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The Origins of the Sussex Chili Cook-Off

by Fred H. Keller

Living Sussex Sun, December 9, 2009

Updated 12/13/2009

Everyone in the greater Sussex-Lisbon community knows of the annual Sussex Chili Cook-off community event where one can do three things: eat chili to your heart's content, meet old and new friends, and in the process, raise money for the Sussex food pantry which was created in 1985 by the six Cooperating Churches of Sussex.

At this last chili cook-off, the new director of the Sussex Food Pantry came up to me and introduced himself and engaged me in some of my knowledge of the history of the cook-off.

He told me that he thought the cook off was a hand in hand creation of the Cooperating Churches, and I said that was not necessarily true, and that I would do some searching of my records to get the chronological details down.

So when did it start? Who started it? What was its early causes, when did the food pantry get involved and when did the Sussex Lions partner up with it and really make it a big time success?

It has always been held at the closest available date to Halloween with a preference to actually hold it on Oct. 31 if possible. Now Republican Lolita Schneiders of Menomonee Falls was elected to the 97th Wisconsin State Assembly in the early 1980s. Sussex and eastern Lisbon were part of her district and she and cohorts came up with the idea to have a chili cook-off contest. Schneiders and her husband, Don, decided to award a first, second and third prize entries with $50, $25, and $15 respectively.

The first event was held in the McLaughlin Barn which today is Shooters Pub on Highway 74 in the Whiskey Corners area. One hundred people attended with 11 pots of chili entering the competition.

Lolita introduced herself and said the purpose of the chili cook-off was not a fundraiser but just a way to let her electorate get to know her and a chance for her to get to know her electors.

There were 11 judges including Eloise Lenz who's tagline was, "I am not a gourmet cook but I have a gourmet taste." Carl Senger, "I have a big mouth, and burned out taste buds." Other judges listed were: Sid Gissal, Petra Holt, Carolyn Limjoco, Millie Schroeder, June Keller, Gabe Kolesari, Bill Marx, Roger Racer and Marie De Villers.

Rep. Schneiders was pressed into kissing babies and showing off her "Lolita Chili 2 Step Polka."

In 1985, after the successful '84 start-up, Dan Schneiders came up with the idea of having the chili cook-off with a dual purpose of the public getting acquainted with his politician wife, and as a fundraiser for Hurricane Juan and an earthquake which had devastated parts of Mexico. There was now a charge for the chili and $200 was raised for the hurricane and earthquake victims.

About 100 attended the second event and Sheila Stevens has the award-winning recipe she called "Bohemian Potato Chili." Ruby Cumberland of Sussex and Roy Jones took second and third went to Joan Daniels of Lisbon.

The third annual chili cook-off in 1986 had the Sussex Food Pantry join which had been created the year before; Betty Mindemann was the acting pantry director and the profits and donations this year went to the local charity. There were 15 entries and more than 100 attended the standing-room only event.

The judges for the third annual event were: Mark DeWeess, Jerry Hansen, Terry Zignago, Rev. Harold Ide, Rev. Bob Kleinke, Lorraine Marchese, Robert Smocke, Dorothy McLaughlin and Wayne Kadlec. It was at this cook-off when Lolita mentioned that Mary Jane Halquist had the original idea for a chili cook-off in 1984.

At the fourth annual chili cook-off, Lisbon Scout leader Tom Smith was the champ with his "Boy Scout Chili." He compounded his winnings by giving the $50 to the Sussex pantry.

In 1990, the last year at McLaughlin's Barn, 300 attended and $4,000 was raised. In 1991, the event shifted to the Sussex Bowl.

Lolita bowed out in 1992 as she left the political world. In 1994, the Sussex Lions Club came aboard to help sponsor and run the event with Tom Rapp as the big Lion member pushing their sponsorship. That year, more than $5,669 was raised. The Lions have continued to sponsor the event for the past 24 years.

In 1998, the scene of the Sussex chili cook-off switched to the Sussex Armory and as many as 800 came out for this year's 26th event.

Bald Facts

During the years the Sussex Sun has covered the Sussex annual Halloween chili cook-off, sometimes the recipes were asked for and published. The strange ones had buffalo meat, deer meat, cubed potatoes and sweet corn as ingredients. However, the strangest one ever published (with tongue in cheek) was the recipe of Sgt. Warren Grund of the Sussex Armory, a fourth-place winner in 1989 when the National Guard Armory was just coming into the community.

