Past and present mix into Ice Cream Days

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ice Cream Days celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, but some may remember it by another name.

The Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce event, which begins today (Wednesday) and runs through Saturday, evolved from then Gov. Terry Branstad's movement Homecoming '86.

It was 1986 and Branstad wanted to create an event to bring Iowans home after the farm crisis, said Don Paulin, a former Iowa Legislature representative.

"The governor was trying to boost efforts to stop the brain drain and general population loss," Paulin said. "State officials were going to other states, talking to former Iowans to encourage them to come back."

Branstad's movement encouraged all counties to get involved, so a committee was formed to put together a celebration. Thus, Homecoming '86 was born.

"The next year the Chamber took it on," said Marlys Pelz, Chamber executive director from 1983-93. "Then, obviously we needed a name, so we called it Celebration '87."

The one-day event, which started out small with just a children's parade, was on the Fourth of July, Pelz said.

"We tried to really focus on the children," she said. "We tried to focus on family."

The annual event continued in subsequent years to be called Celebration with the corresponding year affixed.

In addition to events such as the fishing derby, which continues today, the Celebration also included art-related activities sponsored by the Le Mars Arts Council, Pelz said.

Jill Mitchell, an Arts Council member in those years, said Art in the Park evolved from an art festival associated with Agri-Fest, which existed in the early 80s.

She said the one-day art festival on July 4 continued after the Agri-Fest ceased to exist, and before Ice Cream Days.

"The Chamber helped grow it to the three-day event it became," Mitchell said. "The Arts Council continued to work on the Art in the Park part of it."

In the beginning, the Celebration was held in Foster Park, in Le Mars, moving to Cleveland/Bolser Park in 1992.

Pelz recalled a highlight that took place in Celebration '93 when a group came from Japan to attend the festivities.

"That was really interesting and exciting," Pelz said. "They seemed to have had a wonderful time and really enjoyed it."

During the early years, the Celebration wasn't a large food event as it is today, she said.

"The year the Japanese people were here I remember we had a concession stand over in Cleveland Park," Pelz said. "We had ice cream, but it wasn't the big focus like it is now."

The July 4 Celebration retained its name until 1995, when it became the Ice Cream Days Celebration, after the Iowa Legislature crowned Le Mars the Ice Cream Capital of the World in 1994.

Then in 1996, the Le Mars event name changed again when it was shortened to Ice Cream Days.

Ice Cream Days continued for several more years on the Fourth of July, until 2003, when it moved to the third week in June.

Sue Butcher, Chamber operations manager, said the date was changed so there could be two events in Le Mars to showcase the city.

"The Fourth of July could have its celebration, and Ice Cream Days could have its celebration," Butcher said.

Ice Cream Days has grown to its current four-day event maintaining activities like Saturday's Fishing Derby, which has been around since the beginning, along with new ones.

For example, this year there will be a new Ice Cream Flavor Creation Contest on Saturday, and the Abu Bekr White Horse Mounted Patrol will join the parade.

Butcher attributes the growth of Ice Cream Days to people who have seen its success and wanted to become involved.

"It provides a first-class celebration," she said. "People come from not only Le Mars, but also the surrounding communities, to take part in the festivities."

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