By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Winsted might not have ever had a festival or a parade if it hadn’t been for this year’s summer festival honorary grand marshals, Eldron and Sharon Hecksel.
The two will celebrate their prestigious rank, sharing it with the eight surviving members of the Winsted Last Man’s Club, by riding in the festival parade Sunday, Aug. 9 at 1 p.m.
It was through Hecksels’ efforts in 1973 that Winsted had its first-ever summer festival, called American Legion Days, which was sponsored by Legion Post 407, of which Eldron was a member.
Eldron had gotten the idea to have a festival when he was working as a bartender at the Blue Note.
“It was when Ray and Cliff Ruzicka owned it, and we had put a Blue Note parade unit in the Mayer parade,” Eldron said.
“Then I got to thinking about Winsted having a parade, too.”
At the very next Legion meeting, Eldron suggested a town festival, but it was not received with a lot of enthusiasm.
“Everybody said they wanted more information, and they needed to know what it was going to cost,” Eldron said.
It took three meetings to finally get the Legion to agree to sponsor the event, he said.
The next step was to approach the city council to find out what kind of permits he would need for the parade.
“Kenny Kohler was mayor at the time,” Eldron said. “Everybody just kind of stared at each other and nobody knew what it was going to take to put a parade together, or the kind of permit they needed.”
Eventually, things started to come together, but Eldron recalls there were only a few people from the Legion who helped with the first festival and parade.
It has been said, behind every successful man is a woman, and Eldron has no problem giving credit to Sharon for her support that first year.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Eldron said.
She was there during the planning stages, answering the telephone and taking messages, Eldron said.
She also put in long hours getting things ready before the big event, and then worked at the festival.
“I helped with everything that I could help with,” Sharon said.
“When the festival first started, we worked all weekend,” Sharon said. “We did everything. We made our own hamburgers and sliced our own onions and fried all day long.”
Both Hecksels agree it was hard to get things organized the first year because it had never been done before. It was hard to know exactly what was needed. Some equipment was last minute.
“I had to go out to Kenny Kritzeck’s silo and climb to the top to get an extension cord from the silage unloader. We needed to run it out to the polka bands so they had electricity. We didn’t have enough cord and nobody else had one,” Eldron said.
The first parade had 101 units.
The parade route went right by the Hecksels’ home and their extended family all came to watch from their front yard.
Following the parade, Sharon remembers being serenaded by the parade bands at their home.
“Bands played for four hours. The parade only took an hour or an hour-and-a-half, so the rest of the time they stayed out in front of our house and played,” Sharon said.
When the first festival ended, it was considered a success.
“The first year, you are kind of thinking, thank goodness that is done,” Sharon said. “But after the second year things kept getting bigger and better, and people learned.”
For the second year, the planning was easier and there were more volunteers willing to help, according to Sharon.
Eldron continued to be in charge of the festival parade until 1986, when health problems started plaguing him.