By Elisabeth Monaghan
It is a safe bet to suggest that Wheat Ridge residents who have lived in the area for any length of time know Joe DeMott. At the very least, they’ve heard of his family’s restaurant, Pietra’s Pizzeria, which DeMott’s father opened in 1964 and which Joe DeMott now owns and manages.
DeMott will tell you he lives in Wheat Ridge because this is where he fits. He grew up in Wheat Ridge, attended Wheat Ridge High School and married a fellow Wheat Ridge native. His sister and her family live across the street from DeMott, and his parents live nearby.
One reason he fits so well in the community might be that since he was a teenager, DeMott has served his community in every sense of the word. Working for his father, DeMott literally has served food to his fellow Wheat Ridge residents and visitors to the area. As a former member of city council, he has been a public servant. In 2011, DeMott served as a member of the Carnation Festival board. Today, DeMott serves as chair of the Carnation Festival, a role he assumed in 2013.
As many of his fellow Wheat Ridge residents know, DeMott is a history buff and a great storyteller. Longtime Wheat Ridge residents may be familiar with the history of Wheat Ridge and its carnations, but DeMott’s rendition is both entertaining and interesting.
“We were called ‘the Carnation City,’ even before we were a city,” according to DeMott. “A lot of the old farmers say carnations became popular to grow in the area because both the air and the water that came down from the mountains were just right for carnation growth.”
DeMott goes on to explain that carnation growers in Wheat Ridge sent a bouquet of carnations regularly to the White House. (It could have been daily, weekly or monthly, but the point is, the carnations were delivered to and displayed at the White House, always in the same spot.)
DeMott also tells a story of how Buffalo Bill Cody and his love for carnations may have had an impact on the carnation industry in Colorado. As DeMott explains, Buffalo Bill Cody loved carnations and loved Colorado. When Cody died, it was a given there would be carnations at his funeral, but he died January, while in Denver. Carnations did not grow in Wheat Ridge, in January, so the funeral planners had to look elsewhere for carnations. It turned out a source in Colombia was able to deliver carnations to Cody’s funeral within days. As soon as people discovered they could get carnations year-round and could deliver carnations to Cody’s funeral, they became more interested in ordering those carnations instead.
As for his work with the Carnation Festival, DeMott says favorite things about it is the purpose it serves, which is to raise money for local nonprofits.
“Each part of the Festival benefits a different nonprofit,” says DeMott. “Last year we had 17 nonprofits that benefitted from the funds. Every year we have been able to bring in new nonprofits each year and make money for them.”
DeMott goes on to explain that a number of those benefitting no longer have to hold other fundraisers, as the proceeds received from the Carnation Festival are enough to allow them to focus on their service work.
Another aspect of the Festival DeMott appreciates is the volunteers who help. There are hundreds of people who show up every year.
“For the most part, we’ve been blessed with good weather for the Festival, but even when it rains, we always have enough volunteers to make it an enjoyable event for everyone.”
For the first time this year, the Wheat Ridge High School Quarterback Club will manage the Carnation Festival’s car show, as a fundraiser for the football team. A car aficionado himself, DeMott hopes that not only will the students raise a lot of money for the Wheat Ridge High School football team, they also will come away from the experience with a new hobby as car enthusiasts. (You can read more about the car show in Joe DeMott’s article on page XX.)
For most of the vendors, entertainers and volunteers, their work for the Carnation Festival will end when the last person leaves Anderson Park. But for DeMott and the rest of the board, it will be time to start planning for 2019, which will be the 50th anniversary for the Carnation Festival.
“Our goal has never been to make the Festival bigger,” says DeMott, “but community events have become so popular all over that the expectation is for every event to be bigger and greater.
“For the Carnation Festival, we try to keep that hometown, small vendor, local artisan feel, while balancing the cost of putting on the festival.”
Given that the Carnation Festival has thrived for nearly half a century, and that the nonprofits involved continue to benefit from the proceeds, it looks like the board, and all of those involved with putting on the event, have succeeded.