One of the original settlements of the state could lose a long-held tradition this year.
Mendota's annual celebration, Mendota Days — which has brought people from all over the Twin Cities to the historic city — is at a dangerous crossroads.
After a December announcement of its possible cancellation because of lack of funds, city officials began a Save Mendota Days committee in April and are fighting time to at least put together a smaller celebration this year. The event dates back to the 1970s.
"One of the alternatives might be to do nothing. But we'd rather do something," Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke said. "To what scale, we're not exactly sure."
For the past few years, the local VFW was the only organization that funded and planned Mendota Days, losing thousands of dollars each year. It was forced to withdraw from the responsibility.
Don Collier, quartermaster at the Mendota VFW, said the organization lost between $4,000 and $5,000 last year. Lucky's 13 Pub in Mendota also used to help with funds but withdrew a few years ago for the same reason. The annual event took a break for a few years in the 1990s for the construction of the Mendota Bridge, and Collier and his wife started it again in 1995.
"We just did it because it was fun," Collier said. "It doesn't get fun when you start losing a lot of money."
The celebration's largest cost was hiring a band — about $2,700 — and renting a tent for $1,300. "Without a tent, you're screwed," Collier said. Other costs came from paying parade participants and smaller things like a petting zoo.
"The city does not have the budget to do anything grand," Mielke said. "We're a low- to moderate-income city. All budgets in all cities are very tight, and ours is no exception." The city offered to help the VFW attract volunteers, but Collier says "money is the only thing that can help us."
"If we could break even, I'd be happy," Collier said.
New Council Member Erick Lehet is leading the Save Mendota Days committee's efforts. If Mendota does not continue the tradition, "it would be a sense of loss for the community," Lehet said. "It's like a reunion — everybody comes back. People have short memories of the bad times and long memories of the good times."
The council is expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday. Mielke says he expects the celebration to be reduced to one day and renamed "Mendota Day."
"If [at the meeting] there still appears to be the momentum to reinvent Mendota Day, that would be the springboard and launchpad," he said. "We'd really go full force to do what it takes."
The target date for the event is July 13. The event would invite nonprofit organizations to set up booths and sponsor games. The city would find bands to play for free and eliminate payments to parade participants.
Collier says the VFW spent $400 to include the St. Paul police in the parade, $400 to the Unicycle Club and $300 for clowns. Mielke said this may be an opportunity to offer more family activities, like a battle of the bands game or a Miss Mendota contest.
"We'd have to find people who are doing it because they appreciate Mendota as a city, and they just want to be involved and kind of give back," Mielke said. "That would have to be our mantra."
Success in putting something together this year is "highly likely," Mielke said. "This is the rebirth of Mendota Days. It could evolve into a multiday event, but for now, we obviously need to start somewhere."