D.J. Prellwitz tries the chili.

D. J.’s chili kingdom coming to an end

From the time the Chili-Cook-off begins early Saturday morning until the time the Smokin' BBQ Cook-off concludes around 7 p.m., Deanna “D.J.” Prellwitz rarely is off her feet.

“You should get a pedometer to see how many miles you walk during the cook-offs,” a reporter told her.

“I do,” she laughed, checking a digital readout on her wrist a few minutes before the conclusion of the Smokin' BBQ Cook-off.

“It says I've walked about seven miles.” Prellwitz's digital pedometer will read a little less next year as she announced her retirement after 20 years from the Johnny Tillemans Memorial Chili Cook-off. “I'll still be doing the Smokin' BBQ Cook-off, though,” she said, referring to the event she started four years ago.

“After so many years with the chili cook-off, I just feel it’s time to turn it over to someone who might have some new ideas.” Even the cooks applaud the efforts of Prellwitz over the years.

“She's so well organized and works so hard,” said Carey Doyscher, a chili cook-off participant the last 17 years. “We will miss her a lot.” Prellwitz gets assistance each year from her husband, Randy, daughters Hanna and Amanda. And this year Hanna’s fiancé, Zach Bartels, was pulled into the mix to help.

Dale and Karen Swedzinski assist with the Smokin’ BBQ Cook-off. “I couldn't do it without their help,” she said.

“And all the judges and contestants of both events have been great to work with.”

“It’s also been fun to see all the familiar faces each year of people coming in just to taste the food. That’s the part that kept me coming back year after year.”

Prellwitz organized the first Minneota Chili Cook-off in 1997 after having been a contestant for a few years before that when it was part of Town & Country Days (later changed to Boxelder Bug Days in honor of local poet Bill Holm).

“The person that was running it before decided not to do it anymore so I took over,” Prellwitz said. The event continued but the name changed to honor the well-liked and popular Johnny Tillemans, who ran the Silver Dollar Bar in Ghent for many years before passing away a few years ago.

Johnny’s daughters – Carey, Lu, Deb and Sandy – participate annually in the contest in honor of their father.

“The one thing I’ve always thought was unusual or funny about the chili cook-off is that the public doesn’t see is that the chili cooks come in early to get their pots of chili started and then they all make breakfast,” Prellwitz said.

“The chili is cooking on one burner and eggs and sausage on another. I’ve always gotten a kick out of that.”

The Prairie Hospice House of Marshall, which receives all proceeds from the chili cook-off, will run the event next year.

Meagan Tolk, an employee of Prairie Hospice, will be the coordinator of the cook-off.

Tolk shadowed Prellwitz throughout the event on Saturday to get a feel for what all is involved.

“D.J. has done such a good job running this,” said Tolk.

“I'll do my best to do a good job, too.”

With Tolk running the show next year, Prellwitz's pedometer can take some time off … and so can her feet.

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