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Published: Sunday, 7/23/2006

As Montpelier marks festival's 50th year, everyone knows it means beans

BY CARIN YAVORCIK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lauren Pringle of Ace Equestrian Therapy scoops out beans for Trinity Saxton, 3, back left, and Davina Eitniear, 6. Lauren Pringle of Ace Equestrian Therapy scoops out beans for Trinity Saxton, 3, back left, and Davina Eitniear, 6.
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MONTPELIER, Ohio - The Bean Days festival is celebrating its golden anniversary, but no one seems to know how the event got its name.

The festival, which started Thursday and wraps up this afternoon, included garage sales, parades, and hearty helpings of free beans.

Over the years, "there's been a lot of beans - everything from green beans to traditional soup beans. Someone even brought in jelly beans," said Gloria Osburn, director of the Montpelier Public Library.

But why beans?

It's one of the mysteries that has been hidden away in the folds of small town history.

Ed Cunniff, a Montpelier businessman in the 1950s, brought the idea of a "feed your customer" sale with him when he moved from Shenandoah, Iowa.

The philosophy was that area businesses could attract more people into the stores by serving them food.

"I heard it was between beans and liver, and they decided on beans," Ms. Osburn joked.

Garrison Moses, 7, prepares for a pedal-tractor pull with the guidance of Lou Mollett, a Williams County Fair board member. Garrison Moses, 7, prepares for a pedal-tractor pull with the guidance of Lou Mollett, a Williams County Fair board member.
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"It could have been Liver Days or Brussels Sprout Days," she said.

The idea caught on and, in the years since, the festival has become a Montpelier tradition.

"They actually one year tried to change it to Summer Fest because they thought Bean Days didn't sound so good, but it didn't stick," said Terry Buntain, director of the Montpelier Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Buntain is in her fifth year of planning the festival and still doesn't know the reason beans are the food of choice.

It's just what it's always been, she said.

The Allan-Cunniff Furniture Store, where the whole thing started, is still running today.

Denise Williams, the store manager, didn't know the reason for the beans, either.

All the same, she felt the festival was a positive thing for the village.

"It's a fun weekend. All the people of Montpelier come out, then the hottest thing is the beans on Friday night," she said.

Most businesses give out free beans on Friday, then judges pick whose beans are the best.

This year, it was the baked beans of Rowe's Recreation, a local restaurant.

Ms. Osburn said merchants can get pretty creative with their recipes.

The festival culminated last evening with the "Golden Days of Montpelier" Bean Days Parade.

There were 124 entries this year - from area businesses and public officials to church groups and antique car enthusiasts, Ms. Buntain said.

The 1950s golden days are still alive in the memory of Montpelier natives.

Fred Bauer, a local author, said he could remember the first festival back in 1956, when the village was a major stop on the defunct Wabash Railroad Line.

"Those were the halcyon days of Montpelier, back when the railroad was running," he said.

Contact Carin Yavorcik at: cyavorcik@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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