Where Unessential Knowledge Finds a Home

Last year, Melissa Ripp’s team took home first place for their “unessential knowledge” base. Sign up for this year’s Peninsula Preschool Trivia Night to see if (left to right) Denise Stillman, Melissa Ripp, Phil Berndt, Digger DeGroot, Alison Van Duyse, and Brian Kelsey will defend their trivia title.

Typically, weekday evenings in the middle of February are not a hotbed of activity in Door County, but one could have been easily fooled if they happened to have driven past Alexander’s Restaurant in Fish Creek last winter on Feb. 19. Cars were stacked out to the shoulder of Highway 42, and the restaurant’s dining room was so crammed with people that it seemed like a Saturday night in July. Inside, the tables were filled with groups of people deep in discussion. To an outsider, this might have seemed like a large-scale LSAT study-session that just happened to be in a restaurant – and for some, it was probably just as important an event.

Welcome to Peninsula Preschool’s Trivia Night – the most competitive contest of the year for many Door County residents (Door County League Baseball and Door County Broomball games not withstanding). The concept of the evening is pretty straightforward – teams answer 10 rounds of 10 questions. Whoever answers the most questions correctly wins. But there’s also an underlying current of intense competition, with teams sculpted based on the knowledge bases of the members and a healthy dose of smack-talk – all to raise funds for Peninsula Preschool in Ephraim.

The concept of a Trivia Night is not new, but also not something that anyone in Door County had ever attempted until a few years ago, when Julia Chomeau was visiting her husband’s family in St. Louis, Miss.

“We went to a Trivia Night one evening, and I kept thinking that we really needed something like this in Door County,” says Chomeau, a self-proclaimed trivia buff. At the time Chomeau was serving as the President of the Peninsula Preschool Board of Directors and knew that this would be a way to put on a great event and raise some money for the small school.

Since its inception in February 2005, Peninsula Preschool’s Trivia Night has progressed from simply something different to do on a weeknight in Door County in February to an event that Door County residents look forward to with competitive abandon.

“It’s gotten to be so popular that people will call the preschool months in advance to register,” says Jessica Sauter, the current President of the Peninsula Preschool Board of Directors.

The event’s popularity rests on how challenging the questions are. Chomeau, with the help of her friend Jenny Sitte, has created the questions for every Trivia Night. This year, she is passing the torch to Sauter, who is formulating the questions with her husband Steve.

“It’s not a science, really – every round consists of a different category, and we write specific questions for that category,” Sauter says. She goes on to say that the last round has historically been a “sensory round,” with items being passed out to the teams for them to identify. “Last year, we passed around bags of unmarked spices and asked people to name them.”

The challenging questions often lead to very close scores for the teams.

“There is a bit of ‘scoping out the competition,’” says Zack Lozoff, who has participated in many of the Trivia Nights. “After every round, there’s always people who like to go up to the front of the room and see who their competition is. You scope out their table, sometimes you ask them what questions they missed on the last round. It’s friendly, but it’s competition for sure.”

Trivia Night has historically taken place at Alexander’s Restaurant, first in its Sister Bay location within Hotel Du Nord, and later at its current location in Fish Creek. Registration is limited to 25 teams of six people each. The registration fee of $25 per person includes a buffet dinner, beverages, and cash prizes for the top three teams.

“The Preschool has other fundraisers, but this one is definitely the largest and most popular,” Sauter says. She estimates that just over $3,000 is made from Trivia Night each year, with many of the costs to run the event being donated.

“Bruce (Alexander) has been wonderful with preparing the food, and even our winners have been generous to the preschool,” Sauter says, explaining that many of the teams over the years have either donated all or half of their cash prize back to the school. “We have a great community in that respect.”

This same community has nurtured the school since it was started back in 1983 by a group of mothers who felt that there was a lack of child care/educational programs in northern Door County. At first, the school was more of a day care than an actual preschool – until director and teacher Leslie Leline came on board. Both Sauter and Chomeau credit Leline with the success of the preschool.

“She’s got a way with children that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” says Chomeau. “My kids are eight and 11 years old, and every time we pass the preschool, both of them say they want Leslie to be their teacher again.” About 20 children are currently enrolled in Peninsula Preschool, which is one of the smallest classes in the school’s history.

“This is why we do events such as Trivia Night,” Sauter says. “We want to bring awareness to the community that this is a wonderful and nurturing program for children.”

And of course, there’s another reason.

“It’s something different to do in the middle of a long Door County winter,” says Chomeau. “Here we have 150 members of our community in the same room together having a great time and raising money for a great cause – so for those reasons alone, it’s a great success.”