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Kelsey Greathouse, staff member at Dodge Nature Center, showed a lamb to a visiting school group.

Liz Rolfsmeier • Special to the Star Tribune,

Volunteers keep West St. Paul's annual festival afloat

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • May 11, 2013 - 12:38 PM

A few years ago, the Celebrate West St. Paul community celebration almost ended when a past president stepped down, but luckily one member of the tiny group of volunteers took the lead.

“I blinked, and I became president,” said volunteer Dave Wenda.

Now in its 24th year, the event remains the classic community celebration, with its parade and carnival, street dance and pancake breakfast, and in recent years, they’ve even made a few additions.

“We’re trying to grow it the last four years,” Wenda said. “We really want to make it a celebration throughout West St. Paul.”

Last year, they teamed up with Dodge Nature Center, which moved its annual Rock the Barn Farm Festival to coincide with the carnival rides and parade watching. Kids can head to the nature center to see baby chicks, learn about shearing sheep and pluck dandelions to have them deep fried. The event poses “an opportunity to introduce our farm babies,” said Jason Sanders, executive director at Dodge.

Also in recent years, organizers revived the celebration’s car show, a standard part of Celebrate West St. Paul in its infancy that phased out after a few years. Pete Salas, founder of Los Padrinos, a St. Paul car club that puts on the show, said interest in car shows has reignited in recent years. “They’re coming back stronger and stronger,” he said.

He said their show is open to all makes and models. “We get everything from model A’s to brand new Corvettes,” he said.

Salas said usually about 500 visitors show for the event. “After the parade, a lot of people will come down,” he said. “They get a pretty big turnout.”

Kathy Maher, who has served on the board of directors for Celebrate West St. Paul for six years, often hears a common misconception from members of the community.

“Everyone thinks we’re involved with the city, and we’re not,” she said. “We’re a private nonprofit. We don’t get any support from the city.” While the city helps by blocking off the streets for events, she said it’s up to volunteers to raise funds.

Organizers do get some help from sponsors and donors, but throughout the year, Maher said the group of about nine volunteers raises much of their annual budget — generally about $30,000 — by hosting spaghetti dinners, a chili feed, dances, raffles and car washes.

“We struggle every year just to break even,” she said.

They do this, she said, in order to offer as many possible events free of charge. “That’s why we have to have lots of fundraising,” she said. “We’re always scrambling to raise more.”

Maher, who spends much of the year shuttling the young women who serve as West St. Paul royal ambassadors around to volunteer events, said she recently recruited her husband to organize the parade. The parade, she said, often draws a big crowd, as “it’s the first parade event of the season,” she said.

This year, the shortage of volunteers led the board had to cancel the community-wide garage sale, a decision that Maher said they have already heard complaints about, and she said they will likely revive it next year due to demand.

Maher said the event makes the year’s work worth it. “We always have a good turnout,” Maher said. “It draws the community together. It brings people out and together. I can’t even count the people I’ve met in the community that I never would have.”

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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