Everyone knows libraries promote reading, but the Eastern District of Oklahoma Library System also promotes community.

As part of that group endeavor, Hulbert Library revived a tradition: the annual Chili Cookoff. Thursday night, cooks and crockpots arrived at the Hulbert School Auditorium for the fourth annual event, hoping to win. This event had no fee to enter, and tasting samples was free. The aroma of hot chili was mouth-watering.

Volunteer Oscar Tarkington greeted people at the door and helped them sign in as tasters or entries.

"I like helping, seeing people and meeting everybody," said Tarkington.

Two mothers and daughters competed against each other. Jennifer Johnson took first place, and daughter Haley Johnson, 17, placed second, with Emelie Bailey in third. Along with kitchen items, gift cards were won, with first place receiving $25, second place $15, and third place $10.

"Those three get their money back and bragging rights," said Cherokee Lowe, library manager.

She sees the value in this event.

"My family doesn't like chili, so I get to participate and enjoy the chili," said Lowe. "This event brings the community together. It takes a lot of time, but doesn't cost a lot."

Last year, 15 people competed; this year, there were only 5.

It's the first year for the event to be held at the school site. It was held for two years at the library meeting room, and when it outgrew that space, it was moved to the Senior Citizens Center last year.

"And that space was tight," said Pam Davis, assistant library manager, while organizing crockpots by number. "We like to accommodate everybody and we never know how many will show up."

Small paper cups were numbered to correspond with samples. A plastic colored chip was placed on each plate so tasters could vote.

"Nobody is supposed to know whose is whose; it's a secret," Davis said. "They'll bring the chip up and put in the piggy of the number of chili they like."

It's fun when family members compete against each other, said Davis.

"Last year, a couple competed; she took third and he didn't place," she said.

The libraries have always offered programs, but now, the focus is more on community.

"We used to have individual goals in the 15 library system; now the unified goal is to be about community. Of course, we'll always be about books," Davis said.

Four years ago, the staffers in Hulbert were putting their heads together to bring the community in.

They used to have a cookoff at Christmas time, and then the Friends of Library started the parade and Big Event Shop Hulbert.

"We hadn't had a cookoff in a while, so we thought it would be a good thing to bring back," Davis said. "It's fun and you see people you haven't seen in a while, and family. We have different programs for different ages, but this is for all ages."

Adding a youth category is being considered for next year.

"All ages can join in cooking, and the youngest this year is 7," she said.

Marti Thompson and daughter Glenna, 7, had entries.

"I made classic chili this year, but the first two years, I took first place with Sasquatch chili," said Thompson. "But it's a little expensive with hot link sausages."

Glenna pointed out she's actually 7-1/4.

"I started last year and I wanted to prove I was old enough to make chili on my own, with a little help," she said.

"I liked it and I wanted to do it again. I like that you get to taste all kinds of chili recipes from all over the world, and it's fun to see your friends and sometimes make new friends."

Her secret this year: "Potatoes substituted for beans and bacon."

"I helped my mom peel potatoes," said Thompson. "It's fun to make food and try it and see if you like something. Meatloaf is the first thing I made."

First-place winner this year, Johnson competed last year and won second, but it was the first year for daughter Haley.

"My chili is venison and beef mix; I like it that way," said Johnson. "There's not enough fat content on deer, and beef makes up for it."

She appreciates the efforts to keep the competition fair.

"It's neat that it's secret and nobody knows whose chili is whose," Johnson said.

For Haley, it's all about competition. She learned how to make chili from her mom and Nana, Cathy Johnson.

"I want to see if I can beat my mom," she said of her all-beef and bean-free entry.

Grandmother Cathy Johnson was on hand to cheer for her crew. She used to compete in the cookoff before it ended a few years back.

"I'm here to support them and I don't have to cook dinner," she said. "I like venison, but sometimes it tastes wild."

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