I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Fay's and the American Dream
By Barry Schrader.................................August
Not long after returning to Illinois four years ago, I ran
into Marcia Fay Dempsey, who was just behind me in grade school
at Waterman, and we reminisced about a mutual teacher named Bernice
She had taught both of us during our
respective third-grade years and is still around today
in fact, she celebrated her 90th birthday this summer.
remembered Marcias father and mother, Wilder and Martha
Fay, who farmed near Waterman when I was growing up. But I had
not heard the success story of his pigs-into-pork-chops
venture since I was away a long time.
this summer at the Sycamore Steam Show & Threshing Bee I
had a chance to reconnect with Marcia and husband, Bob Dempsey,
and learned more about their family business Fays
Pork Chop Bar-B-Que that started in 1962.
seems that the countys pork producers prepared a barbecue
for the farm bureau, which Fay and other hog farmers organized.
Wilder had eight children, his barn was falling down and
he had expressed the worry that, What am I going to do
his son-in-law told me. Then-County farm adviser Al Golden
suggested he try cooking for others, and the business evolved
from that piece of advice.
Bob Dempsey and wife Marcia (Fay) stand at the grill
holding pork chops and chicken at the recent Steam Power Show
Their first effort was setting up a barbecue tent at three county
fairs Mendota, Princeton and Sandwich in the summer
of 1962 with some makeshift equipment and a hope that they would
realize a small profit. He told Golden after the fairs that he
still had the eight children, and the barn was still falling
down, but now Ive got enough money to fix it.
That was all it took to convince him there was a future in barbecuing.
It changed his whole demeanor from that time
on, Dempsey said. He joined the new family venture while
dating Fays daughter, Marcia. I found her attractive
and the barbecue business interesting, so between them both I
was hooked, he added. Dempsey was an industrial arts teacher
in Ottawa, and Marcia taught third grade there.
the business took off, Wilder involved the whole family. They
added catering to their offerings after being asked to provide
the food for an event in Naperville, and now that is a substantial
part of their annual income. The Sandwich Fair was what really
brought in the most business, and Dempsey recalls their biggest
year there was in 2000, when they served 27,401 meals in five
days. Now they have five vans, six cooking trailers and three
other vehicles to haul equipment and supplies. During peak season,
they can have three or four crews working different events on
any given weekend. Three family members work full time in the
business, and others are brought in as needed during the summer
Wilder headed the operation until he had
a stroke, which caused his death in 1976. He instructed
the family to plan his funeral around their pork chop serving
commitments, Dempsey recalled, and we only missed
one job the week he passed away. Wilder had also helped
out other farm families by hiring them to work during the busy
times and some have spun off into their own businesses as a result.
The Fays and Dempseys are now involving a fourth
generation in the enterprise. Daughter Krista Mulligan works
with them full time while her daughter, Kailey, a seventh-grader
in Sycamore, has been helping out for a few years.
will find them at their usual location at the Sandwich Fair again
this year for their 48th season of barbecuing.
said Marcia wants a history written about Wilder and his business.
He said they might take the title from a 2001 headline in the
Daily Chronicle, which stated: Where theres smoke,
theres Fays. I hope that happens, as their
success story is the way the American dream is supposed to turn
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115