COKATO, MN After countless hours working behind the scenes to make the Cokato Corn Carnival a success, Gordy and Dorene Erickson will lead the parade this year as grand marshals in recognition of their dedicated service to the community.
The parade will start at 6:20 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12.
Dorene moved to Cokato when she was 8, and Gordy has lived near or in the city his whole life.
Dorene has been chairperson of the Corn Carnival committee for 19 years. After this year, she will pass on the torch and step away from her position.
“After a while, you implement all the ideas that you have and do all the things you thought you wanted,” Dorene said. “The Corn Carnival, if you grew up here, you know: it’s nostalgia, it’s reunion, it’s friends, so you get it to the point where there’s a committee that has the same vision for it, and then it just passes on to another committee member that has the same ideas.” She plans on continuing to work with the committee during the transition in leadership.
In addition to being Cokato’s mayor and Corn Carnival chairperson, respectively, Gordy and Dorene are active in the community in other ways.
“We volunteer for a lot of things,” Gordy said. “The Corn Carnival, Dorene’s in the chamber, I’m in the Lions, and I’ve been there for around 30 years. Once you start volunteering, it’s really easy.”
Dorene added, “It gets in your blood, and you just want to help.”
The Corn Carnival relies heavily on volunteer work provided by community members, and the Ericksons believe this tradition remains strong.
“I get frustrated with people who say the younger generation these days isn’t coming out,” Dorene said. “I think the Corn Carnival has done a pretty good job of getting volunteers out there. We have between two and three hundred volunteers every year, and they come and do their two or three hour shift, and they’re happy to do it. I’m hoping that continues.”
“When they send you a card for the corn carnival, you almost feel obligated to volunteer, which we did,” Gordy added. “I worked corn-stand cleanup, at the bingo stand, I’m on the parade committee now; you just volunteer. Dorene is the chairperson, so that also pushes me a little more to volunteer.”
To the Ericksons, part of what makes the Corn Carnival so special has to do with the town itself. Gordy said of Cokato, “We’re great. We’re going forward, we’re getting more developed.”
“I think there’s a lot more activity and growth and liveliness in Cokato than there is in a lot of small towns in the area,” Dorene added.
The Ericksons said they believe that one reason for Cokato’s positive image is its feeling of safety. They told a story of how visitors to the carnival from out of town were impressed because they felt safe bringing their kids to the carnival.
The visitors told Dorene, “Where can you go in this world anymore where you feel like you can just let your kids run and do their thing and you don’t feel like they’re unsafe? It’s pretty unique.”
After stopping by Cokato on a whim, this family turned the carnival into a tradition, returning every year for the festivities, like so many others.
The Ericksons appreciate the work of other volunteers.
“There are 19 of us within the city [carnival committee], and everybody has their certain thing,” Dorene said. “Everybody has their part, and I, by any means, don’t know it all, because there’s way too much, but each of these people are great at their job. So, that’s perfect.”
This spirit of collaboration and community is what keeps the Corn Carnival alive and well, and the Ericksons continue to be a strong part of that tradition.