Angel and Duane Bakke are this year's grand marshals for the Buffalo Bill Days parade.
They are avid Minnesota Gopher fans and have a room decorated in a maroon and gold theme. DR. JAN MEYER/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Angel and Duane Bakke are this year's grand marshals for the Buffalo Bill Days parade. They are avid Minnesota Gopher fans and have a room decorated in a maroon and gold theme. DR. JAN MEYER/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Every year at the end of winter, when the Buffalo Bill Days Committee meets for the first get-together of the season, there is a check-list of categories to be delegated. A few of them get checked off automatically, with no follow-up needed by the committee because it just gets done. That is the stuff of dreams for every volunteer organization.
One of those events is the annual Buffalo Bill Days softball tournament. For the entire 30-year history of the festival, organizing and running the tournament has been primarily the responsibility of Duane Bakke and Angel Bakke. Of course, there is no pay or other remuneration even for doing a volunteer job this big. So this year, as part of the 30th anniversary celebration, the Bakkes will be honored as grand marshals of the Buffalo Bill Days parade on Sunday, Aug. 3, starting at 1:30 p.m.
The Bakkes seem to come by their interest in sports naturally. Angel played as many sports in high school as were available for women at the time in Chatfield where she grew up. She participated in the Girls’ Recreation Association, including flag football as part of the Maple Leaf Conference. She was a cheerleader in high school and, as an adult, was the cheerleading advisor for Lanesboro High School for 15 years.
Duane played football in high school at Lanesboro; in fact, when he was a senior, the Lanesboro team won the Maple Leaf Conference and they defeated Rushford in the district playoffs. That was the last year that winning the district championship was as far as a team could go; the next year, it would have gone to state because the system changed.
Through Duane’s fraternity at the University of Minnesota, he participated in all of the intramural sports there.
As adults, he and Angel have become avid sports boosters, including high school and college teams. They have a record of having missed only one home football game at the University of Minnesota since 1985 and that game was only missed because Duane was in Washington, D.C., with the Pork Producers organization. They have season tickets to both basketball and football at the University, and are known to occasionally donate tickets to various local fundraisers. Their home, both inside and out, is a testament to their loyalty to the U of M.
In fact, sports had a small part in how the Bakkes met. Duane related he had “seen” Angel once at the Fillmore County Fair. Then, he had noticed her when she was a cheerleader at a wrestling tournament. Finally, the summer after he graduated from high school, he was at the local “gathering spot,” which was then the Harmony Rec Center in Harmony, and she was there.
He was trying to formulate a plan as to how to meet her when she took care of it for him. On his last night before he left for college, Chatfield, for whom she was a cheerleader, was playing at Lanesboro. At one point she said suddenly, “Oh, I have lost one of my contacts!” Being the hero, he immediately moved people out of the way, got down on his hands and knees, and started looking for it. When asked if he found it, he confessed that he had not, and in fact, she had not really lost one. It was just that she, too, was interested in a mutual meeting, so she moved the process along a little.
He added, tongue-in-cheek, “She has had me on my knees ever since!”
Duane went off to the University where he majored in agriculture, and afterward returned to farming. Angel studied at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) where she completed a program in respiratory therapy.
They married in 1977 and she continued to work at Mayo, where she has now been employed for 39 years.
They rented farms in the Lanesboro area and, in 1984, moved to the place where they now live, a beautiful spot with rolling hills and lush fields. They rented there until 1990 when they were able to purchase it.
They have two adult children. Their daughter, Jade, is married to Brett Grabau and they have a 17-month-old son, Easton. She is communications director for Winona State in Rochester and Brett is a civil engineer for Stantec Engineering. Their son, Nick, is married to Katie, and they live in Cashton, Wis., where Nick is the seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher, defensive coordinator for the football team and head coach of the basketball team. Katie is an occupational therapist for Mayo at Sparta, Wis.
Duane has continued farming, but in addition to volunteering for Buffalo Bill Days, has been a county commissioner since 1999, and has served four times as the board’s chair. He has served as president of the Minnesota Pork Producers and president of the Association of Minnesota Counties.
