TREMONT — Fifty-two years ago Jack Moser went to a town meeting to help find a way to raise money to build a swimming pool and have the funds to operate it.
The Tremont Turkey Festival was born and Moser started hitting the cookbooks — he was named the official turkey cook.
“The first year, we cooked 75 turkeys. This year we’re doing 1,650 turkeys. We started with 14-pounders. Now they average 21 pounds,” Moser said. “We do a lot of meat. We used to raise a lot of turkeys around here. I think we gave ourselves the name turkey center of Illinois. I volunteered to help. I didn’t have any experience at the time. Nobody had much experience, but we learned in a hurry.”
Moser’s brother, Glenn Moser, made up a special sauce for the turkeys to be injected with and modified it later.
“It has garlic juice, Tabasco sauce, vinegar and some other thing.” Moser laughed and said he didn’t know what the final ingredient is.
Moser volunteered his services, as do many of the people of the community when it comes to the festival. The first turkeys go in the roasters at 4 a.m. and the last go in at 5 p.m. He said about 700 to 800 people help in one capacity or another. All of the churches are involved, and high school students are required to do 40 hours of community service to graduate.
The money from the festival has grown over the years as the festival increased in the number of days and new attractions.
The 2016 Turkey Festival provided funds for the Greater Peoria Honor Flight, Scout groups, the Tremont Alumni Association, the Tremont District Library, the Tremont Food Pantry, a senior nutrition program, school programs and other causes. In all $39,650 was raised and distributed for the community.
The festival is a lot of work. The turkeys have to be prepped, and after all is said and done, the mess from the event has to be cleaned up. Moser and some friends went to a county fair in Iowa last year and found a way to make things easier. The festival committee agreed to purchase two huge rotisserie cookers at a cost of $50,000. The two cookers are the size of a small camper and have many racks that rotate hundreds of pounds of whole turkeys at one time.
Festival Publicity Chairwoman Michele Garey said this year’s festival was a hit because of the great weather and huge attendance. She attended the Turkey Toss where people see how far they can throw a 14-pound bird.
“We love to make use of all things turkey,” Garey said. “We do a lot of brainstorming in the offseason coming up with new and novel things to do with turkey, and this has been great. It’s a lot of fun.”
The 2017 Tremont Turkey Festival Miss Tremont Allie Ramlo traded her scepter for a frozen turkey, giving the bird a fling, and it rolled to 39.4 feet.
“I feel very strong, very powerful, especially with this crown on,” she said, joking. “But it’s very cold. This is what I have to carry around everywhere — a cold turkey.”
The turkey toss didn’t end her duties; she left the turkey toss to enter the strawberry shortcake eating contest.
The turkey toss record is held by Michael Griffin of Normal, with a toss of more than 100 feet last year.
The Barnes family came out Saturday to have a good time and let the kids ride the rides.
“This gives us something to do and interact with other people in our community,” said Melissa Barnes of Tremont, as she walked the midway with her family. “It helps out a lot the businesses around here, too, to have people come into town and support local small business and the community.”
Josh Barnes said his family is new to the community and his family members are pleased with what they see.
“We just moved to Tremont a couple of months ago, and that’s one thing I realized right away is the people are very friendly here,” he said. “So it doesn’t surprise me that you have this many volunteers here from Tremont.”