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Library leaders garner Pea Soup spotlight

Following in the footsteps of a long line of deserving candidates, Somerset's Kay Walsh (right) and Rita Lawson were named Co-Grand Marshals for the 2018 Pea Soup Days Parade. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

According to the official Pea Soup Days website,, how long Somerset has been celebrating its soup-inspired legacy is not exactly clear. Best guess is the 1940's or 50's. One thing that is for certain is the time-honored tradition of recognizing citizens who have given their time and talents to make the whole community better as the grand marshals of the parade. Organized by the Lions Club, this year's parade is scheduled to step off at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 9.

Timing is everything

Following in the footsteps of a long line of deserving candidates, Somerset's Kay Walsh and Rita Lawson were named Co-Grand Marshals for the 2018 Pea Soup Days Parade. The timing of their selection could not be more appropriate with the library expansion project in full swing and the two long time library board stalwarts destined to bring it to fruition. Maybe the most amazing part of their selection was the lack of "leaks" from the Lions Club, or Chamber or anyone else for that matter. It came as a complete surprise. The co-marshals found out during a recent planning meeting at the St. Croix National Golf Course and Convention Center.

"Dave (Bracht) pulled me aside and said, 'We would like you and Rita to be grand marshals,' and he handed me the pin with my name and number one on it," said Walsh, "No, there are more people deserving of this."

"It was a total surprise! I was so overwhelmed I couldn't think of anything to say," said Lawson.

"No, you and Rita are co-chairs of the capital campaign. This would be a wonderful year to do this," said Bracht.

"It's very humbling," added Walsh.

"I think it's an example of the community supporting the library expansion. So we can't be overly modest and duck out of it. We've got our faces out there already anyway," reasoned Lawson.

"We are very grateful and appreciative to the many community members that have stepped up to serve on the committees for our 'Renew Somerset Library' Capital Campaign ( 50+) to make it a success. It indicates that our library is an integral part of our community that provides significant economic, educational and social value. We are excited and look forward to seeing the final results!" Walsh added.

More than immediate family

Visit any of the myriad of festivals going on this summer in the small towns populating northwestern Wisconsin and you are likely to find the awarding of grand marshal going to someone who embodies the values and appreciates the closeness essential to central to life in a small town. Your churches, neighbors, folks from school, they are your family in a small town. People look out for each other. It is a way of life that makes sense and it sticks with you.

Walsh, her husband Patrick and their five young children moved to Somerset in 1970. Both Kay and Patrick Walsh grew up in Hammond, Patrick on a farm. They did not plan to stay in that first house all those years, but with the sweet location close to school and downtown, remodeling made more sense than moving. All five children went on to graduate from Somerset High School where son John worked as athletic director.

"We're still here. It's been a wonderful place to raise the children. We live right down here, so we were real close to the school, and the ball fields. Being a small community, we got involved in the church and the school and we started a 4-H Club. My husband went to his eternal home in 2010. I want to stay here as long as I can, as long as the kids come and help. It's been a great time living here," said Walsh.

Lawson grew up in St. Paul not far from Hamline University. When she accepted her first teaching position in Somerset in 1968, her mother had to deliver her to her new apartment across the street from the school because she did not have a driver's license. Driver's education provided the license while a little matchmaking by the school librarian provided Rita with a husband, Bill Lawson.

She taught for 10 years before joining her husband's start-up company, Laser Machining, in 1978 in the basement of their home. She learned how to keep the books and handled marketing. About the same time, she and Bill started their family raising two children, Marty and Robin.

"We brought our baby daughter home to the sound of the fans (from the laser business) blowing in the basement," recalled Rita.

The library link

Ask around town and most will tell you the library expansion project could not be in more capable, caring hands. These hands have been contributing to the legacy of the library for a long time.

Officially the Somerset Public Library began pretty much as a closet with a few extra shelves in the old Village Hall located in what is now the parking lot across the street from the current Village Hall. From there it moved into the basement of an apartment building in 1976 and then, for $275,000, into its own building on Hud Street in 1993.

Both Walsh and Lawson had already been on the library board by the time it moved into the Hud Street location, Lawson for several years and Walsh for 10 years. In all, Walsh has served on the board for 35 years, 28 of those as president and Rita for 27 years, many as treasurer.

"I never dreamt I would still be here when we're starting another building project," said Walsh.

Come Saturday, June 9, Walsh and Lawson will have an opportunity as co-grand marshals to personally promote the library project from the back seat of EJ L'Allier's convertible.

Neither woman claim to have any prior experience as grand marshals although Walsh has had previous parade experience while serving for seven terms as the St. Croix County Register of Deeds. Apparently a potential consultation with King Boreas LXXX, Jason Bradshaw, to discuss the finer points of waving to a crowd is under consideration. However, as you might expect, the critical discussions revolve around wardrobe and hair.

Although there was some discussion of bonnets, maybe even of Kentucky Derby proportions, as far as this reporter could tell, those decisions are still in the works.

Both Walsh and Lawson realize that with the burden of fame comes the potential for autographs. Although family members seem the most likely seekers, they are preparing their wrists for a heavier than usual workout.

Walsh is expecting a good turnout by family members boosted by a Facebook posting by daughter Kaylene, noting their location along the parade route also happens to be in close proximity to a beer tent.

If Lawson is absent from the back of the convertible, it will not be due to last minute nerves. Her attendance depends on the timely arrival of her daughter's baby.

"Our daughter has a baby due June 5, so the parade is definitely lower on the list of importance right now," said Lawson.

Family comes first.