Sycamore’s ‘Mr. Pumpkin’ dies Friday

By Melissa Mastrogiovanni

The man whose front lawn display of pumpkins eventually turned into the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, Wally Thurow – affectionately known as Mr. Pumpkin – died Friday.

“On behalf of the Sycamore Pumpkin Fest Committee, we are saddened of the passing of Mr. Thurow – affectionately known as Mr. Pumpkin,” said Jerry Malmassari, president of the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Committee. “Wally’s inspiration grew from a small display to a festival that has provided inspiration and entertainment to five generations of Sycamore and DeKalb County residents. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife Jan and all family members. His inspiration for creativity and fun will continue on and he will never be forgotten. While Wally has not participated directly on the arrangement of the Festival for several years, his appearance in top hat and tails along with his high wheel bike were truly the sights the festival was ready to begin. He will be sincerely missed.”

According to the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival’s website, Thurow began displaying a few decorated pumpkins on his lawn in 1956. In 1962, through the collaborative efforts of Thurow and the Sycamore Lions Club, the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival became an annual official celebration.

“He knew from day one that this would take off,” said Tom Oestreicher, Genoa-Kingston High School teacher writing a biography on Wally Thurow.

Oestreicher said Thurow’s dedication to and promotion of the Pumpkin Festival led to it’s wide acclaim. Each year the festival draws 150,000 to 250,000 people and is one of the largest festivals in Illinois – outside of Chicago -, Oestreicher said.

The Sycamore Pumpkin Festival provides an opportunity for DeKalb County non-profit organizations to participate in fund-raising activities.

Oestreicher’s biography of Thurow will focus on the 50 year history of the festival and how it grew. Oestreicher said he is dedicating the last chapter of his book as a memoriam to Thurow and is hoping to have the manuscript done by June 1.

“Our family would like to thank everyone for the kind words and prayers we have received,” said Thurow’s granddaughter Amie Schwellenbach, on the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival’s Facebook page. “He may be gone, but the legacy he has left in Sycamore will live on.”