Bakke credits Angel for a lot more than being part of the teamwork behind the softball tournament. He readily admits that without her support, throughout their years together, he could not have done any of his many volunteer and other activities. It has always taken both of them.
At one time he also ran a softball league with eight teams and games every Monday and Thursday nights. That ended when finally they could no longer get enough teams to continue. Bakke pointed out that now the younger kids play golf instead, and that supports the many beautiful golf courses in the area.
He added, “There are a lot of really good golfers here.”
The Buffalo Bill Days softball tournament has undoubtedly had an impact on the continuing success of the weekend. Bakke calculated that over the 30 years, the tournament has attracted approximately 30,000 spectators.
There have been a total of 1,140 teams, with an average of 13 players per team. Many participants are married, bringing spouses and children along. Friends and other families come to watch the games; most engage in camping or staying at local hotels and eating at local restaurants.
Many local residents don’t miss a game, said Bakke. “People like Roger Benson, Charles Larson and David Drake, until they passed away, and Keith Burmeister, Tilford Rain and Jim Simonson, among others.”
According to Bakke, “softball has become an important part of celebrating Lanesboro,” and that fan loyalty and support has been a big motivator to keep it going.
The Bakkes are quick to point out it takes many more than the two of them to make the softball operation run smoothly. Many others, largely unsung heroes, step up to the plate, so to speak, doing many of the various required tasks.
The softball field itself was instigated in 1978 by Allen and Lilah Ellingson of Lanesboro. Doug and Linda Johnson not only ran the concession stand for years, but also Doug, as a carpenter, built the grandstand and did a lot of maintenance work around the softball field; Bakke now gets the field ready for the tournament. Rochester Umpires has provided the umpire staff for years.
Bakke said the pace of preparation for the softball tournament starts to quicken when they begin getting phone calls in early June from interested teams.
Both Duane and Angel did phone duty in the past: Angel was more likely to be the “point person” in evenings after she returned home from Mayo. They admit the sign-up and follow-up has gotten more efficient: with the advent of emails and cell phones there are few, if any, calls to the landline.
If teams who have participated in the past have not called the Bakkes by mid-July, Bakke starts calling them. First, he contacts those from last year who have not called in, then will go back another year, and finally to the third year. New teams come in through “word of mouth” advertising: because teams enjoy coming to Lanesboro, they tell their friends and families. This year there are 32 teams, with 750 to 800 people expected to attend.
This week, with Angel as his primary support team, Duane is immersed in the final details of getting those teams all fit into a complicated schedule. They utilize three different playing fields: Lanesboro, Fountain and Peterson. In the past, they have used two fields in Preston, which are not available this year due to a scheduling conflict, and the field in Whalan which does not have room for today’s slow pitch softball.
There are three levels of play in this double-elimination tournament, so each team is guaranteed at least two games.
All the teams want to play in Lanesboro, and many start there on Friday and Saturday at the beginning of the tournament. If a team loses, it “moves” out of town, but with the knowledge that if they win a couple of games, they will be back in Lanesboro.
This goal of getting back to Lanesboro has added another layer of fun to the tournament, and makes the complicated scheduling worth the juggling that Bakke has to do to make it work.
The championship games are scheduled for Sunday, one each at 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30. Of course, games do not always end on a schedule, so at times in the past, the finales have been later than that.
Each team pays a fee, which covers the sanction fee, payment to the Rochester Umpires organization, and a check to the Buffalo Bill Days fund. The rest is used for the winners: usually six teams in each division receive prize money. For the last several years, the concession stand has been a fundraiser by Lanesboro school parents for the class trip to Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
Obviously, organizing the softball tournament is a lot of time and work for the Bakkes. When asked what they find rewarding about the effort, they both said they “just like doing it.”
Duane added that he really likes softball and wishes he could still play himself. They both like the idea of giving back to the town and this is certainly a fun and worthwhile way to do that.
For the Buffalo Bill Days Committee, the tournament remains one of those important parts of the three-day festival that they can check off their list immediately: thanks to the Bakkes, it “just gets done,” and it gets done well!