expenses the club usually clears between $20,000 and $25,000. They have now generating close to $600,000 for community endeavors since taking the event over 28 years ago.