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JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF

MARBLE FALLS — Several decades ago, the city of Marble Falls needed a spring event to get people out of their homes and draw out-of-towners to Johnson Park.Clyde “Griff” Griffin, a resident and active member of the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce, came up with the idea of a chili cookoff after seeing other festivals in surrounding towns.

That event, Howdy-Roo, is now in its 42nd year and is May 3-5 at Johnson Park, 230 Ave. J South. It is organized by the Highland Lakes CASI Pod.

“(Griffin) gave us the first recipe and really enjoyed it,” CASI committee member Ruby Ross said. “It has grown and grown and grown. It grew because of his imagination.”

“The Highland Lakes tourist association urged all the area chambers of commerce to have an event like a spring festival to promote tourism,” said Great Pepper Larry “Doc” Kinnison of the Highland Lakes pod. “This is how ‘Howdy-Roo’ got started, as an old-fashioned country festival and chili cookoff.”

The first cookoff was April 8, 1972, at a Marble Falls school, he said. Bill Kennon was the head “Honchoroo,” the first chairman of Howdy-Roo, after winning the naming contest for the festival. Kennon submitted the only entry, Kinnison said.

The first chili cookoff drew 20 cooks.

In 1973, the event moved to Johnson Park and has been there ever since.

The Chili Cookoff has received five automatic bids to the Terlingua International Chili Championship and has steadily grown into the second oldest pod cookoff in the state. At one time, organizers limited the competition to 100 chili cooks; today, that number is at 165 (and expectations are it will be more this year) and at least 50 barbecue cooking teams.

“I think it’s just a lot of fun,” Ross said. “We try to make each one better and better.”

This is the 19th year for the annual barbecue state championship.

“Doc and I travel all over the country,” said pod member Carrie Kinnison, Kinnison’s wife. “We always hear some comment about Howdy-Roo.”

“People come out here a lot because of the park,” Ross said. “We feel like it’s very beneficial to the city. It brings a lot of visitors to our city and increases our economy.”

Many of the participants stay in their recreational vehicles at Johnson Park, but they can’t do that before May 1.

One group the steering committee needs are judges for beans and barbecue but, mostly, chili. To judge, email Ross at rross@nctv.com.

“We’re expecting a record number of cooks,” Carrie Kinnison said.

Tim Collier of Snyder returns to attempt to win his third Howdy-Roo chili cookoff.

To be a member of the Chili Appreciation Society International, events must benefit a charity. Howdy-Roo has chosen The Helping Center, the Marble Falls Area Volunteer Fire Department and Marble Falls Boy Scouts Troop 284. During the past four decades, Howdy-Roo has given more than $500,000 back to the community, according to published reports.

Pod members said they have lost many friends, including Griffin, who died June 13, 2012. They’ll have a moment of silence to honor him and others.

To compete in the chili cookoff, contact Doc Kinnison at drk@tstar.net; for barbecue, email Johnny Campbell at 5-cbbq@nctv.com; to play in the golf tournament, email Kyle Bond at kyle@terminixabc.com; and to be an arts, crafts or food vendor, contact Melba at fred.melba@gmail.com

jfierro@thepicayune.com