"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer festivals, the rain and the future

The Morris Centennial gave us a preview of what Prairie Pioneer Days could look like. The Centennial has receded in time. It was in 1971, a century after Morris began as a rough-hewn tent town, planted here thanks to the railroad.
Before the railroad we really were the "wild west." The Wadsworth Trail with its horses, wagons and hazards pre-dated those iron tracks. Historians will suggest we stayed quite wild for a time. We couldn't have been more wild than Moorhead, about whom Will Rogers said it was "the wickedest city in the world."
The Morris Centennial really brought Morris alive in that summer of '71. Otherwise we were a pretty laid-back place, sans any kind of comparable summer event.
You might think city leaders would want to parlay that Centennial spirit into subsequent summertime fests. It didn't happen in summer but it did happen for fall. We had the Fall Festival for a time. My top memory is of Lee Temte entertaining at East Side Park. There was no Killoran bandshell then.
Scheduling a fall fest has risk because weather can turn on you. I'm not sure that was ever a problem. I recall that the Fall Festival was more small-time than what came later: our Prairie Pioneer Days (PPD).
I was involved in promoting the inception of PPD. This I did as a print media writer and photographer. I remember how exciting it seemed. It made total sense to have a gala midsummer event here.
I was a musician for the "German band" that wandered and played for the Morris Centennial. I remembered the atmosphere and thinking how neat it would be to re-create it. Our little band, supervised by high school band director John Woell, stepped into the Met Lounge for a few minutes - exciting because for some of us, it was our first visit to the interior of a bar. I would have been 16 years old.
In 1973 the drinking age got lowered so I could legally drink as an 18-year-old. Surely that was dubious status to have. It was folly for our nation to do that, but we felt it necessary since, after all, we were asking young men to fight and die in Viet Nam, for reasons I still don't understand.
The Morris Centennial saw the re-creation of the full-scale alfalfa arch. That was a tremendous undertaking that celebrated the spirit of the community as much as anything could. There is a large photo of the 1971 alfalfa arch on a wall at Willie's Super Valu. I would have been in it had I wanted to, but I didn't make the effort. I regret that.
A miniature version of the alfalfa arch was constructed across East 7th Street for a period of years in PPD's history. The Morris FFA did that. Hats off to them, as this gesture reminded everyone of the grand spectacle in 1913 when Morris and the alfalfa arch were synonymous. Click on the link below to see a photo of the arch in 1913. The photo is from the Minnesota Digital Library.
The miniature arch was phased out. Indeed, it seems Prairie Pioneer Days has lost some of its long-time spark. I'm not the only one noticing that. I would want it confirmed by others before writing it.
I spend only a small amount of time at PPD now, compared to when I was in the print media. Keep in mind I'm older! As a young man I'd go back and forth between the old Morris Sun Tribune office building, now vacant, and the park and other places.
I hope I get some credit for having ridden my bike out to the midway point of the 10K run, along the bike trail, to take photos! I remember the lead runner, Bart Abbott one year, coming toward me and me wondering if I should distract him by asking his name (for caption purposes). Bart didn't mind! He glided past me out through the pristine-like surroundings near Pomme de Terre River.
Yes, I wrote captions for my Prairie Pioneer Days photos! Since my departure from the Morris newspaper, that operation has cut corners and just thrown together a whole bunch of photos in a collage minus captions. It's much harder work getting caption information as you make your rounds. I felt it was something I just had to do.
The Morris newspaper was twice a week then. The page size was bigger too. Seriously, I think the decline of the Morris newspaper is a factor in PPD losing some of its spark. The mid-week edition was good for reviewing events of the previous weekend and previewing events of the coming weekend. For many years we were Tuesday/Thursday of course. We had ample opportunity to build up to the weekend. That's all gone with the wind now.
The paper's emphasis now is on showering us with dumpster-ready ad circulars, many of which steer us to Alexandria. I think all community news should just migrate online. To an extent it's happening but not as fast as I once anticipated.
By now you all know that the 2013 PPD was pretty much obliterated by rain. No parade! It takes a lot to cancel a parade.
Might the parade still be salvaged? It would be smaller and lower-key, but there might be a route in Morris that could accommodate it on short notice.
Many of the community's youth groups had planned on riding on parade units. They'd still be delighted to do that. How about a parade along Park Avenue in west Morris? It would conclude at Wells Park, actually a more spacious park than East Side Park. At Wells the kids could get off their units and organize for recreational activities like perhaps soccer or softball. A couple food vendors could get set up.
What fun! We could be reminded that Park Avenue was once "the drive of the city," an especially high-class place where horse-pulled buggies would proceed along on summer evenings. Perhaps some people wearing period attire could greet the parade units from the front lawn of the Stanton House. West Morris could "get its due."
My current post on my "Morris of Course" site expands on this history of west Morris, while acknowledging that we need some street repair there now! Click on the permalink below to read. Thanks!
What does the future of Prairie Pioneer Days hold? Some people are going to have to show initiative.
Up next: the Stevens County Fair! See you at the 4-H foodstand.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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