A few “old-timer” Lions were asked to give a little of the history and originally a single story in this section was going to be written. But when each member sent their own account of Riverfest, it’s origin and uniqueness, all of the recollections were too remarkable to change! Below are a few Riverfest Stories from some of the original Lions.
Lion Mike Benedetto
The first RiverFest was actually a July 4th Bicentennial celebration in 1976. The event was a cooperative festivity sponsored by the Lions, Rotary and other community organizations.
The Grand Marshall was senator and former Vice President Hubert Humphry. There were approximately 10,000 people who attended the parade and the chicken dinner in the park.
The following July 4th celebrations were the sole responsibility of the Monticello Lions. The event was billed as an Old Fashion community get together. It was never intended to be a carnival like atmosphere with rides and carnival games.
The parade’s main attraction was basically an antique car parade, and 4 to 5 marching bands followed by a chicken dinner in Ellison Park. Believe it or not, beer sales were not a part of the initial celebration
The Lions cooked the chicken in the old Maus Grocery store, which is now the Help Center. The lions then carted the cooked chicken down to the park in coolers ready to be served by Lions waiting in the park (Crazy).
The Miss Monticello Coronation was first held as part of the festivities in 1980. The crown went to Kim Johnson a senior at Monticello High School. In 1983 the first Citizen of the Year was initiated. The recognition went to Lynn Smith the publisher of the Monticello Times.
During those years the parade route varied. The first few years the route went right down Broadway, Other years it started at the Maus store. Up until the early 2000’the parade route went down 3rd St. and crossed. Highway 25 and ended up either at the park or at the middle school. Because of the traffic problems the route was changed to where it is today. Crossing highway was eliminated.
In the early days of the celebration the event was always held on the 4th of July. With the exception of 1997, when a terrific storm struck the town on July 1st. The devastation to the town was so severe to the parks, trees etc. that the event was delayed until a smaller festival was held later that summer.
As the celebration continued, the event was eventually moved off of the 4th to allow for greater participation.
The Lions, with only approximately 40 members did not have the personnel to keep up with the expanding event.
In order to continue with the celebration it was necessary to include other organizations in the planning and implementation of the expanded festivities. In 1986 the name of the event morphed into the new name of, Riverfest!
Lion Larry Kounkel
It started in 1976 as a bi-centennial celebration. With a parade and two Monticello bands, the High school and Middle school and I believe at least two other bands. It was held on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July. The parade went down Broadway from Pinewood to the then High school with the celebration in Ellison park.
Hubert Humphrey was grand Marshall and his Model T ford was in the parade. Many antique cars made up the majority of the parade. Once in Ellison Park chicken dinner was served from Maus foods, with the Lion members making repeated trips to the store for more chicken.
As the years went by, the Chamber added Saturday Craft/Art in the Park and early years the Chamber had ice cream cones and then the various restaurants providing food.
In the early 1980’s the parade route started at the American legion with the queen candidates and at times various Shriner groups such as Go-Karts, Bagpipes & drums, Bands, Motorcycles, as well as band competition. The celebration continued on the weekend closet to July 4th until it expanded to include all of the extra days. That also took out the bands since most schools don’t’ march after July 4th.
After the 1st year or so the Lions contract with a group from Albertville to broaster fry the chicken.
In 1997 the Lions decide to bring the community in to working and helping put Riverfest together, because it was getting too big for just the Lions Club members.
It was changed from 4th of July celebration to Riverfest around 1990.
Lion Glenn Nemec
At the time I joined the club (’87), Lions had been managing Riverfest alone for several years. It was just a Lions project back then and we did the parade, the chicken dinner, the Saturday Dance, and sometimes there would be some sort of river event such as raft or canoe races.
A few years later, we were approached by a local artisan about doing a Saturday Art in the Park. They had their own committee to put that together and we just provided set up, beer, and tear down.
Shortly after that we decided to enlarge Riverfest and get other clubs/organizations involved, all on a voluntary basis. A local rod and gun club did a kids fishing tournament with cane poles, we got the boy scouts to clean up the parade route, various clubs to help serve the chicken dinner, and support art in the park.
Part of the parade had always been antique cars which would park around Ellison after the parade for a mini car show. Later a local car enthusiast suggested a car show on Thursday which eventually morphed into Family Day.
Fire works were added and used to be Sunday night after all the Ellison Park activities were done and they were the “capstone” event of the celebration. The talent show is a more recent addition, and when that became fairly popular we moved the fireworks to Friday after the show.
Below is a partial list of the groups/organizations who have a hand in Riverfest!
Monticello Lions, Monticello Rotary, Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry, City of Monticello, Monticello Women of Today, Monticello Job’s Daughters, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, American Legion, Sons of American Legion, Monticello Fire Department, Running Club, 4-H Clubs, Hope Evangelical Free Church, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Monticello Ministerial Society, Monticello Senior Center, Monticello Royal Ambassadors, Wright County Sheriff’s Department/Reserves/Explorers.