With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend, Minnesota's summer festival season is here, when cities across the state celebrate their heritage, identity and culture.
It's probably the only time that leprechauns, raspberries and Father Louis Hennepin are in the same category, giving their names to three of the get-togethers.
For a look at the festivals named for that varied trio, and a calendar of festivals across the north metro, turn to page AA6
Father Hennepin Festival
Champlin, June 12-14
Father Louis Hennepin, a renowned explorer who published colorful tales about North America, is said to have passed through present-day Champlin by way of the Mississippi River in 1680.
The city's annual Father Hennepin Festival underscores that story. Although Champlin first held a festival in the name of Father Hennepin in 1929, it wasn't until 1976 that it became a yearly event, according to festival materials.
Andy Singleton, a recreation supervisor for Champlin, said the mission of the three-day event is twofold: "The value is in bringing people together and celebrating the history of the community," he said.
Usually, the festival goes so far as to reenact the friar's crossing of the Mississippi, but the activity has been canceled this year, along with other water activities, because of dam construction, Singleton said.
Among the festival's highlights are a parade, a family bike ride, a model airplane show, fireworks, live music, a pie-eating contest, skateboard competition, petting zoo, craft show, softball and lacrosse tournaments and a carnival with rides.
A traditional medallion hunt begins on Monday, June 8. It comes with a $500 cash prize and is always a big draw. "People look forward to it," Singleton said. "You see families with kids starting when they're young and now they're a lot older and still out there."
Also, every year the city's historical society hosts an ice cream social at the Dunning School, which was built in 1876. It's an old-fashioned event that goes back to the festival's beginning, Singleton said.
Although Champlin hosts other community events throughout the year, "This is our main attraction," and it brings in people from all over the place, Singleton said.
Hopkins, July 11-19
Occasionally, one can spot wild raspberries growing here and there in Hopkins, a reminder of their early days as a sort of "bumper crop" in the city.
Raspberry fields are no longer a common sight, but the legacy lives on through the Hopkins Raspberry Festival, which is in its 81st year, making it one of the oldest events of its kind, says Lyndsey LaGrange, a board member.
The word "raspberry" comes up a lot at the festival, with everything from raspberry sundaes to raspberry-flavored beer to the hunt for the Golden Raspberry.
"It's a great time to go and support local businesses. That's the reason it began in the first place, to bring people to Hopkins and enjoy the peak of summer," LaGrange said.
A group of businesspeople and farmers launched the festival as a way to support the community, its website says.
The Minneapolis mayor at the time, Thomas Latimer, even got in on the act, steering people to the festivities "to enjoy the entertainment and to have some free raspberries and cream with the compliments of Hennepin County's famous raspberry growers and the progressive businessmen of Hopkins," festival materials read.
The nine-day festival features fireworks, live music, bowling, 5-mile and1-mile runs, a bike race, a medallion hunt, a tennis tournament and a pancake breakfast. "There's always a lot going on," LaGrange said.
Saturday, July 18, is designated as family day, with a variety of activities: an arts and crafts fair, softball and rugby tournaments, used book sale, community celebration, beer fest, car show, bingo, hands-on park activities, wrestling, tent dance and more. Community bands will perform.
The city's royalty coronations are a big part of the festival. "Every year it provides a unique opportunity for people in the community to get involved, put themselves 'out there,' " LaGrange said. The program is good for those looking for personal growth or the opportunity to represent themselves and the community, she said.
On the festival's last day, things culminate with a Grande Day Parade.
"There's definitely something for everyone. It's a way to get outside and celebrate the season and see neighbors," LaGrange said.
Rosemount, July 17-26
As the name suggests, Leprechaun Days is a nod to the some of the area's most prominent early European settlers: the Irish. At one point, the city's population was nearly half Irish, the festival website says.
The festival itself has its own history. It grew out of an annual sidewalk sale in the 1950s, which was then known as Crazy Days.
Eventually, it expanded with a kiddie parade, corn and chicken feed and a larger parade. It morphed into Family Fun Days before organizers settled on the Irish theme.
Since then, the festival has expanded from two to 10 days. It has a jam-packed schedule with a Grand Day Parade, a Midsummer Faire with carnival rides and games, food, music, a fishing derby, fireworks, a beer garden, and trike, big wheel and scooter races.
Festival President Steve Ball, who usually helps book the bands, is looking forward to this year's performers. Featured artists include the Rhinestone Diplomats, who will perform a tribute to Bob Dylan; Martin Zellar; Hitchville; Jason Perri (a Rosemount native), and Andrew Varner.
Perri's brother, who goes by Tony DeNucci, will take part in AWF wrestling that's new to the festival this year. "We're trying to do something a little different," Ball said.
Leprechaun Days also offers opportunities for giving back, with a food drive and other fundraisers, said Tad Johnson, the festival committee's marketing chairman.
Johnson stressed that the activities go far to engage the community. Most residents participate in some way, showing that "this event touches many lives," he said.
Ball can vouch for that. He grew up in Austin, Minn., but his wife's family has been in the area for several generations and her festival days go way back, he said. Ball has fond memories of bringing their three children to the event when they were young, and to this day, even though they're spread out, they return for Leprechaun Days.
Said Johnson: "The memories that are made as a child dresses up in costume to be in the Kiddie Parade, runs across an open field to collect colored rocks in the Blarney Stone Hunt or crosses the finish line in the Shamrock Sprint race really is what we are all about," he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.