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Wagner parade called safe and successful

Donette Patterson, of Wagner, flashes a peace sign reminiscent of the 1970s in keeping with "Those Were the Days" theme of the Wagner Labor Day parade on Monday. Patterson and others accompanied the Yankton Sioux Tribal Employee Association's entry in the parade (Ross Dolan/Republic)

WAGNER -- With flags flying and sirens screaming, Wagner's Labor Day parade on Monday seemed the ideal crescendo to a perfect weekend.

"It's a great event and it's been going on for 111 years, said Craig Krsnak who shared announcing duties for Monday's parade with Jerry Weber. Krsnak said this year's parade, which featured the theme, "Those Were the Days," had about 111 entries and numerous floats.

Wagner Labor Day Committee chairman Mike Frei was all smiles after the parade.

"The celebration has gone great," Frei said. "We had great weather, great crowds, and great participation in all events."

Frei reported that this year's parade was a safe one.

Frei was relieved that plans to more closely supervise horse-drawn entries worked well and there were no animal problems like the runaway mule that marred last year's event.

"We had horse walkers on the parade route this year and we also had an inspection of equipment by an expert in the equestrian field," he said.

"The parade was a very safe event and we had more horses this year than we had in a number of years."

Frei estimated the parade drew 8,000 to 10,000 spectators.

"People came from across the nation," he said. "And we were fortunate to have to the all-school reunion this year which drew former Wagner High School graduates of all years from across the country, including some from the 1940s.

"We had a dance Friday night that was well attended and set the stage for a great weekend for us," Frei said.

Lifetime Wagner residents Albert and Rita Kocer, 81- and 75-years-old, respectively, were chosen to be the grand marshals of this year's parade.

The Kocers farmed for 16 years, then ran Kocers' Used Tractor Parts and a radiator repair business until he retired in 1994.

Albert Kocer also served in the South Dakota House of Representatives for 18 consecutive years.

"Being selected the grand marshals was a real surprise," Rita Kocer said.

Prior to attending a VIP luncheon after the parade, the Kocers witnessed the planting of a tree in their honor on the grounds of the Wagner Good Samaritan Center, where she is still employed.

Mary Jo Kuhlman, 57, was honored as Wagner's "Citizen of the Year."

"Mary Jo Kuhlman has dedicated herself to Wagner for a very long time," said Frei. "She raised four children and has been involved in mostly all of Wagner's community activities at some time or another."

Kuhlman said she is most proud of her family. Three of her four children, and all 10 of her grandchildren, reside in Wagner.

For many the weekend proved a homecoming.

Wagner native Tami Bartunek, who now lives in Albuquerque, N.M., returned home for her first visit in 11 years. She brought her fiancé Jesse Torres, who recently retired from the U.S. Army after tours of duty in Panama, Mogadishu, Somalia; Desert Storm and Afghanistan.

Veteran parade spectators Harold and Iona Pavlis, of Geddes, also enjoyed the annual end-of-summer event. The couple, married 68½ years, watched the parade from their vantage point along West Highway 46,

"I think it was really good, and I even got a piece of candy," Iona said.

About 50 of the 55 residents of the Good Samaritan Center lined a side street used as a parade organizing point.

"Very few residents decided to stay inside," said administrator Michele Juffer, who noted a day of perfect, sunny weather in the 70s.

Among those who ventured out was Good Samaritan resident Dale Hall, 76, who formerly worked as Wagner superintendent of schools for more than 20 years.

Hall, accompanied by his three sons and their families, was headed to a family meal after viewing the parade.

"It was pretty good parade," he said with a smile, "and I've seen a lot of them."