As a kid I’d occasionally help out at my aunt’s and uncle’s hardware store in Winthrop. The highlight of the summer was always the annual festival in what was then a bustling downtown.
My uncle Ed, along with an army of other business owners, veterans and volunteers, spent a day stacking concrete blocks in rows down Main Street, filling the rows with charcoal and putting grates atop the block trenches. The next day the long grills were filled from end to end with chicken, a crew of guys spending the late morning checking and turning pieces, the smell of grilling chicken building throughout the downtown.
After the chicken feed, there was the parade and carnival, games and a dance.
The festival built a sense of community like few other things could.
Like virtually every small town, Winthrop’s big summer event dwindled over the years along with the business district.
Most towns still hold on to some summer event, but most have ditched the carnival midway and scaled back many other offerings.
Parades are still prevalent, but some have become so small it’s almost easier to park the parade on the street and just have people walk around it.
One of the big reasons for the decline in community festivals is they take a lot of work from a bunch of volunteers. But for those who do get involved, festivals give people a chance to develop community leadership skills, working with others, gaining confidence, moving up the leadership ladder.
While festivals may have declined, people’s desire to go to them hasn’t.
One of the things people most missed last year wasn’t just going out to eat or shop but not being able to go to town festivals, the Renaissance, the State Fair.
There was a collective sigh of relief as news came of plans for those events to be held normally this summer.
After first being called off, North Mankato’s Fun Days is now back on, bringing an added jolt of joy to residents and many former residents who come back each July to reconnect with classmates and friends.
It’s the parade that draws the big crowd. People staking out spots along the street days ahead of time. Sitting out on hot pavement. Kids on the curb, waiting to scramble for candy. High school marchers, the Schell’s Hobo Band, Shriner’s carts. Yeah, we’ve all seen it dozens of times before, but it never gets old.
North Mankato is at a sweet spot when it comes to hosting a summer festival. It’s big enough to have the critical mass of attendance, financial support and volunteer base to put on a full-fledged event and parade. But the city is also not too big, still having the small-town feel that generates dedication to Fun Days.
Over the years groups in Mankato have tried to create an annual parade/festival with little success. Mankato hosts lots of events such as RibFest, outdoor concerts and other attractions that only a regional hub can pull off, but it’s never been able to get people to rally around a traditional community festival.
That’s OK. North Mankato depends on all the amenities and jobs in Mankato. Our neighbors across the river are more than welcome to come over to Fun Days to get their small-town festival fix.
Tim Krohn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-344-6383.