When Marysville’s city council designated the black squirrel as the city’s mascot in August 1972, they also called for an annual celebration of “parading, pageantry and feasting.”
Two months later, city leaders hosted the first Black Squirrel Day, October 16, 1972. The celebration took place at the city building, 716 Broadway, where they served nutty donuts, black coffee and squirrel cider. The city council met in special session that evening to adopt a city flag, recognize distinguished guests and name Honorary Black Squirrel Citizens.
Over the years, the annual celebration has been called Black Squirrel Day, Black Squirrel Fun Night and Black Squirrel Night. No matter the year, black squirrel donuts and coffee have always been served.
Realizing 2022 commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Marysville’s beloved mascot, a group of black squirrel enthusiasts approached the city council about creating a special event for the golden moment. With their approval, the group planned a daylong celebration to salute Marysville’s nutty creature.
Saturday, October 22, has been designated Black Squirrel Fest.
“It’s more than a day, it’s more than a night, it’s a fest,” said Mandy Cook, one of the event organizers. “Our committee has worked to bring back some activities from the early Black Squirrel Day celebrations and we’re adding some new stuff, too.”
The day is divided into three parts: activities in the morning from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m.; Old-Fashioned Fun from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., including a grand parade at 1 p.m.; the festivities end with a polka concert from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. All of the events take place in downtown Marysville.
The day starts with a breakfast buffet at the Wagon Wheel, 703 Broadway, from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m.
The Marysville High School cheerleaders are sponsoring a Color Run on the Blue River Rail Trail. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. followed by the run at 9 a.m.
Dating back to 1977, several downtown retail businesses will sponsor a guessing game from 9 a.m. until noon. Each store will have a different game, and each store will provide a $50 gift certificate to the winner.
Participating stores are Ar-Ex Drug Store, Backroads Bicycle, Feldkamp’s Furniture, Garden of Eden, IdntiTeez, Kim’s Kottage, Pony Express Tanning and Trading, Reflections Hallmark and US Cellular.
Local stores will also be open for retail shopping.
Billed as “old-fashioned fun,” a variety of activities are planned from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. with the help of nearly fifty local organizations and vendors. Eight blocks of Broadway will be closed to accommodate all of the fun.
Importantly, coffee and black squirrel donuts will be served by city officials in front of Frese CPA, 720 Broadway.
Anticipating a large crowd for this year’s fest, Austin St. John, city administrator, ordered 90 dozen donuts.
Several churches agreed to recreate Black Squirrel Day traditions dating back to the late 1970s. First Christian Church, for example, will serve popcorn balls. Caramel apples will be sold by several vendors, too.
Sloppy Joes were a regular item in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This year, the Marysville Berean Church and Preceptor Zeta Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi will have booths that include this popular carnival food.
Adding to the carnival atmosphere, members of the United Methodist Church will have a cake walk while Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church will have games for kids.
Getting creative, St. Pauls’ Episcopal Church will sponsor “piece be with you” – a booth selling homemade pieces of pie.
To compliment the baked goods being sold along Broadway, the Knights of Columbus will provide homemade ice cream.
The Evangelical United Church of Christ will start a new tradition by serving walking tacos and taco burgers. Bottles of water will be available from members of Victory Baptist Church.
Other vendors will sell beaded jewelry, black squirrel decor, books, crafts, creamed honey and honey lip balm, decorative cups, home decor and more. Several booths will feature face painting and airbrush tattoos.
“Broadway is going to be full,” said Ashley Kracht, a member of the planning committee. “All the way from the 500 block through the 1200 block, there will be booths, games, music and activities for everyone.”
The Pony Express Partnership for Children is teaming with the Marysville Police Department, Marysville Fire Department, Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, Bruna Implement, KanEquip and LandMark Implement to host Big Wheels on Broadway.
“They need the entire 500 block of Broadway to fill it with fire trucks, farm implements, cars and more,” Cook explained.
On the other end of Broadway, in the 1200 block, the parent-teacher organizations from Good Shepherd Lutheran School and St. Gregory’s Catholic School are providing bounce houses and carnival games.
A Halloween Dog Costume Contest will be from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Pony Express Title, 1114 Broadway. The winning dogs will be invited to walk in the Black Squirrel Fest parade. Special prizes will be provided, too; the business will donate $5 to the Black Squirrel Bark Park for each participating dog.
Live music will be throughout the day, and special events will be at the Koester House Museum and Gardens, the Marshall County Historic Courthouse, the Marysville Public Library, the Marysville Historic U.P. Depot and the Lee Dam Center for Fine Art.
A parade will be at 1 p.m. The seventeen new fiberglass black squirrel statues will be unveiled in the parade.
“I’m really pleased with the number of entries we’re getting,” Cook said. “In addition to all of the squirrels, we have a band, dancers, floats and animals. Local businesses and organizations are getting creative with their parade entries.”
The festivities culminate with an outdoor concert by Angie Kriz and the PolkaToons, Bellevue, Neb., from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. in the 900 block of Broadway.
The three-piece band plays mostly Czech polkas and waltzes with a little variety. Band members are Kriz on the button accordion and vocals; Craig Falls on tuba; and Jason Falls on drums, baritone and vocals.
“When Angie Kriz posted on her website that the PolkaToons were coming to Marysville, we heard from some of her fans in Nebraska right away,” Kracht said. “They wanted to know more about the event. That’s the lure of this fest – there’s something for everyone, whether you’re from Marysville or whether you want to experience the activities. We want this event to draw locals and out-of-towners.”
More information and an up-to-date schedule may be found on the event’s Facebook page, @blacksquirrelcity.
The committee members planning the celebration are Jamie Anderson, Cook, Sadie Goepfert, Kracht, Wayne Kruse, Stacie Mayer, Rachelle Olson, Diane Schroller, Katy Smith, April Spicer and Michelle Whitesell.