A glorious Fourth in Albert Lea

Published 10:10 am Monday, July 5, 2010

Lyle and Joan Godeke of Hollandale and their relatives come to Fountain Lake Park to watch Fourth of July fireworks every year. This year, they were glad the rain halted near sunset and the clouds moved eastward shortly before dusk.

“We are very happy about that,” Joan said.

They gathered with relatives from places like Lake Mills, Iowa, and Fargo, N.D., and they had touted the Albert Lea fireworks to their Fargo relative. Big fireworks display. Over a lake. Cool. They didn’t want to let him down.

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During the day on Independence Day, they usually go on a picnic and watch a parade in a nearby town. On Sunday, they opted to grill at home and took in the Blooming Prairie parade in the rain.

They weren’t the only people watching parades in the rain. Scott and Shari Pirsig and two of their sons, Cal and Casey, took in the parade in Northwood, Iowa, in the rain. It was the 25th year Scott and Shari have been in Northwood on the Fourth of July.

The Albert Lea family’s tradition started because they used to live in Northwood, Scott said. He had worked in Mason City, Iowa, and she in Albert Lea. It was midway. They watched the parade in the rain and then the rain stopped long enough for some disc golf and soccer. They grilled burgers and hot dogs in the stone pavilion.

Tradition is big on the Fourth of July.

Jacob and Martha Rietsema of Hollandale always come to about the same spot at Fountain Lake Park to watch the fireworks. Actually, they first listen to the patriotic music of the Community Band, then wait for the aerial display to begin.

“They have the best fireworks around,” Martha said.

Jacob then added that they wouldn’t know any others because they always come to Albert Lea’s show.

Earlier in the day, they had gone to the Independence Day Parade in Austin. It rained from beginning to end, they said, but everyone participated, even the marching bands.

“I didn’t think they would play instruments in the rain, but they did,” Jacob said.

The Community Band in Albert Lea was safely out of the rain when they were playing under the gazebo at Fountain Lake. In fact, they fortunately had little to no rain to deal with by the evening. Crowds gathered to hear the music and await the setting sun for fireworks.

The band was excited to be in the company of a young flutist from Boston. Her name was Kirsten Laak, and she was the third of a three-generation span playing in the band. Her father, Robbi Laak, played trumpet, and her grandmother, Evie Wakefield, played percussion.

Dustin Veldkamp of Shakopee sat on a blanket with daughter Samantha, who is almost 2, awaiting the display. It was Samantha’s first time seeing fireworks and Dustin’s first time seeing Albert Lea’s fireworks. They were visiting relatives — the Dave Vanderploeg family, yes, also from Hollandale — who have been coming to Fountain Lake Park for generations.

Was all of Hollandale at Fountain Lake Park on Sunday night?

Possibly, and more. People of all backgrounds filled the park. It’s clearly the most packed any park in Albert Lea’s park system gets during the entire year. In addition, many families enjoyed the Merriam’s Midway Carnival at the North Broadway Avenue parking lot.

After the fireworks, Albert Lea residents Katie Frazier and Steven Brackey offered their opinions of the display.

“It was good,” Brackey said.

“Better than last year,” Frazier said. “Fantastic! It was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.”

Brackey noted that the mosquitoes were thick and bug spray was definitely used. He approved of the view the shores of Fountain Lake Park offers. It is right across Fountain Lake from City Beach, where the fireworks are fired.

The fireworks are paid for with funds raised by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Randy Kehr that afternoon, even though rain was falling, was optimistic about rain clearing off. He had been watching the radar images and the weather forecasts.

Sure enough, after consulting with the fireworks company, the green light was given. It was posted on the Albert Lea Tribune’s website and shortly after boats began filling Fountain Lake and throngs of people gathered on its shores.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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