Happy Birthday, St. Stephen!
What a pleasure it was to spend most of Saturday in your celebratory city.
Leaving my house near Rice that morning, I was almost certain I would have to drive back home or seek shelter, nearly positive it would rain cats and dogs, ruining the St. Stephen Centennial Parade the way rain washed out Sartell SummerFest 2014.
I parked near the Cenex station, grabbed my lawn chair and set it up near the parade route. The overcast sky was scowling, threatening rain. I waited for about a half hour, exchanging pleasantries with other parade-goers. Then along came the long parade with its many visual surprises and delights. I enjoyed every minute of it.
The parade truly reflected the spirit of the people of St. Stephen. By that I mean the floats were inventive and in many cases brimming with sly, playful humor. It must be Slovenian genetics that make so many people in St. Stephen so talented. Some are ingenious inventors (like one man whose name escapes me who invented a musical instrument, among many other new things), some are supremely good at fixing or improving stuff (like 102-year-old Eddie Peternell), others are loaded with musical and artistic talents (like the Tom and Nettie Trobec family) and still others have a genius for cooking (like bread-baker and all-around chef Alice Supan, known to have “the best buns in town.”) After years of covering stories in St. Stephen, I’ve always been impressed by the feisty, clever, make-do inventiveness of its residents.
For me, there were so many highlights in that parade. Here are just some:
• An aqua-blue Volkswagen bug pulling an aqua-blue Volkswagen RV. In the window of the RV was a red bikini hanging up to dry near an ice bucket of champagne bottles, and on the back of the RV was a sticker that said “Fully Loaded.” I later found out the “RV” was, in fact, created from an old Volkswagen van. The unit reminded me of the inventiveness and humor referred to above.
• A float of a pioneer family: a Ma trying to calm down a fussy baby, bearded Pa sitting there doing nothing, a neglected Granny off to the side wheedling and whining.
• The Sartell High School Marching Band. This is the first season in many years the high school has had a marching band and the first time I saw and heard it. Its planned performance at SummerFest was washed out. It was a treat to see it perform in St. Stephen.
• The Case steam-engine tractor. It was quite a sight to see that wonderful old monster rolling down the parade route. Like the other agrarian-related units in the parade, it was a towering testament to St. Stephen’s heritage as a vibrant farming area from the mid-1800s onward. Those tractors also reminded me, nostalgically, of the threshing gatherings at Grandpa Saunders’ farm near Benson in the 1950s.
• Eddie Peternell, 102, St. Stephen’s oldest and finest, riding on a tractor. I’ve done several stories about Eddie throughout the years. He’s a long-living example of the kind of feistiness, hard work, creativity, family togetherness and down-home humor so abundant in St. Stephen – qualities that made it such an enduring place.
• The appearance of Sartell Mayor Joe Perske, now running for the U.S. House Sixth District seat. He’s been campaigning so heavily, he seems to be everywhere at once these days. It’s always a treat to see down-home Joe. We shook hands, and I asked him, “Hey, Joe, aren’t you sore from shaking so many hands?” He smiled, laughed and said, “Guess how many hands I’ve shaken since I started campaigning? 140,000!” As I stood there speechless, he shook my hand again, gave his gleeful big broad smile and went on down the line, happily shaking more hands.
After the parade, I hugely enjoyed the country-western concert. It was a real pleasure to see and hear Sherwin and Pam Linton and their energetic band perform such toe-tapping, rockin’ country songs. When Sherwin, Pam and her sister, Brittany Allyn sang together, they belted out those songs as if there were no tomorrow. It was riveting. Later, I chatted a bit with Pam and Brittany, whom I’d written stories about in the past and was eager to meet in person. They’ve done St. Stephen proud.
As I sat enjoying the concert, Glen Lauer sidled up to my chair to say hello. Many people know good ol’ man-about-town Glen, who is a school-bus driver for Sartell and who also delivers copies of the Newsleader to post offices and various other places. Lauer informed me the four Trobec sisters – Pam, Patti (on stage singing), Peggy and Penny) – all rode his school bus way back when, which was news to me. I had no idea Glen is that old.
Thanks, St. Stephen, for such an entertaining weekend. As they say, a good time was had by all. And may you continue to thrive for another century – at least.