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Laporte celebrates 4th on the 6th

Assistant Lakeport Fire Department chief Tom Lindahl gets the sirens revved up as the fire trucks parade downhill on an open stretch of Highway 200, which is closed two blocks away for construction. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 4
Jaelyn Schmidt waters her float, which was titled "Let Freedom Grow and Ring." It was decorated with bells and flowers. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 4
Highway 200 isn’t nearly ready for paving. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 4
Carefully-lettered signs wept after getting soaked. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 4

BY Sarah smith

Leave it to Laporte to serve up a giant batch of holiday lemonade.

Given a summer-load of lemons, a highway detour taking motorists practically to the Canadian border and back, the tiny burg’s 111 residents were challenged to begin with.

And due to competition, Laporte always holds its Fourth of July celebration the following weekend, so this year it was The Fourth on the Sixth.

Following five days of picture perfect weather, you might have guessed Laporte was in for a lovely celebration.

It was not to come.

Mother Nature rained on Laporte’s parade. But the feisty town made lemonade instead.

Junior high students and their parents stood on a street corner inviting company to huddle under their tent. They were peddling root beer floats to fund baseball uniforms.

Joan and John Miller, owner of the corner store and gas station, donated the root beer and ice cream.

Parents Les and LaDawn Kline were strategically set up on either side of the highway to maximize sales. Their son is on the team.

Les Kline was trying to put on his game face.

“They say it’s almost passed over,” he said of the dark clouds circling overhead.

Construction of Highway 200, right through the heart of town, has required the whole town to put on its game face.

The stretch of highway, if you take MNDOT’s detour, takes motorists several miles north out of the way of construction then back around, finally heading to Laporte.

Most locals are accessing the North Kabekona Road (County 93) off Highway 64, then getting into town on Hubbard County 39.

MNDOT thought North Kabekona Road was too curvy to rout traffic on, so it was not officially designated the detour.

“It’s been okay this summer but this doesn’t help,” said Cory Honer, co-owner of 3rd Base Bar and Grill, which is on the north side of the detour, seemingly stranded on an island overlooking the town.

Down the hill, Highway 200 is a muddy mess from end to end.

Laporte’s former mayor Craig Mackey said business has been okay – a term embraced by all the weary residents, like the town mantra.

Mackey owns the grocery and meat store on Highway 200 as it snakes through town.

“It hasn’t been bad,” he says when asked to clarify “okay.”

Parades in Laporte always have a unique aspect to them. About every 10 minutes or so, parades are halted to allow traffic to flow to Cass Lake on the north end of 200, and Walker to the east. Then the parade resumes.

“Do you want me to do traffic control?” Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes asked an hour before the parade was scheduled Saturday afternoon.

“Well we had three cars through here yesterday,” deadpanned assistant fire chief Tom Lindahl. Aukes nonetheless stationed squad cars at each end of the S-shaped hill.

The children’s soap box derby had already been canceled. Organizers reasoned sending kids careening down a rain-slick hill was just plum crazy.

And Laporte doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to soap box derbies. The adult “open class” portion of the event was cancelled two years ago when a man nearly killed himself striking a parked car in his soap box racer.

In 2012 the county fair took most of the soap box contestants who might have entered.

The flea market folks set up a few tents, and hardy customers strolled around the park under umbrellas and slickers. But flea market goods tend to lose their appeal once soaked.

Rain seems to rekindle a musty smell the peddlers thought they’d gotten rid of. And hand-crocheted items have to be displayed in baggies.

The kids’ parade was moved indoors to the former community center.

Three plucky floats, a dragon slayer and some assorted kids dressed up, toured the floor twice to enthusiastic applause.

And, since the parade falls just about naptime, there were more than a few cranky participants.

“This used to be the old town hall,” said self-appointed historian Steve Johnson, standing at the door. “This used to be the old gymnasium,” he said of the building housing the parade.

Johnson said he’s thought of buying the building. He pointed out its features – a stage, a wood dance floor a kitchen downstairs, some lockers, rest rooms.

“You could have wedding dances in here,” he noted.

He gave a preview of the evening’s entertainment, the “Tootsie” contest in which men model woman’s fashions to the hoots and hollers of their peers.

“Yeah, I used to dress up,” said the portly senior. “Like Old Mother Hubbard with those long socks.”

He chuckled at his own memory.

The parade took place in a steady drizzle. Painted signs denoting parade entrants looked like clown mascara weeping down the sides of vehicles towing the floats. Parade entrants got soaked just lining up.

Lindahl revved up the fire trucks’ sirens from the street, both coming and going, by directing them with a whole-body motion.

Umbrella-toting spectators lined the streets and cheered. For once, the public announce system worked.

And Laporte is already preparing for its Aug. 10 holiday – Laporte Days.

That event is down to a single-day festival, however. It’s undergoing a transition stage with few willing to accept the challenge of organizing it.

But the show will go on. And there could be a rainbow on the horizon

“The project (on Highway 200) is only supposed to take another month, Honer said with a hopeful tone in his voice.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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