The fourth of July is “one of the best holidays,” in Ed Lee’s opinion, especially in St. Peter.
Lee, executive director of the St. Peter Chamber of Commerce, is working on the final details for the chamber-sponsored Old-Fashioned Fourth of July, which includes multiple events over the course of the patriotic holiday. In this year, the celebration’s 46th, the festivities fall on a Monday, which can be a drag on attendance.
“I’ve heard people say that Monday is a travel day if they go out of town and I thought, ‘Man, that’s a shame — to waste the Fourth of July as a travel day,’” Lee said. “We hope people from other places are seeing St. Peter as the destination for the Fourth of July.”
The annual parade and ensuing picnic in Minnesota Square Park typically draw about 10,000 residents and visitors.
But the festivities start early in the morning, with an 8k run and 5k walk and run at 7:30 a.m.; registration begins at 6 a.m. There are races for children, too: a mile run at 9 a.m. and a toddler trot at 9:15 a.m.
Residents and visitors alike find a spot early for the annual parade, which begins at 10 a.m. and runs on South Washington Street from Broadway Avenue to Elm Street, then down Elm to Minnesota Square Park. The parade usually has 90 participants to keep the length to two hours or less.
“It’s just so important to us to make it an entertaining parade,” Lee said. “Every fourth unit is musical.”
That includes two high school bands, the St. Peter High School Marching Saints and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School Band, as well as the St. Peter Alumni Band and the Govenaires.
Thrivent Financial will collect non-perishable food items along the parade route, while the St. Peter Lions Club will collect used eyeglasses along the route and also at the park.
The grand marshal for the parade this year is Dean Wahlund, who has been part of the army of volunteers for the fourth for many years. He has volunteered with the chamber and other community organizations for roughly 30 years. He’s a member of the St. Peter Lions and was chair for Celebrate Minnesota in 1990, when the community renovated Minnesota Square Park.
“Dean has helped out so much through the years,” Lee said. “For decades, he’s been a star for the Chamber of Commerce.”
Wahlund said he got involved after he was encouraged to do so by one of the vice-presidents at Gustavus Adolphus College, where he was the director of communication services and special events. He was the Gustavus representative on the chamber for a time and stayed involved afterward, volunteering at chamber events. But the Fourth of July is always special.
“It’s a great summer get-together at Minnesota Square Park,” he said. “We all like to be part of a success and the Fourth is a success. All of the volunteers are really excited about it.”
Wahlund said that city groups have talked about how to make St. Peter a place visitors want to visit and stay. The “beautiful streetscape” from the Highway 169 project downtown and events in Minnesota Square Park are part of the draw.
“We’ve got Rock Bend, the Blues Fest and the Fourth, which is an incredible celebration,” Wahlund said. “It’s great people, food, entertainment. It makes St. Peter a good place to live and also a destination for visitors — we’re that big little town.”
He said he was surprised at being asked to be grand marshal as he thinks others are “more deserving.”
“We have a lot of grand volunteers for the Fourth of July,” he said. “We give a welcome to the world on that special day.”
After the parade, the picnic in Minnesota Square Park runs from about noon to 4 p.m. The picnic will once again have children’s activities, including inflatables, horse-drawn trolley rides and 35 food options, including barbecued chicken. This year, the Arts Center of St. Peter host a new station, sponsored by American Legion Post #37, for making red, white and blue art and crafts.
Entertainment at the park includes a Govenaires concert and music by the band Holdout. Michael Callahan will be the master of ceremonies.
The day’s festivities conclude with a fireworks display is scheduled for 10 p.m. at the Nicollet County Fairgrounds, sponsored by the Red Men Club – Ottawa Tribe 49.
“Every year has its own personality and distinctive character,” Lee said. “We continue to evolve the celebration so it’s different every year, but the same in so many ways.”