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Debs parade always delivers: Hundreds come out to see annual event in town of three residents

Don Moe, a member of Horse Fever, rides while holding an American Flag during the 34th annual Debs Fourth of July Parade on Friday. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 3
(L to R) Warner Beach, 4, Joely Olson, 6, and Natalie Beach, 7, walk in the 34th annual Debs Fourth of July Parade. The parade draws hundreds of visitors each year to the small town of three residents. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer 2 / 3
Annabelle Carmona, 8, runs forward to collect a bottle of pop thrown by members of the Dale’s Bar & Grill float Friday during the 34th annual Debs Fourth of July Parade. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 3

DEBS -- Hundreds of flag-waving visitors descended, as they do every Fourth of July, on this small town in northern Minnesota on Friday.

Debs, a town just 28 miles north of Bemidji, which boasts a population of three, held its 34th annual Fourth of July parade late Friday morning. Vehicles lined the sides of Debs Road NW as visitors packed the the two dirt roads of the town to watch a procession of firetrucks, horses, politicians, tractors and antique cars parade around the route.

Russ Johnson, one of the parade organizers, said this year's parade was on track to have the most entries registered in the event.

"It's a great day. It's a nice lovely day, and I think it's going to be a great day for a parade," Johnson said beforehand.

One way Debs' parade stands out: the route.

"This is the only parade that I know of in the United States that goes around the town twice," he said.

The annual parade is organized by a group of volunteers. Throughout the morning, T-shirts bearing the town's name were sold, along with refreshments. All of the proceeds made from the sales fund parade expenses for next year, and they usually between $1,500 to $2,000 every year.

A panel of judges inspected each entry as it rolled down the main road in front of the parade announcer. Awards were given out for the best designed/dressed entries, as well as best adult entry, best youth entry, best antique vehicle, best horse group and most patriotic.

Janet True, one of the three residents of Debs, said she remembered the very first parade, held in 1980. True said the first year was a "small parade" with only about a half-dozen participating. After the parade, people gathered for a potluck dinner and other activities, she said. As the years went on, farmers from the area started entering their tractors into the parade. So, even as the town was getting smaller, the Fourth of July parade was drawing more and more entries and visitors. Many former area residents come back each year for the parade, which makes it special for True.

"I think it's just the fellowship -- the people getting together," she said. "It's really fun to see the change in the people."

True said Debs' parade popularity may be simply because of its size. Plus, the route.

"It's little and it's out of the way," she said. "And it goes around twice."