The May Pole Dance is one of the favorite events of the afternoon during the folk fest celebration. Last year was no different, until the beloved pole, broke.
Everyone gathered in the park by the big apple during the misty afternoon next to the river. The mood was festive and the music was hot. Sue Hulsether, a staple at the Folk Fest, began calling the May Pole Dance. Children and adults meandered in from corners of the park to participate in the yearly ritual.
“Last year it was almost perfect until it broke,” Hulsether remembered. “We did lots of fun dances with the babies and little kids, and by the time they were ready to romp away and the adults and upper elementary kids came it broke.”
The elaborate May Pole in Gays Mills is said to be the brainchild of square dance caller and friend to the old-time music community, Terrence Smith of Duluth Minnesota.
“Several different people have versions of the May Pole that it is safe to say were inspired by Terrence,” Hulsether said. “He helped to create these May Poles that can be danced by a lot of people with little or no experience. Generally, May Poles are much smaller, and individuals get together to practice to perform the dance, but this one is his brainchild.”
Hulsether first met Smith in Minneapolis where she was a teacher. They later found out that they shared mutual friends in the Gays Mills area. Smith donated much of the ribbon and pole to Hulsether for the May Pole that has been used, but she notes that many people in the area have poles inspired by Smith.
Matt Feyen of Milwaukee, formally of Rolling Ground was in attendance at Folk Fest with his family during last year’s unexpected happenings. “I was just watching them trying to hold it together and thinking ‘we need to get this fixed’,” said Feyen.
Feyen does a lot of woodworking in his spare time in suburban Milwaukee- and seemed pulled to helping with the repair.
“I was just watching it and I don’t know what came over me but I just went up to Sue and offered to help fix it,” Feyen said.
At first, Hulsether wasn’t sure it was the right path,
“When he first came up to me, I was like, ‘really!?’,” Hulsether recalled. “He was excited and happy to do it and said it would add to the folk story. At first I thought ‘Nah, we can’t make this guy do this,’ but then agreed it really would add to the story.”
The May Pole went with Feyen back to his shop last fall where he did the repairs.
“It only took about four nights to fix it,” Feyen said. “We talked about building a whole new one, but decided it would be kind of cool just to rebuild the old one.”
The pole was repaired at the bottom by adding a new piece of wood and boring a hole in the bottom to insert a steel rod.
“I noticed that there was some cracking due to age,” Fayen observed. To combat further issues Fayen used a old trick he learned in the navy.
“I wrapped the top and bottom in hemp rope to help stop the wear,” Feyen told the Independent-Scout. “It also gives it a nice look.”
Fayen returned the final finished product to Crawford County just in time to complete the final preparations for the Saturday afternoon event.
“It is always fun to see people dancing and staring at the ribbons and the blue sky,” Hulsether said. “I can’t wait to get my ribbons out and see the new pole. It will be beautiful.”