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Festival a draw after more than 6 decades in the sun

Deb Van Buren, left, of North American State Bank in Willmar, and LeAnne Freeman, recreation supervisor for the Willmar Community Education and Recreation, on Tuesday look over a coffee decanter at the bank. The decanter was presented to the city by its sister city in Belgium and is on display at the bank as part of this year's Willmar Fests. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Willmar Fests has a long, rich history spanning 65 years and four different festivals. And this year, the public will have a chance to see some of that history documented in photos from as far back as the 1940s.

From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. today, the public can attend the festival's first Memorabilia Open House taking place at North American State Bank, 2800 S. 1st St. There is no cost for the event.

Featured at the exhibit will be pictures of the first Kaffe Fests in the 1940s, old Kaffe Fest lapel pins and newspaper articles covering festival happenings from the 1940s, '50s and '60s. There will even be a picture on display of the first Kaffe Fest Queen, Phyllis Lindquist, from 1946.

LeAnne Freeman, recreation supervisor for the city and last year's Willmar Fests president, organized the display by asking people from the area to donate old photos and memorabilia from past festivals.

"It was fun hearing all the seniors' stories," Freeman said. "I was surprised at how much people remember. It's like they're right back in that time."

A glass artifact, most likely donated from Willmar's sister city in Belgium, will also be on display at the open house. Freeman said the item is probably a cold coffee pitcher or coffee carafe.

One item the public won't see is a Queen of Festivals dress worn by 1952 Kaffe Fest Queen Betty Ann Voss Hemstad. The dress was on display at the festival's Chamber Connection event Monday night, but it had to be shipped back to Hemstad before today because she was nervous about the condition of the dress, Freeman said.

Deb Van Buren, director of marketing and customer relations for North American State Bank, said this event will help remind people of Willmar Fests' beginnings.

"People like to see where we were and where we've been," Van Buren said. "It's a taste of history."

Willmar Fests began as Kaffe Fest in 1945 and officially became Willmar Fests in 1988 as a way of combining four of the city's major festivals into one: Aqua Fest, which featured water events on the lakes; Queen of Festivals, which crowned the queen of Willmar; and International Fest and Frameries Fest, which both paid tribute to Willmar's sister cities abroad.

Though Kaffe Fest no longer plays a big role in Willmar Fests, the board of directors for the festival still tries to incorporate Kaffe Fest by serving coffee at many of the events, said Lori Tostenson, president and coronation chairwoman of Willmar Fests.

Some traditions from other festivals have also endured throughout the years, Freeman said, citing the road race and kiddie parade as examples.

"Some of these things are still going on," Freeman said. "We're still holding those traditions strong."

The memorabilia and photos from the open house will remain on display at the North American State Bank until 4:30 p.m. Friday.

See for a complete schedule of festival events.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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