By Tanner Kent
---- — The Old-Fashioned Fourth of July parade in St. Peter is well-known for attracting an early crowd.
In the days leading up to the parade, the boulevards along Washington Avenue become patchworked with the telltale signs of parade-route squatters: Tarps lashed to light poles and wooden stakes, blankets spread open and anchored at the corners with large rocks, strings of lawn chairs tethered at the feet.
The tactic has become so pervasive that many homeowners along the route cordon off portions of their lawns and driveways to ensure a viewing space for themselves. Earlier this week, the St. Peter Chamber of Commerce posted a message on its Facebook page reminding the estimated 10,000-plus visitors that private property may be removed in order to mow and encouraging visitors to wait until the morning of the parade to lay claim to a spot.
"Yeah right, and miss our chance for a front-row seat?" Melissa Fergusen said, gesturing toward a pair of preschool-aged girls, each clutching an empty plastic sack. With the help of an unnamed friend who lives nearby, the Mankato mother said she scoped out a prime parade perspective almost a week in advance. "I got two little girls who are counting on full sacks of candy."
There are some seats, however, that no amount of pre-parade squatting can guarantee.
Local veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps enjoyed the parade while perched on a 2.5-ton, M35 cargo truck, one of the most durable, versatile and longest-lived vehicles employed by the military. Sheldon Lee drove the parade in the seat of a monstrous, 85-foot semi-truck owned by The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe of Le Sueur.
Jeri Mondloch, however, experienced the parade right next to her sewing machine. As a member of the burgeoning Ewenique Quilters Guild of St. Peter, Mondloch was nominated to the chair of honor on the club's float -- smack-dab in the middle of the trailer with a sewing table, machine and plenty of cloth.
But her quilting guild colleague, Mary Adams, was given a somewhat less enviable perspective: from the inside of a sheep costume.
"Actually, I volunteered," Adams said. "I love to have fun."
Nick Forbrook remembered all the fun he used to have riding on his father's parade when he was younger. His father, Rod "Sparky" Forbrook, was a founding member of Vallery Archers in St. Peter and the club regularly sponsored a float in the parade.
But enthusiasm fizzled more than a decade ago and the Valley Archers float has been absent ever since. That is, until Nick and his group of fellow second-generation club members decided to resurrect the tradition.
"We all decided together to do the parade again," Nick said. "It's something we all remember doing as kids."
Elsewhere, the newly formed Mankato Area Derby Girls -- a.k.a. the M.A.D. Girls -- were making their debut in the St. Peter parade. With two bouts remaining in its introductory year in a regional flat-track roller derby league, the M.A.D. Girls put on their skates to spread the word about their season and upcoming recruiting efforts.
"We've felt nothing but love," said coach Jay Clyde. "We're glad to be out here."