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Local fest evolved from City Council idea to a 'non-city sponsored event'

This city park in Grove City may also be empty in August if insurance issues prevent the town's annual August Fest from being held. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

As the fate of Grove City's August Fest depends on a new insurance policy, the memories and history of a quarter century tradition do as well.

This summer could or could not be August Fest's 27th year.

The city celebration was started by a former City Council member, said Roger Rusch, the August Fest Committee liaison for the City Council and a 10-year volunteer of August Fest. Idella Moe and Dorothy Abritz created August Fest and helped the city organize the celebration in its early years, he said.

After Moe resigned from the council, she passed it on to another member. Eventually, the celebration's responsibilities were passed to a committee, which became a registered nonprofit corporation about four years ago, Rusch said.

But how could a celebration with 26 years of history end because of an insurance policy change? Rusch said August Fest's end may be what some in the community want.

"I think there's some on the council here who want August Fest to go away," Rusch said.

"The majority wants to keep it going ... but the gist I get, at least from one (council member) that doesn't want it, is that basically (August Fest) has become a beer-drinking thing."

Of the celebration's numerous events, only the street dance, mud volleyball tournament, and softball games have alcohol in the vicinity of the events, said Rusch, organizer of the volleyball tournament.

At the volleyball court and softball field, Rusch said participants have usually brought beverage-filled ice coolers with them. "But the only thing that promotes anything as far as drinking is the street dance," Rusch said. "And I don't know of any street dance that doesn't have a beer wagon."

Events like the mud volleyball tournament are also a large reason August Fest continues. Rusch said each year at least 20 volleyball teams pay the $50 team registration for the tourney. Ultimately, Rusch said, the money raised covers a major chunk of the August Fest expenses.

However, some of the activities void the special event's protection under Grove City's liability insurance, said City Clerk Janell Johnson.

"With the softball, mud volleyball and street dance, there's alcohol involved. And there is no coverage for that," Johnson said.

Whoever provides the alcohol, she said, has to provide the events insurance, according to the city's insurance provider, the League of Minnesota Cities.

Rusch said some other local communities have found a way to protect their festivals on city insurance. Rusch said he contacted 12 local communities about the insurance policies of their city festivals and nine indicated they still insure a city celebration. Rusch said Willmar, Litchfield and Atwater were the only festivals with out-of-city insurance policies.

August Fest has also been mostly self-sustaining, Rusch said. About seven years ago, the city funded about $2,000 to August Fest because the committee had no money. The city also paid for part of a fireworks display one year, Rusch said, but those were the only two expenses the city incurred because the committee volunteers raise funds each year to cover the expenses.