A record number of teams will get up at the crack of dawn on Sunday, make their way down to the rodeo grounds and attempt to win over a panel of judges as well as the public with their recipes at the Public Safety Chili Cook-Off.

Twenty-two groups will participate in the event, which is being staged for the first time since 2019 — it was canceled the past two years because of the pandemic. 

“I love small-town events … I’m one of those nostalgic people that like this kind of stuff,” said Chief Ken Rueben with the Philomath Police, the host law-enforcement agency. “I love events like this for the community. I think it’s great for Philomath.”

The 2019 chili cook-off brought out 650 people — in pouring rain — and organizers are anticipating at least that number or more.

The Yew Wood Corral’s gates at the rodeo grounds will open at 2 p.m. with the event running until 6 p.m. Admission is $10 (age 12 and older) and $5 (under age 12) and for the first time, tickets can be purchased in advance online.

“We’re hoping to get more people this time and I think it’s a great avenue for us and the relationship that we have with local charities,” Rueben said. “Working with the sheriff’s department and their foundation to run the event has been fantastic, so it’s great all the way around. We’re really looking forward to it.”

With the chili cook-off falling on 9/11, organizers decided to change directions as far as a theme and choice of the fundraiser’s primary charity.

“For years, our benefit has been charities that benefit crime victims in some way or another,” Rueben said. “But this time, we decided as a management group to benefit veterans.”

As a result, the cook-off partnered with 4 Spirits Distillery, which Rueben said “has a really active charity program for veterans.”

The primary recipient through 4 Spirits Distillery will go into a scholarship fund that helps veterans further their education at Western Oregon University.

In addition to the designated charity, a smaller percentage of funds will also go to the Benton County Sheriff’s Foundation and BCSO Mounted Posse, and the Philomath Police Foundation.

Rueben was pleased with the number of law-enforcement teams that registered to participate this year.

“We have eight law-enforcement teams this year, which is more than we’ve had in a long time,” Rueben said. “We’ve added the Oregon State University police, which is exciting for us because this will be their first year participating.”

Beyond Philomath Police and the OSU Department of Public Safety, the Law Enforcement division also includes four teams sponsored by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office — two from patrol and one each from the Parole and Probation and the jail. Corvallis Police also has a team.

BCSO Management is also in the mix but in the First Responders division. Philomath Fire & Rescue, Corvallis Regional Communications Center and Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Medicine Department will also compete in the division.

Six businesses and organizations will compete together — Alyrica Networks, Blue Sun Inc., Citizens Bank, Philomath Frolic & Rodeo, Philomath Lions Club and Philomath Rental. A division for restaurants includes Clodfelter’s, Corvallis Elks Lodge No. 1413, La Rockita, Nick’s Soul Food and Old World Deli.

The Public Safety Chili Cook-Off’s Facebook page has information on teams and sponsors.

“We have a panel of 10 judges from the local area — a big mix of different kinds of people,” Rueben said, a group that includes an Oregon State University baseball coach.

Winners will be announced in the final hour at approximately 5 p.m. That’s when raffle drawings will also take place. Among the items to be raffled off by Philomath Police will be a Thompson “Dimension” Rifle.

The cook-off will feature live music with local country singer Jayden Noble (2-4 p.m.) and Scruggs and the Steelbenders (4-6 p.m.) both scheduled to take the Yew Wood Corral stage. Block 15, 4 Spirits Distillery and Pheasant Court Winery will be on site for alcohol sales.

Various other organizations will have a presence at the event, including the Oregon National Guard, Red Cross, Red Feather Ranch and Benton County Veterans Service Office.

Philomath High students Roman Padar and Heidi Bacho contributed to the chili cookoff’s poster design.

This will be the 12th Public Safety Chili Cook-Off, which was held at the Benton County Fairgrounds until 2017. The event took a year off to reorganize before making its Philomath debut in 2019.

“We have a great partnership with the Frolic & Rodeo,” Rueben said. “This is such a great spot.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.