VALPARAISO | One of Valparaiso’s most iconic citizens took a seat in Central Park Plaza on Tuesday surrounded by fans wearing his trademark bow tie.
The Orville Redenbacher statue, a life-sized bronze likeness of the famous popcorn king, seated on a steel bench, officially was unveiled before a couple hundred residents, city officials and Redenbacher family members.
The unveiling was among the opening events this week for the city’s Popcorn Festival on Saturday. The festival has been celebrated annually since 1979.
The event kicked off with music by the Valparaiso High School band, followed by speeches from Mayor Jon Costas; Chester Inc. President Pete Peuquet; Orville Redenbacher's daughter, Gail Tuminello; and statue sculptor Lou Cella, who also re-created Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks in bronze outside Wrigley Field.
“Today we pay tribute to a wonderful Valparaiso success story,” said Costas, who sported a red-sequined bow tie along with many others in the audience. “Orville Redenbacher and his partner Charlie Bowman put Valparaiso on the map with their extraordinary popcorn and its extraordinary name.”
Redenbacher was born in Brazil, Ind., and began growing popcorn at age 12. In 1951, he and Bowman bought the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant near Valparaiso.
They tried tens of thousands of hybrid strains of popcorn before perfecting the famous brand, which was launched in 1970, with the name Red Bow.
A marketing consultant's intern suggested using just Redenbacher's name, which quickly became well known.
As the name behind the nation’s top selling popcorn, Redenbacher rose to fame with his quirky commercials, which began in the 1970s.
Redenbacher died in 1995 and Bowman in 2009. In addition to the statue, a plaque was unveiled at the park that states, “Today the name of Orville Redenbacher is synonymous with popcorn throughout the world.”
Tuminello, of Valparaiso, said her father would have been honored and proud of the tribute.
“My dad would have loved it,” she said. “I think it's an asset to the downtown park.”
Tuminello was accompanied by her children and Redenbacher's grandchildren, Eric Jones, Pam Bertoli and Julie Gallant.
Redenbacher's great-grandson, Kurt Gallant, 22, said he was about 5 when his great-grandfather died.
“It's great to see my family celebrated in this way,” he said. “I've got some big shoes to fill.”
Costas credited Valparaiso businessman Bill Wellman for coming up with the idea for the statue. Wellman said Redenbacher is 95 percent recognizable in the world, comparable to Kentucky Fried Chicken icon Colonel Sanders, and he would make a great "photo op" in Valparaiso's park.
Costas said the statue will serve as a symbol of welcome and hospitality in the downtown.
“He's sure to become the most photographed citizen of Valparaiso,” Costas said.