Jul. 10—NORTH MANKATO — People lined up early Saturday, setting up chairs and blankets from which to watch the 55th annual North Mankato Fun Days parade. After a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of people turned out on the overcast day to cheer on parade floats, grab some candy and celebrate the return of the annual festivities.
Mary Kelly, 83, sat in her front lawn on Belgrade Avenue and watched the parade floats pass by with her children and grandchildren. The family watched the parade every year since it began.
"It's really special," Kelly said. "It's so nice having everybody here."
The entire family comes together for Fun Days each year and watches the parade, plays bingo and ends the day with a pizza party at Kelly's home. The home on Belgrade Avenue has been in the Kelly family since 1927. Mary Kelly's grandfather, Patrick, was a mayor of North Mankato.
This year was extra special for the family because Mary Kelly recently moved into hospice because of her breast cancer, which she's been battling for the past three years.
"It's just so nice having everybody here," she said.
The annual Fun Days celebration had initially been canceled this year due to the pandemic, but officials in May announced the festivities were back on due to increased vaccination rates and reduced pandemic restrictions. Many of the events, including the parade, were back on, although the petting zoo, peddle pull and kiddie parade were canceled.
Fun Days began in 1965 as a way to thank community members who saved North Mankato from severe flooding. The parade is one of the biggest staples of the celebration. Some attendees used chairs and blankets to reserve their spot to watch the parade, setting them up as early as Wednesday.
Peter Lyons first got acquainted with the Fun Days parade as a child, when he would march in the parade and throw out candy as a Cub Scout.
He now watches the parade every year and helps host a barbeque for family and friends outside of his parents' Lake Street home, a tradition they've done for the past 15 years.
"This parade has been a part of my life for a long time," he said as he watched parade floats drive by.
Many of the regulars were back in the parade lineup this year.
Nurses and other staff from the Nicollet County Public Health and Health and Human Services were the special guests of the parade, the grand marshals, this year. They rode in the parade in a double decker bus that Scott Weilage bought in an online auction on Ebay. The bus was so tall riders sometimes had to duck to avoid tree branches as they drove through the neighborhood.
The public health officials were chosen to be the grand marshals because of their work during the pandemic. They promoted vaccines and other services as they rode through the parade and had a pop-up clinic for people to receive the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at Wheeler Park in the afternoon.
"It's nice to be here connecting with the community again," said Cassandra Sassenberg, health and human services director for Nicollet County. "It's like a little slice of normalcy."