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Ray and Polly Dahlby were honored Monday as Debs Fourth of July Parade king and queen. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Tiny town of Debs draws big crowd to Fourth of July celebration

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DEBS -- The town of Debs is home to three residents: Jan True, Lynn Bedell and, when he's not at his lake home, Dave Fessel.

But on the Fourth of July, the town attracts hundreds for the festivities. The main feature is the parade, inaugurated in 1979. This year, more than 40 units followed the parade route from behind Roosevelt Town Hall up the Loop Road hill and back around the town hall for a second pass through town.

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The Debs Fourth of July Parade is known as the parade so good it goes around the route twice.

Capt. Steve McGuirk of the Bemidji Northland Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol performed low-altitude flyovers in his single-engine plane painted with a patriotic red, white and blue design.

Mark and Jill Winger sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America."

Emcee Jay Borchert welcomed Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp, driving a shiny squad car, as the first unit was followed by the American Legion color guards from Pinewood and Bemidji.

"Let's have a parade and celebrate the Fourth of July," Borchert announced.

The town is named for Eugene Debs (1855-1926), union organizer and socialist presidential candidate. Diane Schwanz, a rural Debs resident, said the parade was started by a bunch of "back-to-the-landers" who had established a cooperative store in Debs.

"We wanted to revive a lot of age-old traditions," she said. "Mostly honor Debs and the rural people and self-sufficiency."

She said the originators thought the parade would appeal to local folks, but now, people come from all over Minnesota and surrounding states for the festivities. For one celebration, the curator of the Eugene V. Debs Museum in Terre Haute, Ind., was a guest for the Fourth of July.

Debs is an official Minnesota town, albeit sparsely populated. Schwanz said the last mayor was Gunder. "I don't think he had a last name. He had 10 watches on each arm. He was timely."

Many people make the Debs Fourth of July a family tradition, collecting souvenir T-shirts and badges. David Sogard sported one of the earlier T-shirts with a portrait of Eugene Debs printed on it.

"I wear it once a year," he said.

That way, he said, he figures it will last him a lifetime of Debs Fourth of July celebrations.

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