DOT’S BEAT: How Contests Shape Montpelier

by Dot Helling

Montpelier is a city of “contests,” whimsical and fun, for fundraising and creative incentives. A “contest” is generally defined by Webster’s as an event in which people engage in competition, usually to attain a position of power. The purpose of a contest can be synonymous with social reasons or simply a means to challenge yourself while going against others. Auctions are also competitive in that you are publicly bidding for gain. In this community we have both.

I recently placed the highest bid on the pink minimalistic modern art rain barrel designed by Montpelier High School students Claudia Farnham, Damon Dunham and Emma Harper “to bring attention to the importance of water conservation and recycling.” It was one of 12 rain barrels on which you could place a bid. These barrels were positioned around the city. This was a joint project of Montpelier High School and the Friends of the Winooski. Fittingly, my pink barrel was displayed in front of Pinky’s on State. This project was one of many contests and auctions that have taken place in this city for years.

Contests this spring and summer included the identification of a new Montpelier City flag. The flags were to be designed according to good flag design principles laid out in a web-based “TED Talk” by Roman Mars. The designs of three finalists were displayed on the city’s website, where people could for vote for their favorite. The winner, former Montpelier resident Chet Larrow, was announced at our July 3 celebration. His flag design in navy blue, gold and green has a circle of 14 stars representing our state’s counties set in the sky above rolling green hills. Julian Kelly and Robert Hitzig of Montpelier were the runners up.

The city also had a contest to determine the end date for the “Makeover Montpelier” construction. The weather has complicated things, so, as I write this, construction is still underway and no winner has been announced. If you are the winner, you will be awarded one year of free parking in downtown Montpelier.

During our July 3 festivities, and for the first time, Union Mutual hosted a parade float competition, awarding $1,000 each to the “Best Performance Float” and the “Best ‘Green’ Float.” The winners of that competition were the Honeybee Steelband PanAshe International of Hardwick for the best performance float. The Montpelier Senior Activity Center took the “green float” award with “Trash Tramps.” In true Montpelier style, the Trash Tramps are using their winnings to install more “Sidewalk Buttlers” in our downtown.

Also a part of the July 3 festivities, Onion River Sports and Central Vermont Runners sponsored the 12th Annual Montpelier Mile run, awarding cash to the top three men and women, an additional $250 each to the male and female course record breakers, and $50 each to the male and female winners of the “Dash for Cash,” i.e., the first runner to reach the corner of State and Main. This year’s overall winners both set course records, Kameron Ulmer for the men in 4:20.2, and Emma Bates for the women in 4:50.0. Both are from Massachusetts. Emma won a “triple crown” — the first woman overall, the women’s course record and the first woman in the “Dash for Cash.”

This year, the contest for a “Sustainable Montpelier 2030” was sponsored by NetZero Vermont (the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition). Contestants designed a model of Montpelier’s sustainable future. The $10,000 prize for the best design was awarded to Team Bridges, which included Black River Design. In 2012, Montpelier Alive promoted a similar challenge called the “21st Century Design Contest.”

In 2008, the Montpelier Downtown Community Association (now Montpelier Alive) sponsored “SculptCycle,” the first such outdoor arts event. Twenty local sculptors created works out of recycled bicycle and tricycle parts. These sculptures were displayed about town, judged, and then put up for bids. The winning sculpture was bought by association for display downtown and now stands on the Washington County Courthouse lawn. It is titled “Communication” and was sculpted by Sofia Shatkivska. One of the most interesting to me is a cube of crushed bicycles located on the roof of the home of Chris and Jennifer Bean on Liberty Street. And speaking of sculptures, each year Friends of the Winooski volunteers create ground sculptures with materials removed from the river during the annual Winooski River cleanup.

Montpelier is famous for the annual Rotten Sneaker Contest, started here in 1974. Although no longer held in Montpelier, this contest continues at a national level and is now sponsored by Odor Eaters. The pair of smelly, rotten sneakers that won the competition in 1987 remains on display at the Barre Street Recreation Center. They belonged to Matt Kenney. In 2000, eight-year old Kyle Martin from Montpelier won the 25th Annual Rotten Sneaker Contest nationals. His secret: llama dung from his grandmother’s farm.

For five years, Patrick Mullikin organized the “Dylan Wannabe” contest. I was a judge for the contest one year and attended most of the others. City Hall auditorium was packed, and the variety of contestants, including at least one woman, was diverse and entertaining. There do not appear to be many other contests on the music scene except that Charlie O’s does hold a Karaoke night where arguably the winners are the “singers” who get the most applause.

The banners along our downtown streets were part of a design contest. The first such contest was sponsored by Montpelier Alive in 2011 to design banners to hang on the four light poles in front of City Hall. It was a “Call to Decorate City Hall Plaza,” and winning designers received an $800 award and one-month installation of their banners.

In 2014 Heney Realtors held a Holiday Home Decorating Contest to call attention to homes in Montpelier. I don’t know the outcome of any holiday decoration judging. However, a notable house for its annual holiday decorations, beginning with Halloween and moving on through the holidays into the New Year, is the home of Bob and Bonnie Bertolino at the far end of College Street near upper Main Street. Their displays are known for “fantasmical” lighting and what certainly must be high electric bills.

The annual Central Vermont Humane Society’s Walk for Animals, a fundraiser held at Montpelier High School, holds dog contests for best costume, best kisser and best trick. Central Vermont Runners has an annual Mutt Strut in the spring when runners can partner with their dogs to run three miles and win “dog” prizes, thanks to sponsors such as the Onion River Animal Hospital.

Local eating contests and challenges have included the 2017 Double Burger Challenge at the Three Penny Taproom, and the 2015 Pie Eating Contest at Down Home Kitchen. The Wayside Restaurant used to have a contest to see who could eat the most pancakes topped with Morse Farm Maple Syrup in a three-month period. The Wayside also has had a “Hoodie Contest.” Food has been the focus of several attempts to set a Guinness World Record in Montpelier. Those and other Guinness attempts and successes were covered in a previous edition of “Dot’s Beat.”

The Vermont College of Fine Arts annually awards literary prizes, including the Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Katherine Paterson Prize for Children’s Writing and the Hunger Mountain Creative Nonfiction Prize. Check their website for details. Winning gets you published. In the arts venue, the annual Green Mountain Film Festival has held sweepstakes, awarding free seats to festival showings in addition to an overnight at the Capitol Plaza and other treats. Wood Art Gallery regularly holds juried and rotating art shows.

Not located in Montpelier but a longtime favorite with residents here and in surrounding communities, especially to those who have camps on the Danville waters, is the Joe’s Pond Ice-Out contest. This event sells one dollar tickets for guesses as to when the ice goes out each spring on Joe’s Pond. The “out” time is determined when an alarm clock set on the ice hits the water and stops. The winning guesser gets the pot of money. This year the ice went out at 4:32 p.m. on April 23. Emily Wiggett of North Danville guessed 4:31 p.m. and took home $4,600.00.

Surely I have left out other contests that have taken place in our small city over the years. Evidence of contests past includes the decorated dumpsters about town, the Langdon Street art works and more. We are blessed to be surrounded by such challenges and incentives, and the creative designs of so many from so many walks of life. The possibilities are endless. How about the most beautiful rose garden (note the one at 56 East State Street)? The most environmentally friendly business? Or the best riverwalk garden? Send us or the city your ideas.

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