When looking into what it would take to make a chili cookoff for charity six years ago, Mokena Mayor Joe Werner discovered something—official cookoffs seemed restrictive, hypercompetitive and not much fun.
"I decided to have a chili party rather than a chili cookoff," Werner said.
Six years later, the Mayor's Charity Chili Party has become a Mokena tradition, raising thousands of dollars for veterans who were wounded in service.
One thankfully uninjured veteran who attended Sunday's party at the William F. Martin VFW Hall in Mokena was Tony Cap, 20, of Frankfort, on leave from the Air Force, where he is stationed in Alaska.
"People like this enjoy coming out and letting us know they appreciate us," Cap said.
While charity was the key, the crowd also came out to watch some football and, of course, eat some chili. Werner said there are eight chilis each year from local residents and three "guest chilis" from either local restaurants or out-of-towners.
Mike Zoulek, a friend of the mayor's since high school, comes out each year from Darien with his chili.
"It never comes out the same twice," Zoulek said. "There's no recipe. It's all according to taste and whimsy."
In addition to the admission fee, money from a "split the pot" raffle and a silent auction also raised money for Wounded Warriors. A group of local motorcyclists who give welcome home rides for returning veterans raised $3,900 for the program.
Watch video of their presentation attached to this story.
Riders Mike and Teresa Szydelko have a special attachment to the group's next welcome ride. It's their son-in-law Matt Young, currently back from Iraq, but coming to Mokena with his family for Thanksgiving.
"We're going to surprise him when he gets here," Mike Szydelko said.
Watch video of children's takes on the chilis attached to this story.