Many thought a Halloween season memory maker stopped in 2022 after approximately three decades when Didier Farms of Lake County closed local operations due to retirement.
Then a team of organizers launched Happy Times Pumpkinfest this year at Didier Farms.
Happy Times Pumpkinfest takes place daily through Oct. 29 at the Lincolnshire/Prairie View farm, 16678 Aptakisic Road, featuring about 10 acres of family friendly attractions.
Expect amusement rides, shows, a corn maze, fall merchandise, pumpkin sales and treats such as apple cider donuts, multiple flavors of fudge, candy corn, pies plus a catered meal menu.
Didier Farms is leasing the premises to Happy Times Pumpkinfest, said Debbie Gorson of Hawthorn Woods, Happy Times Pumpkinfest manager who worked for more than two decades at Didier.
“The Didiers decided they were closing down last year, everything was closed down, everybody said goodbye,” Gorson said. “We threw out all our records.
“It was really sad at the end,” Gorson recalled of that Oct. 31 Halloween 2022 closing day. “Most of us were crying. It was, like, very emotional around here. We didn’t let anyone know about it until the day we closed.
“Everything was done and then in January (of 2023), the men that ran the rides here, which was called Fundways (JBR Fundways of Addison) … they decided they wanted to continue so they approached the Didiers on leasing the land so that they could continue with Pumpkinfest.”
Gorson received the phone call in January to ask if Gorson would, “get on board with them.
“It was like a boost of adrenaline all of the sudden,” Gorson said.
The rest is 2023 autumn tradition history.
“The Didiers are happy that their land is still being used for Pumpkinfest,” Gorson said. “We’ve had generations come through here.
“They were done, they were retiring, they do not grow any vegetables anymore, they don’t grow any pumpkins,” Gorson said.
The Didier family has approximately 200 acres of farmland in Genoa, Gorson said. “And that’s where they farm now.” A preferred crop is soybeans.
Didier family matriarch Mary Sue (Link) Didier, 98, died June 11 and resided in the Aptakisic Road farmhouse.
“She (Mary Sue) was raised in that house as an only child, she got married, she raised her kids in that house,” Gorson said, adding the Didier farmland at more than 100 years has, “A lot of history.”
One fest destination is Grandma D’s, named for Mary Sue Link Didier. Crafted caramel apples are sold there plus ice cream from a Chicagoland source.
About 40 former Didier employees returned to work at Happy Times Pumpkinfest as part of an estimated 100 seasonal staff members plus.
Gorson is, “pretty excited. We always say to ourselves that this is Happy Times, that it’s a new business and things can be different and we’re having fun, actually, changing things around a little bit.
“It’s really been fun. Our customers are the best. It really is exciting. That’s why they picked the name Happy Times because you’re going to come here and you’re going to be happy. It’s just that kind of place.”
The new catering service offers a “really a great menu.” New to Didier farmland is a carousel among the dozen kiddie rides.
There is no charge for event admission or parking. A ticket system is used for purchases.
Rosemary Almeyda, 5, a kindergartner from Buffalo Grove, attended the opener with parents Brian and Sarah Almeyda.
“We’re so happy because we heard it wasn’t going to be back so we’re so happy to be back and coming on the first day it’s open,” Sarah Almeyda said. “It’s something close for us to do and it’s fun for the family to just kick off the fall season.”
Olivia Sharma of Texas, who grew up in Grayslake and is of the Grayslake Central High School Class of 2007, brought daughter Emryn, 3, on opening day. They were in town visiting the tot’s grandparents.
“I absolutely love it,” the youngster’s parent said of Lake County and the Midwest.
Pumpkins sold here come from southern Illinois. There are huge softer hue pumpkins and varieties with gnarly bumps for creative carvers and painting enthusiasts.
Natalia Strom of Volo, the parent of Joey, 2, said, “I like the unusual pumpkins. Growing up, we always got the standard, perfect, you know, ready to cut jack-o’-lantern pumpkins.
“But now that I have a son and I see the beauty and all the things that he sees, I can appreciate a bumpy pumpkin,” Joey’s mother said with a smile.
Steffi Yoon of Wheeling, the parent of Jacob Yoon, 3, said Jacob has, “been asking about coming since, like, July. He’s been dying to come here. We are just so happy.”
Click on the Chronicle Media link to view a highlights tour with Debbie Gorson. Check out Happy Times Pumpkinfest at https://happytimespumpkinfest.com.