Annual 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.

“With volunteerism you get more than you give,” he said. “The benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your family, and your community. This event allows you to have fun amongst friends, meet new people, keep you mentally stimulated and provide a sense of purpose.”

The core group of about 25 volunteers work nearly year-round to plan the event. On Chilimania weekend, as many as 200 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, Sun Prairie, and beyond. There is even a family from Ireland who has volunteered for several years.

In an effort to acknowledge these dedicated individuals, Chilimania annually presents 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 recipient is Max Lawver, a Chilimania volunteer since 2007. He spearheaded the addition of online ticket sales for the Country Edge concert featuring Morgan Wallen. The effort required a lot of organization and research, and the program allowed Chilimania to not only sell advance tickets but also supply the headline artist’s booking agency with the required information of presale and onsite ticket sales.

In order to provide online ticketing, Lawver had to setup new infrastructure. He obtained all the necessary equipment, including iPads, cables, cable covers, internet service and more. Max spent countless hours in the weeks leading up to the event configuring network equipment and testing connectivity.

He had all the equipment onsite and began setup Thursday evening with everything ready for the thousands of fans on Friday night. Max had WiFi working at all Country Edge gates to process onsite sales. He trained the gate workers in advance and was onsite during the event to troubleshoot. Eric Samuelson, gate worker supervisor, commented on how well this new arrangement worked and hoped it becomes a permanent feature.

Max recruited the help of his friends, Chris Simonson and Alex Brackett, to help him plan and install equipment, climbing trees and poles to make Chilimania wired. This was a huge cost savings, as without his expertise and the assistance of his friends, Chilimania would have had to outsource this task. Max and friends took time off from their jobs to cheerfully make Edgerton rock!

“Max is a huge asset for Chilimania. He is deserving of the Mark Reitz Award for his dedication and for continually improving our event,” said Chilimania Board of Directors President, Dr. David Luellwitz. He also noted, for this group of young men, the night did not end with the last beer poured and the final note played. They were back climbing poles and trees to restore the festival grounds into the quiet Henry Street that our churches and residents call home.

Mark Reitz, an avid foodie and amateur chef, provided 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 cookoff in Texas, and soon after the Edgerton street festival was born.

Now in its 30th 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 10 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 30th annual Chilimania weekend is Sept. 6-7, 2019 in downtown Edgerton. Details, including musical lineups, will be announced soon.