New award honors Chilimania’s top volunteer, service legacy of Edgerton native

Chilimania organizers often are asked why they put in countless hours to produce the annual festival. Chilimania co-founder and Board of Directors member Tom Reitz explains the motivation as such.

“A wise man once said, ‘If everybody does their bit, we can accomplish much,’” he said.

The core group of about 25 volunteers work nearly year-round to plan the event. On Chilimania weekend, as many as 150 people come together to produce the festival. Most have close ties to Edgerton, but it is a regional group with members from Janesville, Milton, Stoughton, and beyond. There is even a family from Ireland who has volunteered for several years.

In an effort to acknowledge these dedicated individuals, Chilimania is proud to institute the Mark Reitz Award, created to recognize and honor above-and-beyond dedication and outstanding contributions. This annual award is presented to a Chilimania volunteer with a minimum of five years of service.

The 2018 award receipient is Tonia Potter, a lifelong Edgerton resident and Chilimania volunteer since 2010. She organizes the information booth and merchandise stand each year, and helps train volunteers, assists with gate workers and ticket sales, and is a general go-to person for the organization.

Potter also has coordinated and overseen the Chili Chase Run/Walk since its 2015 inception. She spends the entire Chilimania weekend on the grounds and even shows up early Sunday morning for clean-up duty.

“Tonia goes above and beyond for Chilimania. She is deserving of the Mark Reitz Award for her dedication and strong contributions in making Chilimania a successful organization,” said Chilimania Board of Directors President Dr. David Luellwitz. “She embodies the Elizabeth Andrew quote, ‘Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.’”

Mark Reitz, an avid foodie and amateur chef, provided the inspiration for the Chilimania festival. As a college student, he became interested in making chili powder, grinding up dried chili peppers in his mother’s kitchen. One day, he happened upon the book, “A Bowl of Red,” a story of the first-ever chili cook off in Texas, and soon after the Edgerton street festival was born.

Now in its 29th year, Chilimania is a 501(c)3 charitable organization whose mission is to promote the Edgerton business community, social responsibility, and to raise funds to support the education of our youth. With the help of countless volunteers, Chilimania has accomplished these goals.

This spring the organization will award seven scholarships to college-bound Edgerton High School graduates, each with a value of $2,500. Chilimania also donates a portion of its annual proceeds to a variety of nonprofit organizations in Edgerton and throughout Rock County.

The 29th annual Chilimania weekend is Sept. 7-8, 2018 in downtown Edgerton. Details, including musical lineups, will be announced soon.