Chili feed brings Bend community together

Long-time Bend residents, and a few newcomers, filled the Deschutes Historical Museum on Saturday for the annual chili feed, a gathering and fundraiser for the museum since 1986.

Many in attendance were born and raised in Bend and saw familiar faces around the dining tables, giving the event a small-town feeling.

“If you want to experience Bend when it was a small place come this weekend,” said Kelly Cannon-Miller, executive director of the museum.

The chili feed is also a family affair.

Volunteers served up Millie’s Chili, named after Milli Chopp, a Bend resident who was highly involved in the Deschutes Historical Society. Chopp, who died in 1994, started the chili feed as a way to support the museum. At the time, the museum had only been open for about a decade and was not on everyone’s radar, Cannon-Miller said. The chili feed helped bring people to the museum, she said.

“It was a way to support the museum but also to get people in and get them thinking about this is their local museum and their chance to preserve local stories,” Cannon-Miller said.

Chopp’s daughter, Susie Penhollow, has led the chili feed for the past 17 years. She was busy Saturday serving her mother’s chili with other volunteers.

“It’s a great time to see people you don’t see during the year,” Penhollow said. “A lot of people who have lived here for a long time and a lot of new people. It’s a fun time. It’s kind of like a homecoming.”

The chili feed, held Friday and Saturday, also featured a bake sale, raffle and heritage fair that included free genealogy presentations and family research assistance. The entire event raises more than $5,000 for the museum to bring new exhibits and cover maintenance costs.

For the past few years, Millie’s Chili has been cooked with donated Barley Beef from the Rastovich Family Farm, the oldest working family farm in Deschutes County.

Chopp, whose maiden name is Rastovich, grew up on the farm with her brother Dan Rastovich, who passed the farm down to his son, Rob Rastovich.

Rob Rastovich, the third-generation farmer at the Rastovich Farm, came to the chili feed Saturday. He said each year the chili feed feels like a family reunion. Penhollow is his cousin and he spots other cousins in the crowd.

Having his farm donate the beef for the chili feed was an obvious choice, Rastovich said.

“It’s a natural for us,” he said.

Bend resident Tony Rosengarth, 80, and his wife, Sharron, enjoyed bowls of chili together Saturday. The couple has attended the chili feed for the past two decades. They enjoy catching up with old friends and giving back to the museum.

“It’s a good get-together,” said Rosengarth, a retired constructional engineer. “It brings back a lot of memories.”

But Rosengarth also comes each year for the meal.

“The chili is always consistent and very good,” he said.

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