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Hundreds turn out for Fourth of July Debs celebration

Jan Robia, left, on Raja and Tracy Parthun on Justice carry flags in the 30th annual Debs Fourth of July parade Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

From a working dump truck to classic cars, stylish horses, costumed children and serious causes - the 30th annual Debs Fourth of July parade combined innovation with tradition. And, of course, as always, the parade circled the tiny town (population five) twice.

The lineup of 62 registered units started at 10 a.m. The parade stepped off smartly as the Debs School bell rang at 11 a.m.

"I've been to parades from coast to coast, and this is my favorite - real small town, cool," said Craig Foster of Solway.

"I've never seen a parade on a dirt road before," said Deb Meiers of Forest Lake, Minn. "We have a student from Spain, and she wanted to see a Fourth of July Parade."

Paula Alverez, the student from Spain, walked thoughtfully back along the mile-long stretch of parked cars crowding the verge of Beltrami County Road 5 south of Debs carrying an American flag. She qualified as the visitor from the farthest distance, although Debs doesn't award a trophy for "Most out-of-town."

Members of the extended Johnson family in their squirt gun and water balloon float might be the longest continuing Debs residents, if there were a trophy for that. Howard Russell Johnson Jr., who pulled the float with his pickup, said Great-grandfather Augutus Johnson homesteaded near Debs on Clearwater Lake in 1900. As for the water balloons, Howard's nephew Adam Johnson said, "We hand them out the first round, and then the water fight begins the second round."

"We lightly toss them," Howard said. "They throw them at their significant others or back at us just to keep everybody cool."

Parade King Al Stai, a World War II veteran in an American Legion cap, and Queen Vi Stai greeted the crowds lining the town's single semi-circular street from the back of Charles and Helen Tverber's shiny black 1964 Oldsmobile 98.

Ralph Myhus showed off the rumble seat of his 1931 Ford Model A coupe and Darrell Vang drove a lavender 1938 Chevrolet. Old-time tractors and other classic cars also made the rounds.

Kieth Winger, former Beltrami County sheriff and current Winger's West Alaska Resort owner, also entered the parade with an antique, a 1947 Kingfisher aluminum boat with a miniscule, battery-powered trolling motor of similar vintage.

"I'll have you know I've caught my limit of walleye out of this boat more than once," he said, without divulging from which lake.

Winger said his parents started the West Alaska Resort on Balm Lake in 1947, but they bought the boat some time later as used equipment.

"There wasn't much up here then," Winger said.

Other units stretched their creativity with catchy details, such as the green tails the women promoting Turtle River Days wore and the puns on the signs for the Kathy's Custom Chainsaw sculpture float: "Bear with us. We're from Debs."

A couple of units took a more serious note. Avery Goeddertz peddled a bicycle wearing safety gear and pulling a sign: "Please wear a helmet. Grampa does. Mom does. I do. U 2." And the Eugene B. Debs Peace and Justice Coalition protested with placards including: "Bring Debs Back to Debs, Patriot, War Protester, Hero."

The town of Debs is named for the Socialist union organizer and five-time presidential candidate (1855-1926), who protested United States involvement in World War I.

Fourth of July celebrations continue today in Bemidji with arts and crafts beginning at 10 a.m. in Library Park, the 1 p.m. Grand Parade, the 4 p.m. Twin Cities River Rats Water Ski Show on Lake Bemidji and all day Bingo and Merriam's Midway.