By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, MN While the Dassel-Cokato community has been looking ahead to this weekend’s Red Rooster Days festivities, Red Rooster committee member and historian Maribel Gilmer has spend the last six years looking at the celebration in years past while writing her book, “Through the Years: Red Rooster Celebration in Dassel.”
Gilmer credits her involvement with the Dassel History Center and the Red Rooster committee for inspiring the book, as well as her interest in having all the information accessible through a single resource.
“History is important, and different people would have different memories [of Red Rooster Days] but they wouldn’t have all of this,” she commented, explaining that her research had her drawing information from old newspapers, the ambassador committee’s scrapbooks, and other sources.
“No one person has everything,” she said at least until her project is completed.
Other than the Dassel History Center and the Red Rooster committee, however, Gilmer is unsure if anyone else would be interested in purchasing the book. Because of this, she hopes to publish it through a company that will allow a print-to-order arrangement.
“So you don’t have to order 100 and get stuck with 95,” she half-joked.
The book is expected to cover every Red Rooster Days celebration, starting with its first one in 1958, through its 60th anniversary (expected to take place in 2019).
Since Red Rooster Days is expected to continue long past its 60th anniversary, Gilmer plans to have the book published in a three-ring binder format so future years (or later-found details) can easily be added to it.
“As long as Red Rooster continues, and I’m in halfway good health, I guess I’ll keep going,” Gilmer stated. “It’s been fun and it’s been interesting.”
Crowing through the years
Dassel’s Red Rooster celebration started Sunday afternoon over Labor Day weekend in 1958. It only lasted one day and only consisted of the chicken dinner and the ambassador coronation ceremony.
As more activities were added, the day-long celebration stretched across the whole weekend.
“The [meal] line was ridiculously long [that first year],” Gilmer recalled, stating that many people would head straight to the meal once the area church services were done.
Because everyone was arriving at practically the same time, it was decided the meal would begin mid-Monday morning and continue until the chicken ran out. The thought was that spreading out the meal time would make the crowds easier to serve.
An end time was eventually added, however, since the dinner started conflicting with the coronation ceremony, which was then occurring in the ballpark.
“They would build stands and stages, and every year they put something together. My dad was one of them,” said Gilmer.
It wasn’t until years after the Performing Arts Center was constructed the coronation ceremony’s current location and the event had been rained out a couple of times that the ceremony was permanently moved indoors.
The qualifications for the ambassador program has also changed throughout the years, having been originally open to girls ranging from 17 to 25 years old.
“So, they could be in high school, college, or working, as long as their parents resided in Dassel,” Gilmer stated.
The girls were also able to run for two years, if they wanted, and used to be crowned Monday. The coronation ceremony now takes place Saturday evening.
Gilmer also included lists for each year’s royalty and Minneapolis Aquatennial Commodore Award recipients (which began in 1987). Despite her efforts, however, some of the names are still missing.
In 1999 and 2009, 75 of Red Rooster’s past royalty members attended those years’ coronation ceremonies in honor of the celebration’s 25th and 50th anniversary. Who those past royalty were, exactly, remains unknown.
“I cannot get the list from anybody,” said Gilmer.
Throughout her search, somebody once told Gilmer that video recordings had been taken of the events. She hasn’t had any luck locating those either.
“I have spoken with a lot of former ambassadors,” she stated. “Several of them replied, but so many of them have said, ‘Well I moved six times. I don’t know where my stuff is’ and one had lost everything in the fire, and it just goes on and on and on.”
“You can’t get everything,” she added, “but I’ve tried hard to get as much as I possibly could and as many names as I possibly could.”
Amongst all her discoveries, however, Gilmer said realizing how many people have been involved with Red Rooster Days through the years has been very exciting.
“There were many names that kept popping up over and over, and made me realize how many had actually volunteered for several years,” she stated. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I never thought it would take me this long, but here I am.”