The Chili Cook-Off was born in 1981 to a small group of dedicated parents as they brainstormed fundraising ideas to support a tiny newborn school called Cornerstone.
Papa Mike Hill, always an amazing guy with energy and intelligence, as well as a great sense of fun, spearheaded the effort to deliver the very first Chili Cook-Off. It was held outdoors in the grass at the Ramada Inn and it attracted a good crowd of the hungry and the curious.
The Cook-Off generated enough money to make it worth a try the next year at the Cascades parking lot and again the following year at the old Six Gun Territory. Each year saw a bigger crowd, more teams, more entertainment and a growing Chili spirit that just could not be stopped!
The fourth year of the event was held at the Ocala Equestrian Complex because it needed more room. It featured an expanded children’s area, more food, crafts and entertainment. Mike continued to drive the chili engine with help from a growing number of chili-head volunteers. Chili judges were recruited from all facets of Ocala life and the competition for the best chili and the best booth got hot.
The fifth year found the Cook-Off still at the complex, but now it was held under the covered arena, where it was held for 15 years. Eventually, Steve Shook became Chili Papa and like a good dad, firmly but kindly guided the growth of the event. Mike was always there to help.
Kathy Popeil assumed the role of “Chili Mama” and carried on the time honored traditions as well as adding new, exciting and lucrative facets to the event. As the Cook-Off once again out grew its “home”, Kathy made the brave decision to find a new home that could accommodate all who wished to participate. Currently, The Southeastern Livestock Pavilion has been able to accommodate the flourishing crowds and has made a great venue for The Marion County Chili Cook-Off.
All through the years the Chili Cook-Off has depended on the volunteer efforts of the School’s families and friends to be successful. This still holds true today. A visitor to Cornerstone near the date of the Cook-Off would find the whole school abuzz with Chili Fever. Once, Mike’s daughter, Dana, now in her 30′s but only 8 at the time, was asked what her favorite holiday was. She replied, the Chili Cook-Off. That is the kind of enthusiasm that has made over 37 years of Chili at Cornerstone School a reality.