The History of Corn Days at the Church of St. George
The Beginnings of Corn Days in the 1970s
Historically, St. George had held “harvest dinners” in September as a way to raise money for the parish and serve the local community a wholesome home-cooked meal. Parishioners Marge Rudd and Barbara Kozak came up with the idea for a new annual festival called Corn Days based on the traditional “harvest dinners.” They had two goals in mind for the festival: to promote community spirit at St. George and to raise money for the parish’s educational programs. In August 1971, the first Corn Days Festival was celebrated and it quickly became an annual fundraiser for the parish and a popular and entertaining local tradition. There were carnival games, bingo, an auction, and dances. Plenty of freshly picked corn-on-the-cob was boiled (not roasted like today) and served for free. At the Second Annual Corn Days in August 1972, nearly two tons of corn was consumed and there was a 67-unit parade (the first one)! Overall and early on, Corn Days was a well-liked and well-attended event that drew in the local community to the summer celebration. In fact, former vice president and at the time MN Senator Hubert Humphrey and his wife Muriel were the grand marshals of the 1973 Corn Days parade. By 1975, nearly everyone at St. George was involved in helping with and participating at Corn Days. For example, the Youth Council took on many projects that involved the youth of the parish and the local community. In no time at all, Corn Days became the signature annual parish fundraiser that brought people to Long Lake for a fun and memorable late summer weekend.
Corn Days 1980
Despite the rainy weather, Corn Days 1980 was a huge summer celebration for both St. George and Long Lake with exciting rides and games, huge raffle prizes, sport tournaments, Corn Days Queen, and always plenty of all-you-could-eat corn! Corn Days 1980 was bigger and better than ever with new entertainment and events. In the 1980s, Corn Days took place in St. George’s front yard and parking lot (not the backyard like we do today). A larger Midway, with rides rented from the American Carnival Company, was set-up in the grass lot beside the parking lot. Rides included a large Ferris Wheel, the Octopus, Disco Swing, a Merry-Go-Round, Bumper Cycles, and Jupiter Jump. Midway games included a dunk tank, basketball toss, Ring the Bottle, and Cool Pool. The main stage was near the Midway and featured a talent show and the Miss Long Lake contest (Dana Stanilaski was coronated) before the headlining Saturday night act, Balgaard Brothers. In the parking lot were arts and crafts booths run by church groups, individuals, and organizations. They sold puffy quilts, baby booties, and other handmade goods. Food booths were set-up between the side and community center entrances. The Long Lake Volunteer Firemen ran the brat booth. St. Edward’s Episcopal Church sold fresh doughnuts at their booth. St. George also offered hamburgers, corndogs, pizza, and chicken wings from its busy grills. For sweet treats, there was St. George homemade cookies, pies, and cakes served with ice cream. Bingo (as always) was offered in the community center while adult games of skill and chance were in the church conference room. A live auction was held outside the back of the church near Brown Road. Where kids’ games are now used to be Der Bier Garden (added in 1979) and the Corn booth. Der Bier Garden had its own schedule of live entertainment that included organ music, youth tap dancers, a magic act, local singers and bands. Next to Der Bier Garden was the essential corn booth. A concrete square was added that year to make it easier to boil (not roast) the corn in large cauldrons; it is still there today. An all-you-could-eat corn stamp cost only $1! The Saturday Mass was a Polka Mass that featured fun polka music and would become staple of Corn Days in 1980s. There were several sports tournaments to watch and participate in. A softball tourney was organized at nearby Holbrook Park that started Friday evening and ended with a championship round on Sunday. There was a volleyball tournament on Saturday and a foot race on Sunday. New in 1980 were horseshoe and tennis tournaments. As always there was the popular Long Lake parade on Sunday. The festival closed with the Raffle drawing, and the grand prize was a brand new Chevrolet Chevette (tickets were only $1!). Corn Days 1980 truly did bring the St. George and Long Lake community together in a grand celebration to finish the summer!
A Decade of Growth: Corn Days in the 1980s
Throughout the 1980’s, Corn Days remained a large and popular parish and local community get-together. Midway rides and games were brought in to attract families to spend the weekend at Corn Days. Popular local bands entertained the crowds from the Corn Days mainstage such as Electric Soul in 1986 to play upbeat dance music. There were sports tournaments to participate in and watch. In 1983, a women’s softball tournament was added in addition to the men’s tournament, both of which went from Thursday through Sunday at nearby Holbrook Park. Along with the softball tournaments in 1983, there was a volleyball tourney and Running Races on Sunday morning. The Long Lake Lions sponsored the Miss Long Lake Queen contest in 1983. Lynne Theiler was crowned Miss Long Lake and won prize money and the chance to be a delegate to the 1984 Aquatennial. There was live auction until 1986 when St. George changed it to a silent auction. The Polka Mass on Saturday was a popular staple of Corn Days in the 1980s. The Ralph Roberts Band even played during the Polka Mass in 1986. The Roast Beef Dinner was first introduced in 1984 and became the signature meal for the rest of the decade. In 1986, the dinner included round roast beef cooked on a spit, au gratin potatoes, baked beans, slaw, buns, mint fudge cake, coffee, milk, or iced tea, all cooked at St. George. By 1987, Corn Days had gotten so large that 5 parking lots were set-up throughout Long Lake and Orono with shuttle buses to take people to the festival. The parades were large and attracted celebrity grand marshals. In 1983, there were over 70 floats in the parade with former Viking Bobby Bryant as the celebrity grand marshal and Everett Dexter as the local grand marshal. Kare 11 journalists John Bachman and Diana Pierce were the celebrity grand marshals in 1986 and 1987. To finish off Corn Days were large super raffle drawings. The Long Lake Chamber of Commerce raffled off a champagne hot balloon ride over Lake Minnetonka one year. In 1985, the grand prize was a trip for 2 to Hawaii. More vacation prizes were offered in 1986 that included one week vacations to Florida, the Colorado mountains, and Wisconsin Dells. A Caribbean cruise for 2 was the raffle grand prize in 1987. Corn Days became bigger and better than ever with large attractions, delicious homemade food, and major grand prizes.
