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Hudson, Wychor reflect on KTD history

King Turkey Day guest speakers Lew Hudson (left) and Jim Wychor (right) take turns giving Worthington’s racing turkey, Paycheck, a kiss prior to the turkey race. Holding the bird is KTD President Susanne Murphy. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe2 / 4
King Turkey Day Guest Speaker Lew Hudson shares memories dating back to the first Great Gobbler Gallop during his address Saturday. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe3 / 4
King Turkey Day Guest Speaker Jim Wychor waves to the crowd as he shares stories of King Turkey Day history on Saturday. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe4 / 4

WORTHINGTON — When former newsmen Lew Hudson and Jim Wychor returned to Worthington in 2005 to serve as co-guest speakers at the King Turkey Day parade, they ended up broadcasting their memories over the radio waves as rain wreaked havoc on Worthington’s annual festival.

Fast-forward nine years to a beautiful, sunny and cool day along the parade route Saturday, and Wychor and Hudson were back at the podium — each taking turns in sharing brief memories about King Turkey Day and the competition between a southwest Minnesota town and a southern Texas city who both proclaim to be the Turkey Capital of the World.

Two bronze-breasted birds battle it out in a foot race to determine just which town gets to keep that title from year to year, and Hudson and Wychor were instrumental in establishing the race 42 years ago.

“Despite a couple thousand miles, both Worthington, Minnesota, and Cuero, Texas, are located in good farming country,” Hudson said, adding that both chose to honor the farming backbone of their communities — with King Turkey Day in Worthington and Turkeyfest in Cuero.

Hudson said it was E.O. Olson who stumbled upon Turkeyfest while traveling through Texas in 1938. He brought the idea back to Worthington, where it was accepted by local businesspeople who liked the idea of a fall festival to offer thanksgiving to the farm people of this area.

“The name, King Turkey Day, was chosen and … over the years, the tie between Turkey Day in Worthington and Turkeyfest in Cuero was forgotten,” Hudson shared.

Then, in 1972, the Daily Globe published an article talking about the similarity of the town celebrations in Worthington and Cuero. The people of Cuero had issued a challenge to Worthington — a race between turkeys — “to celebrate which town would become the Turkey Capital of this country,” Hudson said. “That’s how it came about.”

In the fall of 1972, Hudson and Wychor were a part of Worthington’s turkey racing team. Their bird was named Tomfoolery.

“Our friends from Cuero have been bragging about having the fastest turkey in the world,” Wychor said. “That might be true. If it is true, it’s our fault.”

Wychor explained that in the Texas heat of the Great Gobbler Gallop, the team couldn’t afford the airfare to bring Tomfoolery — described as a big, fast turkey — back home to Worthington after his win.

“We left the turkey in Cuero and they’ve been breeding that turkey ever since,” Wychor said to peals of laughter from the crowd.

Besides his reputation as a fast bird, Tomfoolery was also known to cause some trouble.

It was Hudson who shared the story about shifting the large turkey from his traveling cage to a more suitable pen after arriving in Cuero for the first race.

“The Worthington turkey got its spur in the back of my hand,” Hudson recalled. As the blood spurted out, it was the Cuero veterinarian who came to Hudson’s rescue. He washed out the wound and bandaged Hudson’s hand.

“I had the distinction of being the first human being that (the veterinarian) had ever treated in his veterinary career,” Hudson said. “He only charged me $2.25. Things like that are wonderful memories of the relationship between Cuero and Worthington.”

“Turkey Day is a marvelous celebration — it’s one of the greatest in the state of Minnesota,” added Wychor. “We’re proud to be here — proud that this community is part of our heritage.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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