A $1,000 grand prize package that includes a La-Z-Boy recliner, not to mention bragging rights, will be up for grabs Saturday during the third annual Wings of Wayne Military Appreciation Festival’s chicken wing cook-off.
The free festival, sponsored by the Goldsboro Elks Lodge, is designed to bring Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the community together in a downtown setting while also serving as a fundraising event that helps in the Elks’ ongoing support of local charitable causes.
Saturday’s festivities will run from 3 to 8 p.m. at the large vacant lot at 207 S. Center St. It is being held later than normal in hopes it will not be as hot as previous years, said Elks Lodge member Doug McGrath.
On Sunday will be a motorcycle ride to the Kinston Veterans Home.
The cook-off is a double-blind system so the judges do not know if they are tasting wings cooked by the first team or the last team.
Judges this year are 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Donn Yates, 916th Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Craig McPike, Mayor Chuck Allen, Councilman David Ham, chef Eli Wuest of Barrique, and Owen Jackson and David McWilliams, both of whom are Kansas City Barbecue Series certified.
The cost to sample the wings is $1 per wing.
The Salvation Army will have a booth where children can create custom greeting cards to be sent throughout the year to troops. All the materials and supplies will be provided at the booth.
The festival will have a free children’s area with a bouncy house. Providing free entertainment will be Tyler Davis and headliner The Entertainers from Charlotte.
Vendors with food and drinks, and arts and crafts, will be available. Yet, a family could come spend time and not spend any money, McGrath said.
McGrath, who has worked a lot with veterans and active-duty military, came up with the idea for the event.
Prior to moving to Goldsboro 20 years ago from the Midwest, McGrath lived in a town without a military base, but every year a Memorial Day event was held in the town.
It was a big deal, he said.
When he moved to Goldsboro, which is a military town, McGrath said he was surprised nothing was going on during Memorial Day weekend.
He and others looked around to find something that would pay tribute to the military and all it does for the country.
“This idea came to us about three and a half years ago,” McGrath said. “I had been talking back and forth with (then) Wing Commander Col. (Christopher) Sage, at the time. We wanted to do something to demonstrate our appreciation and not just for those who paid the ultimate price, but for active duty airmen and the veterans still with us.
“We really kind of picked Memorial Day weekend as a time to show our appreciation, pay tribute to the military. At that time, I did not realize May was Military Appreciation Month.”
Club members looked at other events including the Wings Over Wayne Air Show, but did not want to tread on them, he said.
They came up with the idea of a festival, but needed a hook, which became a chicken wing cook-off so that it could be called Wings of Wayne, McGrath said.
“It draws the base and community together,” he said. “We do it at a downtown location. The most serious part of the day for us is the presentation of military appreciation awards.”
Three were presented last year. It has grown to 10 this year, he said.
“It allows us to draw attention to people who get recognized on base, but people out in the community may not realize what they are doing or what they have achieved,” McGrath said. “It is family friendly. Admission is free. We have live music. We have kids activities. We have more vendors this year than we have ever had.”
The awards will be presented at 5 p.m.
People talk about the importance of the relationship between the base and community, and the festival is meant to put action to those words, he said.
It is the best sponsorship ever for the festival, and McGrath said he is humbled by support the event receives.
RIDE FOR HEROES
While Saturday will be the big day for Wings of Wayne, the tribute continues on Sunday with the Downeast Ride for Heroes.
“It is a motorcycle rally, but people in cars are welcome as well,” McGrath said. “There is no fee.”
It will start at the Wayne County Veterans Memorial downtown with registration at 11 a.m.
A formal ceremony will start at noon with an invocation. There will be a presentation of colors by the Goldsboro Fire Department and a wreath-laying ceremony followed by comments from new City Manager Tim Salmon, a retired Marine colonel with 33 years of military service.
A police escort will lead the riders to the Kinston Veterans Home.
“We enjoy an afternoon of fellowship there,” McGrath said. “It is one of four veterans homes in the state of North Carolina. There are many of our heroes who call KVH their home. Many of them don’t really have a social network outside of the home.
“If you could see what happens when this crowd of motorcycles pulls in. There are four buildings with a driveway around them. So we pull in, and we do a parade around them. You literally see people coming to the window, looking out — ‘That’s for me?’ That is cool.”
There is nothing spectacular that happens, he said. Rather, it is about pulling up a chair and sitting down and talking to the veterans and getting to know them and spending time with them, he said.
Bojangles’ has been a sponsor from the start and will have its mascot at the veterans home, McGrath said.
For more information visit, wingsofwayne.org, or Facebook at Wings of Wayne and Downeast Ride for Heroes.