By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Janet Peters wore a smile and a strikingly bright floral hat in a photograph just beneath a steaming batch of Jason Vance's HeeHaw Hillbilly Chili Sunday afternoon.
The haystacks and fence posts surrounding the Peters' family chili booth at Quincy University's 24th annual Mart Heinen Athletic Booster Club Chili Cook-Off were just as vibrant woman who'd brought hillbilly team together in 2012. During their first year in the cook-off, the family won second place in chili and first place in décor. While Janet died of leukemia in June, her family hoped to carry on the budding chili cook-off tradition. This year, they ranked first in theme and third in chili.
The Peters family has deep roots in the QU community. Various family members hold degrees from the school, and Janet worked in the alumni center for several years. Her daughter-in-law Kim Peters and daughter Tammy Bruns recalled Janet's popularity at the first cook-off.
"Last year, everyone was standing around here talking to her," Bruns said.
The family spoke eagerly about Janet's dedication to feeding the hungry and serving the poor in the community. As people trickled up to the booth, several recognized the smiling woman in the group photo from the year before.
"She had to be here with us," Kim said as she looked toward the photograph. "This was all Mom's idea. She had so much fun last year."
The family built their booth around Vance's unique chili. While the family friend lacked a blood tie to the Peters, he held the secret recipe responsible for their success in 2011. Vance has won several small chili contests in his hometown of St. Louis and enjoys sharing his father-in-law's recipe with the Quincy community.
"The cool thing is people keep coming back and saying we remember you from last year," Vance said.
The thick, bean-heavy chili varied in both flavor and texture from the other eight competitors in the room. Several other booths had their own variance in spice and ingredients. One booth offered both white and red chicken chili. Another left beans from the pot entirely.
Keith Dieker and Brad Grant won first place and the popular vote in the chili competition. QU Assistant Athletic Director Danielle Suprenant ranked second in chili. The Patio restaurant won the soup competition.
Mike O'Brien, club board member and chairman for the chili cook-off committee, said chili champions and competitors differ from year to year. For the past four years, the event has thrived off its Cash Bash, which offers hundreds and thousands of dollars in prizes.
"It's good for the athletics," O'Brien said. "It's good for the teams."
Club members volunteer their time and resources to help Quincy University athletic teams. The chili cook-off is among several events that raise funds for the Hawks and Lady Hawks to sponsor team trips, athletic equipment and facility improvements.