One of my favorite times of summer is when the local produce is in season. Right now, it is Olathe sweet corn, named for the southwestern Colorado town where it is produced. (Olathe, Colorado was named for Olathe, Kansas—I don’t know why; it means “beautiful in the Shawnee language.) We usually have Olathe corn once or twice a week this time of year.
Thinking of sweet corn reminds me of this article about my grandfather, Leslie “Les” Casbon.
Past Commander Leslie Casbon is not only the champion sweet corn grower of Porter county, he is also the best sweet corn cooker in these parts, as he demonstrated Wednesday night after the [American Legion] meeting. Knute Sundin, champion corn eater for the last 20 years, lost the title to Breezie Johnson
Les, having returned to Valparaiso, Indiana after three years of active duty in World War II, served as Commander of the local Charles Pratt American Legion Post #94 from 1946–1947. He evidently honed his reputation as the “champion sweet corn grower” during this time. (I don’t know if he actually won any awards.)
I wish I could have seen Breezie Johnson breaking Knute Sundin’s winning streak! Knute was also known as the “Swedish ambassador” to Valparaiso, and known for giving ski lessons when there was enough snow. I don’t know anything more about Breezie.
Growing up, I was aware of my grandfather’s fondness for sweet corn, which was handed down to his descendants.
He also grew Chester Hybrid popcorn. The Chester company, which was purchased in 1951 by Charlie Bowman and Orville Redenbacher, was based in Valparaiso. Redenbacher and Grandpa Les were friends, and Les was one of his popcorn growers. Orville spent many years cross-breeding thousands of popcorn varieties to come up with the perfect seed. I remember when Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn began marketing in the 1970s. It always had fewer “old maids” than other brands and popped to an incredible volume (44 times the size of the original kernels!). Although he was no longer living in “Valpo” or growing corn by that time, it was fun knowing that Grandpa Les knew Orville and had played a small role in the popcorn story.
That’s today’s corny story. Click here for an original Orville Redenbacher TV commercial.
My original post generated more interest than I expected. A couple of my cousins offered their own recollections of Orville Redenbacher.
Ron Casbon said: “the majority of the developmental work on the popcorn actually took place at Chester Hybrids in Boone Grove. And he certainly never wore the the famous red bow tie while working there! My dad [Herb Casbon, a son of Amos Casbon in Boone Grove] grew several of the strains that were cross bred during the development stages that led to the the superior popcorn product. Herb was also a friend of both Orville and Charlie [Bowman]. In addition, as a teenager I actually worked for Orville at both the business and his personal residence in Coolwood Acres.”
Carol Casbon added: “I worked for Orville at the Chester Plant on Road 30, in the testing lab in 1974.” When she went to Boone Grove to watch high school basketball games, “the … school got their popcorn from the REALLY local supplier!”
Ron also mentioned this History Channel episode of “The Food That Built America,” which provides a great summary of the Orville Redenbacher story. Enjoy!
 John Frank Dawson, Place Names in Colorado: Why 700 Communities Were So Named, 150 Of Spanish or Indian Origin (Denver: J. F. Dawson Pub. Co., 1954), p. 38; image copy, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001875100 : accessed 9 Aug 2022).