Above / Many Exchange Club of Naperville past presidents and Ribfest past chairs showed up Sunday morning to judge ribs for a special 30th Anniversary category.

2017 Ribfest Chair Diane Simmons with Mayor Emeritus George Pradel.

As 2017 Ribfest and thousands of volunteers begin to wrap up for the thirtieth time, we are counting our blessings for the glorious weather that enhanced all the efforts of the dedicated team from Exchange Club of Naperville that made it all happen, raising funds and awareness to help prevent child abuse and domestic violence.

Every day created a different experience for tens of thousands of visitors from the Family Fun Area to the entertainment stages and all points in between from the North Park to the South Park.

As we look back with fond memories of attending every Ribfest since 1993, we are continually amazed at the commitment it takes year after year to tweak the event, attract new performers and book entertainment; always aiming to create an event that exceeds expectations during the party for a cause.

While bands and volunteers come and go, one constant memory happened in 2014 when Roger Hodgson performed on the Main Stage.

Listening to thousands of festival-goers sing along with Hodgson is forever emblazoned in many minds as the perfect theme song for Ribfest in support of the mission of Exchange Club.

Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me
Give a little bit
I’ll give a little bit of my love to you
There’s so much that we need to share
So send a smile and show you care

Headliner Toby Keith attracted a most appreciative crowd to the 30th Anniversary Ribfest.

That said, Toby Keith’s performance to kick off the 30th anniversary Main Stage entertainment on June 30, 2017, also attracted a respectful crowd of folks who knew all the words to his songs, too, including “Red Solo Cup.”

…Let’s have a party let’s have a party
I love you red solo cup I lift you up
Proceed to party proceed to party…

The success of Exchange Club’s huge party for a cause, the service organization’s only fundraiser, depends on the longtime partnership with the City of Naperville and the Naperville Park District. It also relies on the community.

In case you didn’t pick up a copy of the 30th Anniversary Ribfest commemorative magazine, organizers gave a huge shout out to the entire community for helping the club celebrate this milestone year. The collaborative support of the festival town built at Knoch Park every year, with some recognized inconveniences to local neighborhoods, had raised more than $15.5 million before this year’s event. More than a few times from the public address system, the committee expressed appreciation to more than 3,000 volunteers, all the generous sponsors, public safety officials and guests of all ages.

Juan Rodriguez and Marlene Wigginton will represent Naperville Ribfest on Coney Island.

Eating Competition

This 30th Ribfest also will go down in history as the one with more eating competitions than ever. Not only did Challenge Butter return to host daily Corn-off-the-Cob Contests, but Nathan’s held a Qualifying Event for its Independence Day Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York.

Naperville Ribfest will send two contest representatives to Coney Island: Marlene Wigginton from Troy, Illinois; and Juan Rodriguez from Crestwood, Illinois. Fans of eating contests can catch the 2017 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest live on ESPN beginning at 9AM (CST) on Tuesday. The trophy presentation is at 11:44AM.

Uncle Bub’s voted ‘Best Ribs’ and ‘Best Sauce’

And, of course, the 2017 Rib Judging was among the prime attractions, coordinated by Dave Harrington, when volunteer judges sampled rounds of ribs and sauces smoked by 12 ribbers. In the end, the taste tests and finger licking by experienced and first-time judges determined Uncle Bub’s ribs and sauce were the best of this year’s fest.

National Exchange visits Ribfest

Naperville Exchange & Lincoln Land Past President Emy Trotz and National Exchange President pose with Curly HAMilton, 2017 Ribfest’s good luck charm.

Elizabeth Grantham, President of the National Exchange Club, hails from the 170-member Cane Bay and Isle of Palms Exchange Club in South Carolina where she’s been a member for 25 years. The first time we caught up with her on Saturday, she and her husband, Paul, were serving soft drinks in one of the beverage tents.

“This club is well-known for Ribfest and everything they do,” said Grantham, in between ringing a cow bell every time someone dropped a tip in the bucket. “I don’t know how they do it.”

Grantham went on the explain that her term as president is nearing its end. Just as many service clubs, the year runs July 1 to June 30. During installation dinner on July 15 for the next National Exchange Board of Directors, Phil Howard from Exchange Club of Donelson-Hermitage Area, Tennessee, will assume the leadership role, Grantham said.

“I’m here because I really wanted to thank all the members of Naperville’s club for everything they do for the community and let them know it also means a lot to National Exchange,” she said.

Sunday morning, Grantham served as a 30th Anniversary judge with past Naperville Exchange Club presidents and Ribfest chairs to select their brand of best ribs and best sauce. They chose Porky and Beans as their favorite.

Update, 10:30PM! Here’s one example of the 2017 fireworks over Knoch Park!

Star-spangled fireworks at dusk

As we look forward to the 30th anniversary star-spangled spectacular illuminate the sky in a few hours, it’s been fun to recognize charter members of Exchange Club of Naperville Bruce Erickson, Rick Grimes, Cynthia Han, Mark Konieczny, Mary Lostarakos, Mike Maher, Rosalyn Morris, Stan Rocush, Stephen Steinmetz and Alden Vala in the crowd. Many longtime members volunteer year after year in their vintage Ribfest shirts.

Congratulations to this past year’s Exchange Club President Bob Pschirrer and to 2017 Ribfest Chair Diane Simmons.

And thanks to all members of Exchange Club of Naperville, past and present, for the fundraising initiative that helps support Project HELP and 50 other social services, all of which enhance this community’s quality of life every day.

Celebrate safely!  And cheers to the next 30 years.

—Positively Naperville