Chatfield's Western Days celebration has grown drastically from its meager beginnings in 1967 when a Quarter Horse show was held on the John Ward farm.
“There were a lot of people coming (to the horse show). There was nothing to feed them, so the Commercial Club was asked if we would be interested in helping,” explained Hank Anderson in a 2005 interview. Anderson went on to recall how Jim Perkins agreed to organize a parade, “because parades drew large crowds.” Perkins insisted every parade unit either have a horse, have something horse drawn or the participants had to walk. There were no motorized units in the parade.
During the first dozen years or so, Western Days was held at the Ward farm. A discarded circus tent was called into service and the Chatfield Jaycees built a dance floor that was put out in the pasture following the horse show.
After several years of holding the new celebration under the old circus big top in a pasture, Ward asked the Commercial Club if they would split the cost of the construction of a new building he wanted for his farm. If the Commercial Club agreed, they could hold Western Days on the Ward farm for the next decade.
Following the completion of the building, Western Days was held on the Ward farm for the next 12 years and then moved to Mill Creek Park in the 1980s. The celebration still featured a horse show, a parade, dance and food stands, but also started adding more attractions. Six different community groups helped with Western Days back in the 1980s. They included the Commercial Club, the Jaycees, the Rotary Club, Saddle Club, Lions Club and Fish & Game Club.
The various civic and service groups had rotating schedules, with one club providing a chairperson for the year and another a co-chair. This situation existed for a number of years. But as several of the organizations disbanded, a smaller nucleus took the reins and began organizing the community celebration year in and year out. That nucleus was made up of Steve Rowland, Pam Bluhm and Randy Bidsler.
Those three “ring leaders,” along with many other dedicated persons, developed Chatfield's Western Days into one of the most popular community celebrations in southeast Minnesota.
The Western Days committee was formed around 2000, and became a privately-funded entity. According to Rowland, the committee receives donations from area businesses, income from the annual button sales and from the ever-growing number of vendors who set up shop for the three-day event.
Chatfield's Western Days has grown into a celebration that offers something to almost everyone from 2 to 102. With more than 50 events, there's music, dances, parades, shows, rides, races, contests, tournaments, displays, oh and did I mention food and drink?
“It really has grown over the years,” Rowland said. ”We start planning for next year's event in September when we go through our final numbers for that year's event. We have people taking our Western Days float to parades all over the area. While at those parades, we find out what types of parade units are popular and recruit them for our parade the next year.”
Rowland added that they try to attend as many community celebrations as possible to find out what types of attractions draw the spectators.
“We're always trying to improve, bring in new events and attractions to make Western Days bigger and better,” Rowland added.
Looking back, Rowland said the Western Days musicals were one of the mainstays of the celebration. “For 33 years, the Johnson family supported those musicals,” Rowland recalled. About a dozen years ago the WITS End Theatre took over where the musicals left off and have been a rousing success.
Bluhm noted that they wanted to get more activities for the kids. The Chatfield Lions Club now sponsors Mutton Bustin, which has become very popular. A kiddie parade and pedal pull are offered for the youngsters. A Friday night teen dance was added, as well as a dance contest for Chatfield's youth.
A car show was added in 1998 and now draws over 100 antique and classic vehicles. A craft show and flea market brings in many, as does the trap shooting competition, softball, volleyball, beanbag tournaments and don't forget what started it all... the horse show and horse pulling contest.
Chatfield's Western Days has one of the top parades in the area, with 125-plus units. Rowland and Bluhm figured the parade brings in several thousand persons during that mid-day Saturday event. Bidsler is in charge of the parade and spends plenty of time attending other parades to get the best possible units for Chatfield. The Western Days committee spends several thousand dollars on parade units for Saturday's big attraction.
“It's a lot of work, done by a lot of dedicated persons,” Rowland noted. “But when it's all done, it's a good feeling to know we were able to have another successful event.”