I was privileged to compile the retrospective booklet about Pancake Day a few years ago, on its 60th anniversary, and I learned so much about Pancake Day that I never knew before.
Joyce Bieber at the Chamber of Commerce allowed me to look through the huge file box of folders that had been meticulously prepared each year from the beginning of the festival. Every photo, article, even advertisement were archived and were a treasure to study.
Back in 1949, several local business leaders decided there should be a festival to thank their patrons for their business. They studied their options and visited a “Pancake Day” celebration in Shenandoah to see what it was like. They were impressed and returned home full of ideas.
Pancakes were a logical choice for the Centerville celebration. There was a local Pillsbury plant that was able to supply the pancake flour at no charge. Then other businesses wanted to chip in. Local dairies and even a spice company — Tones out of Des Moines — wanted to help out by providing the coffee. The first Pancake Day was off to a great start.
Interesting events were included in the first Pancake Day — a queen contest, a wood-chopping contest, square dancing and the raffle of a brand new 1949 Oldsmobile. But the one thing it did not include was a parade.
After the rousing success of the first year, plans were immediately made to repeat it in 1950 on a larger scale. A big parade was added and school let out early for the kids to be a part of the celebration. You see, the first few Pancake Days were held on a Thursday in October.
Businesses, organizations and even neighborhood groups worked diligently to have a float in the big parade. Shriners were added, and bands came from all over to compete in the marching band contest. And the music of the amazing calliope gave the day a carnival atmosphere.
After trying out several dates, Pancake Day settled in to the last Saturday in September, where it remains to this day. Every year boasts that it was the biggest turnout ever, although no one really knows how many people are packed into the historic Centerville Square. But we know that they number in the thousands.
Information submitted by Lisa Eddy, curator, Appanoose County Historical Society, 100 West Maple, Centerville, 856-8040, www.appanoosehistory.com.