Forest Lake residents and Legion members express sadness over this year’s canceled events, reflect on past years

For nearly a century, spectators have lined Highway 61 in Forest Lake to celebrate Independence Day by gathering for a parade each year.

It was started in the 1920s by members of Forest Lake’s American Legion Post 225, and outside of this year, has only been canceled one other time in its storied history, which was during World War II.

The Legion’s Independence Day celebration committee made the decision earlier last month to cancel all typical events, including the parade, carnival, and fireworks show, except for food trucks and live music, which will still require social distancing.

It was a tough call to make, said Krista Goodyear, who was on this year’s parade committee and has served as Post 225’s commander.

“I know people understand why we had to do it, … but I think there are a lot of heartbroken people. I have people, when I was working the parade, who would send me emails, people that live in other states, even, … (who) plan their summer vacations around the Fourth of July, because they want to be here,” Goodyear said.

Still, the Legion wanted to offer something to people.

“What I kept hearing from people is, ‘You gotta give us something.’ They need something to keep morale up,” Goodyear said.

“It’s going to be a more virtual presence. It’ll feel different, but we want to bring a positive light. So many things are getting canceled, but we still want to have something you can see and tangibly feel,” said Marcia Smeby, Post 225’s parade committee chairwoman.

There will still be live entertainment on the evenings of July 3 and 4 at the Legion, and food vendors will still line Broadway and Highway 61 near the American Legion, and the annual fly-by over Broadway, done with World War II aircrafts just after “The Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of the parade, will also happen at 10 a.m. this year. All other ways of celebration by the Legion will be done virtually.

Each year, the parade’s theme is built to honor specific veterans, from World War II veterans to female veterans. This year, the Legion decided to open up whom it honors to both those in the armed forces and other community heroes, which include members of public safety, health care, and other essential workers. The Legion will be posting shout-out videos from the community on its Facebook page and website to honor members of the armed forces and community heroes. All information about the shout-outs can be found at post225.com/Events/July_Fourth/2020/Celebration2020.htm.

Behind the scenes of years past

“Volun-told,” a colloquialism used to describe being volunteered by another person to help, is the word frequently used amongst Legion members to describe how they got involved. For Goodyear, that person was Barb Olson, the first female commander of Post 225.

“She was a forceful little Marine,” Goodyear, who has now been with the Legion for about 15 years, recalled. Goodyear had been a member of the Legion for a year when she suggested some ideas for fundraisers for the big celebration.

“She goes, ‘You’re in,’ and the next year she says, ‘I’m done,’” she said, and Olson handed her all the parade information with key contacts — in a brown paper bag.

“Their names, numbers and addresses were all on the backs of envelopes and napkins. It was just a brown paper bag, but here’s the parade. … I’ll never forget it,” Goodyear said.

Legion Chaplain Ron Miller was “volun-told” by El Ewart to take charge of the color guard just six months after he joined in 2008 as the chaplain.

“He said, ‘Yup, you’re joining the color guard,” Miller said. “I was perfectly fine with joining it, but he did it in his usual way. ... I had always wanted to help honor veterans, so I was just fine with joining the honor guard.”

Since then, Miller has led each parade in the color guard.

Smeby grew up accustomed to being “volun-told” to do something. Her mother was in the Army since 1980, and Smeby grew up coordinating events for kids of deployed military members. So when she joined the Forest Lake American Legion, she was used to it. Smeby was a cheerleader at Forest Lake Area High School, and that was the first time she remembered being involved in the celebrations.

“I remember I had to be there early in the morning,” Smeby said. “I had my cheer uniform on, and family (came) from out of town.”

Since then, she’s walked in a number of other Forest Lake Independence Day parades and has even made acquaintances she looks for each year on the parade route.

“There’s a lady — a mother, and grandmother and like three or four generations that have been at the parade every year and they sit at the front. … I talk to them and they look for me now. That’s been really fun for me,” Smeby said.

Remembering a parade first

The parade of 2012 stood out to Miller, as he recalled the phone conversation he had with a young man who wanted to propose to his girlfriend — the first known proposal in the parade. That year, Forest Lake-native and member of the Army National Guard Ryan Rosdahl, who often walked in the parade, stopped the parade at the viewing booth at the Forest Lake American Legion to propose to his then-girlfriend Megan Lohse. In 2011, Ryan found out he was going to be deployed and ultimately decided to wait until after his return to propose. When he returned in April 2012, he began thinking of how to propose, and Forest Lake’s Independence Day parade came to mind. 

“I remember thinking that as far as I can remember, never has there been anyone who proposed during the parade, so I started working that and came up with a plan,” Rosdahl said.

For Ryan, the parade, carnival, food stands, and fireworks were a family tradition. Rosdahl would typically walk behind the color guard, but that particular year, Rosdahl took the lead for the moment.

“He was going to do it behind us, but we wanted to see it too. So we told him that when you grab her, you bring her right in front of the color guard, so there he was in front of us 30 feet or so, and got right down on his knee. She was very surprised,” Miller said.

