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Akeley celebrates Paul Bunyan Days

Children arrived from far and wide - and Akeley - to participate in the Paul Bunyan Days kiddie parade. Firefighters Denon Jones, 6, Paradise Johnson, 3, Garrett Jones, 7, and Bret Jones, 16 months, claimed the prize for "most original" entry. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Akeley's Paul Bunyan Days committee is posting a "help wanted" ad.

Several members of the committee may be stepping down, beleaguered with the carnival's no-show the past two years, the council's decision to end its donation from pull-tab proceeds and the arduous task of recruiting volunteers.

"I say I'm quitting every year. But I'm talked into it," Denise Johnson said of her encores. Johnson has been helping with the event for 30 years, the past 17 years with the current corps of volunteers. "The committee needs a break."

"It's not necessarily the end of Paul Bunyan Days," volunteer Cathy Hamand said "But we need some new blood. Someone else needs to step up."

The city's decision not to fund the event "damaged the group's enthusiasm," Johnson said. "The event brings a lot of people to the town."

Paul Bunyan Days' budget is approximately $15,000 per year, Johnson said. Profits are set aside for the next year's event - anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 - with the fire department also asked to contribute from pull tab profits ($4,000 to $5,000) and the VFW adding to the coffers ($500 to $2,000) annually.

A city community fund was set up with an informal agreement that a portion of pull tab proceeds would fund the event.

But because the Paul Bunyan Days committee has no formal non-profit status, mayor Scott Vettleson questioned the legality. City attorney Steve Bolton, asked to investigate the matter, reported, "It's a basic principle of law that a public entity cannot contribute to a private entity, and on that basis, I do not believe it is appropriate for the city to donate money to Paul Bunyan Days."

"Our goal has been to keep the community on the map by offering positive, new things," Johnson said. "And we add to the municipal liquor store."

Gross profit at the liquor store Friday and Saturday during Paul Bunyan Days totaled just over $13,400, according to manager Bob Winner.

The carnival's second no show added to Johnson's consternation.

A spokesperson from Minnesota Magic Midway called earlier this spring indicating willingness to come this year, to make amends.

When the carnival failed to appear, Johnson said she was calling every hour, leaving messages. The "nice factor" in her messages diminished as the clock ticked on.

The "false advertisement" was a disappointment, she said. The committee is pursuing legal action in the matter.

But the smiles on children's faces, multiple generations of families with memories of the event, may keep the show going.

The festival stumbled about 20 years ago, when volunteer numbers dwindled. But support was rallied and the holiday celebrating the village's logging history saw a strong revival.

"We want other people to step up to the plate," Johnson said this week.