WILLMAR — As the Willmar Fests Board puts the finishing touches on some last-minute plans, the community is set to celebrate the festival’s 75th anniversary in June after being canceled in 2020, due to the pandemic.
The 2021 Willmar Fests is set to kick off the festivities with “Coffee with the Candidates” at 9 a.m. on June 23 in The Goodness Coffee House and will conclude with a fireworks show at 10 p.m. on June 26.
“We're really excited to have it back," said Willmar Fests Board President James Miller. "It's the big event of summer, and we look forward to it every year.”
The festival originally started as Kaffe Fest, which dates back to 1945 and is now made up of four smaller festivals; International Fest, which honors Willmar's sister city of Frameries, Belgium; Aqua Fest, featuring water events; Frameries Fest, which is a Fine Arts Celebration; and Kaffee Fest, honoring the coffee tradition of the Scandinavian Heritage.
“We actually are considering this our 75th anniversary, officially,” Miller said. "So at some of the different events, we will recognize the 75th anniversary. We invited back royalty (from) past years that would like to be part of the grand parade or (would) like to be recognized at the coronation.”
With the festival being funded locally, Miller said the board “waited this year to see where things were going” before fundraising for the festival, not wanting to ask for donations prior to Gov. Tim Walz’s lifting the state’s pandemic restrictions as they did not want to get everyone’s hopes up again.
When the board decided to move forward with planning the festival, that fundraising became even more challenging as they usually start planning the next Willmar Fests at the end of the year prior.
“There's obviously a lot of businesses that (are) still very negatively impacted by some of the shutdowns and some of the situations that they were in over this past year,” Miller said. "We didn't really feel, I would say, ‘comfortable,’ putting a large burden on them (after all they’ve been through).”
Not wanting to put an extensive burden on business in the community, the board made some tough decisions on what events would and would not take place this year.
“Our event does look a little bit different than it typically would,” Miller said. "There have been some changes that have happened locally, some challenges with organizations who have helped us out in the past and there are a couple of little new things too.”
Miller also said some events were not feasible either due to health concerns, the construction at Robbins Island Regional Park or just a lack of availability.
Last year Miller had planned to reveal that the original coffee pot from the 1947 Kaffe Fest, designed to be used as a float in parades and celebrations in nearby towns and cities, had been found in 2018. The fully restored Kaffe Fest coffee pot was anchored into its new home on the grounds of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society in September 2020.
After two years in the making and as the board puts its finishing touches on the 2021 Willmar Fests, Miller looks forward to kicking off this festival’s 75th anniversary, even if it does come with an asterisk in the history books.
“We can once again have a community celebration and bring community pride to the city,” Miller said.