“It was super hot, probably one of the hottest days I’ve walked the Fourth of July. It was exciting though,” Ryan said. “I’d say it went about 80 to 90% according to plan. Everything the Legion did in the plans were executed probably perfectly, it was what I said that wasn’t so well executed the way I planned.”

Megan, however, doesn’t remember that.

“He came walking up and they announced him and his return from deployment, and everybody was cheering. Then I heard my name announced, and I was like ‘Oh, no,’ and my mom gave me a shove to go walking over to him. It was a blur from then on until he asked to marry me.”

Megan’s family from Inver Grove Heights, including extended family, had joined her for the parade that year, which was unusual.

“She had no idea why some of her family were coming up to the parade, and it never really hit her until her name got called,” Ryan said. “We wanted to have them a part of it.”

Ryan continued marching in the parade and said people heard the proposal over the speaker.

“I got down the road a little ways, and a family friend, kind of like my sister, … she didn’t realize that was happening until she heard it over the speaker, and when I got down there, she was so excited for me, and her husband, who I worked with, was excited,” Ryan said.

Megan recalled that after the parade, many strangers approached them to congratulate them.

Ryan and Megan got married in 2014 and currently live in Hudson, Wisconsin.

The couple now have a 5-year-old daughter, a 20-month-old son and a puppy. They have returned to Forest Lake for the annual Independence Day celebrations most years since then and are also disappointed it’s not happening.

“We’re bummed it’s not going to happen this year. We were looking forward to bringing the kids up there for it,” Megan said. But, like others, they said they understand it’s for the best.

Other memories

Watching the fireworks from right underneath where they’re shot off is one of the memories Miller has appreciated in recent years.

“About five years ago, I asked one of the guys [who shoots off the fireworks] if I could go along, so I went with them. We were on Terry Larson’s pontoon, and you can lay on the cushion of the pontoon and right under it about 300 feet of where they’re shot off. Everyone else is at least a block away. That was fun,” Miller said.

That year, Miller saw how the boat ramps were congested following the fireworks, and now he directs boat traffic so the pontoons where the fireworks are shot off can be brought in quickly.

Goodyear remembers one particular year a special animal came to visit the viewing stand.

“‘The Star Spangled Banner’ had just finished and the World War II airplanes had just finished their flyover the route, and there was a bald eagle that landed right on top of the ledge and looking down over the viewing stand. Then he took off and sailed up and down the parade and back and finally out onto the lake. It was one of the coolest moments.”

From newcomers to generational annual attenders, Forest Lake has become a destination for the Independence Day festivities. One such family is Muriel Stoltzman. Muriel moved to Forest Lake as an eighth-grader in 1963 and has attended the Independence Day celebrations most of the years since. She remembers those early years in Forest Lake as ones with friends at her parent’s house.

“We lived in Forest Lake just on Third Avenue, so it was easy for us to host the family parties at our house, because it was easy parking and easy walking distance to the parade.”

Wally, her husband, grew up in Hugo and recalled many years attending the parade, the carnival, and the fireworks.

“My parents would go to the parade, visit with the neighbors, and they’d go bar hopping and we’d go to the carnival,” Wally said.

He recalled one particular year in the 1960s when a couple of families attended the festivities together. At the end of the night, his younger brother got left behind.

“Someone hadn’t counted, so they had to go back up there and find him, and he was in the bingo tent, helping out the caller,” Wally said. He said that back then, most people knew each other.

With their two sons Andy and Ben, Wally and Muriel would set up near the bank during the parade.

“They loved the candy,” she said. Then they’d come back to the beach for the fireworks.

“That was when they shot them off right on the beach. They didn’t have them out on a raft like they do now,” she said.

For several years, Muriel walked with her sons in the junior high marching band. Any of the bands, she said, are their favorite entries. Muriel said she remembers looking for Rollie Nelson, the late former band teacher at the high school and later Forest Lake Marching Band director. She said her family became close friends with Nelson following her years in high school.

Both Muriel and Wally have been in the parade at different times, too: Muriel once for a class reunion promotion, Wally once for his business Stoltzman Automotive.

“He had eight nieces and nephews in the back of the pickup, and he had his accordion and he played his accordion through town with no speaker,” Muriel said.

Andy, who is a veteran and is visiting from Arizona this year, is disappointed that the celebrations had to be canceled, said Muriel, but she says he, like the rest of their family, understands it’s for the best.

“It’s kind of a hole, but I think people find a way to make the day special anyway,” Muriel said.

Like most canceled events, that’s how many people are responding: a sense of sadness that storied traditions can’t be held this year, but of understanding this is what’s best.

“It’s fond in the sense everybody just really loves the fireworks. Lakeside park is just jammed, music. … It’s great. That part will really be missed,” Miller said.

“Everything. The parade, everything. It breaks your heart,” Goodyear said. “I won’t miss marching when it’s super hot, but it is just something to be in the parade and watch the people and the kids and how excited they are.”

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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