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A Spudtacular Celebration

September festivities return to Shelley for the 91st annual Spud Day

Published online: Sep 11, 2019 Articles, Events, Family Fun Guide, Looking Back, Road Trips
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Spud Day is more than a celebration of the russet potato for Gerald Searle—it’s a family heritage.

127 years ago, Searle’s great, great grandfather father, John F. Shelley, arrived in a bare area nestled within the Snake River Valley with the intention to start a store. Not long after, the Union Pacific Railroad this land “Shelley” after its founder.

Today, many people within and outside the state know City of Shelley as the home of Spud Day, an annual festival on the third Saturday of September which commemorates Idaho’s most famous crop.

The first Spud Day occurred on October 19, 1927, about 35 years after Searle’s grandfather established that first store. After opening a new highway (now US 91), the Chamber of Commerce were confident they could host a festivity as good as any larger city in Idaho, according to The History of Shelley, Idaho’s Annual Spud Day.

John Adams, the publisher of The Shelley Pioneer, raised public awareness about other celebrations in the west, such as “Watermelon Days, “Strawberry Days” and “Peach Days,” so why not “Idaho Spud Days.”

A group of five businessmen and members of the Chamber of Commerce gathered together and finalized the plans for the first annual Spud Day.

It seems like Shelley and Spud Day have always been a part of Searle’s life. Some his earliest memories are winning quarters after gathering the most potatoes in the Spud-Picking Contest or his lips freezing to his trumpet mouthpiece while marching in the parade (back when the celebration was in November at the end of potato harvest) alongside his middle school and high school bands.

Searle, a founding partner of the accounting firm Searle, Hart & Associates, has spent much of his adult life behind-the-scenes of Spud Day and the event chairman or as a member of the committee.

I think there is an emotional tie [to Spud Day] because of my grandfather for settling Shelley,” Searle said. “It’s something that has grown over time and pretty much maxed out the park where it’s held.”

His hard work is paid off each year when he sees smiles of old friends and family coming together to party and eat potatoes.

It’s true, anyone can have a baked potato at home,” Searle said. “But, there’s something about sitting in the park with you family and friends and enjoying a baked potato.”

One of Spud Day’s trademarks is handing out free baked potatoes to every guest. Searle said one year the Chamber of Commerce wanted to try something new by passing out potato chips instead of the baked potato. Well, that only lasted one year. People didn’t enjoy that.

Spud Day will celebrate its 91st anniversary during this year’s festival on Sept. 20. Searle said he’s sticking with the potato holiday at least until the centennial.

Searle believes people return each year not only because it’s a party, but also for the long-lasting traditions. One of his favorite traditions is the “Spud Tug.”

For those who missed ESPN’s live coverage of first “The Spud Tug” in 1993 or have never been to Shelley to celebrate, the event involves a cement truck mixing dehydrated potato flakes and until it turns into a gooey mess and is dumped into a trench where teams equaling up 1,000 pounds tug until one side falls into the puddle of potato.

Searle said the traditions and festivities represent the spirit of Shelley.

You know, the mascot in Shelley in the Russet,” Searle said. “We’re all familiar with potatoes. We have a large potato processing plant in Shelley. It’s us, it’s what were made of. It’s a way to come together and celebrate something that is common amongst us all.”

The schedule for the 91st Spud Day includes:

  • A community orchestra concert at 11 a.m.

  • Free baked potatoes w/trimmings at noon.

  • The Potato Picking Contest from noon-3 p.m.

  • A horseshoe tournament at 12:30 p.m.

  • A talent show at 1 p.m.

  • The Spud Tug (Southeast Ball Diamond) at 3 p.m.

For more information go to idahospudday.com.

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