Kraus-Hartig VFW rings in 2014 with chili cookoff

A chili cookoff at the Kraus-Hartig VFW Post counteracted the freezing temperatures on New Year’s Day.

From left to right, Laura Sullivan, Bob Jones and McKenzie Jones prepare to sample seven chili recipes in a cookoff at the VFW. Photos by Olivia Koester

From left to right, Laura Sullivan, Bob Jones and McKenzie Jones prepare to sample seven chili recipes in a cookoff at the VFW. Photos by Olivia Koester

Dan DeGross’ chili was so hot and spicy, it nearly burned Club Manager Mitch Tibbetts’ mouth off, he said.

DeGross and six others competed in the cookoff, which has been a New Year’s tradition of Kraus-Hartig’s for approximately 30 years.

Free Tom and Jerry cocktails, made with brandy or rum, also warm guests annually Jan. 1.

In addition, the men’s auxiliary sold sandwiches, hot dogs and soup, while the ladies auxiliary vended a variety of baked goods, as well as roast beef sandwiches this year.

The club held a meat raffle throughout the day with everything from sirloin to stuffed pork chops up for grabs.

During the winter months, the club holds meat raffles twice weekly.

With tickets priced at $1, “we don’t have any problem selling them,” said Tom DeVries, assistant gambling manager and club committee chairperson.

The New Year’s Day celebration is a fundraiser for the VFW, but that’s not its main purpose.

“It’s just kind of to draw people in,” Ladies Auxiliary President Char Guse said. Many have New Year’s Day off from work, but since the holiday usually falls in the middle of the week and people have often just taken vacation for Christmas, they can’t get away to visit family. The VFW can be a gathering place, Guse said.

The club expected hundreds.

“The cars will be all the way down to the park,” Men’s Auxiliary President Bob Clark said, anticipating parking lot overflow.

Attendees didn’t have to park as far as Lakeside Lions Park, but as the day went on, the parking lot did fill up as people of all ages packed the post.

Some came specifically for lunch or to sample chili, but many arrived early to stake out a table and camp out all day, Guse said.

Seven men and women whipped up chili for the cookoff, including DeGross, Gary Ellestad, Randy Kimball, Gordy MacDonald, Karen Moe, Ken Pearson and Mike Setterlund.

The chili was stowed away in the kitchen until 1:30 p.m. when the cookoff was announced and a line formed instantly.

Purchasing a sampler of all seven chili recipes came with a ballot to vote for the best chili of 2014.

MacDonald came away with the top prize: bragging rights and a $25 gift certificate to the club.

Kimball, Pearson and Setterlund tied for second.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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