Life is a funny thing. For years, it seemed like my daily pace became faster and faster and it felt like there were never enough hours in a day to get everything done. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything stopped. All of sudden there was no place to go. We stayed home. We wore masks. We social distanced.
Thanks to the wonder of the modern vaccine, life is returning to normal. Among the many returning events is the Hutchinson Jaycee Water Carnival, June 15-20.
Last year, Commodore Jon Beach and his First Mate Laura Beach faced an unprecedented situation. Did they proceed with a traditional Water Carnival or did they offer a hybrid version based on what was happening with the COVID-19 pandemic? They opted for safety and offered a limited schedule with virtual activities. It proved to be the correct decision.
The first Water Carnival took place June 22, 1941, just a few months shy of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States in the global conflict of World War II.
Like the COVID-19 pandemic, World War II impacted the local summer festival. There was no Water Carnival celebration in 1943. The following year it was scheduled again, but most events were rained out and it was canceled in 1945 and 1946 because no carnivals were available.
Like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, the Water Carnival began again. Thanks to the enthusiasm of its sponsors — the Hutchinson Junior Chamber of Commerce — and local business support, it became a popular summer attraction that continues today.
In 2017, the festival observed its 75th anniversary. No small achievement in a our busy world. The milestone was celebrated with a beefed-up Thursday night schedule with the boat parade, live music by Andy Austin, food and beverages and a fireworks. It was a hit — so much so, it has become a staple to the schedule and will take place this year on Thursday, June 17.
While activities come and go, what doesn’t change is the spirit of volunteerism that makes Water Carnival possible. Year after year, people step up to help by sharing their time and talents to make the week of activities a memory maker. in the case of Jon and Laura Beach and Vice Commodore Ryan Elbert and Second Mate Sam, they have done it twice — in 2020 and again in 2021. With demanding jobs and growing families, the four leaders with the members of the Water Carnival committee stepped up and planned events — twice — canceled once — and came back to do it all again. That’s dedication. Kudos to them for wanting to honor tradition and their hometown of Hutchinson.
For many years, Hutchinson celebrated the Fourth of July. From 1916 to 1940, Independence Day activities ranged from a parade and picnic to patriotic addresses, baseball games and fireworks.
In 1941, the newly formed Hutchinson Junior Chamber of Commerce made the decision to create a new town festival. It took place June 22 on the Crow River. The sale of a commemorative button was the only way of financing the event. It’s a tradition the Jaycees continue to this day.
The first Water Carnival included afternoon and evening parades with 30 water floats, plus rides, shows and concessions.
The national magazine “Friends,” published by Chevrolet Motor Co., featured Hutchinson and its carnival. It was written, “Hundreds of swimmers and bathers took advantage of the beautiful setting to try out the Mill Pond.”
It wasn’t that long ago that events moved from the riverfront to the McLeod County Fairgrounds. A tradition existed for this. In 1942, the Water Carnival was expanded to three days, July 3-5, and took place at the fairgrounds, north of 3M.
Due to World War II, there was no Water Carnival celebration in 1943. It was canceled again in 1945 and 1946 because no carnivals were available.
The festival returned in 1947. The two-day event featured 20 queen candidates vying for the title of Miss Hutchinson, a pilots’ breakfast and two parades. Radio personality Cedric Adams broadcast his radio show from Hutchinson. Don Shaw’s Orchestra played for the Saturday night dance. On the river, there was continual entertainment with 50 speedboats and seaplane rides.
Someone had written a note attached to the 1947 record, “Perfect weather, a few water floats burned up, celebration went into the red.” It’s been rumored it was the Hutchinson Leader float that started the brouhaha.
The first Mr. Hutchinson was named in 1957. The honor was bestowed on Lew Merrill, city and county civil engineer.
Also that year, the Queen’s Ball took place at the new Pla-Mor Ballroom in Glencoe. Live music was provided by Guy De Leo. In 1967, the Queen’s Ball was on the move again. This time it took place at Lake Marion Ballroom.
The first Hutchinson Woman of the Year, Jean Peterson, was selected in 1977. The tradition was separate from the Water Carnival and continued to be this way for more than 20 years. In 2002, the honors of Mr. Hutchinson and Woman of the Year became part of the Friday night pageant festivities.
At one time, the Hutchinson Jaycee Water Carnival was considered to be the largest summer celebration in outstate Minnesota. It was only eclipsed by the Minneapolis Aquatennial. Today, the Water Carnival attracts thousands of people to the city. The most popular events are Sunday’s Grande Day Parade and the two nights of fireworks.