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Friday, Mar. 6, 2015

A New Community Celebration?

Monday, August 22, 2011

What do Enid, Oklahoma, Polk County, Florida, or the St. Croix, US Virgin Islands have that Le Mars doesn't have? Other than Oil and Wheat (Enid); Citrus and Gene Matthiesen (Polk); Beaches and one of the world's largest oil refineries (St. Croix)? AGRI-FEST! They all have annual celebrations of that name, as Le Mars once did. Ours began in 1981 and pretty much ended in 1981, although we struggled through a couple more.

It's hard to believe that Ice Cream Days has been the community celebration in Le Mars for 25 years.

Le Mars had long-longed (what community doesn't!) for a celebration to rival Orange City's Tulip Festival, Sioux City's Rivercade, and other popular events. A Chamber of Commerce committee decided in 1981 to expand Agri-Bowl into an Agri-Fest. Hundreds of hours went into planning the first Agri-Fest, which took place on September 17-20, 1981. Agri-Bowl had taken place for two years, involving a Westmar College football game, and minor agri-business recognition.

Agri-Fest 1981 began on Thursday with a dinner complete with entertainment by the Sweet Adeline's, then a Queen and Princess contest, a Little Miss Pigtails contest, and a huge square dance, all on Thursday night.

Friday saw a Farmers Market, a Pork Cook-Off, a mini-bowl game between Le Mars Community and Sioux Falls O'Gorman, a dance featuring the Rumbles, and a Disco teen dance with Dave Ruden. Dick Dale and Gail Farrell (from the Lawrence Welk Show) performed at the Fair Grounds. With events like that, what could go wrong?

I haven't even arrived at Saturday and Sunday and I'm already tired, a hint as to what went wrong. With 20-20 hindsight I'll tell you what I think. Too much, too many, too soon. Le Mars isn't the first community to try to invent a celebration, but few have jumped into it with all three feet. The good ones come about naturally (Ice Cream Days) and grow, or are grown into something sustainable. Agri-Fest had too many events, costing too much money, requiring too many volunteers. I probably should mention that I was one of the planners who should have known better.

Saturday started with a mini-marathon, followed by a Hot Cycle contest, two classes of (goofy!) Ag Olympics, a huge parade, then the "W" Club had a pork feed. The day ended (for some) with Agri-Bowl lll, where the Bagpipers performed at halftime.

After religious services Sunday the First United Methodist Church served their 22nd annual (wonderful!) smorgasbord, there was a high profile Air Show and a Fly-in pancake feed at the airport.

The Ad-Men I have known are creative and "push the envelope," always striving for bigger and better, and Quin Stangby was the Sentinel's ad guy. We were all responsible, but with Quin at the helm we bit off more than the community could chew. There was also criticism that too much informal partying took place and that some local girls shouldn't have been interested about what the Pipers wore under their kilts.

1981 was a busy, tumultuous year. The first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. When Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 the prime interest rate had been 6.50%, but would reach 21.5 in December of 1980. By the time Agri-Fest began it was still at 19.50%. It is nearly impossible to operate a business, or make any major purchases at those rates.

The unemployment rate was 7.6 and would reach a high of 9.7 in 1982 before starting a steady, but up-and-down, decline to 5.8 in 2008, and then hit 9.6 in 2010.

It was in 1981 that Ronald Reagan became president - and he also was shot by John Hinckley. The FCC freed stations to air as many commercials an hour as they wished, Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first woman on the Supreme Court, "Hill Street Blues" premiered, and Reagan fired 11,500 striking air traffic controllers. The "Waltons" went off the air, newscaster David Brinkley was released by NBC, and former sportscaster turned super newsman Walter Cronkite retired. CNN Headline News made its debut.

Thanks for asking, but yes, the picture of me used in this column really is me, not some hot boy model. It was taken a few years ago at the western tip of Key West, Florida, at sunset. That is a fun place to watch one of the best sunsets in the world.

Remembering the Matthiesen family, George and Margaret, sons Garvin, Gene and Evan (all but Gene are deceased). George and Margaret farmed in Union and Grant townships. Gene, my high school classmate, and wife Diana now live in Lakeland, Florida.

Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236

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By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That