by Mike Nistler
It may not seem like it now, but in less than two months when as many as 50,000 people are expected to invade St. Joseph for the July Fourth celebrations, the construction work at the St. Joseph Parish grounds should not be too much of a hindrance.
Site work is expected to be completed on the new parish center by July 1, said Sandy Scholz, parish business director.
Visitors to St. Joseph should not be surprised, however, to see a few changes to this year’s festival, which has been going strong for 107 years.
“Definitely, the construction will have a great impact,” Scholz said. “However, we’re hoping it is a very positive impact. We’re hoping we will be able to place things in a better location for this family friendly event.”
Earlier this year, event organizers sat down and mapped out a new layout for the various vendors, Scholz said. “Now we’re going to be able to keep the food all together.”
Three-phase power has been added to two locations on the grounds, allowing an opportunity to make the event layout friendlier for visitors as well as workers, she said.
“Things will definitely be different,” she said, adding organizers will use this year to learn “what things will need to be tweaked in the future.”
Any time 50,000 people invade a city for an event it is a challenge, Scholz said, “but we have a great group of parishioners who have been doing this for a long time. They know exactly what size of area is needed.”
A better use of space will allow organizers to keep the family-friendly events in one area and the adult activities, such as beer tents, in another.
One thing that will be new this year is there will not be a chicken dinner. Part of the reason is the aim is to keep as many events outdoors as possible.
“We’re eliminating it for this year,” she said, adding the meal might be offered next year if event-goers so desire. However, with so many other food choices, Scholz said she does not think it will be missed too much.
“We have such a great relationship with our food vendors,” Scholz said, “especially the St. Joe Meat Market.” The market will supply the hamburgers and brats and can have a trailer set up on site to provide supplies.
The only activity that will take place indoors this year is a “very attractive country store,” which will be housed inside the school. “It’s rather labor-intensive to move all those items outdoors,” said Scholz, who has been business manager for the parish since 1999 and knows a bit about the history of the festival.
It was started 107 years ago as a picnic, and the purpose was to raise money for the clock located in the bell tower.
Throughout the years, the festival has grown, especially since the Fourth of July event has been coupled with the Joe Town Rocks activities on the night before. That event was added in 2006 for the sesquicentennial.
St. Joseph Parish works closely with many groups to make sure the festivities run smoothly. Stearns County assists the St. Joseph Police Department with traffic and crowd control.
In light of the tragic events at this year’s Boston Marathon, Scholz said the organizers have worked closely with St. Joseph Police Chief Pete Jansky as well as the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department. Parishioners assist in those efforts as well.
If anyone would like to volunteer to work with the festival, they can contact the parish office.