Dressing up her mule for the Pelican Rapids Lighted Horse Parade, Polly Thorsness, during pre-parade preparation Nov. 26. Thorsness was sponsored by Bell Bank—one of 22 lighted horse units in the parade.
Three of the original teamsters took a place of honor in the 25th anniversary Pelican Rapids “Lighted Horse Parade” Nov. 26. Front, organizer of the first parade, Jeff Johnson, and Bob Dalman. Back right, Wally Rodewald. Riding along for the holiday parade, back right, Kathy Villella.
The Pelican Dental unit featured this tiny pony—dressed like the Grinch’s Max, above, won the spectator vote for favorite teamster.
Pelican Rapids Farmers Elevator took the popular vote for favorite parade entry.
Crowds may have been a record for the holiday parade, which marked its 25th year.
The Lakeland Smiles and Pelican Dental unit was pulled by Val Long’s team.
Crowds may have been a record for the holiday parade.
These youngsters enjoyed a ride on the parade route, aboard the Lakes Inn and The Barn at Dunvilla unit.
Candy, gingerbread men and candy canes decorated the Pelican Rapids Sanford Clinic parade unit.
Lakeland General Store and Cornfield Cafe had a wagon-full of riders at the parade.
Santa was aboard the Pelican Valley Senior Living unit.
Treats were passed out along the parade route.
This trio was sponsored by Riverview Place and American Family Insurance.
Santa always makes an appearance at the Pelican Rapids Lighted Horse Parade, waving to the crowd as the final unit in the parade.

It was a festive 25th anniversary for the Pelican Rapids holiday horse and buggy parade. 

The event brought back fond memories for three of the original teamsters, who piloted horses through the parade route more than 25 years ago. 

“There was magic in the air…and smiles on faces, all up and down the street,” recalled Jeff Johnson. 

It was Jeff and his late father, Everett, owners of Johnson Furniture, who were the driving forces behind the first parade. They developed the idea from a similar holiday procession in Toma, Wisconsin. 

At the time, Jeff was chair of the Chamber of Commerce retail committee. Members of the area harness club were recruited for the original event. 

He recalled five or six units the first year. 

Joining Jeff Johnson in an honored spot at the front of the 2021 parade were two of the other original horsemen: Bob Dalman, of Dunn Township; and Wally Rodewald, Detroit Lakes. Invited to ride the float was another original, Richard Rollie, but he was unable to attend. 

The early parades included Christmas carolers from local churches. 

Being in charge of a winter parade was both rewarding, yet nerve-wracking for Johnson. 

“I never slept the night after the parade, because I was concerned that everybody got home safe,” recalled Johnson. 

There were icy, slippery years, and snowy years—but for most years, the weather cooperated and the parade has provided enumerable holiday memories for spectators—for a quarter century. 

There was at least one colorfully lighted horse, mule or pony for each year—as Pelican Rapids lit up for the 25th anniversary holiday parade Nov. 26. 

With mild weather and clear skies, the quarter-century birthday procession drew what may have been record crowds along the parade route. There were 22 units in total, sponsored by area businesses and organizations.

Spectators had the opportunity to vote on their favorite unit—and their favorite horse or team. 

Winning the vote tally for sponsored unit was the distinctive Pelican Rapids Farmers Elevator entry. 

The favorite horse team honor went to Heather Westby’s pony, pulling the Pelican Dental Grinch-theme entry.

PHOTOS BY Lou Hoglund, Cindy Hensch and Catlin Heinecke