History

 

The Chassell Lions Club

The Chassell Lions Club was chartered in May 1946 with 36 members, to serve the needs of the Lions International, the County, and in particular, the citizens of Chassell Township. Today the club has 54 members. Our current President is Pam Hiltunen.  The term of the Chassell Lions Club President is two years.

What is the Festival & how did it get started?

Strawberries have been an important part of the Chassell economy since the early 1920’s and 30’s. In 1934 local growers discovered that the Copper Country market would no longer absorb their crop. At the time, a successful berry shipping organization had been in operation in Bayfield, Wisconsin. In 1935 and again in 1936, a group of growers went to Bayfield to learn how to set up and run such an operation in Chassell. Out of this effort grew the Copper Country Strawberry Growers Association, founded in mid-1936.  Strawberries became such an important part of the local economy that it was decided to recognize the Growers Association with a festival to be held on July 7th, 8th, and 9th 1949. This became the first Chassell Strawberry Festival. The event has been sponsored by the Lions Club and held during the 2d weekend in July since the first festival. To give you an idea of the importance of the strawberry to the State economy Governor G. Mennen Williams crowned the first festival queen, Lucille Tormala.

Through the years the festival format has included a parade, queen coronation, strawberry auction, berry judging, and of course, lots of strawberry shortcake. (Note: 4,000 strawberry shortcakes were sold at the 2011 festival). These remain the primary festival events today. At various times special events also took place.  Donkey softball games and speedboat races were held in 1955, a tractor driving contest in 1956, a canoe race and water skiing show in 1961, a livestock show, horse judging and horse show in 1970. Unfortunately events such as these, as popular as they were, had to be discontinued because of insurance constraints. Until 1991 the Lions continued to sponsor a banquet in honor of the strawberry growers, proceeds of which were used in various Lions projects. (The banquet entry cost in 1991 was $15.00)

The annual Copper Country Strawberry Festival consists of events such as:  Arts and Crafts in the Park, open house at the Chassell Heritage Center, horse-drawn wagon rides, children’s games, a children’s parade, queen coronation, a large parade on Saturday, live music at the Pavilion after the parade, fish boil, berry judging, auction of strawberries, baked goods, jams, etc., strawberry shortcake throughout the festival, a dance on Friday night at the VFW with live entertainment, Friends of Fashion Vintage Fashion Show on Saturday afternoon.  The queen coronation, Saturday parade and Strawberry shortcake are still the highlight events. A fish boil replaced the annual banquet in 1993, and we have added a Children’s Parade. Other organizations that participate in and obtain needed funds from the festival include the Chassell Fire Department, the Chassell First Responders, the Chassell Recreation Club, the Chassell VFW & Ladies Auxiliary, the Chassell Parents and Teachers Together Organization.

Why do we continue to organize this time-consuming and expensive event?

The festival was originally established to honor the Strawberry Growers Association.  The fact is that the festival became the primary source of revenue for an increasingly active Lions Club. Lions led the drive to establish the first Chassell Fire Department in 1946, was instrumental in obtaining the $9,000 needed to build the first fire hall, and donated $6,000 toward the purchase of a new fire truck in 1980. In 1961 the Lions Club donated $3000 toward the construction of a new Kindergarten building. Other projects which have directly benefited Chassell Township residents include, the annual Children’s Halloween Party, lighting for 1 KM of the Chassell ski trail, construction of the pavilion in Chassell Park, construction of a sand volleyball court; and the purchase of playground equipment for the park.  Festival proceeds have enabled us to return considerable dollars to the residents of Chassell Township in the form of scholarship programs, donations to the Chassell School Band, Children’s Halloween Party, and Christmas Charity Baskets.  Additionally, some $2300 has been allocated for such organizations as Air Lifeline, American Cancer Society, Bay Cliff Health Camp, Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, Little Brothers, Leader Dogs for the Blind, and Dial Help, to name a few. Some of our most ambitious projects to date has been to coordinate funding a Habitat for Humanity home built in Dodgeville and significant donations to Omega House. These funds include nearly $20,000 from Lions International, $2,000 from the Chassell Lions, and approximately $2900 from the Keweenaw, Houghton, Calumet, and South Range Lions.

The Chassell Strawberry Festival began as a means of celebrating the success of the strawberry industry in the Copper Country. Today the festival continues that tradition, but with a far greater impact than could ever have been imagined 59 years ago. The true “fruit” of today’s festival is found in the many local, state, and international charitable and civic projects that it helps to fund. We as Chassell Lions are understandably proud of the festival and its many benefits to the people of the Copper Country. (The festival was recognized in a Detroit Free Press article in 2001 as the oldest, continuously running festival of its kind in Michigan).