National Cornhusking Contest Keeps Traditions Alive
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Look for the next ear
Frank Hennefent, regarded as the top competitor in the Men’s Open Class, says he prefers to use a Boss thumb hook that a friend acquired at an auction in Iowa some years ago.
A corn and soybean farmer from Smithshire, Ill., Frank has captured multiple state and national titles over the past 26 years, including winning the Men’s Open Class for four straight years. Today he’ll boost that record to five consecutive years with an adjusted score of 583 pounds in 30 minutes.
“I learned how to shuck corn in county contests back in 1983 with Bill Gillen and Bob St. George,” he says. “Back in the day, Bob could double his wages in a week, when he went from earning 1 cent a bushel to about 7 cents a bushel. Bob always told me it wasn’t the fastest husker who won, but the one who was most efficient. I just try to look ahead for the next ear, keep one eye open for any fallen ears and use my peripheral vision to make sure the wagon is in the right place.”
Book celebrates the past
Mitchell Burns, a retired school teacher and basketball coach from Brookfield, Mo., will also compete in today’s Men’s Open Class. He says he first heard about competitive cornhusking on the radio in 1988.
“My dad and I came down and we were watching a ‘golden ager’ contestant when he asked me if I was going to pick,” Mitchell explains. “I said, ‘Oh, no, we just came to watch.’ He took off his hook, tossed it over, and said, ‘You put that on and go enter the rookie class.’”
With that, Mitchell not only became a competitive husker, but also the author of The National, a book about the modern era of cornhusking contests. “In 1975, Leonard Jacobs wrote a book about the husking contests from 1924 to 1941 called Corn Huskers’ Battle of the Bangboards,” he explains. “I was teaching American history at the time I first got involved in the competition and I realized this was a part of America’s history. So I set out to write The National to cover the revival of the national cornhusking contest and profile contestants and contest results from 1970 to 1999.”
It’s not just experienced huskers who are on hand for today’s competition. In fact, the event includes four girls and five boys ages 14 and younger, and another five girls and six boys ages 15 to 20. Among them is Amy Bland, possibly the event’s first international competitor. An exchange student from Melbourne, Australia, Amy had never seen a cornfield, much less a husking contest, before joining her host family on a farm near Allen, Neb., last fall.
“I come from a city of 4 million, so living on a farm is very different,” she explains. “After I entered the Nebraska cornhusking contest, I told my parents and friends about it. Now my dad says he’s going to raise some corn in our backyard so I can teach him how to husk.”