Changes in the 1990’s
Corn Days in the 1990s saw several important changes throughout the decade that made it the annual festival we know and enjoy today. Corn Days has always been a parish effort, but it became even more so in 1990s. In the months leading up to the festival, parishioners volunteered their time and efforts chairing a committee as a part of the organization of Corn Days each year. Parishioners were invited and encouraged to come help with festival set-up and corn husking either the Thursday, Friday, or Saturday morning before the festival. Complimentary hot dogs and drinks were given to hard-working volunteers who helped with the set-up. All booths were volunteer-run. There were still arts and crafts booths with handmade goods by St. George parishioners. The grills and cauldrons were busy making a variety of food. All-you-can-eat corn was still $1.25 a day. To make cooking the corn easier, St. George switched to roasting the corn in 1997. There were homemade Saturday night dinners. In 1991 and 1992, St. George offered its filling roast beef dinner. Steve Scherer, a parishioner and in the band Stampede, provided the roast beef for the dinner. In 1994 and 1995, St. George offered an old-fashioned chicken dinner outside in the entertainment tent, harkening back to the harvest dinners St. George used to make. Stampede has been playing Corn Days off and on since at least 1991 (that’s over 25 years of great musical entertainment!). There were both live and silent auctions in 1991 and 1992. From 1993 on, there were only silent auctions. It was encouraged that every parishioner donates an item or service to the auction. By 1993, Corn Days had moved to the backyard of the church. There was declining interest in sports, so in the 1990s only a 4-mile fun run from Hackberry Park to Holbrook Park was organized on Corn Days Sunday. Carnival rides were brought in and were a part a part of the festival until 1996 due to dissatisfaction with the carnival company and the expense of bringing in the carnival every year. When the St. George Knights of Columbus was chartered in 1998, they cooked their first Continental Breakfast in 1999, which became their ever popular pancake breakfast on Corn Days Sunday. The Long Lake parade remained a popular community attraction throughout the decade. The annual raffle drawing changed to cash prizes. As an incentive to encourage parishioners to sell raffle tickets, there was a weekly drawing for small cash prizes during the weeks leading up to Corn Days. Even though we lost some signature events in 1990s, the Church of St. George found new events and ways for Corn Days to bring the parish and local community together for good food and fun times in the summer sun.
Corn Days in the 2000s:
From 2001-2003, there was a $10, 000 grand prize for the Super Raffle. There was an early bird special drawing for extra Super Raffle tickets from 2001-2003. From 2001-2007, the Knights of Columbus ran the Silent Auction. In 2001 they raised $4,000 from the auction and put it toward purchasing a crucifix for the entrance of the parish cemetery. The Women’s Council took over the managing the silent auction in 2008. Over the years, Children’s games brought in lots of animals from businesses and organizations such as The Raptor Center Eagle Assembly, Misty and Friends petting zoo and pony rides, and Remarkable Reptiles. Signature and popular music acts made repeat appearances throughout the decade were the Teddy Bear Band, Shaw Brothers, Dweebs, Stampede, Absolut Gruv, and Kubla Khan. In 2004, the Long Lake Fire Department stepped down from running their brat and hot dog stand that they had run since the 1980’s. Saturday evenings we served a Spaghetti Dinner, occasionally with live music from 2000-2010. The Latino community became involved in the festival with a Spanish Sunday Mass in 2005, the first performance from the Latino dance group (now called Alma Folkorica), and the first Fiesta Dinner featuring authentic Mexican dishes in 2011.
Corn Days Queen
One of the former signature events of Corn Days was the annual Queen contest. The pageant first started in 1973 through the sponsorship of the Orono Lions and local young ladies competed for the crown and title of “Miss Tamarack.” It was the idea of Gerry Shaughnessy, the Vice-President of the Orono Lions, as another fundraiser during Corn Days. Even though profits were never realized from the pageant, the queen contest became a popular highlight of Corn Days for many years. In 1981, the Long Lake Chamber of Commerce took over the sponsorship and organization of the annual queen contest and changed the title to “Miss Long Lake.” Since 1984, the annual winner of “Miss Long Lake” received a cash prize and the chance to compete at the annual Aquatennial for the crown and title of “Queen of the Lakes.” From 1992-1994, the queen contest took place in the auditorium of the Orono High School. In the 1990s, the Women’s Council sponsored the queen candidate from the St. George community. The pageant was discontinued from Corn Days in 1995, most likely due to decreasing public interest and lack of event organizers and money.