Memorial Day may mark the official start of summer in the Lakes Area, but the federal holiday has a much deeper meaning for military servicemen and women, veterans, and their families.
Every year on the last Monday in May, tens of thousands of people gather in communities across the country to remember our veterans, living and dead, who have served their country - and most especially, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in that service.
In Detroit Lakes, that Monday, May 27 observance will take the form of a parade through downtown, followed by a commemorative program put together by local veterans' service groups, including John Bridges American Legion Post 15, Jess Omundson VFW Post 1676, Disabled American Veterans Lakeland Chapter 31, and their respective auxiliary units, which are all based in Detroit Lakes.
"The parade will kick off at 10 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Park, then head down Washington Avenue to the Pavilion," says Larry Krosko, commander of American Legion Post 15, which is hosting this year's festivities.
Though he is still finalizing a few program details, such as the keynote speaker and a singer for the national anthem, Krosko did note that the parade would include participation by the Lake Region Veterans Color Guard and the Detroit Lakes Middle School Marching Band, along with police, fire and sheriff's department members from throughout Becker County, just to name a few.
The program inside the Pavilion will immediately follow the parade, at approximately 10:30 a.m. Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk will be on hand, along with Krosko and representatives of the aforementioned veterans' service groups, and the middle school band will be performing a couple of songs, as well.
For those who want to observe the remembrance part of Memorial Day weekend a little more quietly, the traditional Avenue of Flags display at Oak Grove Cemetery will be going up during the morning and early afternoon of Friday, May 24, and the flags will continue to fly until the morning of Tuesday, May 28.
Avenue of Flags organizer Dave Coalwell respectfully requests that those who want to view the flags, visit the graves of loved ones, or put up flowers and other decorations to honor them, wait until his group of volunteers is done putting up the flags in order to do so.
"We start popping the caps (on the flag pole bases) and hopefully laying some poles on Thursday," Coalwell said, "and then Friday we'll start putting up the flags."
"We'd like to have the public give us time to put them up," he continued, noting that the trailers in which the cotton burial flags are stored are large, heavy, and decidedly lacking in maneuverability. "If people can stay away from the cemetery until about 4 p.m., we should be done. Then they can come in and visit their loved ones, decorate the graves and whatever else they're going to do."
For those who wonder why so much time is needed, it's simple: There are about 650 full-size flags to be mounted on the flagpoles, plus about 1,300 small grave marker flags that they put next to the graves of military veterans buried at Oak Grove.
Fortunately, Coalwell and his family have a little help: Besides the members of the Lake Region Veterans Color Guard, the Frazee Hornets wrestling team is always there to lend a hand, and since last year, the members of the Detroit Lakes FFA have also been helping them out.
The Avenue of Flags is a long-standing tradition in Detroit Lakes, and Coalwell has been a part of it since its inception.
"This is our 29th year," he said. "We started in 1990, with just 40 flags."
Today, the number of full-size flags has reached full capacity at about 650, though the number of veterans honored currently stands at 921.
""We just keep adding names to the flags as we go," Coalwell said.
The cemetery receives hundreds of visitors throughout the weekend, as the display is quite a stirring sight.
"It's an outdoor cathedral," said Coalwell. "That's what I call it."
Those visiting Oak Grove over the weekend will probably notice that the flags are guarded carefully.
"It's been guarded ever since someone stole 43 flags from out there," said Coalwell, adding that the theft occurred "back in 1996 or 1997."
Because of the ongoing expense of replacing flags, flagpoles and pole bases/caps, the VFW and Legion encourage donations for the Avenue of Flags project. Anyone who would like to contribute to the flag project can either contact Coalwell at 218-847-9166 or send a check to: Avenue of Flags, 16905 Sharon Ave., Detroit Lakes MN 56501.
Also next weekend
Just as Memorial Day traditionally honors military veterans, the weekend that precedes it has become a time for celebrating the return of summer, with barbecues, beach volleyball, picnics and a host of other outdoor and indoor activities - and this year is no exception.
On Friday, May 24, Mahnomen's Shooting Star Casino, Hotel & Event Center will be hosting a concert by chart-topping country artist Trace Adkins, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30 and are on sale now. They can be purchased by phone at 1-800-313-SHOW (7469), online at www.starcasino.com/tickets or via the "Buy Tickets" tab on Shooting Star's Facebook page.
Saturday, May 25 marks the Minnesota Bass Fishing Opener, and is also the opening day for the Becker County Sportsman's Club's annual Memorial Weekend Trapshoot. Shooting, camping and camaraderie continues at the Sportsman's Club through Memorial Day. Call Perry Nodsle at 218-847-7603 for more information.
Richwood Winery, located a 15-minute drive north of Detroit Lakes, just outside the tiny hamlet if Richwood, will be hosting Yoga in the Vineyard on Saturday at 10 a.m., as well as live music on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. GC & The Kruse will perform from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and Detroit Lakes' own Dan Holt will take the stage on Sunday, also from 4 to 6 p.m. Sample some of their new and classic vintages while you're there, or check out their range of beer and cocktail selections. Visit www.richwoodwinery.com for details.
The Lakes Area Farmers Market will also be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Detroit Lakes' Peoples Park, and Shady Hollow Flea Market, just south of Detroit Lakes on Highway 59, also opens for its 50th straight season on Saturday. The flea market will also be open on Sunday and Monday, with 25 permanent vendors displaying their wares on 3.5 acres of shaded, grassy grounds. Visit www.shadyhollowfleamarket.com, call 602-809-6661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners will be holding their annual plant sale Saturday in the Detroit Lakes City Park, starting at 8 a.m. and continuing until 11 a.m. (or until the plants sell out, whichever comes first). The selection will include several varieties of pollinator-friendly native plants, and there will be hands-on activities for the kids. The Master Gardeners will be on hand to talk plants.
The Detroit Lakes Eagles Club will once again be hosting Leather Up for Lupus, a Memorial Day weekend motorcycle ride to support the fight against lupus, starting at noon Saturday on Holmes Street in front of the Eagles Club and continuing until approximately 5 p.m. To sign up, call 218-847-5267.
At Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Rochert, join local birder Steve Midthune for some bird identification lessons at the Tamarac Discovery Center this Saturday at 8 a.m., then head out into the field to develop those skills. Participants will identify at least 20 species. Binoculars and field guides are available to borrow. Bring a sack lunch and water for this 4-hour morning birding adventure. For more information, call 218-847-2641.
On Sunday, May 26, Tamarac Refuge will host a free screening of the wildlife movie "Fabulous Frogs," starting at 2 p.m. in the Visitor Center. Take a journey through the weird and wonderful world of frogs, shedding new light on these charismatic creatures. Witness various courtship rituals and parenting. Discover the amazing adaptations and survival techniques of frogs, making them the most successful of amphibians, in this 55-minute film. The Visitor Center is located 9 miles north of State Highway 34, at the junction of Becker County Highways 26 and 29. For more information, call 218-847-2641.
And finally, on Monday, May 27, there will be a Memorial Day potluck lunch starting at noon in the Egelund Church, located 10 miles north of Detroit Lakes on Richwood Road and 4.5 miles east on County Road 26. Free will donations will be used for upkeep of the church and cemetery. Everyone is welcome.