By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Turkey Rama takes wing this weekend

The annual festival, now in its 54th year, features a World Famous Turkey Barbecue, street sales, a food court and beer gardens, and all sorts of entertainment, including humorous lip syncing provided by a flock of human turkeys.

Downtown, look for street sales and entertainment both days. New this year are special areas, including Vintage Road on Evans between Second and Third;  Kids’ Corner, on Cowls between Second and Third; a Home and Garden section on Ford Street between Third and Fourth; and “Turkey Town,” on Third Street between Baker and Cowls, with historic photos of Turkey Rama and a fine feathered mayor, played by Zach Geary.

At Fifth and Baker, you’ll find the big Turkey Rama carnival, which will be open all four days on the Oregon Mutual Insurance parking lot. Davis Shows Northwest rides will start spinning at 3 p.m. Thursday and continue from noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to late in the day Sunday.

Ride wristbands are available at a discounted price of $20 through Wednesday from the Chamber, Oregon Stationers and Express Employment Professionals.

In Wortman Park on Saturday, follow your nose to the barbecue, listen for music and tickle your fancy at the second-annual beard and mustache contest.

Turkey Rama grew out of the local turkey industry. Turkey raising was one of the area’s major agricultural industries for many decades, and the popular broad-breasted white turkey beloved by Thanksgiving diners was developed here.

To promote their industry and encourage the year-round consumption of turkey, farmers held turkey shows and a huge turkey barbecue. As more activities were added, the barbecue grew into a festival for the whole family, and Turkey Rama was born.

The turkey industry faded as processing plants moved their operations to California and other locations. Now McMinnville and Yamhill County are known for nurseries, wine grapes and other agricultural products, but not turkeys.

Still, Turkey Rama remains a much-loved summer tradition for city and county residents, businesses, the Greater McMinnville Chamber of Commerce and the McMinnville Downtown Association.

This year’s World Famous Turkey Barbecue will open at 11 a.m. Saturday in two locations: East Wortman Park, adjacent to Lafayette Avenue in north McMinnville; and the First Presbyterian Church patio downtown. Meals will include turkey, rolls, salad, watermelon, cake and beverage at a cost of $14 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for children.

Entertainment at Wortman Park during the barbecue will include Nancy McCann, 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.; the Second Winds Community Band, 1 to 2:30 p.m.; and Mike Fite, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Barbecued turkey halves will be available in Wortman Park, at the Chamber booth on Third Street, in Upper City Park and in the BiMart and Rite-Aid parking lots. Cost is $19 per half.

To make room for that barbecued turkey, try the Turkey Trot, a fun run and walk sponsored by the Willamette Valley Cancer Foundation.

Registration will start at 7 a.m. Saturday in the Chamber parking lot at Fifth and Adams streets. The 8-kilometer run, 5-K walk and 2-K walk will take off at 8 a.m.

Entry fee is $25 for walkers and $35 for runners. Teams of 10 or more can get a discount of $3 per person, if they sign up together.

Another competitive event, this one more sedate, is the Turkey Rama Beard and Mustache Contest. Registration will start at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the main stage downtown, with judging at 3 o’clock.

Anyone with facial hair can enter. And children too young to grow a beard can participate, too, in a division that will judge the best milk mustache.

The downtown portion of Turkey Rama will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Local merchants and visiting vendors will set up shop on Third Street and adjacent streets.

The food court, with everything from German sausages and Asian noodles to corn dogs and elephant ears, will be open throughout the festival on Davis Street, next to the U.S. Bank Plaza. A beer garden will be set up on Evans Street next to McMenamins Hotel Oregon from 4 to 11 p.m. each day.

Music and other entertainment will fill the main stage at Third and Davis throughout both days. The schedule includes:

Friday: 1 p.m., the Langley Family; 2:30 p.m., performers from the Humlie School of Music; 4 p.m., The Willametrics; 5:30 p.m., the lip synch contest; 7 p.m., Soul Shot playing for a free street dance.

Saturday:11 a.m., the Frank Messina Big Band; 2:30 to 4 p.m., the beard and mustache contest; 4 p.m., Countryside Ride; 6 p.m., Ants in the Kitchen.

In addition, Yoga Rama, a group yoga program, will take over the main stage from 9 to 10 a.m. Friday.

The Biggest Turkey lip sync contest is another of Turkey Rama’s most popular events. Six contestants will perform at 5:30 p.m. Friday, July 11, on the downtown stage. Crowning of the Biggest Turkey winner will follow, and afterward, the celebratory street dance running until 10 p.m.

The Biggest Turkey candidates and the charitable organizations they represent, are: Gretchen Phelps, Habitat for Humanity; Marivel Ortiz, Henderson House family shelter and anti-violence program; Madison Ranche, Homeward Bound Pets no-kill shelter, educational program and spay and neuter clinic; Dr. Brandi Spence, an OB-GYN representing Willamette Valley Cancer Foundation; Ed Wanner, Mid-Valley Rehab; and Christopher Duggar, the See Ya Later Foundation.

Biggest Turkey is a McMinnville tradition that dates back to 1981.

The American Cancer Society’s local unit started the contest to raise money for cancer services, education, treatment and research. The contestant who raised the most money was dubbed “Biggest Turkey” in a humorous crowning ceremony at Turkey Rama.

ACS partnered with the local hospice organization in the mid-1980s, then hospice took over the fundraiser entirely for two decades.

Since hospice bowed out, the Biggest Turkey contest has been a fundraiser for two to four organizations a year. In addition to raising money, the organizations have worked together to do all the organizing, planning, marketing and accounting for the event.

This year, the chamber has taken responsibility for the logistical part of the contest.

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