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It Was a Wonderful Night for Dancing

By Steve Harris, February 02, 2023

Andrea Miehlisch, Katarina (Miehlisch) Amdahl, and Eric Miehlisch enjoying activities at the 40th annual Lanesboro Dinner Dance in 2022. (Photo by Barb Jeffers)

It Was a Wonderful Night for Dancing

2023 UPDATE: One-hundred-fifty+ attended the 2023 Holiday Dinner Dance, December 2, in Lanesboro. As in years past, its success was due to many who volunteered or contributed time, services, beverages, materials–and encouragement! The 2023 Dinner Dance Committee included Sue Roelofs, Julie Kiehne, Hollie Clarke, and Andrea Miehlisch. Feedback, suggestions or questions looking ahead to 2024 can be sent to mailto:miehlisch@gmail.com.  To learn more about this annual community gathering, read on…


LANESBORO —  A Christmas tradition for many people is watching the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. Maybe the most memorable scene in that film is when the crowded dance floor in the high school gym opens up above the swimming pool. Lanesboro has a similar “wonderful” story, if you think about it.

That story began more than 40 years ago when local folks started thinking about building a community swimming pool. Although the drain eventually got pulled on that idea (sorry) the energy around it just kept going, in the form of an event that helps kick off the holiday season in style for scores of people every year.

We’re talking about the Lanesboro Holiday Dinner Dance. The 40th Annual event took place on December 4, 2022, in the town’s Community Center, where more than 130 people enjoyed an evening of dining, dancing, friendship, and just plain fun.  

“I’m so proud of Lanesboro for carrying on this tradition for 40 years,” says Lori Bakke, who along with Michele Jason Peterson, co-chaired the event, with special help from  Darla Taylor and Hollie Clarke. “To have an event like this go on for that many years is quite an achievement.”

Lori Bakke (third from right), helped organize the event. She is pictured with her family at the Lanesboro Dinner Dance. (Photo by Barb Jeffers)

The “why” of the Lanesboro Holiday Dinner Dance is where the swimming pool comes in. Back in the 1970s local folks were looking for ways to provide safe, positive, and fun activities for kids close to home. The idea of an outdoor community pool was floated (sorry again) and a small group of volunteers was formed called the “Root River Swim and Rec Committee.” Fundraisers were organized (including serving at wedding receptions and running beer-and-brats concessions at Buffalo Bill Days each August). Optimism for the pool ran high.

Five key couples led those early efforts: Jerry and Sharon Leigh Post, Jim and Ruth Ostrem, Dave and Jessica Nelson, Dave and Marge Drake, and Ed and Esther DeVine.  Under their leadership, donations were collected and plans for the pool were designed. 

“So many people were helping out,” remembers Sharon Post. “I couldn’t begin to tell you all the names. We thought that having a special event to thank those people, and the donors who were supporting the project, was a good idea. And we’d have a lot of fun. Those were the reasons for it.”

“The Dinner Dance was never meant to be a fundraiser,” explains Lori. “They only wanted to break even. It was always a fun event to thank people for their efforts and support.”

The first dance was held in 1979, and it worked. It worked so well that they decided to do it again the next year. It soon became known as “Lanesboro’s adult prom,” transforming the community center basketball court into a beautiful dinner-dance venue. “We offered good food and fun music,” says Lori. “I’ve attended every dance, except for the first two when I was in high school,” she says. “It became a special way to kick off the holiday season. You had candlelight, ballroom gowns, even a few tuxes. People really got into it.”

Entertainment was often a part of the evening (high school singers, funny skits, and a few guest appearances by Santa…thank you, Bucky Rogers), but the dancing was always a highlight. People from across the region, including talented dance club members from Rochester, have been regular attenders. “When the music started, it seemed like everybody got up to dance,” remembers Sharon Post. “We all just loved it!” 

Dave and Joan Ruen and Julie and Tim Kiehne take time away from the dance floor for a photo. (Photo by Barb Jeffers)

Meanwhile, progress on the pool began to hit rough water (sorry…oh never mind). A suitable location proved elusive. The historical “bends” of the Root River meant many of the best spots in town were in flood zones. Cost estimates soared and grant funding, partly because of those high water tables, was hard to come by. And despite the best efforts of those volunteers, raising millions of local dollars (that’s a lot of beer and brats) just wasn’t within reach. Let’s downsize the pool and build a splash pad in Sylvan Park, someone suggested. Again too much water sank that idea. (Just too easy).

No pool happened. Funds raised eventually were donated through the City for a skate park and other youth-focused activities. The annual Lanesboro Holiday Dinner Dance, however, carried on. In all those years, only three have ever been cancelled, two of them recently because of Covid. Apparently it was just too much fun for too many people (the 200 tickets often sold-out) for it to end. “It’s been a great tradition for so long,” says Lori. “It brings our community together.”

Many volunteers, like Lori, have willingly stepped in to keep the Dance alive over the years—no more so than Dick and Diane Haight who’s commitment was also applauded at this year’s gathering. The work involved is demanding, and volunteer numbers are shrinking. There had been speculation that the 40th Dinner Dance in 2022 might be the last—after serving for 10+ years as chairman, Lori has announced her dinner dance retirement. Does she think 2022 was the finale?

“I don’t think so,” she says with a laugh. “After this year’s dance four people approached me about possibly helping to keep it alive.”

Yes, it’s a wonderful Lanesboro story. Swimming pool. Dancing. Christmas. Perhaps more chapters are on the way. Stay tuned.



Steve Harris, with his wife, Sue, is a former Lanesboro innkeeper, and a freelance writer and the author of the book Lanesboro, Minnesota.

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