Cuckoo For Chocolate: Bowling Green celebrates 29th Chocolate Festival

Near the end of the event, Ann-Riley Cox, 13, waits for visitors at the Kids Candy Store booth at the Chocolate Festival on Sunday at the Sloan Convention Center. Proceeds from the ticket sales benefit the Hospice of Southern Kentucky. Leanora Benkato/Herald

Andrew Henderson

The aroma of chocolate filled the air at the Sloan Convention Center on Sunday as the 29th Annual Hospice Chocolate Festival began.

Proceeds from the festival benefit the Hospice of Southern Kentucky Inc. according to Jennifer Brashear, marketing director for the hospice organization.

Brashear said the reasoning behind the annual festival is to supplement money for patients who come to them with no means of paying or insurance available.

“We never want to turn anyone away for hospice care,” Brashear said.

A key event at the festival was the celebrity cookie-eating contest. The contest had eight participants with each representing different Bowling Green companies or organizations, such as the Bowling Green Hot Rods, WNKY and WDNS.

The contestants had to eat as many Oreo cookies as possible within a two-minute time frame with only milk and water to aid them in the endeavor. An audience encouraged participants with cheer and applause.

“They’re going to need your applause now and your prayers later,” Tony Rose, host of the Tony Rose Live Morning Show on WDNS, D93, said.

After the two minutes had elapsed, Travis Norton, representative for The J.M. Smucker Company, was crowned the victor.

Norton had consumed 24 cookies within the two minutes and said afterward that he felt stuffed. Norton said he thought he would be able to eat more but had started with the wrong technique.

“Technique was wrong in the beginning, and then I finally got my groove,” Norton said. “I wasn’t dunking long enough [and] didn’t stuff them, so it was taking too long to chew.”

Norton said in the end what put him over the edge was putting the remainder of his cookies in his mouth for a last ditch effort.

Chris Flanigan, representative for Western Kentucky Ghostbusters and D93, said he tried his best in the contest but was only able to eat 17 cookies. Flanigan said towards the end he started to pick up the pace, but it was rough.

“The goal was to submerge the cookies in the water so I wouldn’t have to chew them as much so I could basically gum them down faster,” Flanigan said. “My lack of strategy of not knowing how long to keep them under the water was my downfall.”

Flanigan also arrived at the Chocolate Festival with the members of WKGB. Flanigan said they like to go out and bring extra eyes onto nonprofit organizations and other good causes. He said in the past, they’ve helped raise money for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital and partnered with Relay for Life.

Apart from that, he said they were also making sure the festival stayed safe from any paranormal threats.

“We’re checking for ghosts. You know Slimer really likes the candies — the sweet stuff — so we’re here,” Flanigan said.

Brashear said the idea for the Chocolate Festival started out with a group of Hospice of Southern Kentucky volunteers who wanted to do something to raise funds for the organization. With the festival now completing its 29th year, Brashear said the annual tradition of the event remains strong.

“We just continue it on, and it just grows and grows every year. We have over 30 dessert vendors this year. We have arts and crafts vendors, and it’s a festival for the whole family,” Brashear said.

The dessert vendors and other local shops varied from solely desserts to sock monkeys. Among the businesses represented were Milk and Honey Bakery, Cocomo Confections, Gigi’s Cupcakes, Popworks, Southern Sisters, Spongie’s Whimsical Sock Monkeys and Mary Jane’s Chocolates.

Juannie Kronenberger, owner and creator of Spongie’s Whimsical Sock Monkeys, said this was her third or fourth year doing the festival.

Kronenberger, who has made sock monkeys since she was a child, started Spongie’s Whimsicals in 2007.

Kronenberger said the festival is both a good cause and good exposure for participants.

“It definitely brings exposure, and a lot of people know me from year to year,” Kronenberger said. “I’ve been in the same spot, and they go, ‘Yay, the monkey lady is here!’ I’m the monkey lady, which is a wonderful term of endearment.”

For Mary Jane Meszaros, owner of Mary Jane’s Chocolates, participation in the festival is more personal. Mary Jane’s opened in Bowling Green in 2010 but has been participating in the festival for seven years.

Meszaros said her mother, who was a hospice volunteer, received hospice care at the end of her life as did Meszaros’ sister two years ago.

“If business comes from [the festival], fine, but it’s not why we’re here at all,” Meszaros said.

Brashear said she hopes this year’s Chocolate Festival surpasses their most successful year on record in 2014, when they raised over $31,000 for hospice patients and families. She said the goal for each festival is to break that record, and based on people’s smiling faces as they left Sunday, she thinks this could be the year.

“Going by what people have said about the parking lot and the crowd inside, then yes, we’re looking very good to do that,” Brashear said.