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Fire department's urkey party continues to grow

Over time, details sometimes become a little fuzzy. Occasionally, it's hard to remember exactly how or when or why certain things happened, but you still know they did. Sometimes, the exact details aren't necessarily important.

What is important, though, is the impact. While the details of how Farmington's first Turkey Party came together 60 years ago are hard to find these days, the impact of that annual party has been evident in the community since day one.

The first Turkey Party was actually a Ham and Turkey and Chicken Party, held in the Knights of Columbus Hall, which is now the Grand Hall of the Exchange bank building. As near as former fire chief Ron Royce can remember, turkeys were given away because local farmers donated them. For a few of those years, Robert Stegmaier donated a hog for the raffles, too.

Like anything, the Turkey Party gradually evolved. It moved around a bit - it was held in the basement of the old St. Michael's Catholic Church for a few years, and it was held in the old fire hall that once stood on what is now the parking lot adjacent to Rambling River. When the new fire hall on Denmark Avenue opened 25 years ago, Turkey Bingo found a permanent home.

For a number of years, live turkeys were given away as prizes. Again, Royce thought it was because many of them were donated. Royce, former chief Dave Pietsch and current chief Tim Pietsch all referred to stories of days when the turkeys got loose - either by accident or through the efforts of pranksters within the department. One year, back before Royce's time on the squad, one of the turkeys apparently found its way into a police car.

"That was sometime back in 1958 or 1959 when some turkeys disappeared," he said.

Eventually, the live turkeys became too hard to handle, and the fire department went to its current practice of giving away frozen turkeys.

Firefighters have always sought donations for the turkey party. In the old days, Royce said, they would go door to door to sell advanced sale tickets and drum up some interest in the event. A lot of times, folks would buy tickets to lend their support, but not come to the event itself.

"We always had a good turnout. People always waited for you to come with those advanced sale tickets and we always chatted a little bit," Royce said. "People were just really supportive."

A tradition

Despite all the moves, and the gradual transition from live to frozen turkeys, the Farmington Fire Department's Turkey Party has been a community highlight for 60 years.

In its original form, it was a fund-raiser to help the department buy extra items. That continues today.

"The reason why we do it is it allows us to buy some extra stuff that otherwise, we would have to wait for through the budgeting process," said Tim Pietsch.

Over the years, the department has used Turkey Party funds to buy turnout gear, an outboard motor for a rescue raft, helmets and more. Royce thinks some of the funds were put toward Farmington's first rescue truck.

But what makes it more fun for the firefighters is the sense of community that comes along with the event. As the city has grown, so has the number of people who have turned out every year. It's usually wall-to-wall, first-come first-served seating in Fire Station 1, and everyone is glad to be there.

"It's not a lot of work, but it's intense work," said Dave Pietsch. "You have a small amount of time to make as much money as you can."

Dave Pietsch worked the Turkey Party for 42 of its 60-year run. Royce worked them for the 34 years he was on the squad and another 10 years after he retired. Tim Pietsch - who is a nephew to both men - is carrying on the tradition.

"It was something our parents could take us out to. It was exciting as a kid," Tim said. "The anticipation, then calling out Bingo when you didn't have bingo on a coverall.... It's just a real fun night."

The 60th annual Turkey Party begins at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13, at Fire Station 1, on Denmark Avenue.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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