Gary Gillis of Pekin, an Edward Jones financial advisor, dresses and comports himself in a manner that will inspire a client’s confidence in his professionalism and ability to offer sound fiscal guidance. But each August, he dons a Marigold Festival shirt and a proverbial thinking cap, thereby assuming his seasonal role as the Marigold Medallion Cluemeister.
The Pepsi Marigold Medallion Hunt is a sort of preliminary event for Pekin’s annual Marigold Festival. The quest that begins on the Monday before Labor Day has become a tradition in its own right, having started in 1978. The medallion, a ceramic disk designed and crafted by a student from the Pekin High School Art Department, is hidden somewhere on Pekin municipal property. This year’s medallion was created by Emily Woodley.
“The medallion’s made of ceramic so it cannot be found with metal detectors,” said Gillis. “Obviously, we don’t bury it, because we can’t have medallion hunters digging up public property. We’ll put it under a bush or in a hole in a tree trunk or at a creek bed.”
For the 30th year, Gillis will write the clues that set the treasure hunt in motion. Thousands of amateur detectives from all over the country will respond to each clue, pitting their deductive skills against those of their rivals and applying various methodologies to the search.
“This event was initiated by our late mayor, Dave Tebben, back in the 1970s, before he was Mayor of Pekin,” said Gillis. “He did it for seven or eight years, then passed it on to someone else. I was Marigold Festival Chairman in 1985, 1986 and 1987. As I was stepping down from that, I wanted to remain active with the Marigold Festival. The people who were running the Medallion Hunt at the time showed an interest in stepping away from it. I stepped forward and said I would like to try it. Now, soon to be 30 hunts later, I’m still doing it. Pepsi has come in as a major sponsor and they have been very, very good to us.”
Before Pepsi became a major sponsor for the Medallion Hunt in 1988, prizes for the winner were donated by local businesses. This year’s grand prize winner will have a choice between a three-night Caribbean cruise for two or a three-night Las Vegas vacation. Gillis maintained, however, that the medallion itself has become the most coveted prize of all.
“The medallion has become an object of deep passion,” said Gillis. “The people who look for it are devoted hunters. People not only come here from out of state but plan their vacations around doing nothing but looking for the medallion. Many people have been looking for a medallion for years, if not decades. We used to make people turn in the medallions after they found them, so we could reuse them, but we stopped doing that when the winners wanted to keep them. They are usually prominently displayed in their homes. The Caribbean cruise or the Las Vegas vacation last three nights, but the trophy lasts forever.”
Gillis will post this year’s first Pepsi Marigold Medallion Hunt clue on Aug. 28 on the Pekin Chamber of Commerce website, www.pekinchamber.com. He will post a new clue each day, with the exception of Sunday, until the medallion is located. The clues carry double meanings, veiled references and carefully concealed hints. Last year’s winner, Christie Gray of Tampa, Fla., who also won the Medallion Hunt in 2011, intends to compete in hopes of becoming the event’s first three-time champion and the first repeat winner.
“I never created a library of past clues to refer to, because then I would have run the risk of becoming too predictable,” said Gillis. “I try to start every year with a blank canvas, which also allows me to be much more creative. I share the hiding place of the medallion and the clues to people who help with the Marigold Festival that I call my ‘bouncers.’ I explain the clues, and they review them and interpret them each in their own way. Their input often yields a perspective that I hadn’t considered.”