Pekin Rotary Grill at the Pekin Marigold Festival

Formerly called the Marigold Festival Pork Chop Fry

Pekin Rotary Club’s most visible project is the annual gathering of almost every club member, with spouses, children and friends, under the big tent at Mineral Springs Park, to prepare and serve pork chops, bratwursts, and lemonade to the thousands who attend Pekin’s Marigold Festival. This is our BIG money-raising project.

In the 1970’s, the Pekin Chamber of Commerce initiated Pekin’s annual Marigold Festival which included a parade, recreational events and Art In The Park in Mineral Springs Park.

Because Pekin Rotary Club was (and still is) interested in expanding its community service, an area sound of the Park lagoon was selected in 1980 to locate a tent and sell chicken dinners during the Festival’s Art In The Park days.

Our Rotarian portrait artist, Lester Chace, painted a beautiful 50 foot banner which was attached to two big oak trees to attract the crowd to our end of the park. With the help of loud speakers, jazzy music, the Rotary “dinner time” bell ringing constantly, and the fragrance of broiled chicken, club members sold $3,920 worth of meals, clearing $1,700 profit after a 15% donation to the Marigold Festival Committee for the next year’s festival. The entire profit was allocated to Pekin Rotary Club’s newest project - Pekin Mobile Diner.

For the next year, 1981, we switched to butterfly pork chop sandwiches, promoted by the Illinois Pork Producers Association as the “healthy other white meat”. A few years later a tasty rib-eye steak sandwich and bratwursts were added to the menu. All sandwiches are broiled in specially designed cookers.

Over the years, various items have been added to and dropped from the menu. The best addition, however, was the lemon shakeups, especially on very hot festival days. We tried watermelons, baked beans, pie, ice cream and other items, but even though some of these were profitable, staffing the operation for four 5-hour shifts over the two-day festival caused us to eliminate some of the time-consuming menu items.

Club members and their spouses, children and friends boast that the Rotary Pork Chop Fry is a 100% Rotarian event which promotes friendship, comradery, and pride of organization - a wonderful bonding event for everyone involved.

Financially, the results have been overwhelming. From that humble beginning in 1980 through the Marigold Festival of 1994, this two-day activity has generated sales of $171,617 and profits of $97,789.

The profits have supported many local projects - the Pekin Mobile Diner, Rotary Park development, college scholarships to graduating high school seniors, Shade Memorial Youth Camp parking lot improvements, and contributions to numerous organizations.