DeKALB – This year’s Chuck Siebrasse Memorial Corn Boil will be the last one chaired by Bryan Klatt.
“I just figured after 30 years it’s time to turn the torch over to someone else and I’ll go off into the sunset,” the lifelong DeKalb resident said.
Klatt became chairman of the corn boil after Siebrasse passed away in 2009. He regularly spends more than 12 hours a day commuting and working at his job as the national secretary and chief operating officer of the national organization of The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Chicago, and he has announced DeKalb High School basketball games for more than 15 years.
Although the corn boil, which runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until the corn runs out on Saturday, is an integral part of the three-day Corn Fest, Klatt isn’t involved in other aspects of the festival.
“I stay away from the meetings, I stay away from the politics,” he said. “Just let us do our thing of giving the people what they come for, the free corn. We close up shop when we’re done at 2:30, we clean our stuff up and we go off and wait for the following year.”
Klatt spoke with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg about his years with the corn boil, the changes to Corn Fest over the years, and boiling the perfect ear of sweet corn.
MidWeek: How long have you been working at Corn Fest, and how did you get involved?
Bryan Klatt: I’ve been doing it since approximately 1982, and I got involved with it prior to that with the prior committee, working it and hauling the corn from Del Monte to the corn boil to serving it. That’s back when I was in college.
MW: 1982 was not too long after Corn Fest as we know it was established, in 1977.
BK: When I became involved it was basically a sidewalk sale for the merchants downtown, with free corn given by Del Monte cooked with a local steam engine in the parking lot kitty-corner from city hall.
MW: What feedback have you gotten about Corn Fest returning to downtown?
BK: I’ve heard very positive responses. It will be interesting to see how many of them actually show up downtown.
MW: Does the corn still come from Del Monte?
BK: Yes it does. It originally came from DeKalb and when the plant closed it moved to Mendota, and they continued to supply us with corn.
MW: Who brings the corn to DeKalb now?
BK: The director of the Kishwaukee College truck driver training school donates the truck and the time to drive down on Saturday morning to pick up the corn and bring it back.
MW: What changes have you seen in Corn Fest?
BK: Basically it has gone from being a sidewalk sale for the downtown merchants with free corn to a full-blown music festival.
MW: Did Chuck Siebrasse work with you most of those years?
BK: I was actually working with corn before he was. He was not a part of the original corn boil. The original chairman I worked with was Tom Arnold, who was associated with Continental Telephone, which ended up being Verizon. He was the chairman and my father was working with him. Chuck Siebrasse came in, I’m going to say in the early ‘80s, and when Tom and a few others backed out Chuck became the chairman and I was his co-chairman. He took care of the day-to-day operations and on Saturdays I was the one who cooked the corn and ramrodded the people and that kind of stuff.
MW: The nice thing about the steam engine is that it not only provides hot water to cook the corn, its whistle also tells people that it’s time for free corn.
BK: That’s what I’ve always thought it meant. At 11 we blow the horn, but people start lining up for free corn an hour beforehand. ...For three free ears of corn, it’s phenomenal how long people will wait for that.
MW: How long do you boil the corn to get it perfectly cooked?
BK: It depends on the water. Normally it runs between seven and eight minutes. If the water’s not up to temperature, it can take 10 to 12.
MW: How do you know when it’s done?
BK: You watch the color. ...It starts as a light yellow and then goes to a golden yellow.