Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Pig and Corn Roast more than tradition

by Steve Targo

August 09, 2012

LINN — “If you weren’t bleeding, you weren’t working,” said Grant Winger Jr., first assistant fire chief of the town’s Fire and EMS Department.

Winger and Second Assistant Fire Chief Dan Pitt were in the department’s office Friday, fielding the question of what’s their earliest memories of the Pig and Corn Roast, an event which Sunday enters its 42nd year.

“When the pig roast started, it used to be at the old Red Eye,” Winger said, referring to the former restaurant in Linton, which is now a blue apartment building.

But no — as the two discuss it, they remember it didn’t start there. “I think the first one happened in Zenda,” Winger said, adding that Larry Holden and some department members started it with one pig. Pitt said they used to have their pig roast on Sundays after church.

“It started off as a family event,” he said.

But it was a family of department members, and it became a tradition. Winger said he first joined the department in 1986, and “back then we were still using spits” at the Red Eye.

According to Winger, they would use wire and lattice to tie the pigs to a spit. Electric motors would turn the spits. There would be one fire pit for each pig, and there were between 12 and 14 pigs for the event back then. Those who helped often suffered cuts and minor burns just trying to remove the wires. Still, that didn’t stop people from showing up just to help.

“We’d have a lot of people coming that night to watch and help … probably 40 to 50 people the night before,” Winger said.

The days of spits and bleeding ended in the 1990s, he said, when the pigs were roasted over the pits set up near the storage shed by the fire station on Hillside Road, near Firemen’s Park.

Pitt’s earliest Pig and Corn Roast memories originate a decade later. He said he first went to the event in the early 2000s, and the event back then is pretty much what it is now.

“It was just fun to be part of this,” Pitt said about his first Pig and Corn Roast. “I don’t want to use the word camaraderie, but there’s a closeness. That small-town closeness. It’s fun to see everybody working together. Nobody’s fighting.”

“For one day,” Winger said.

Pitt looked at Winger, then nodded. “For one day,” he said. After a brief moment of silence, they laughed at about the same time.

Form & function

Over the years, Pitt and Winger made the transition from volunteers to event organizers. Once again, they’re at the helm for this year’s event. The total number of pigs to be roasted for Sunday is 16.

And, according to Pitt, there will be 4,000 ears of corn to be served, buttered and eaten, courtesy of Pearce Farms, Walworth Township. A “kiddie karnival” will be run by the Linn Fire Department’s Explorers. Inflatables will be set up, the Walworth County Smokehouse will be available to tour and Pitt said Williams Bay’s School of Rock may play the event.

The Pig and Corn Roast is the department’s main fundraising event. According to Pitt, it evolved into being a fundraiser once the department needed to purchase a pumper truck years ago, which cost more than what the town had in its budget.

But it’s more than just a fundraiser. “The public … feels like it’s a part of the department with this event,” Pitt said.

It draws people. Pitt said although last year they served about 1,600 people, there have been years when 4,200 attended.

“We’ve got people coming here all the way from Florida,” Winger said.

“They call us ahead of time,” Pitt said. “People plan their vacations around this thing.”

He said although the department benefits from the Pig and Corn Roast, it also gives back to the community through this event.

Pitt also said the community has been generous. “Reek School doesn’t have a defibrillator,” Pitt said. “Because of the pig roast, one of the (families) on Lackey Lane … wrote us out a check for the amount of one.”

Actually, it was almost twice the amount — the check was for $3,240, the defibrillator cost $1,863.

“The community at large sees the need,” Pitt said. “What the pig roast does, it (shows everyone) what it is we do.”

The department also uses the proceeds to donate to the 4-H Club and the Wisconsin Alliance For Fire Safety’s burn camp near East Troy.Pitt said this year, the department is hoping to raise enough money to purchase a fire boat, which would help when responding to fire calls on boats and shorefront properties. But organizing this event is something Pitt and Winger said is a lot of hard work.

“We’re up here from Friday morning to Monday night,” Winger said.

In financial terms, simply speaking, Pitt said the cost is “horrendous.”

“It costs us about $30 to make $9,” he said.

So why do it? “It’s a tradition,” Winger said.

Can’t others carry on the tradition? “We’ve got a boatload of new people on the department,” Pitt said. “It’s up to us to teach them about tradition, so the tradition continues.”

But, of course, it’s more than that. “It’s just listening to some of the people (at the event), their stories, why they come,” Winger said.

Pitt said his favorite part is the sort of pre-event event — the Saturday night before the Pig and Corn Roast, when people come to help, just as they did in the spits-and-blood days Winger talked about earlier. At about 5 p.m., department members gather near Firemen’s Park to start cooking pigs.

“We don’t discourage the residents from coming up here,” Pitt said. “A lot of residents just come up here to watch.”