Irontown prepares for thirty-year anniversary

by Kristy Basolo

Certified fireworks specialists. A scholarship committee. More than a decade of pageants. Parades and community festivals. Live music competitions.
All these tasks are coordinated by one group—not in a big city, but in the small town of Negaunee. And not by a large group, but by a board of less than twenty.
“We’ve got a small group of very dedicated individuals that make sure these events take place every year,” said Irontown president Don Gladwell. “Negaunee has been lucky over the years to have such quality people planning these festivals.”
The Negaunee Irontown Association was started in 1979, with the mission to preserve the heritage of Negaunee and to encourage former residents to return to the area.
Over those thirty years, Irontown has grown and changed, now acting not as a chamber of commerce, but a community event planning entity. The organization’s role may have changed, but its dedication to promoting the community hasn’t changed a bit.
Irontown works earnestly all year to plan Pioneer Days, Heikki Lunta Winterfest, the Christmas Tree Lighting and some of the best fireworks around twice a year. The Organization also awards scholarships each year to NHS seniors.
“We are grateful for all the civic clubs in Negaunee, as well as the local businesses, who continually support Irontown and the fireworks fund,” Gladwell said. “While our board puts in a lot of time and hard work, without the financial backing of these groups and our members, these events wouldn’t happen.”
When it comes to preserving heritage and encouraging residents to visit Negaunee, the group has focused on the New Iron Ore Heritage Trail as a selling point.
“We’ve moved several of our events into Old Towne Festival park, which is right on the trail,” Gladwell said. “We’ve also encouraged use of the trail, partnering with the health department for geocaching, Big Brothers Big Sisters for their annual 5k RUN and other active lifestyle events, which center on the Heritage Trail.”
While Irontown has always produced crowd-pleasing events, its continues to add to its offerings each year.
This year’s Heikki Lunta Winterfest, set for January 17 and 18, will have some new additions for the young and young-at-heart.
Festivities begin Saturday morning with the fourteenth annual fishing derby, set for 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Teal Lake. Tickets are available in advance from Holiday Station Store, Buck’s Party Store and Chapper’s Pub in Negaunee, Holiday Station Store and Wilderness Sports in Ishpeming and Gwinn Bait and Tackle. Cost is $5 for adults and $1 for children twelve and younger.
Each ticket purchased automatically enters the angler into a drawing for dozens of prizes, including fishing equipment, gift certificates and more. Drawings will be held at the fishing derby awards ceremony scheduled for 3 P.M outside of Paisano’s Pizza on Teal Lake.
More than $1,000 in cash prizes will be given out in youth and adult categories this year.
“With help from fishing enthusiast Eric Bartle of Negaunee, we’ve been able to improve on the fishing derby the last two years,” Gladwell said. “Eric has done most of the legwork necessary to create the raffle and increase the prize money.”
Following the derby, bonfires will be lit on the shores of Teal Lake, followed by the annual Heikki Lunta fireworks. Start time will be approximately 7:00 PM.
On Sunday, the Eagles breakfast will kick off the day. Blooper Ball also will take place on Sunday, during Keski-Talven Juhlat (Mid-Winter Festivities) in Old Towne Festival Park downtown.
Blooper Ball games begin at 10:00 a.m. and run all day. This single-elimination tournament will culminate in a championship game, with time depending on the number of teams participating.
“People of all ages are encouraged to play in the Blooper Ball Tournament,” Gladwell said. “As always we are hoping to receive enough interest to have two divisions, one for adults and the other for family and youth.”
The entry fee is $10 per team. A maximum of 10 teams per division will be permitted to enter, and will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A Blooper Ball trophy will be awarded to the first-place team. The Negaunee Irontown Association will run a concession stand, and coffee and hot chocolate will be available. The entry deadline is Monday, January 12.
Other events scheduled, the health department is having a geocaching event through the Old Towne area, and there will be sledding, skiing, snowshoeing.
To celebrate thirty years, special membership incentives will be offered. The regular $20 annual membership fee will increase to $30, but it will be worth every penny once members see their cards.
More than twenty businesses have offered discounts and incentives on the thirtieth anniversary membership card.
In addition, new or renewing members will have a chance to win prizes at Irontown’s annual meeting in February, where more than a dozen raffle items will be given away to members in good standing.
Also to celebrate thirty years, the Irontown board hopes to raise more money for this year’s Pioneer Days fireworks display, as well as adding new events to that week-long celebration, which takes place July 5 through 11 this year.
“We have a tradition of top-notch fireworks in Negaunee, but this year we hope to raise enough money to put our summer display over the top to celebrate our milestone,” Gladwell said.
For details about Heikki Lunta and this year’s special milestone festivities, visit or call 486-8084.

— Kristy Basolo

Editor’s Note: Basolo is the office manager for the Negaunee Irontown Association.

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