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Afton's Fourth of July parade had humble beginnings

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Afton's Fourth of July parade has earned a reputation for its traditional and festive atmosphere, but the parade had rather humble beginnings.

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The community held its inaugural Fourth of July parade at the turn of the century, but another one wasn't held for many years, according to officials at the Afton Historical Society.

"That kind of died on the vine," said Stan Ross, the AHS president.

Ross has been an Afton resident for nearly 58 years, so he remembers clearly the year the current Fourth of July parade made its debut in 1975. He had just gotten married and went down to the parade with his new bride.

"There was about 20 spectators," Ross recalled. "The parade had a tractor and a horse, and Selma's had a little float, if you want to call it that -- it was pretty humorous."

Over the years, city officials, volunteers and a local family have run the parade.

What started out as a small parade has grown into a tradition for thousands every year.

"I find it really interesting that it has come from such a small little thing into this pretty unbelievable parade -- it's kind of taken on a life of its own," Ross said. "It's amazing how many spectators have come.

"We have a lot of stories from over the years."

Independence Day festivities

The Afton Fourth of July celebration will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The parade will start at noon.

Ross said the attraction of Independence Day in Afton stems from its "small town" feel.

Anyone and everyone who wants to walk in the parade can do so, Ross said.

"That's sort of the spirit of the parade," he said. "We don't know who is going to show up -- it's a surprise for everyone."

The celebration will include all of the favorite attractions from previous years -- food vendors, live music and of course the parade.

"We're probably going to have one of the bigger parades this year because there's no conflicts," he said.

The St. Paul Winter Carnival royalty and the Vulcans will be participants in the parade this year.

This year's Grand Marshall is Sandy Berglund, a former Afton resident who now lives in Ely, whose family has lived in Afton in one way or another since 1905.

One element that is fairly new to the celebration is a video game trailer that will be brought in for the kids.

"I think the video trailer is going to be very popular," Afton deputy clerk Kim Linner said. "We'll see what the response is.

"It's kind of a moving target of what's going to draw the public."

Another addition this year is that the parade will be filmed and narrated by Valley Access Channel for DVDs that will be available at Afton City Hall and the Afton Historical Society Museum.

"The parade is just a lot of fun for everyone," Ross said.

A true community band

Afton's Fourth of July parade has evolved over the years. But one attraction has remained constant - the Schooner Band.

The Schooner Band, sponsored by the Afton Historical Society, is made up of community volunteer musicians, many who appeared in the first parade.

"The parade itself is so old fashioned -- it has to have a band," band manager Kristoffer Kopitzke said. "You don't want a band that is too good, you want a community band."

Kopitzke said they get musicians from all over the metro area.

"We get them wherever we can," he said.

The Schooner Band comes together only once a year to perform in the Fourth of July parade on a hay wagon. On average the band has between 12 and 20 musicians aging from 3 to 90.

"We still have to fit on a hay wagon because, so we can't have too many people," Kopitzke said. "But, as long as you can get on the wagon, you're good."

Kopitzke said the Schooner Band practices only three times, at the Afton Historical Society Museum, leading up to the parade.

The majority of the songs the band plays are of the John Philip Sousa variety.

"We have to play some stuff that people already kinda know already -- nothing too intimidating," he said.

Kopitzke said being a part of the Schooner Band is such a fun experience for everyone involved.

"It's a neat way to experience the parade since we're usually the only band," he said. "Plus the parade itself is very unique -- you don't see parades like this anymore."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
(651) 702-0976
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