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Daily Journal
     April 10, 2020      #26-101 KDJ

Annual Rhubarb Festval canceled 

By Phil Angelo

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Museum has canceled its annual Rhubarb Festival.

Originally set for Memorial Day weekend, the festival’s cancellation is the result of recommended social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Canceling the event was not an easy decision to make, said Connie Licon, executive director of the Kankakee County Museum.

“We want to keep everyone safe,” she said, adding that canceling was the right thing to do.

The festival annually draws a crowd of up to 2,000 people who circulate around the grounds of the Kankakee County Museum and inside the adjacent Civic Auditorium.

Licon said there was no way to safely have a crowd inside the auditorium. Although the national quarantine guidelines are currently set to expire at the end of April, Licon says the May event was “just too quickly” after that.

“I know people would have come,” she said. “It is just sad, but we want everyone safe.”

She said museum officials feel reinforced in their decision as more and more events continue to cancel locally as well as throughout the state and country.

The museum is in the process of returning deposits to some 60 vendors who were planning to rent a booth or space to sell crafts or distribute information. This year’s event would have been the 30th annual. Next year’s festival is set for May 23, 2021.

The Rhubarb Festival is the second largest event of the year for the museum, surpassed only by the Festival of Trees at Christmas.

Kankakee County’s history with rhubarb dates back to the 1850s, when Dr. Abram L. Small began commercially growing it on the grounds of what today is Small Memorial Park. One of the highlights of the festival is an annual rhubarb baking contest, with the “pie-plant” as a key ingredient. Rhubarb has a naturally tart taste. Sugar and strawberries are often mixed in.

Rhubarb fests are unusual, but not unknown. A web search turns up other Illinois rhubarb events in Aledo and Rockton.

Both the Kankakee County Museum and the affiliated French Heritage Museum, 165 N. Indiana, Kankakee, remain closed to the public. Staff is working from home, Licon said, but staying in touch electronically with volunteers and board members.

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