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Ribs and handbags amid the sunflowers

September 17, 2018

La PORTE – For some the morning starts early – 9 a.m. – preparing a collection of herbs and spices for the barbeque competition at the 20th Annual Sunflower Fair.

Greg Konieczni sets up for his first attempt at the annual cook-off. He isn’t new to ribs; the previous weekend he competed at the Harley-Davidson rib cook-off in Michigan City, where he took third place.

The rib cook-off, like the Sunflower Fair itself, is a daylong event. A day filled with meat, herbs and smoke, at least for Konieczni. He began smoking his ribs early and smokes them nearly all day until just before judging begins at 2 p.m.

He began setting up his Weber kettle style grills and got to work. Some put their rib rub on the night before, but not Konieczni — he puts his rub on the day of.

The secret to his ribs is an injection of apple cider, cider vinegar and other spices injected between the meat and the bone. Then, just before he serves the ribs to judges, he mops on his sauce, which he says is just a doctored-up store-bought sauce.

“I like to take the time and get it right before I let the public taste it,” he said.

Ribs weren’t the only thing on the menu at this year’s Sunflower Fair.

Some 130 vendors, including food, crafts and artists were in attendance selling their wares, everything from jewelry and stuffed toys to handbags.

Mary Kempfer of Michigan City has been selling her handmade bags at the festival for the last few years. She designs and sews all of her bags at home.

In the past, she’s taken part in other crafting events, but because of the volume of sales, finds it difficult to keep up with demand and only does one event a year – the Sunflower Fair.

Meanwhile at the Rumley Hotel, the Artists Gallery Walk was taking place. Local artists displayed their works and were judged by an instructor from the University of Notre Dame, Melonie Mulkry.

Local artist Clinton Worthington has been in charge of the event for the last three years. He says that because of his age, he’s able to bring in a younger generation to the event.

“I’ve been able to find other new artists that do other mediums. One new artist is a digital artist,” he said.

Worthington said while the medium may be new, it’s still a similar process. There is paint and a brush; it’s just on a pad instead of canvas.

At noon, on the stage where local area bands played, Phyllis Jones announced the winners of the Sunflower Competition. Sunflowers were judged in several categories: Largest bulb, tallest plant and most bulbs on one plant.

Before the awards ceremony could be completed, Mayor Mark Krentz read a proclamation declaring the third Saturday in September as “Phyllis Jones Day.”

Jones’ green thumb has helped to cultivate the Sunflower Fair over the last 20 years into what it is today. It’s an event that has helped bring the community together and has created something uniquely La Porte.

Twenty years ago, Jones had a thought. She says “every other town had some kind of festival. Why not La Porte?” and after 20 festivals she says she has no regrets.

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