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Chili cook-off serves up engagement

News editor

A large crowd at the Marion County Park and Lake chili cook-off Saturday kept Travis Schafer of Marion busy dishing out servings of his father Karl’s first-place chili, but he took a break from the serving line to surprise his girlfriend by dropping to a knee and offering a marriage proposal.

“That’s the last thing I was thinking of,” Nicky May said, who accepted. “I was thinking how hot my mouth was from that chili I just ate. It was a complete surprise. I knew he had it in him, but I had no idea it would be today.”

Schafer said he had been planning the surprise for two months.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot longer than that,” he said. “I’ve been getting everybody together. She had no idea.”

“All the people I care about are here,” May said. “He did a great job of getting them to be here. It’s wonderful. He’s wonderful.”

One reason he chose the chili cook-off to propose was to help boost attendance, Schafer said.

“This is such a great thing going on here at the lake, and I wanted so many more people out here,” he said. “I thought it would be good for the lake.”

Another couple celebrating at the chili cook-off were Kenny and Lorilee Thompson of Wichita.

“It’s our birthday weekend,” Lorilee said.

“We turn 45 Sunday and Monday,” Kenny added. “We had some friends out here that told us about it, we didn’t have anything going this weekend, and we heard the weather was going to be beautiful.”

It was the first time the Thompsons had been to the cook-off, the first time they’d ever entered a chili contest, and Kenny was enthused by the experience.

“This is the first time, it’s the first chili, and it’s the best and the worst chili we’ve ever made,” Kenny said. “We’re competitors. We’re going to the nationals. Are there nationals?”

Ed Salsbery of Newton repeated as the winner of the hot chili-eating contest. Salsbery, who has a trailer at the lake, said gulping it down was the key to his victory.

“That’s all you can do, otherwise it’s going to burn too much,” he said.

Runner-up in the event was Ruth May, mother of the new bride-to-be, who was talked into doing it by her daughter.

“Nicky challenged me,” May said. “She said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to do it, I did it last year.’ I love hot food.”

Lake Superintendent Steve Hudson said turnout for the event was good.

“We sold 264 tasting kits, that’s up from last year,” Hudson said. “We had 18 competitors, which is about what we usually have. It was probably the best ever, I think. Everything went pretty smooth.”

Karl Schafer took first place, Barb McCurdy of Goddard was second, and Jim Bratt of Valley Center was third. Kenny Thompson won the competitor’s trophy.

“The people that take their time and effort to make the chili, it’s pretty key,” Hudson said. “They may spend $50 just making their chili, and that’s money that’s being donated in a roundabout way.”

The event raised $2,469 that will go toward planting trees in the beach and stage area, at campgrounds, and to replace some newer trees that didn’t survive the drought, Hudson said.

An addition to the event was a car show that drew 16 entries. Norman Hacker of Andover won first prize with a 1957 Chevrolet convertible, Jeremey Davis of Wichita placed second with a 1967 Chevelle, and Jeremy Campbell of Hutchinson was third with a 2014 sprint car.

Last modified Oct. 9, 2014

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