By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Mike and April (Reitz) Baird flew from Australia (18 hours of flight time), arriving in Winsted just days before Winstock 2010.
It wasn’t a coincidence the 1998 Holy Trinity graduates reached their destination when they did.
While some people plan vacations around holidays, birthdays or graduations, the Bairds’ hometown visits revolve around Winstock.
The Bairds are true Winstock fans, only missing two music festivals since it began in 1994. They both missed the first year out at the Winsted Airport when they were about 14 years old, and they missed last year’s.
“In fact, I really made it to the first one (Winstock) if you count standing in the parking lot,” Mike said.
The Baird family’s multiple campsites have become a traditional place for friends and family to hang out after the final Winstock stage performance.
A campfire, food, and sing-a-longs have provided some memorable evenings over the years.
“Every year we claim this year is the greatest Winstock ever,” Mike said.
When asked what makes Winstock so special, Mike answered, “It has to be the camaraderie with family and friends that all get together for that one weekend.”
“You just have as much fun as you can possibly pack into three or four days,” Mike said.
“It is like the kickoff to the summer. Then, there’s a little letdown, and then you think, ‘well, Winstock is only another year away,’” he added.
April compared Winstock to a school reunion where they are able to see old classmates they have not seen in years.
Not only classmates from Holy Trinity in Winsted, but Mike and April have recruited college classmates from Minnesota State University, Mankato, to attend Winstock.
“We have a lot of people that we went to school with in Mankato who come to Winstock pretty regularly,” April said.
“I started that tradition back in 1999,” Mike said. “Just started bringing in people and it got bigger and bigger.”
Last year, when the couple wasn’t able to make it home for Winsted’s country music festival, they felt so sad they planned their own Winstock in Australia. The Bairds’ country music festival turned out to be quite successful, on a much smaller scale.
“We had our friends over and we played country music,” April said. “We had it on Winstock weekend.”
There were a few difficulties the Bairds ran into in making plans for a country music festival in Australia. First of all, although it would be hard for any Winstock fan to believe, Australians had never heard of the music event. Secondly, Australians don’t really listen to country music.
“I don’t think they even know a lot about country music, just in general,” Mike said.
“Country music isn’t very big in Australia. We always listen to it, but there is only one radio station there that plays country music,” April said.
“And it is only on for a half a day,” Mike said.
But, thanks to the Bairds, Winstock 2009 was celebrated in Australia, and did attract some fans. Enough new fans, that when they learned the Bairds would not be there for Winstock 2010, a pre-rumble was called for before the couple left for Winsted.
Almost as much as the Bairds enjoy Winstock, they are enjoying their new home in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia where they have lived since 2008.
Mike was offered the opportunity to work in Australia only six months after starting his job as a financial controller for Wagner Spraytech.
“They are global and they are everywhere,” Mike said. “Germany, China, Japan, Australia, South America, pretty much all over.”
When a position opened up in Australia, one of the heads at Wagner suggested the firm look inside before looking outside the company.
Although the couple had considered moving away from home if one of their jobs made them an offer out of state, the move to another country caught April by surprise.
“I always thought it would be California or Florida or something like that,” April said. “When he said Australia, I told him, ‘We need to talk about that.’”
Following a visit to the smallest continent in the world, the Bairds talked about the move for another three months before deciding.
“I think we kind of thought, we just recently got married, and we didn’t have any kids and it was an opportunity of a lifetime and we just couldn’t pass it up,” April said.
Mike agreed. “Probably one of the biggest deciding factors was, if not now, when?”
The decision to move has not been something the Bairds regret.
“We love it,” April said. “You walk five minutes from our house and you are at the ocean, which still takes our breath away every time we walk down there.”
During the summer the temperature range is from 40 degrees in the morning to highs of 115 degrees during the day.
“And it stretches into days and weeks sometimes,” Mike said.
Winters are wet and rainy, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.
“I think staying away from the snow has been a nice relief,” Mike said.
April enjoys everything about Australia. The climate, the atmosphere, the views that are “still breathtaking, and I enjoy not being in the snow and ice and having nice weather to go lay out at the beach every day.”
April is a club coordinator at a women’s gym and is in charge of personal trainers, member motivators, and receptionists; and also has some clients for whom she is a personal trainer.
Besides appreciating all of the same things that April does about Australia, Mike loves Australian rules football, or footy.
Mike, who has numerous trophies for playing football at Holy Trinity and Mankato, has found a new sport he is fascinated with.
“It is like nothing you have ever seen before, but is so entertaining,” Mike said.
“It is kind of like football, mixed with soccer, and a little bit of basketball; they do hand ball, they kick, they run” he explained.
The field is bigger than a football field, maybe 150 yards, and it is round.
“Like a soccer field kind of stadium,” Mike said.
Even though the couple likes living in Australia, they still look forward to spending time in Winsted, with family and friends, and usually leave feeling it would have been nice to have just a few more days to spend with family.
“It is never a long enough time. Last time we stayed for a month, and this time it is about 18-20 days,” Mike said. “It is never long enough and we always miss everybody.”
“It doesn’t feel like a vacation,” April said, “because you are trying to see everyone before you leave. That is why Winstock is good, because we see a lot of people,” April said.
Moving back home is not in the Bairds’ plans for the near future, but they are already making plans to be back next June for Winstock.
Mike is the son of Gloria Baird of Winsted and the late John Baird.
April is the daughter of Joel and Debbie Guggemos of Winsted, and Steven (Louie) Reitz of St. Paul.