Fundraising begins for Mr. Pumpkin memorial

A scale model of a proposed life-size Wally Thurow, or Mr. Pumpkin, statue is seen in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.
A scale model of a proposed life-size Wally Thurow, or Mr. Pumpkin, statue is seen in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

SYCAMORE – A $6,000 donation has kick-started fundraising efforts to erect a life-sized memorial to “Mr. Pumpkin,” Wally Thurow.

Thurow, credited as the founder of the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, died in February. The concept for the memorial was developed in the spring, said Denis Jagodzinski, treasurer of the fundraising committee.

The current plan is for a life-sized bronze statue of Thurow on his trademark penny-farthing bicycle, although Jagodzinski stressed the design has not been finalized. The committee estimates the statue will cost about $75,000, and it plans to make a fundraising push around this year’s festival in October.

Last week, Mark Salerno of Maple Park offered the first significant donation to the effort.

“We work in the community, we live in the community, the opportunity came up, and it was a nice cause,” Salerno said.

Salerno’s family owns Windy City Amusements, which has operated the carnival at the festival since about 1989, he said.

“My kids go [to the festival]. They’ve marched in the parade with the Boy Scouts,” he said. “My dad and mom go. ... It’s always fun because it’s the last one we do each year.”

Salerno said he hopes his donation will spur others to contribute.

Jagodzinski said the committee hopes to erect the memorial in time for the 2014 Pumpkin Festival. The Sycamore City Council already has agreed to provide space on the northwest corner of Somonauk and Elm streets for the statue.

The space is adjacent to a municipal parking lot that is home to many community activities, such as the weekly farmers market and annual block party, Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy said. It was chosen in part because it is on the festival’s parade route.

“I think this is an excellent spot to honor Wally,” Mundy said. “We see this with maybe a bench with it, to afford an opportunity to take pictures with whatever is built there.”

He said the memorial likely will be set back off the sidewalk and surrounded with mulch and landscaping.

The annual Pumpkin Festival unofficially began in 1956 when Thurow, a local businessman, displayed a variety of decorated pumpkins outside his Sycamore house. In 1962, he worked with the local Lions Club to make it a citywide celebration. Shortly after, he was given the nickname “Mr. Pumpkin.”

Although Thurow moved out of state in 1979, he returned each October to don a colorful vest and top hat and appear in the festival parade.

Today, the Pumpkin Festival draws thousands of people, but its heart is still the display of decorated pumpkins on the courthouse lawn. More than 30 nonprofit organizations use the event to raise money, according to the festival’s website.

How to donate

To make a tax-deductible donation to establish a Wally Thurow memorial, make checks payable to the Wally Thurow Tribute Fund.

Checks can be mailed to or dropped off at the office of Denis Jagodzinski, 116 W. State St. in Sycamore or at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 2600 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore.

Donations also can be made at www.dekalbcountyfoundation.org.

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