Festival turns leisurely

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Sunday rolled in loudly, but the pace of the day was a leisurely one for both native and visiting revelers.

Tuesday, July 04, 2000

Sunday rolled in loudly, but the pace of the day was a leisurely one for both native and visiting revelers. It was a Sunday meets small-town-holiday kind of day, just right with the ice cream social in the evening and music and fireworks to finish it off.

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It also was a day filled with Austin’s twin symbols of the festivities at hand: flags and pigs.

In the afternoon there were paintings of pigs, Parkside Pete’s and the Hormel Foods corporate office at OakPark Mall. The City’s Choice award went to a painting of the Hormel cabin decorated with at least 18 of the Pigs in the City.

At the same time, Bob Richardson, a former Austin social studies teacher, was at Nemitz’s signing books and explaining what the Hormel strike had to do with his interest in flags.

"Both sides, it seemed to me," he said, "were suggesting they were taking the high road and using the flag to reinforce that. The union and the company; plus then there was the different law enforcement agencies, they had it stitched on their arms. It got me to thinking … that led to a decade of doing programs on the evolution of the American flag."

Richardson’s last year of teaching in Austin – 1986 – was artist Mary Weis’ first year here.

Weis, a South Carolina native, won the special award from the city last year for her U.S. flag made of worker’s gloves and which hangs in City Hall now. It was her second painting to win the award: the first was a painting called "Working on the Kill."

She and husband Ray Weis were talking to Austin Daily Herald columnist Bob Vilt, because Ray tried to track down Bob once when they both were staying in Hawaii.

He didn’t have any luck then, but the two of them finally met Sunday.

Eventually the conversation worked its way round to the festivities at hand and SPAM.

"In Hawaii, it seems people can set up a food place in about 10 minutes," Mary Weis said. "They were setting up this little place when I took Ray up to the golf course down the road, and by the time I’d dropped him off there was a line, even some nuns were waiting there. They were serving the most delicious SPAM sushi – made of sticky rice and seaweed wrapped around a little piece of SPAM. Really tasty."

From the Austin Area Arts Center at the mall, one could either head for the car show, take a tour to try and find as many Pigs in the City as possible, or get on down to the bandshell.

Folks started setting up their lawn chairs at the bandshell as early as 4 p.m., a full hour and a half before the Pork Producers Taste of Austin supper was scheduled to start. By 6 p.m., there were more than 300 scattered around the park, on chairs and blankets, eating brats or pork patties and waiting for the ice cream social at 7 p.m. By 7 p.m., all the best spots were taken.

Joe and Darlene Rusch, Grace Rasmussen and Allie Cansin, all natives of Coon Rapids, came for the celebrations for the second time in three years. They planned to stay until after the parade on Tuesday.

"We enjoyed it so much two years ago, we thought we’d come back," Joe Rusch said. "What do we like? We like the bands and the parades. Two years ago they had the firefighters water fight – that was fun. Plus the boat races."

"We like the SPAM fest," Grace said.

Too bad they missed SPAM Jam on Saturday, but Grace said she wasn’t too wild about actually eating SPAM, so maybe that’s OK.

The Coon Rapids natives were media darlings in those earlier hours at the bandshell – first they chatted with KAUS radio personality "Champagne" Duane Germain and then with the Austin Daily Herald.

Germain was working the bandshell crowd early on, so there was plenty to listen to, long before the Austin Symphony Orchestra let the music begin.

Glenda Olson, Lu Schmitt, Ethel Haase and Margaret Qvale also were there long before the music began – dead center, about 40 yards from the stage.

"We got here early for the good seats," Haase said.

"It’s not going to rain," Schmitt said with determination.

They were ready for anything, those four women.

Between them they had two umbrellas, a rain poncho, a rain hat, two baseball caps and one SPAM T-shirt. Plus a pair of long socks to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Between the four of them, they also had a lot of years in Austin: Olson moved here in 1947; Qvale in 1954; Schmitt in 1956 and Haase before any of them.

They said the parades used to be better – there were more floats in prefestival years and the fireworks used to be held at the Austin Country Club – but they like the festival fine, no matter what its name.

Between them they also raised 11 children in Austin – its suitability for family life was unanimous among the four friends.

"I can’t think of a better place to live than Austin," Haase said. "We’ve got great music, great theater, good food, good schools – not many towns this size can boost of a symphony orchestra. It’s a great place – good golf courses, too."