CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For retired fire lieutenant and paramedic Bill Donovan, the Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-Off means a lot more than competitive cooking.
The Cincinnati resident is a leukemia survivor, and has been in remission for nearly three years. The annual Charleston chili contest is something fun he likes to do to take his mind off of things, he said.
"I'm just lucky to be here. So, it's a good distraction for me," Donovan said. "My wife and I look forward to it as a hobby each year. We love to travel and enjoy meeting all different walks of life. For us, the camaraderie and friendships come before the cooking."
The cook-off was part of the city's annual FestivALL, which celebrates public art and runs through June 26. Other FestivALL activities on Saturday included the 5th annual West Side Wiener Dog Race, a Bikes n' Brews bicycle tour, an art parade and a West Virginia Music Hall of Fame exhibit.
The Donovans have been cooking competitively for more than 25 years, and said the Charleston event stands out from other cook-offs they've attended.
"Mountaineer country is always the most hospitable," he said. "West Virginians really bend over backwards for you -- they always take care of their cooks here. It's a blast.
The cook-off on Kanawha Boulevard generates about $10,000 per year for HospiceCare services, said hospice Executive Director Larry Robertson, adding that the event is a great opportunity to raise awareness about local terminal illness care.
"We're one of those agencies that hope you never need us, but if you do, we're here and happy to help," Robertson said. "We've been doing the cook-off for 13 years now, and we're always pleased to be here and have a lot of fun with the community."
Cook-off Coordinator Jennifer Igo said the competition forms a sense of community each year, and represents what FestivALL is all about.