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'Rhubarb carols,' food and activities help raise money for CHUM

Kevin Walsh, the veteran master of ceremonies for the annual CHUM Rhubarb Festival in Duluth, calls the songs he sings onstage "traditional and contemporary rhubarb carols."...

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Henry Anderson, 8, of Superior gives Rhubarbara - the mascot of the CHUM Rhubarb Festival - a hug on the west end of London Road in Duluth on Saturday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Kevin Walsh, the veteran master of ceremonies for the annual CHUM Rhubarb Festival in Duluth, calls the songs he sings onstage "traditional and contemporary rhubarb carols."

Walsh claims to have no competition when it comes to his songs, because "there's not many rhubarb songs in the world."

But this year - the festival's 11th - Walsh faced some competition after all. Rhubarb Festival founder Steve O'Neil's close friend Bill Judson traveled from Los Angeles to Minnesota to sing a song about rhubarb as a tribute to O'Neil, who died two years ago.

As the song's chorus - "rhubarb to the left, rhubarb to the right, from the very first nibble to the very last bite" - blasted from the stage speakers O'Neil's brother, Bill O'Neil, looked on. This was Bill O'Neil's first Rhubarb Fest, and listening to the rhubarb carols was just one of the things on his to-do list.

"I can't wait to see the silent auction and buy a few hundred bucks' worth of stuff," O'Neil said. "I'm just enjoying the day. It seems like everybody enjoys themselves here, and hopefully there's a lot of money for CHUM."

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Bill O'Neil's wife, Mary O'Neil, sang with Judson. She said she was happy to honor the festival founder.

"This is a very sweet day for us," she said. "We know he's left quite a legacy. It's a great day."

Music wasn't the only thing on the menu Saturday. The festival offered traditional rhubarb fare, including pie, lemonade and jam. Festivalgoers could choose from less-common foods as well: rhubarb breakfast sausage, brats and burritos. Money raised from Saturday's festival goes to CHUM, which works to help Duluthians in need.

Julee Paulseth has been volunteering at the rhubarb lemonade stand for three years. She is part of a group of employees of Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, and said the lemonade stand is their signature. Also working the lemonade stand Saturday were 8-year-old twins Charlie and Henry Anderson.

"They go to the start of (the festival) and say, 'Come to the lemonade stand,' and they're just really cute," Paulseth said. "I think that's sweet. People come back over here and they're like, 'We told Charlie and Henry that we would come here,' so that's really sweet to see how young they start."

The volunteer spirit of the festival is something that has attracted Jessica Gfeller for the past three years. This year, Gfeller brought along her 2-year-old daughter Kaitlin for the first time. Gfeller said Kaitlin enjoyed the kids' activities, while she herself appreciated the sense of community.

"I love that it's a festival that's going toward charity, you know? Something that's going to give back to the community," she said. "I think this is the best type of festival you could possibly have, something giving back to the community."

The Duluth East Daredevils robotics team also wanted to give back to the community. To do so, the team brought its robot, Archie, that people could take turns driving for donations. Archie is able to take inner tubes and put them on a tall pole with multiple pegs.

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Daredevils co-captain Craig Liang said kids enjoy being able to drive a robot, and the team enjoys being able to give back.

"A lot of them think it's pretty cool," Liang said. "We're really happy to come out here and help raise money for CHUM. It's also a great opportunity for us to show off our robots and let the community interact with them."

Walsh, the master of ceremonies, said it all comes down to people taking care of each other.

"The Rhubarb Festival is about community," Walsh said. "It's about the community coming together to celebrate our abundance and to take care of each other. It's just a sweet thing."

Related Topics: FOOD
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