Karina Barriga Albring

Equinox Staff


If somebody said you could earn one dollar for each pumpkin you carve and light, it probably wouldn’t be a good deal: Sore fingers from gutting and  burnt fingers from lighting.

After hours, you will have enough to buy a pizza. However, when an entire city comes together to gut, carve and light pumpkins, magical things can happen.

According to organizer Ruth Sterling, bringing the whole community together allowed the Keene 2012 Pumpkin Fest to win almost 30,000 dollars for education.

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“Together we accomplished something nobody could accomplish on their own,” she said. Part of the money might go to Keene State College for its involvement in the festival.

Sterling said many high schools, elementary schools and colleges were part of the festival, but she believes Keene State College is a potential beneficiary.

Sterling hopes KSC applies to receive the money. “The students and administration of the college did more to help Keene Pumpkin Festival than anyone I know.”

The coordinators of the Keene Pumpkin Festival, Let It Shine Inc. received a dollar for each jack-o’-lantern, a total of $29,381, from Discover Card. Currently they are encouraging educational organizations that participated in the festival to apply for the award.

Sterling expressed the Pumpkin Festival is a very educational program itself. “It is a harvest festival, so it teaches us about the Earth. It teaches a lot about working together to accomplish something miraculous. That is a huge sociological lesson.”

“The application process is very simple,” Sterling said. She explained that the two criteria Let It Shine Board of Directors will consider before making a decision are the beneficiary’s involvement in Pumpkin Fest and “how it [the applicant] promotes the idea that hard work pays off.”

Interested organizations can apply thorough Let It Shine’s website until Nov. 22. The money will be awarded by the end of 2012.

KSC Interim President Jay Kahn said KSC is definitely interested in applying for the grant. “Given the involvement that KSC students and community have during the festival, it would be a nice reward to see this award support financially some students.”

According to Student Assembly, during Pumpkin Lobotomy on Oct. 19, KSC students carved 1800 pumpkins. Student Body President Katelyn Williams said, “Everyone was excited and wanted Keene to win [Pumpkin Wars]. Even though it rained, they were out there carving… They wanted to come together and help the community.”

Kelly Welch, student body vice president, said it would be great that KSC benefits from the award, since students “put a lot of time and energy in the festival.”

Additionally, the office of Community Service Office in KSC had over 25 volunteers that helped ran a tent to check in the pumpkins in Main Street. They also organized the first Pumpkin Dump Derby.

Jessica Gagne Cloutier, coordinator of Community Service explained the event “is like a race to clean up the town. Over 200 volunteers participated, most of them Keene State [College] students.”

This is the first time an economical award is offered after Pumpkin Festival. The money was a prize for winning the Keene N.H. /Highwood, Ill. challenge “Pumpkin Wars,” a battle that featured the two cities struggling to carve and lit as many pumpkins as possible.

Keene’s Mayor Kendall Lane thanked the community for “coming together and making this possible”. He said “every person that lit a pumpkin or donated pumpkins, every person that attended the Pumpkin Festival helped us achieve this victory.”

During Halloween night, the one-hour show produced by HGTV “Pumpkin Wars” showed how Keene exceeded Highwood’s 22,333 jack-o’-lanterns. The victory was a surprise for many, as unofficial sources have referred to Highwood as the winner.

Mayor Lane said seeing Keene on national TV made him very proud. “This is the first opportunity we have had to show the rest of the country just what a wonderful place we have here and how special this is.”

Kahn said “Pumpkin Wars” portrayed the community as a “very attractive, united place. It was very nice to see the college involved, to see the students being part of that great effort.”
Even though Keene had almost 30,000 jack-o’-lanterns, it was not enough to break the Guinness World Record. Lane said, “Maybe sometime we will capture the world record again, but that is not the priority, that’s secondary comparing to what we have achieved, that is to bring the entire community together in a civic project.” He referred to the Pumpkin Festival as “an extremely successful event.”

Sterling said “there are a lot of people that wanted the world record and I respect that. Me, personally, I wanted community participation. We did our best to win the world record.”

She said the 2012 Pumpkin Festival almost doubled the number of pumpkins from last year. Community members of all ages and backgrounds carved pumpkins and turned Keene into a beautiful orange mess.

This year’s carving madness paid off like no other. Sterling said, “What we achieved was stupendous and to find out we won this other prize was tremendously gratifying. It made a lot of people happy and that makes me happy.”

During the past Pumpkin Festival, Keene went bright and orange… even brighter and “oranger” than any usual New England fall weekend.


Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at kbarriga@keene-equinox.com.


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