Here is the recipe:


Enough army beans to feed an army

Eight large onions

50 pounds of ground chuck

8 gallons of tomato sauce

6 large green peppers

4 large cans of kidney beans

1 large can of Chili powder, or to taste

1 camouflage uniform

1 left foot boot

1 very large pot


Put on camouflage uniform and one left Army boot. Fry ground chuck in large pan. Put all the ingredients in a larger pot (make sure it's large enough for a size 12 boot). Mix by putting left boot in pot and march clockwise around center to 14 stanzas of "When Johnny comes marching home again." Put on stove for three hours at low heat and add extra chili powder and army boot to taste.

Grund became a very active person in the start up of the Sussex Armory and an outstanding Sussex resident who lived with his wife on Sumac Lane. Grund recently moved from Sussex in November to Florida.

As bad as Sgt. Grund's recipe sounded, it won second place in 1989. Ginny Samanske was not far behind Grun as when she was asked what her recipe was, she said, "I don't know. Do you have a recipe to make a baby? I don't have a recipe to make chili. Like a baby, a chili recipe just happens."

Winner, winner homemade chili dinner

26th Annual Chili Cook-Off winners announced

More than 50 entrants heated up their crock pots on Oct. 26 for Sussex-area Outreach Services (SOS) 26th annual Chili Cook-off at the Sussex Armory.

Nine judges including representatives from Kohl's Corporation, the Sussex Sun, SOS director Aaron Schmalzle, Marcy Elementary principal Michele Trawicki, and Hamilton School District Educational Services and Human Resources Director John Roubik put their taste buds to work sampling the many chili recipes. After nearly two hours of tasting, the winners were announced and the hungry crowd rushed for a bowl of their own.

First place prize in the Restaurant Division was awarded to Baja Grill in Pewaukee. The newly opened restaurant brought in the tasty, southwestern-style chili made with steak and pinto beans it serves at the restaurant which was a hit. Sussex United Methodist Church's Ron Kral won top awards for the Church Division. The First Place Community Entry was submitted by Erica Wallner. Second and third place in the Community Division went to Jim Kania and Beth Hilman respectively.

The event is sponsored by the Sussex Lions and all proceeds will be donated to SOS which operates the Sussex Food Pantry. The Cook-Off attracted more than 50 entries and was attended by more than 350 people.

"We are thrilled at the turnout and the generosity of both the community cooks and our guests tonight," said Schmalzle. "The Lions graciously host us every year and this always comes at a time when our stores are lower and our need is growing," he added. The Lions have sponsored the Chili Cook-Off for years. George Webb's also donated paper supplies.

Volunteers are the mainstay of the event.

"We have so many people who show up year in and year out for this event," said SOS President Al Wick. "The Lions and the Cooperating Churches of Sussex, the SOS Board, Kohl's Corporation and even our (Food Pantry) clients help get ready to serve all these people. It's truly a community effort and we'd like to thank everyone for their support this year," he added.

It is the mission of SOS, a community focused, volunteer organization, to meet the immediate and long-term needs of individuals and families in Sussex and the surrounding areas by providing food, informational resources, client advocacy and general assistance, as well as by building community awareness and participation.

The SOS Food Pantry and Resource Center serve the Hamilton School District and residents of the town of Lisbon, Village of Sussex, Village of Merton and the Village of Lannon. Donations are accepted. Checks can be mailed to: Sussex-area Outreach Services at N63 W23626 Silver Spring Drive, Sussex, WI 53089. Call (262)246-9860, e-mail [email protected] or visit for more information.

10 years ago — 1998

Winners of the 15th annual Sussex chili cook-off were Mel Trapp, Carolyn Mrozinski and Jim Skarda

Your Letters

Chili cook-off: good times for good cause

To the editor,

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to say “thank you” to our very generous community. The Lions Club recently held its 25th annual chili cookoff at the Armory to benefit Sussex-area Outreach Services (SOS), hosting a record number of attendees. Over 60 people entered the chili judging contest, and over 340 adults attended the event, many with their families. Thank you for coming.

When I think of what goes into an event like this, I am amazed and encouraged by the people who step up, but how nice to be able to do the giving while having fun, meeting new people, spending time with your family and just socializing in general. Oh yes, and then there’s the chili and other goodies to eat.

There are so many to thank. First of all, there’s the amazing Lions group, which often walks toe-to-toe with SOS to help our neighbors in need of assistance. I also thank the SOS Board of Directors, staff and the many SOS and Kohl’s volunteers who stepped up in a big way to help.

A couple more big thank-yous go to the Cooperating Churches of Sussex for chili and dessert and to the Armory, particularly Sgt. Pete Hansen, for his assistance.

Thank you to all who distributed fliers and sold tickets. You were instrumental in the success of the cookoff.

We had wonderful judges who donated their time and their palates, and many people answered the call for desserts.

We are already looking forward to the 26th annual event Oct. 26. In the meantime, please know that each and every one of you not only has been very generous, but you sure know how to have a good time.

Chris Miles

Acting Director


Outreach Services








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