The Legend of the Farkleberry
By Jack Bogut
Let me set the stage:
Residents of Montana and North Dakota have always made good-natured (usually) fun of each other:
“North Dakota is so flat, your dog can run away and two days later you can still see it.”
“The wind blows constantly and so hard, nothing taller than grass can grow. That’s why the North Dakota State Tree is a telephone pole, and the State Bush is a fence post.”
Some North Dakotans were so angry about being the butt of State jokes that they decided to march to Washington to protest. When last heard from, they were more than halfway to Seattle.''
I can’t remember any of the things North Dakotans said about Montana (heh, heh).
The above is why, in the fall of 1971, when a listener sent me a clipping from the Denver Post newspaper about a Farkleberry Bush Festival in North Dakota, I thought it was hilarious. Plus, the name, “Farkleberry,” does have a certain euphonious appeal.
Now it’s important to note that during my morning show on KDKA, I played a march about 6:45 to help people start their hearts and get them running for the day, injecting stream-of-consciousness comments over the music.
One day I introduced the march by saying, “Alright, it’s time to start your heart…(I had no idea where I was going with this), eat a Farkleberry tart…(now what?) and tear the world apart!”
I have no idea why I said that. It just happened.
Then it occurred to me how close to verbal disaster that utterance was.
One of the guys on the air, Mike Levine, said he lived for the day he heard me say, “…eat a Tarkleberry…”
I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.
So, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart,” became an on-air catch phrase that fall and carried over toward our Children’s Hospital broadcast.
Plus, “The Farkleberry Free Care Fund” had a certain ring to it.
Jim Delligatti, a friend and very generous man who owned all the Macdonald’s restaurants in western Pennsylvania (and invented the Big Mac) was a big supporter of Children’s Hospital. So I approached him about making Farkleberry Tarts to sell for a dollar each at our department store window broadcasts. Jim graciously agreed and we were off and running.
That first year we had contest where people could buy 5 seconds of air time for 500.00 and attempt to say without a mistake, on the air, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart!” If they did make a mistake, (we secretly hoped someone would transpose the letters and commit verbal disaster) they didn’t get their money back because it would already be in the collection barrel. If they were successful, they would win an after dinner set from Horne’s Department store. There was very little chance of that because I had the official stop watch and time always ran out. Until a teacher from The Derry Area School District showed up with 500.00 her students had collected.
And her own timekeeper!
So, in an effort to maintain control of the situation I gave her and new set of instructions:
“You understand you have to say, ‘Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart,’ she was nodding her head, “In Swahili.”
She continued to nod here head.
And she said, quote, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart in Swahili.”
So I gave her a box of toothpicks from Horne’s Tearoom.
She was underwhelmed
From that point on, each year, sometimes in a panic, I devised another Farkleberry something-or-other and sat down with Jim Delligatti. Sometimes he would just look at me and shake his head, but he and his Macdonald’s restaurants always came up with something delicious and donated everything to The Free Care Fund. He was the best.
He and the folks at Macdonald’s made Farkleberry Snickerdoodles, Coffee Cake, Ding Dongs, Farkleberry Brew (spiced coffee), Frump (a kind of a sheet cake), Farkleberry Turkey Cookies – say that 3 times without stumbling…you get the idea. There were even Farkleberry songs written and performed at the broadcast windows by school groups from around the region.
So what began as a frivolous accident became an excuse to be generous and have fun at the same time.
Even though it’s not used nearly as much today, The Farkleberry is still a symbol of the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund collection on KDKA Radio, a fond remembrance for many, and one of the best, most enjoyable things ever to happen to me.
I am blessed and truly grateful.