Live music, Redneck Regatta and honoring veterans

Celebrate De Pere gears up for its 30th festival and return after the COVID-19 pandemic

By Rachel Sankey

Each year, Celebrate De Pere has an honorary event for veterans. This year, there will be a traveling Vietnam veteran exhibit. Submitted Photo

Live local music, cardboard boat wars, kids activities and an honorary event for veterans – all reminiscent of De Pere’s yearly community event, Celebrate De Pere.

In 1990, the City of De Pere came together to celebrate its centennial anniversary. Since then, the annual event has transformed into an opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate what De Pere has to offer.

“It’s evolved over the years, and has turned more into a community festival,” Carl Castelic, president of Celebrate De Pere, said. “It really transitioned away from being an anniversary celebration, because it used to be Celebrate 101 and 102. It quickly morphed into a true Memorial Day Festival.”

The family-friendly event is gearing up for its 30th festival, and is making its return to Voyageur Park after an experimental year at the Brown County fairgrounds in 2019.

Castelic said the volunteer-run board has three main objectives, and since the event lands on Memorial weekend, honoring local veterans is at the top of the list.

“That’s our No. 1 thing that drives us,” Castelic said in regards to honoring the veterans. “No. 2, then, is that we want to be the base for local nonprofits to be able to help their groups. And then our third priority is to be a showcase event to help downtown De Pere so people come in from outside the area.”

Honoring veterans

Celebrate De Pere is open to everyone in the community, however, Castelic said a priority is making sure veterans are recognized and feel included in the festival.

Part of this, Castelic said, includes free admission for all veterans.

Each year, he said the board also plans a special Memorial Day activity for veterans, which varies annually.

This year, the festival will have a traveling Vietnam veteran exhibit on display at Voyageur Park all weekend.

“Their focus is really to have everyone understand the veteran experience,” Castelic said. “It’s something different that we’ve never had before. If it works out well, I’m hoping we can bring in the other exhibits the museum has as well in the future.”

In past years, Castelic said they have had Lee Greenwood come to perform, as well as army marching bands.

The Desert Veterans of Wisconsin also have a large tent set up at Celebrate De Pere every year. Castelic said it’s one of the organizations’ largest fundraising events of the year.

To end the Memorial Day festivities, there is a ceremony held Monday, which involves the VFW post, Desert Veterans and all other veterans that choose to attend.

“It’s a solemn and moving ceremony that commemorates all of their (veterans) fallen brothers and sisters,” Castelic said.

Back into the swing of things

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Celebrate De Pere was held at Voyageur Park each year, up until 2019, when it was held at the fairgrounds.

“(The staff at the time) thought that the festival might work better over at the fairgrounds, so they did try it over there one year,” Castelic said. “There were good things about it and there were bad things about it. We just decided in the end that the size of our event makes more sense in Voyageur Park. So that’s why we brought it back. The fairgrounds is a nice location, but it’s a little big for our festival.”

Not only is this Celebrate De Pere’s first year back at Voyageur Park,it’s also the first since 2019 – after being canceled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Castelic said the board is excited to be back at the event’s original location, as well as being able to host the festival with no restrictions.

“We talked through it with different local leaders, and decided we should be okay to have the event run as usual,” he said. “Most COVID restrictions have all come off. We basically see it as back to normal.”

Other activities

Another large proponent to the weekend-long festival is live music.

Throughout the weekend, both local and Wisconsin-based musicians will perform on two stages available throughout the park.

On Saturday, May 28, Anthony Nix, a Nashville recording artist and Elkhart Lake native will perform.

On Sunday, May 29, Vic Ferrari will take the stage.

“We definitely wanted Vic Ferrari back, and they’re going to have their entire orchestra behind them to do a full show,” Castelic said. “This is kind of the last summer for people to really enjoy the full band.”

He said this year will be Celebrate De Pere’s 10th annual Redneck Regatta cardboard race, where contestants can only use cardboard, wood glue, duct tape, packing tape and spray paint to create a boat.

The last boat standing – er – floating, wins.

There will also be a car show, a carnival and a kids area with free arts and crafts.

The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 28, and is open to all ages.

Tickets are $5.

Rachel Sankey is the associate editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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