Sunny skies, wiener dogs and loon-calling bring big crowds to Vergas
They came from Fargo. They came from Moorhead. They came from as far as the Twin Cities and Mankato, and as close as Frazee, Park Rapids and Detroit Lakes. There was even one from Colorado.
In fact, there was a veritable invasion of short-legged canines in Vergas on Saturday, as the town hosted the inaugural Wiener Dog Nationals during their annual Looney Days celebration.
“We had 48 dogs registered,” said event organizer Claudia Schmid — but the dogs were way outnumbered by human spectators, as Schmid estimated that nearly 600 people came out to watch the dogs race.
The top three placers were the same in both the Dachshund Dash (sprint) and Really Low Hurdles races, with the top spot going to an astonishingly speedy dog named Daisy, owned by Amy Shultz of Barnesville. The runner-up was Gus, owned by Tim and Marya Flynn of Mankato, while third place honors went to Peanut, owned by Angie Walters of Park Rapids. Bernie, owned by Tonya Stende of Fargo, received an honorable mention, while grand marshal honors for the festivities went to Hunce, a 17-year-old pup from Dent.
Also in attendance at the wiener dog races were the 2013 Miss Vergas, Libby Schmit, and Princess Altona, Kendra Sparby, who were crowned in a Thursday night pageant that marked the official kickoff to the weekend.
About 300 people attended Thursday night’s pageant, according to coordinator Melissa Bunkowske. There were four competitors for Miss Vergas, and eight for Princess Altona.
Libby, who is the daughter of Detroit Lakes’ Karen and Steve Schmit, came in first among a field of four Miss Vergas competitors, with Hailey Jutz taking second-place honors.
Kendra, the daughter of Delray and Tammy Sparby of Thief River Falls — summer residents of the area who have a cabin on Rose Lake, Bunkowske noted — took top honors among the field of eight Princess Altona candidates.
Frazee’s Chelsea Samuelson was named first runner-up.
The Looney Daze festivities also included a road rally, kids’ fishing tournament, 5K run/walk, horseshoe tournament, loon calling contest, classic car show and car parade, strong man and woman competition, water fights, and of course, the annual parade on Sunday.
Speaking of the loon calling contest, the grand prize for 2013 went to 10-year-old Ella Mangel of Moorhead, who also won the competition in 2011.
“I’ve been loon calling since I was three years old,” she said afterwards.
Gaylord’s Kalvin Nontes, age 7, was the winner of the younger kids’ division, while Tami Pueppke of Ayr, N.D., was the winner of the adult division (ages 16 and up) — despite the fact that she admitted coming from a town where there were no loons to be found. But it was Vergas’s own Phil Lien who stole the show and got the biggest laughs of the afternoon, first with his loon call — “Here, Loon! Here, Loon!” — and then with the fact that he actually took second place in his division. “I don’t want to hear any more ‘here loon, here loons’ this afternoon,” admonished the announcer after Lien finished.
One of the weekend’s most unusual exhibitors could be found over by the Country Store. That’s where Audubon resident Andrew Osten parked his one-third scale Case steam engine — which was then used to power Vergas resident Darrell Dey’s custom-built hot dog maker.
Dey kept himself busy handing out samples of the steam-cooked wieners to the small crowd that had gathered. Both men are regulars at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag — and Osten said he’s teaching his sons Simon, 10, and Murphy, 5, to follow in his footsteps. “They’re third generation (steam engine enthusiasts),” Osten said.