Barn dance hostess shares funny stories

Loretta Dessen, known to most as the Chex Mix lady, has been hosting barn dances for about two decades. Each fall, Dessen meets many students as she rents out her barns to organizations for these popular events. The Daily Illini spoke with her recently about the many things she has seen happen at barn dances throughout the years.

The Daily Illini: How long have you been holding barn dances at Farm Lake?

Loretta Dessen: Very close to about 20, 22 years

DI: What’s the funniest barn dance story you can remember?

LD: I’ve had several funny stories. One of the funny ones is when years ago we had chickens out here. We raised chickens, and one fraternity boy put a chicken in his backpack and took it home overnight. Needless to say it came home the next day and pooped all over the house … he returned it the next day with no worse than for wear. I think the fraternity probably suffered more than the chicken.

DI: Has anyone ever stolen the golf cart?

LD: Well, they’ve never really stolen it; they get on it and drive it away. And then I give them a lecture … you know they’re not always thinking like adults. I tell them, ‘I’m sure your mommy told you not to touch things that weren’t yours.’ It’s a good rule to follow. And that usually does it, embarrasses them enough.

DI: Has anyone ever fallen into the pond?

LD: Yes, we’ve had kids jump into the pond when they turn 21 … they try to make it a tradition. But we have snapping turtles in there, so I try to tell the young men that anything dangling like your toes or other things is liable to get snapped off.

DI: Do people ever wander off?

LD: No, they’re having a good time dancing and talking, so no. But a lot of funny things have happened. A lot of chicken stories. One year, we had a chicken who built a nest in one of the barns, and she hatched her babies in there, and a kid came running out of the barn yelling ‘She’s giving birth, she’s giving birth!’ Chickens do not give birth, they lay eggs. I guess he did not know that.

DI: Where did the Chex Mix tradition start?

LD: Well, I didn’t want to look like a spy or a part of the security staff. I want you to be friendly and what is more friendly than food? I figured it is something good for you; it’s a lot of fiber to say the least. And not too bad in the trans fat, but it goes well with liquid refreshments, and it’s easy to handle. It doesn’t require cooking or a food handler’s license, and I thought this would be a way to do it.

DI: Do you have any favorite overall barn dance moment?

LD: Well, I like talking to the kids. Like last night there was a full harvest moon, and there was this gorgeous planet below it. And that was beautiful to point out. I try to point out something beautiful or if the peacocks are up in the trees, I tell them about those … my husband raised them … They’re not native to here, they’re an imported bird. They seem to survive beautifully. And they fly up in the trees, so the kids don’t usually see them unless they’re here during the day.

DI: So nobody ever gets into any trouble with the peacocks?

LD: No they have not. The peacocks stay away from the kids. Some of the kids feed the swans that are in the pond, but that’s alright because they’re feeding them the … Chex Mix!

DI: Everyone loves the Chex Mix!

LD: Even the swans.