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Turning up the heat

Becky Vargo • Aug 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — Norton Shores resident Lisa Leigh-Bell was overcome with emotion when her Hot & Spicy Chili, not only won the category award, but also was the top choice of the judges in the 10th Annual Smith’s Bayou Chili Cook-off held on Sunday on Cecelia Lane 

The event was a fundraiser for the new West Michigan Chapter of Folds of Honor – an organization, which provides post secondary educational scholarships to families of deceased or wounded military men and women.

More photos from the chili cook-off

A first-year participant, Leigh-Bell said she entered at the last minute, didn’t worry about booth decorations or embellishments on her table, but concentrated on her chili.

“I don’t serve extra because I want the people to taste this,” she said, pointing to her empty chili pot.

She beat five other entries for her category award and 13 other contestants to become the judges’ favorite.

While the judges liked her chili, another Hot & Spicy entry concocted by Ivan Perez of Grand Haven took the People’s Choice.

“This makes me feel awesome,” said the man who’s won the award at least two times before. “The people are the ones I’m trying to please. When the people love it, I know it was a winner.”

Perez said that when he made his first batch, he tried it out on his 6-year-old daughter.

“She said, ‘this is great,’ so I knew it wasn’t hot enough,” Perez laughed.

Other category awards went to Jim Bryant for Meek & Mild and John and Brenda Postema for White Chili. Diane Marklevitz won the prize for Best Decorated Booth, while the Postemas came in a close second 

The cook-off was rained out on Saturday, but organizer Rebecca Hopp said that all of the participants except the original band were able to make when the event was rescheduled for the next day.

Folk musicians Max and Ruth Blomquist and their friend, Dick Anthony (father of Cecelia Lane resident Linsey Joseph), agreed to fill in at the last minute 

The hot and muggy conditions didn’t keep a few hundred people from consuming gallons of mild, spicy or white chili in the cottage neighborhood on Smith’s Bayou. The event was open to the public.

“This is awesome,” Hopp said, wiping away a tear after Rendezvous Restaurant owner Bill Peak presented her with a check for $1,200, the amount raised by selling $1 Folds of Honor certificates at his restaurant.

Peak and his wife, Dee, along with Tom and Carol Devlin of Grand Rapids, served as judges.

John and Sandy Rooney, whose son, Dan, started the National Folds of Honor Foundation in Grand Haven, smiled as they wandered around the event, explaining what the foundation is about 

John Rooney said that 13,000 scholarships have been given across the nation since late 2007. Sixty of those were distributed in Michigan.

Much more money has been raised the last two years with new national sponsors coming on board, he said.

More information can be found online at https://www.foldsofhonor.org/

The chili cook-off will be held again, on Aug. 26 next year, with proceeds going to Autism Support of West Shore (see their Facebook page). 

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