Tremont honors Abe and gobbles up turkeys

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Despite concerns about the weather, there was little rainfall during the Tremont Turkey Festival, except June 10 when a torrential downpour fell around noon. Turkey Festival chairwoman Abby Hammond said festivities continued after the storm, including the Gibson Girls performance and the annual parade. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Had Ben Franklin had his way, the turkey would have become America’s national bird, and Tremont would have had to come up with another theme for its annual festival.

But Franklin didin’t prevail, thus leading the way more than 200 years later to more than 1,600 turkeys being gobbled at the 52nd annual Tremont Turkey Festival June 8-10, which went on, almost, without a hitch.

“I kept watching the sky. I knew we were going to have rain,” general chairperson Abby Hammond said of what was predicted to be a rather gloomy weekend. “I’m glad it was only a one day thing.”

A sudden, torrential downpour struck around noon on Sunday, but soon subsided and festivities continued on schedule, wrapping up at 4 p.m. with the closing parade.

This year’s Grand Marshal was Navy veteran Rick Otey, a Tremont resident who so closely resembles Abraham Lincoln that he often portrays the former President, and did so at the festival.

“People anonymously write in to nominate the Grand Marshal, and Rick won. He’s a gentleman who does a lot of things for the veterans,” Hammond said. “He helped get the veteran’s memorial here in town and the flag that’s along Route 9.”

Each Thursday during the school year, Otey and other local veterans greet students at Tremont Grade School.

“It’s pretty cool to watch all the retired men and women get the kids started on a good day,” Hammond said. My daughter loves it, she comes home and tells me who she saw. It’s something to get the kids pumped up for the day and let them know that everybody cares about them.”

Over the weekend, Otey posed for photos with festival goers, who feasted on turkey meals, strawberry shortcake and lemon shake ups.

The Metamora Township High School Marz Wars team joined in on this year’s bed races. Six teams scampered up James Street on makeshift beds — two teams at a time, stopping halfway to jog around their race beds before heading to the finish line.

Among the 75 classic cars on Sampson Street at the Tremont Turkey Festival June 110 was Nate Sidwell’s 1959 Renault Dauphine, a rear-engine French economy car that Sidwell began renovating in 2013. Sidwell teaches French at Washington Community High School. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chroncile Media)

“The winners were Stuber Land Design, and the Tremont 702 emergency team took second,” Hammond said. “We were in it, my husband and I and our kids, mw as the General Chairman, but our little girls just couldn’t keep up.”

Among the teams were The Tremont Turkey Festival beauty pageant finalists — winner Miss Tremont Aryah Turner, first runner up Emily Wendling and runners up Presley Perdue and Sophie Landry.

The girls also threw turkeys around the ball diamond during the annual Turkey Toss competition, where contestants try to throw a frozen 14-pound Butterball the farthest for cash prizes.

The contest turkeys eventually wind up tossed in the trash, but the 1,600 others were placed in rotisserie smokers, which were first used last year. The $25,000 Holstein, Inc.   customized rotisseries hold 90 birds and replaced the previous aging turkey ovens, which have all been sold.

Navy veteran Rick Otey was named the Tremont Turkey Festival 2018 Grand Marshal. Because of his likeness to President Abraham Lincoln, Otey often portrays him, as he did at this year’s festival. Otey posed with Tazewell County Clerk John C. Ackerman’s sons Saturday. (Photo courtesy of John C. Ackerman)

After the turkeys are injected with a brine, they roast for three hours.  With the help of “Turkey Master” Mike Moser, the meat is served up as burgers, sandwiches, legs and “drummies,” all for around $5 each.

Since the festival’s inception, the town has raised more than $1.5 million; money which is portioned out to various organizations, such as scouting troops, emergency and senior services, Tremont pool and various other local groups.

“We had a terrific festival this year, weather and all,” Hammond said. “We ate a lot of short cake, a lot of turkey, we were able to have the parade and the car show … it was a great time.”

For early planners, next year’s schedule is already online at; June 7-9, 2019.





—- Tremont honors Abe and gobbles up turkeys —-