Homestead Days is a Gage County tradition going back decades that thousands of people enjoy each year.
But there’s much more to the June event than the parade and other activities the public participates in.
Hosting the event takes hundreds of volunteers and in some cases, planning years in advance.
The Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce spearheads the event, which was back for a strong year in 2021 after a smaller festival was held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We heard a lot of people at the parade say that it was the most attendees they’d ever seen,” said Angie Bruna, Chamber director. “We have around 13,000 in a normal year at the parade and assume more than 14,000 people were lining Court Street, watching the parade. It was very heartwarming to see people come together and a testament how important Homestead Days is for our community.”
In addition to the 14,000 people who watched the parade, the Chamber reported after the event that 26,813 participated in Homestead Days in some capacity. The previous Homestead Days event in 2019 had an estimated 22,049 participants.
The MOPAR Car Show at Twin Rivers also had over 130 entries, which is more than in years past.
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The Beatrice Mary Family YMCA’s kayak event was new to Homestead Days, and drew in a lot of participants.
Main Street Beatrice’s Ribfest event saw a change in location this year, moving to Stone Hollow Brewery on Court Street. An estimated 1,500 people attended the event, with 800 racks of ribs being sold.
With a full calendar of events celebrated as part of Homestead Days, Bruna stressed the event depends on volunteers to be held each year.
“We definitely couldn’t do this event without volunteers,” she said. “It’s a large undertaking and we couldn't make happen without volunteer support. We partner with numerous organizations and rely heavily on volunteers to work at events. When we have things going on at Charles Park it takes a good dozen volunteers for each shift, and that’s just one snippet.”
Jacob May has been chairperson of the Homestead Days Committee for around 10 years. In addition to the volunteer efforts, May commended the Chamber of Commerce staff for the work it puts into Homestead Days every year.
“I kind of have the easy job and the Chamber does all the hard work,” he said. “We meet once a month and in August we’re already planning for next year, and honestly some of those plans go out two to three years. We have to start looking to the future. It’s a lot of forward thinking to stay ahead of the curve. It’s an event we don’t want to change completely because we know Homestead Days has traditions here in Beatrice, but also don't want it to become stale and the same thing every year.
“When you go out to Homestead Days and visit the parks and see families out having fun together, that’s probably the most rewarding thing, to see everyone come together as a community and support these things is the most fun and exciting part as this community grows and develops. It has just been amazing.”
Due to the pandemic, a scaled-down event was held later in the year in 2020, called Homestead Fest.
A scaled-down version of Homestead Days was previously scheduled for last year, but there were concerns with social distancing considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a committee, we were monitoring the whole time as far as if we would hold something or not and made tough decision to cancel Homestead Days as we know it,” Bruna said. “We decided then we didn’t want to just not do anything at all, so that fall did an abbreviated version with some activities that were all outdoors.”
May added it was a unique challenge to host a community event that was still fun during a pandemic.
“Just like everybody, our lives got turned upside down,” he said. “We really had to think outside of the box of how to still have the event, but keep people safe and I think we did that. “We knew it was going to be different, but we still had people come out while still being safe and enjoyed festivities. It was certainly the most difficult year.”
Bruna said the Noon Kiwanis Club helps organize the parade, the centerpiece of Homestead Days, and also thanked the city for its support with closing roads and other assistance to make Homestead Days a success.
“It really is a community-wide endeavor,” she said. “If not for that support, we would not be able to have Homestead Days in the full capacity we do. And on the flip side it’s a great investment for the community, too. Those people at the parade not just visiting the parade, maybe they’re stopping at restaurants, retail stores and gas stations, so that helps boost the local economy.”