By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN The Cokato Corn Carnival wouldn’t be possible without the 250-plus volunteers who devote their time to the event each August.
That’s why the Cokato Corn Carnival Committee created a new award this year, honoring people who have served for 45 years or more in the corn stand, information booth, or bingo stand.
“The intent of this recognition (officially it was the Service Award, given each year during the Miss Cokato Coronation), was to acknowledge people who have helped keep the carnival a vibrant part of the community for nearly seven decades,” noted Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester. “Our goal was to highlight for those visiting the carnival that it truly does take a community-wide effort to put on an event like the carnival. It simply cannot happen without the assistance of the people willing to give their time for the event.”
During the coronation ceremony, volunteers were called on stage to receive a thank-you card and a pin with the words, “Corn Carnival Super Fan.”
One of the “super fans” is Russ Irvin, who has been volunteering for more than 55 years.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a Corn Carnival yet,” Irvin said.
He started in 1960, a year after his wedding. He remembers receiving a letter from the committee asking for help in the corn stand, and “just showed up.” Right away, he got to work buttering corn on the cob and handing it out to hungry attendees.
“It’s fun; you get to work with different people, and you get to see everyone,” he said. “If everybody does their little part, it keeps the Corn Carnival going.”
Irvin hasn’t kept track of how many cobs he’s buttered over the years, but commented that all the volunteers smell like butter by the end of their shift.
Another long-time Corn Carnival volunteer is Joe Harmala.
“I think it’s been 51 years,” Harmala said. “My very first year was in the summer of 1967, when I was working in the bingo stand.”
Harmala moved to the area in 1965 to teach business and coach baseball at Cokato High School. In 1968, the superintendent asked him to substitute for him in the corn stand.
“And I’ve been in the corn stand ever since,” Harmala said. “It’s worked out really well. We just live right across the street, so it’s not an inconvenience at all.”
And since there are plenty of volunteers, “time goes by pretty rapidly.”
Harmala always takes the Tuesday afternoon shift, which happens to be the one that many area pastors also take.
“We actually call it the ministerial group,” Harmala said, joking that he must need their good influence.
John Martinson is a volunteer who has helped with the corn stand in a different way.
“I started helping back in the ‘60s,” Martinson said. “Back in those days, my dad had a construction company, and we used those trucks to pick up the corn.”
The corn came from different places through the years. Sometimes it was from Green Giant in Cokato (which closed in 1978), and other times it was from Northland Canning (which was purchased by Faribault Foods in 1969).
“A couple of years, we got it in Glencoe,” Martinson added.
Martinson took a break from the Corn Carnival while in college, but picked it back up again afterwards. This time, he was in the bingo stand taking tickets. For the past 10 years or so, he’s been the one calling the numbers and letters.
“It’s kind of fun to banter with the people,” he said. “We try to mix things up to keep people coming back.”
Forrest “Butch” Amundsen doesn’t mind talking in front of a crowd, either. He volunteered at the festival for decades before stepping down five years ago.
“I emceed a lot,” he recalled. “One of the things that really stood out in my mind was emceeing and getting a chance to introduce Hubert Humphrey.”
Through the years, Amundsen helped with bingo, the queen coronation, and hiring entertainment.
“Since it’s in the middle of the week, it’s a little easier to book bands,” he commented, adding that the price is usually somewhat lower, too.
Amundsen also helped set up sound equipment during outdoor church services years ago.
“Some years, they did a baptism at the city pool,” he recalled.
For anyone considering volunteering for the festival, Martinson recommends giving it a try.
“We can always use help,” he said.
Below are the names of the 2018 “Corn Carnival Super Fan” award recipients, based on a list from the Cokato Museum. Although the Cokato Corn Carnival Committee attempted to include volunteers who have served for 45 years or more, it is possible that some names are incorrect or missing. Any volunteers who were not included on this list may be honored sometime in the future.
Sara Keskey noted that the Cokato Corn Carnival committee only schedules volunteers for information, bingo, corn serving, and the parade. She added that there are also many volunteers who help through the Lions Club, Rotary, fire department, and local churches.
• Mike Ackerman
• John Martinson
• Joe Harmala
• Butch Amundsen
• Norm Quanbeck
• Elroy Dahlin
• Rollie Severson
• Kermit Hillman
• Jack Peterson
• Galen Lee
• Carl Holm (deceased)
• Phil Lee
• Jim Martinson, Sr.
• Arden Severson
• Lyle Severson
• Susie Keskey
• Phil Johnson
• Russ Irvin
• Jerry Terning
• John Bergmann
• Tom Entinger
• David Danielson