A historic event almost became history, before an outpouring of support flooded in.
Natives, residents and leaders of “the quaint little town that time forgot” came together to make sure a long-held tradition will not be forgotten.
Mendota Days, which dates back to the 1970s and brings people from all around the Twin Cities to celebrate the historic city as one of the original settlements of the state, was in danger of being canceled this year because of lack of funds and volunteers.
The city formed a Save Mendota Days committee in April and was fighting against the hourglass to at least have a downsized version of the celebration.
The result: the rebirth of Mendota Days, now called “Mendota Day,” to be held July 13. Despite having a population of less than 200, there was enough momentum to save the event.
“We feel lucky and blessed that it’s all coming together,” said Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke. “We’re getting an outpouring of support and offerings, and we know that Mendota has touched people in a lot of ways at some point.”
When news of the struggle surfaced, support followed, including a $1,000 donation by a World War II veteran who was stationed at Fort Snelling and has fond memories of Mendota. Other individuals, businesses and organizations from the area pooled their resources and time.
“A new blood has taken this event over,” Mielke said.
When the Mendota VFW and Lucky’s 13 Pub, which organized and funded the event for years, were losing thousands of dollars on parades, bands and other amenities, they were forced to forfeit the responsibility and pass it on to the city. City Council member Erick Lehet led the three-person Save Mendota Days committee.
“There is definitely a learning curve to putting this on,” Lehet said, adding that next year, they’ll be able to plan earlier.
The other members of the committee were council Member Josh Lee and Mendota resident Hayley Bester. The three worked on researching past Mendota Days, meeting with former organizers and healing wounds between the city and some local businesses.
“Mendota Days has been something the community has looked forward to every second Saturday in July,” Bester said. “We hope our efforts breathe new life into Mendota Days and we can continue to bring new ideas, contests and activities to the event in the coming years to provide a fun day of camaraderie for this big-hearted community.”
Bands were the largest expense in the past. Now, with three pro bono bands lined up, “everything else kind of came together,” said Tom Kraack, lead singer of The Patience Band, who immediately volunteered to play at the festival. Kraack is a native and resident of Mendota Heights, and other band members grew up in the area.
“We just really wanted to be a supporter for what is such a historic occasion, and has always been a very fun event,” Kraack said. “You can’t escape the historic presence of the little town of Mendota. Growing up around here, you sometimes take it for granted. But it has great history, and you really want to celebrate that.”
The possibility the event would be history this year was becoming more of a reality given that new organizers had only two months to put it together.
Mielke says he and the community are thrilled, honored and surprised by the burst of support.
“We’re excited to still have a community event that will bring people to our town, expose newbies to it, and expand the overall awareness of Mendota,” he said. “There’s already talk of how we can expand it in 2014.”
Liala Helal • 952-746-3286