by BEN MCLEOD
In 1954, Arcadia held its first Broiler Days festival. During that first celebration of Arcadia’s chicken-farming skills, a young Nancy Schultz volunteered to serve the cooked chicken to the eager crowd. This Memorial Day weekend, Arcadia Broiler Days celebrates its 65th year, and Schultz will still be right there, volunteering her time to serve chicken –– at least when she’s not busy serving as the grand marshal of the Broiler Days parade this Sunday.
Schultz looks forward to this weekend as much as the children who can’t wait for the carnival and the music fans who can’t wait to dance with other Arcadians on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. “The time has gone by quickly and I have really enjoyed it,” Schultz said. “It seems like six weeks ago that we were doing this.” She relishes the annual opportunity to celebrate the community she has served for 65 years. “My favorite thing about working in the pits is it’s a good chance to meet and greet former Arcadians who’ve moved away and come back to celebrate. It’s kind of a homecoming for so many people we home folks are happy to see.”
“My husband was very much involved as manager at Arcadia Fryers. We were broiler growers in those years as well,” explained Schultz. Her late husband had been the treasurer of the Arcadia Lions Club, which sponsors the festival. “He was on duty around the clock,” Schultz recalled. “He had to collect the money in the pits, and this was before night deposits at banks. So he had to be deputized by the sheriff, and keep a gun in his car. We kept thousands of dollars in the house. It was exciting times.” Thankfully that has changed.
Her presence at the festival is as traditional to the opening of summer in Arcadia as the Memorial Day weekend itself. Schultz has served chicken to thousands. “About three generations, I imagine,” she said. “It is an exciting and enjoyable time to meet people who come home for the broiler festival, people I haven’t seen in years. I was a substitute teacher so I’m acquainted with a couple generations of Arcadians that I enjoy seeing again.”
There have been some clear changes over the intervening 65 years. “We have a much better facility now. We used to put up tents to work in, but now we have a very solidly constructed pit at our park. It’s good in all weather and much more efficient and comfortable,” Schultz said. “But the process is still the same.” Schultz can recall past years when “we had some very stormy events, where people had to lay planks down for people to walk across the mud and water to even get to the chicken,” she laughed.
“Those tents were just flimsy canvas that the wind blew through and rain and the smoke hung in them. They were very crude but they served their purpose.” The process includes two of her six children, two sons who help with the actual barbecuing of the birds. “The women in the crew wait on the customers so we don’t really handle the chicken during the barbecue process. That’s a hot, smoky job,” explained Schultz.
Paul Halverson, one of the event organizers, also known as “Mr. Lion,” agrees. Halverson has been helping out during the festival for 60 years. The new grill area, completed in 1991, may be the largest chicken grilling pit in North America. The festival doesn’t have one traditional recipe, not with a parade of different volunteers taking a turn on the grill. “Everyone has a different recipe,” Halverson explained. “Every crew has several people, every crew works three to four hours, so they make it all as they go along.” Attendees may have to stop by the chicken grill multiple times to really appreciate the different techniques.
The Arcadia Broiler Days, formerly referred to as Broiler and Dairy Days, has been a community celebration for decades, and while many things have changed, Schultz can remember earlier times too. “From the very beginning there was the carnival, tractor pulls, performances, bicycle and foot races, fiddle contests; there have always been orchestras and dancing,” she recalled. “And in the old days a lot of high school bands participated. People made really quite elegant floats. We don’t have so many floats nor do we have as many high school bands. I don’t know why. That was a highlight.”
The Arcadia Broiler Days start on Friday, May 25, and run through Sunday, May 27, at the Arcadia Lions Pavilion on Memorial Park Drive in Arcadia and will feature music nightly, a high school rodeo, volleyball tournament, trap shoot, classic cars, a tractor pull, a carnival, and many other events listed on the festival website, broilerdays.com.