To find out more about the Wisconsin Great River Road please check out the website www.WiGRR.com.
Bob: I’ve lived in La Crosse since 1992, and I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of different things. One of the persons I’m pleased to know is Mr. Festival. Those of you who don’t know who Mr. Festival is, it’s Pat Stephens. Pat is involved in everything – well, almost everything. Pat, thanks for being on with us this month for the Great River Road Podcast. Tell me about some of the things you’re involved in.
Pat: Well, in the summer months, of course, you have Riverfest, which is right on the Mississippi River in Riverside Park in La Crosse. It’s always a huge success [and] a lot of fun – [it’s] a great family festival as well. That’s followed just a couple weeks later with Country Boom that’s held at Maple Grove Country Club just outside of La Crosse. That’s growing significantly. [There are] probably 20,000 to 25,000 people in attendance out there. It’s a great country [music] fest. We get into August, and then we’ve got Irishfest. It’s a little bit better and more improved each and every year, so that keeps us busy. Oktoberfest comes around at the end of September, then we take a little break as we get into Rotary Lights, [which is] the largest holiday display in the Midwest. It starts the day after Thanksgiving. There’s never a dull moment.
Bob: I was going to say, what do you do in your spare time, Pat? Is there such a thing as spare time when it comes to being Pat Stephens?
Pat: Not really, because beyond the festivals there’s a whole host of other community things that I try to take a leadership role with as well, so there’s never a dull moment.
Bob: How did you get involved with helping out the community?
Pat: I think it all started back in high school. I was very active and involved in all sorts of clubs and organizations, and [I was] class president and all those sorts of things. When I got to the University of [Wisconsin]-La Crosse as a student, I immediately got involved with one of the social fraternities, Delta Sigma Phi. We got extremely involved with things on campus, with student government, with getting a fraternity house and putting on a couple concerts on campus as well. It just kind of carried over after we graduated so we could continue that involvement.
Bob: What do you like best about living on the Wisconsin Great River Road?
Pat: Oh, my goodness. I drove back from the Twin Cities yesterday and took the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side. When we went up for the weekend, we went on the Minnesota side, which is also very beautiful. I had my two older sisters with me in the car, and they had never been on the Great River Road while in the Milwaukee area, so they just tremendously enjoyed it. We stopped in a lot of the small towns. The people are friendly. The architecture that some of those towns have maintained is simply beautiful. The water is always something to watch. They were so fascinated with the barge traffic, which they had never seen, either. You just kind of take it for granted as a daily activity.
Bob: Let’s kind of look at that a little bit, because I think a lot of people that don’t live in this beautiful area where we live don’t tend to know what they’re missing.
Pat: There is nothing like it. I enjoy driving people who come to La Crosse for the first time. It’s amazing how many people on the east side of the state have never discovered Wisconsin’s western coast. They get over here, and generally they’re in awe of the bluffs, the river, [and] the beautiful forests that we have. And of course, we have all sorts of amenities in our areas using the rivers: canoeing, kayaking, the bike trails, the hiking trails. There’s a lot to offer over here. That’s why we call it home.
Bob: How do people get involved in some of the festivals that you’re involved in as Mr. Festival?
Pat: Usually your ambassadors, your current volunteers are your best recruiters. They have the best networking to get friends and family involved. It’s something that they themselves enjoy. In addition to that, of course, all of the festivals have websites. And I think to my knowledge, all of the websites have a place to put comments if you’d like to volunteer and help with a particular cause.