Longtime Friends Compete for the Biggest Pumpkin

CANFIELD, Ohio – On an afternoon in mid-August, Tim Parks and Jack Lanterman are checking out a pumpkin that Parks is growing in a field across the road from his business, Parks Garden Center. 

They estimate that the huge squash is probably around 1,000 pounds.

“It’s young. It’s still growing,” Parks says.  

The Green Township residents and longtime friends both plan to exhibit at this year’s Canfield Fair, as they have for decades.

 “We’ve been showing pumpkins against each other forever,” Parks says.  

Parks, who says he has known Lanterman for about 45 years and played on the same Little League team as Lanterman’s son, began exhibiting at the fair through the 4-H program about 48 years ago, when he was about 12, he says. He primarily showed market lambs and other projects when he started out.

“My uncle had a small farm and he used to keep some animals,” he says. “He kept sheep, he kept chickens, beef, all that stuff, and I used to go help him out. And then I got interested in 4-H through the kids at school.”

The 87-year-old Lanterman, who grew up on a dairy farm on the west side of Canfield and used to walk to the fair, didn’t start exhibiting until he was 24, after he got out of the Army. He began showing registered shorthorn cattle before he shifted to vegetables with his wife and father-in-law.

“For me, it was just something I wanted to do,” Lanterman says. “It just makes you feel really good if you can win.”

And, he says, “I won a lot,” although he’s not sure just how many ribbons he’s taken home. He has won competitions for largest pumpkins and for commercial tomato baskets from when he operated a vegetable stand at the fair.  

Adds Parks, “He’s won countless ribbons” in the commercial vegetables, watermelon and jack-o’- lantern categories.”

Agricultural exhibits like the pumpkin show provide an opportunity to educate the public, including children who aren’t as familiar with how things are grown. Many ask if the pumpkins are real. “People that used to come through here 30, 40 years ago would know a bit about what’s going on [in contrast with today],” Parks says.     

Like his longtime friend, Lanterman says he plans to show “a few things” at this year’s fair. He has a couple of watermelons growing, one of which weighs more than 90 pounds, in addition to his pumpkins.

“If the weather does good, I’ll have a couple pumpkins,” he says.

A 544-pounder that won in 1992 held the fair record for years, Parks says. “That was thought to be a huge pumpkin,” he says. Modern entries are at “another level.”

The prize winners for the largest pumpkins in recent years typically have been in the range of 1,200 pounds.   

“If you ain’t got a thousand-pounder, you leave them home,” Lanterman says.

Today, growers know how to cross pumpkins to get the right seed to take them to the next level and fertilize and water them to promote growth.

Parks says he enjoys the competitive aspect of entering pumpkins for the fair but also the camaraderie, an aspect that stretches back to his days in 4-H.  

“The relationship between the growers, the pumpkin building and the fair board, that’s been a great experience,” he says. “There’s a lot more working back and forth between the growers and the fair board to make sure that show comes off and it looks nice.”

And today there is more collaboration among the growers, who are more willing to share their secrets.

“Nobody 50 or 60 years ago would tell anybody what they were doing,” Parks says.  

“No matter what, you wanted to beat that other guy,” Lanterman says. “You had to figure everything out on your own.”

“We kind of work together. It’s been a great thing because we’re all trying to get better. But at the same time we’re all trying to help each other out,” Parks says. “Jack always says, ‘I’ll tell you everything I know. But you’d better be willing to work. If you want to beat me, you’re going to have to outwork me.’ ”

Both men say they don’t see the fair itself as having changed much over the years.

“Other than there’s more to it,” Lanterman says, and the size of the produce entries.

“The fair is not so much about what’s changed. It’s more of an anchor to the past, with maybe a little window looking into the future,” Parks says.

The two treasure the friendships that form though the fair, including their generation-spanning one.

Says Lanterman, “We’re just friends for a lifetime – someone you can really trust if you want any advice.”

It’s rare to form a lifelong friendship with someone 27 years apart in age,” Parks points out.

“That’s the one thing about the fair. You can get with people that share a common interest,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what age you are.”

Pictured: Jack Lanterman and Tim Parks compare notes next to the pumpkin Parks is growing for the fair.