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Celebrate Willmar Fests 2006: Kaffe Fest to make its return to city celebration

By Chris Vondracek

If you take some local citizens' word for it, before Seattle was the coffee capital of the world, that distinction belonged to


The 2006 Willmar Fests plans to honor the community's past and present affinity for the caffeinated beverage by restarting Kaffe Fest and its tasty traditions. Willmar Fests already incorporates three festivals into one, with the Aqua Festival, Frammeries Festival and International Festival. This year's celebration will mark the return of Kaffe Fest -- which for decades was the town's flagship festival.

"Willmar is a big coffee drinking community and we thought this would be a great time to bring it back," said Chad Johnson, executive director of Willmar Fests, Inc.

Local vendors will provide free coffee at the block party, the beach party and after the kiddie parade. With the summertime heat sure to be beating down on crowd-goers, a steaming cup of coffee may not be the most ideal treat. But Johnson said regardless of temperature, people will want their coffee fix.

"It doesn't matter that it's summer and 100 degrees out, this town loves coffee," he said.

Before there was Willmar Fests, the community celebrated Kaffe Fest -- which began in 1945 when the Willmar Chamber of Commerce decided to throw a party marking the end of World War II, and also the end of coffee rationing. The festival featured free coffee and doughnuts, which later turned to cookies when doughnuts became too expensive.

Though the Kaffe Fest eventually fell by the wayside, former Mayor Dick Hoglund said the festival's name was and still is synonymous with Willmar.

"Kaffe Fest is the handle that people recognize us by all over the state," Hoglund said.

The event's history is engrained in Hoglund's memory. He recalls the "good, clean" merrymen shows, a coffee-drinking competition and a stage on the grounds where the Kandiyohi County Courthouse currently sits that featured stage acts and progress reports from politicians. He even remembers watching a giant coffee-cup roll down the street on a float in one of the parades -- and all of it to honor a town with a record-setting thirst for coffee.

"We supposedly drank more coffee per capita than any other city in the country," he said, chalking such a feat up to Willmar's predominantly Scandinavian heritage.

Along with Kaffe Fest, musical attractions are being added to the 2006 Willmar Fests in an effort to spruce up the week's busy events calendar.

Saturday night at Robbins Island, after the beach party and before the fireworks, One Eye Open and The Shadowcasters will both perform. The event will gather the afternoon and night's audiences at Robbins Island and hopefully give a central destination for the party's conclusion, Johnson said.

"Willmar Fests has been a very well-attended weeklong event," Johnson said. "We just hope it won't be as hot as last year."

Hot or not, someone will surely put on a pot of coffee or two.