COVID-19 pulls the plug on Willmar Fests

Willmar Fests, which was set to celebrate 75 years of community celebrations in June, has instead been canceled for 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Willmar Fests Board of Directors announced the decision Thursday. The decision was based on both health and economic concerns.

There will be no Willmar Fests Grande Day Parade this year, as event organizers have decided to cancel the entire Willmar Fests event due to COVID-19 concerns. Willmar Fest Board President James Miller said the decision was not easy, but the board feels it is the right one. Erica Dischino File Photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The 2020 Willmar Fests celebration was to have marked 75 years of community pride and celebration, dating back to 1945 and the first Kaffe Fest. Instead, Willmar Fests has been called off due to COVID-19.

"At the end of the day, this stinks," said Willmar Fests Board President James Miller. "This just isn't a fun decision to make. It wasn't an easy one."

Miller said the board met Tuesday to discuss its options. There was talk about either shortening the event, which was to have run from June 23 to June 28, or moving it later in the summer. In the end, the board members thought the best option was to cancel for the safety of all involved. As far as Miller knows, this will be the first time the celebration has ever been canceled.

"We didn't want to have to make this one. But what we know from our health care professionals in the community and others around us, it made sense to make this decision."

The board also wanted to make sure it was doing what was best for its sponsoring businesses. In a normal year they are instrumental in funding Willmar Fests. Now many, if not most, of those sponsors have either had to drastically reduce business operations or close completely due to the governor's executive orders. They could be struggling financially for at least a few months.


"We didn't feel like it was the right thing to do" to ask for donations and money, Miller said. "Being a community organization that is trying to celebrate the community when the community is struggling, it didn't feel like the right ask."

If businesses still want to donate to a community cause, Miller pointed to places such as the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, United Way, Safe Avenues and many others who are helping people during this hard and strange time.

"I would rather see organizations and people that have the means and the ability to give, to give to things like that, so we can help people who really need it right now," Miller said.

Even prior to making the call to cancel Willmar Fests, there were already rumblings that things would not go ahead as normal. Carris Health had already decided not to hold the Foot Lake Four Run or the kids run. Also other communities were calling off their celebrations as well, including Montevideo Fiesta Days, Dawson Riverfest and the Minneapolis Aquatennial, with which Willmar has partnered for decades.

"It was a tough decision for them as well," Miller said.

This year's festivities were to mark 75 years of community celebration, which started with Kaffe Fest in 1945. Now those events will take place next year. Miller said there are also conversations being had with last year's royalty, to see if they would be able to serve another year, until the coronation in 2021.

Even this year's grand marshals for the Grande Day Parade, Art and Anita Benson, will have to wait until next year to take their rightful place near the start of the parade.

"We will be extending the invitation for them to be part of it next year," Miller said.


In addition to the summer festival, Miller said the board will soon be discussing the Holidaze lighted holiday parade and related festivities and the Celebrate the Light of the World holiday lighting display. Today, the hope is those will still go forward as planned.

Mayor Marv Calvin said the decision to cancel Willmar Fests was sad but understandable. He also was concerned about the health and safety of not only the people, but the business community as well.

He said he trusts in the wisdom of the Willmar Fests board, who did the research and made the hard call.

"I totally support the decision they made," Calvin said.

While it is disappointing there won't be Willmar Fests this year, both Calvin and Miller said next year's celebration will be even better.

"I think it will be great next year, to have a big splash," Calvin said.

One of the highlights of this year's festivities was to be the unveiling of the old Kaffee Fest pot, which was uncovered in late 2018. That, along with Willmar Fests 75th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021, a year later than originally planned. File photo / West Central Tribune

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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