– A police escort to get fettucini from Safeway is one of the
more amusing incidents Norie Goforth, president of the 1983 Garlic
Festival, remembers from the early days of Gilroy’s annual food
GILROY – A police escort to get fettucini from Safeway is one of the more amusing incidents Norie Goforth, president of the 1983 Garlic Festival, remembers from the early days of Gilroy’s annual food event.
One year during the annual garlic cook-off, which originally was held in a kitchen at Gavilan Community College, festival founder the late Rudy Melone was competing with an Italian pasta recipe he had entered.
“He was preparing the ingredients and he looked at Gloria (his wife) and said, ‘Gloria, you forgot the fettucini,'” Goforth said.
The streets were clogged with festival goers arriving at Christmas Hill Park, but Goforth came up with a quick solution. Get the cop – who was supposed to chauffeur the cook-off winner to the park – to take her to the store. So, inside the squad car, Goforth was rushed to the local supermarket to pick up the pasta.
“We had the lights flashing and siren blaring, but of course, nobody knew the real reason,” she said with a laugh. “That was an emergency. That was an emergency.”
The effort was well worth it for Rudy Melone. That year, he won the cook-off, she said.
“They’re such wonderful people,” Goforth said of Rudy and Gloria Melone. “He was so great. Everyone loved him.”
Even before the festival’s creation, Goforth was well established in Gilroy’s garlic industry. During the time she was president, she was sales manager at local garlic producer Christopher Ranch. She retired from that position four years ago. He husband, Leo Goforth, also got involved with the festival, in charge of the peppersteak sandwiches – the most popular dish at Gourmet Alley – for seven years.
Goforth, who was born in raised in Gilroy but now lives with Leo in Hollister, still keeps active with the festival. She attends meetings of the Strategic Planning Board made up of past presidents. And she will be at this year’s festival at the opening ceremonies as well as the past president’s breakfast on Sunday morning of the festival.
She credits the volunteers for the festival’s 25-year success.
“It’s not the president doing it all by himself or herself,” she said. “It’s everyone pitching in. It’s a lot of work, but if you get a bunch of volunteers like we had, it’s so great.”
She also credits Dave Bouchard, the festival’s office manager in the early years, for contributing to the festival long run. Bouchard especially worked hard getting the dusty grounds of Christmas Hill Park ready for the onslaught of festival guests. That was before the park was developed.
“He did everything we asked of him,” she said. “He did a lot. You couldn’t do it without him.”
Sales of merchandise was part of the evolution of the 1983 festival as organizers that year for the first time allowed artisans and crafts people to sell items incorporating garlic themes as well as high-quality products. The concept created another attraction and festival tradition for guests other than food and entertainment.
Among the more unusual items sold at the 1983 festival was “Garlique,” a perfume made from essence of the city’s favorite crop. Cupertino-based firm Scentsational Products created the scent which was the most talked about item at the festival that year. Gilroy resident Herman Garcia, working on the Garlique sales booth, described the perfume in a 1983 Dispatch article as “the thing to wear to the barbecue. It’s also guaranteed to keep the vampires away.”
The 1985 festival organizers expected about 110,000 visitors, but were surprised when a total of 120,000 people attended the three-day event, a record at that time. Admission that year was $4 for adults (it’s now $10) and $2 for seniors and children. Opening day of the festival, seniors and children were admitted for $1. And, showing the difference 20 years can make, Gourmet Alley dish prices ranged from $1.50 to $4 compared with around $6 now.
A ton and a half of garlic was used for the Alley’s seven-dish menu in 1983. Sales of dishes were up 40 percent compared with the previous year. The Alley’s total sales were $485,000.
Various public events added to the fun of the festival such as the “Garlic Squeeze Barn Dance” which attracted country-music fans to a local warehouse to hear the Billy Lawrence Band play such hits as “Okie from Muskogee.”
The annual dance, which was discontinued several years later, was held the weekend before the festival. Goforth remembers it fondly and wishes it might return as a festival tradition. It got momentum rolling in the community for the festival, she said.
“It was so fun,” she said. “Everyone in town seemed to be there, packed into the barn and bumping into each other as they danced.”
Another event was Gilroy’s version of the Tour de France. The Tour de Garlique was a bicycle tour through South County and San Benito County that drew 501 bikers. Three tours were available – a 100-mile ride, 60-mile ride or an easy 20 miles. One cyclist was hurt in a crash and taken to Hollister’s Hazel Hawkins Hospital, but after getting stitches, he managed to finish the tour.
More than 1,000 people ran in the Garlic Gallop, a 10-kilometer run starting at Gavilan College. Dan Stefanisko, a student at University California at Davis, came in first with a time of 30 minutes, 44 seconds, according to a Dispatch article from 1983.
In 1983, more than 2,000 volunteers helped to make the festival a success. That compares with about 4,000 now. Police arrested 19 people for being drunk in public. But considering that 120,000 people were packed into a park over a three-day period, “there were no major problems,” Goforth said.