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Looney Days visitors keep businesses busy

Johnson crowned grand champion loon caller, 65 competed

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From one end of Main Street to the other, crowds of people filled the street to look at items vendors were selling at Vergas Looney Days on Saturday, Aug. 13, and chat with friends and neighbors.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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VERGAS – “Vergas Looney Days is the best thing about summer,” said Detroit Lakes resident Bev Jacobson. “I love coming to Vergas to shop.”

Jacobson added her shopping included the storefronts lining Main Street, as well as the vendors that were in town for the Looney Days festival on Saturday, Aug. 13.

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Millie Buschette, 2, looks in a mirror at her newly painted face as her mother Keshia Buschette thanks the face painter for the caterpillar. Millie Buschette is the daughter of Keshia and John of Detroit Lakes.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Anyone stepping into a Vergas business during the four-day annual celebration would likely have heard a cash register drawer opening or paper on a credit card machine printing and tearing.

“I wouldn’t be in Vergas today if it weren’t for Looney Days,” said Warren Ackley as he made a purchase at Natalie’s Serendipity.

The shop owner, Natalie Fischer, said sales during the city festival increased by about 50 percent. While all hands on deck are needed for staffing, the crew creates windows where they can break away and enjoy a fun event or two.

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The annual Looney Days Road Rally had several teams competing this year. Winning the Best Costumes were Julie Jaeger, Sharon Broker (both of Columbus, Ohio) and Patty Jaeger of Vergas. The three were dressed as the Brady Bunch sisters.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Sarah Wacker owns The Lavish Loon and The Lavish Loonette in Vergas. She also had a vendor booth outside of her shop.

“Looney Days is hands down one of the best weekends I have in sales,” she said. “The big sellers this year are shirts with lake names on them and the graphic tees with funny sayings.”

Standing downwind from cooking brats at Billy’s Corner Bar had her stomach growling before noon.

“I think I’ve been hungry all morning,” she said with a laugh. “When I get to eat, it’ll taste twice as good.”

The visitors were also hungry. There were fewer food trucks at Looney Days this year, as a real estate and construction office was built at the location that used to provide ample room for food trucks. The dozen food trucks offered in the past were reduced by half. The result was longer lines for the fair food, and the restaurants were filled with customers throughout the day.

Also helping satisfy hungry stomachs was the newly opened grocery store, Ditterich Mercantile . The visitors and residents of the community were happy to see the city bring back a grocery store to the city.

“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” said George Flaskerude of Lake McDonald.

“And I like the variety of stuff they have,” said his wife, Kristi Flaskerud.

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The inflatable games at Looney Days on Saturday, Aug. 13 were a big draw for youngsters.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Vergas residents Tony and Steph Berstler had been driving to Detroit Lakes or Perham to do their grocery shopping. Now, the duo can save gas money and still have a good selection of groceries in their hometown.

Deb Evenson raved about the caramel corn being made at the grocery store. She said the smell pulled her to the corner where the fresh treat was being bagged.

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A horse-drawn carriage ride was part of the Vergas Looney Days charm.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

While the sweet treat was one of the many bonuses of her visit to Vergas, the Pelican Rapids resident’s top agenda item was to see the dachshund dog races. The event began several years ago, where the little-legged wiener dogs are held by owners at the start line. A second person goes to the finish line to coax them onto a win.

“I had never seen the wiener dog races, but it was something I always wanted to see,” Evenson said. “It was exciting and fun.”

Another big-time draw to Looney Days is the annual loon calling contest. People are encouraged to practice the distinct calls of the Minnesota state bird and perform them for the opportunity to win the title of grand champion.

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Davey Jopp, 6, gave his best loon call for the Vergas Looney Days loon calling competition. He is the son of Dave and Jonna Jopp of Frazee.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

There were 65 total competitors in the 2022 Vergas Looney Days Loon Calling Contest. There were three age categories offered. The champion of each age category was invited to the grand championship competition. In the age category of birth to 8, there were 27 entrants; ages 9-15 saw 19 entrants and for those 16 and older there were eight contestants. The event also hosted a loon calling competition for representatives of a business, which had two, and for area lakes, which had nine competitors.

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Looney Days Loon Calling competition judges tally scores for each age category to determine the three winners that compete for the grand champion title.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

As Nick Johnson walked to the stage in Long Lake Park, the park where the iconic loon statute calls home, he had an air of confidence. As soon as the microphone was handed to him, he told the audience to be prepared for something great. While some laughed, it turned out he wasn’t joking. He won his age division and then went on to take the grand champion title.

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The 17-year-old from the Twin Cities had been practicing his loon call for the past five years at a cabin on East Spirit Lake. He was training with his older brother, who had been calling loons for years.

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Nick Johnson, 17, won the Looney Days Loon Calling Grand Champion title. The Twin Cities resident was in town while visiting a cabin on East Spirit Lake.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“The wail was the toughest call to get down,” Johnson said.

It was Johnson’s first year in the competition, and he doesn’t plan to defend his title.

“I don’t want to blow them out of the water again next year,” he said, his grin growing as those around him groaned and laughed.

Johnson added the event was a lot of fun and the other competitors did a great job. He also thanked the judges and event organizers for hosting the competition.

What to read next
Take a look at the houses featured from in and around the lakes area in the 2022 Fall Home magazine. Grab a hard copy at the newspaper office or your favorite news stand.
Stop by the newspaper office or your favorite news stand and pick up a free hard copy of the 2022 Best of the Lakes Area magazine.
Dahlquist has coordinated police science education since arriving at MSUM and, in the process, has taught and mentored a significant number of active-duty law enforcement officers in the Fargo-Moorhead region and many around the nation. He is a former member of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The trees are just standing there, giving off oxygen, eating toxins and providing beauty. I don't understand why they have to be cut down. I recently took a trip to northern Minnesota, driving on Highway 200 and there are miles of trees embracing the road. Please leave our scenic highway as it is for other generations to enjoy.