National Cornhusking Contest Keeps Traditions Alive
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“Pick clean and fast”
Among the sport’s living legends is 91-year-old Joe Anholt, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Joe won the Green County, Iowa, husking contest in 1940, and competed in the next year’s event before the start of World War II ended cornhusking contests for more than three decades. When the first post-war national competition was held in 1975, Joe was there to capture second place. He retired from competition six or seven years ago, but Joe still enjoys meeting and greeting old rivals.
“Although my dad no longer competes, he really likes coming with me and talking to the other fellows,” says Joe’s son, Charles, a repeat Iowa state champion who will go on today to win the Senior Men’s 50-and-Up Class. “My dad taught me how to pick clean and fast, and every now and then a young fellow will ask him to come out to the field and show him how to pick.”
971 pounds in 30 minutes
Another veteran competitor, 85-year-old John Van Liere, Colton, S.D., recalls the days when all corn was harvested by hand. “When I was a kid, every fall we’d get excused from school for up to six weeks to help get the corn in,” he says.
“In 1938, when I was 12, my dad took me and my brother to the national contest in Dell Rapids, S.D. There must have been 100,000 people there, walking in the mud. My brother and I wanted to compete, but our dad said we’d have to wait until we were grown up. Of course, by then, World War II came along, and the contest stopped until Kansas renewed it in 1975.”
John entered his first husking contest in 1978, and has won multiple titles at both the state and national level. While his age qualifies him to enter the Senior Men’s 75-and-Over Class, today he’ll compete against younger contestants in the Senior Men’s 50-and-Up Class.
John, who practices before each competition on the farm he still owns, says he’s been timed picking as many as 56 and 58 ears a minute. “My all-time best was 971 pounds of corn in 30 minutes at the national finals in Kansas a few years ago,” he says. “The field had big ears that practically fell out of the husks. But two of my competitors picked over 1,000 pounds, so I only took third place that year.” Today, using a thumb hook, John will pick 316 pounds in 20 minutes with zero deductions, placing him second behind Iowa husker Charles Anholt’s adjusted score of 346.96.
“At one time, there were five companies that made cornhusking hooks, either thumb hooks, wrist hooks, palm hooks or pegs, as well as some unpatented hooks made by local blacksmiths,” explains Richard Humes, president of the Illinois Cornhuskers Assn. and national club historian from Little York, Ill. “Today, thumb hooks seem to be most popular, but some competitors use wrist or palm hooks, and a few still use pegs. And once in awhile, you’ll see someone pick barehanded.”