Inside a small room in the middle of the town of Cambria is one of the oldest and longest-running small-town Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota.
Dozens of people gather together to sing, tell stories, recite speeches and quotes and even have an occasional laugh at one another’s expense.
Earlier in the day, the residents of Cambria and nearby communities put together a potluck and a parade billed as “unorganized and impromptu.” Later on, people will bid hundreds of dollars for baked goods in an auction benefiting the community celebration, and have a little fun in nearby Cambria Park with some live music.
But the heart of Cambria’s Independence Day celebration lies in the community gathering inside that town hall, where people bond over a patriotic program reflecting on what it means to be an American.
“It’s the biggest little secret,” said Jodi Poehler, one of the organizers behind Cambria’s Fourth of July celebration, which celebrated its 148th anniversary this year.
Poehler and her family have been involved in planning Cambria’s annual summer event for decades, ever since her parents helped revive the town’s tradition with the annual program. Seven out of the nine committee members behind this year’s program are related, either directly or as cousins to one another.
Yet more volunteers step up each year to help plan events or take donations during auctions, or raise money for the celebration.
“So many of these people are either natives of this area or have learned about our little secret, if you will,” Poehler said with a laugh. “And so they’ve joined us, and they keep coming back too.”
Poehler led residents through a variety of songs, from the anthems of the U.S. armed forces to old rallying cries such as “Yankee Doodle” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to folk songs such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which Guthrie initially wrote as a protest against income inequality.
Others shared stories and poems, such as Kent Jones of Judson Township. Jones’s family has been in town since his ancestors bought a homestead in the Cambria area in the 1870s, though Jones is the only one of his direct family to still live in Blue Earth County.
That didn’t stop him from attending Cambria’s Fourth of July celebrations for decades, or from deciding to volunteer for the first time this year.
“I just love doing this,” he said. “Make sure it stays viable, helping people get engaged.”
Jones had residents laughing regaling the tale behind a picture of him as a young boy on the cover of an area history book, as well as the hoops he had to jump through figuring out how much the town’s fireworks would have cost in 1950 — about $12 dollars a box for about 10 boxes, compared to the $3,000 to $7,000 small towns pay today to host a fireworks display.
Even children got in on the act, from reciting “I Am The Flag” by Howard Schnauber to reciting great speeches. Poehler remembers signing and dancing as part of the program when she was a little girl, though she’s slightly reluctant to admit she’s been a part of the annual program for almost a third of its life.
“It’s a little scary,” she said.
Still, residents are pleased to attend each year, singing along and listening to speeches and quotes from previous presidents, hearing a recitation of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” and ensuring more people get involved to continue the small town’s tradition.
“They’re already talking about the 150th,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”