By Starrla Cray
Since 1959, people have been flocking to Dassel’s Red Rooster Days celebration for music, fireworks, and of course, the largest barbeque chicken dinner in Minnesota.
Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-7, will be the 50th anniversary celebration.
“This year, the fireworks will be bigger than ever,” Dassel resident Dean Gayner said.
Gayner, along with a few other people from the area, started Red Rooster Days as a community get-together, serving between 400 and 500 people the first year. Now, about 3,000 people attend the event each year.
“We saw that other towns had celebrations, and we were looking for something to do,” Gayner said.
The name “Red Rooster Days” was a perfect fit for the Dassel event.
“Back then, Dassel was known for seed corn,” Gayner said. “We had three major seed companies. And we had two big chicken hatcheries. So, we decided to make our logo a rooster standing on a cob of corn.”
Dassel resident Dennis Alberts is credited for finding the celebration’s famous barbeque chicken recipe. Alberts went to a chicken hatchery meeting in Redwood Falls, where they served barbeque chicken. He got the recipe and wrote it down on a piece of cardboard.
“He still has that piece of cardboard,” Gayner said, “and we’ve kept the recipe a secret ever since.”
Gayner and a few other men presented the idea of a community celebration to the commercial club, which is now the Chamber of Commerce. It was approved, and they were given $1,000 to cover expenses.
Maynard Warne and George Tesch were the head chairmen of Red Rooster Days in 1959. Tom Jarl, who lives north of Cokato, was also one of Red Rooster Days founders. Gayner, Jarl, and Alberts are the only three founders who are still alive, Gayner said.
During the first Red Rooster Days celebration, Ben Brodin won a prize drawing for a fishing boat, Gayner said. In later years, there were drawings for a $1,000 savings bond, but that has been discontinued.
During the 50 years of Dassel’s community tradition, Gayner created many memories.
“I remember one gal,” he said. “It was about 4 p.m., and it was raining really hard.” The woman, who was a barber’s wife, took off her shoes and walked through a large puddle of standing water so she could eat.
“She still had her nylons on,” Gayner said. “She wasn’t the type I thought would do that. I remember saying, ‘Red Rooster Days will live forever.’”
One year, however, Red Rooster Days was called off, Gayner said. “Chicken prices were out of sight, and we couldn’t afford it.”
In 1999, a different problem prevented the committee from serving chicken. “We served pork chops instead of chicken,” Gayner said, because their chicken supplier’s building had burned down.
“It’s always interesting,” he said. Gayner said his favorite part of Red Rooster Days is meeting former “Dasselites.”
He also enjoys hiding the “golden egg” each year. Clues are given in the newspaper each week, starting three weeks before the event. Whoever finds it receives $100.