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Finding Minnesota: Ice Cream In January

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — This is about the time of year when you start forgetting what your neighbors look like.  It’s been so long since we’ve been out with our faces uncovered.

But for one four-hour period on Jan. 22, Stillwater will take the wraps off — with an ice cream social in Lowell Park.

“This is a time to come out and enjoy the weather,” said Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. “Even if it’s a blizzard or it’s 15 below.”

“We are thumbing our nose at Old Man Winter,” added Cory Buettner, owner of Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop.

The ice cream social used to draw thousands of people in Stillwater when it first started back in the 1950s. In fact, Life Magazine sent a photographer in January of 1953. Peterson has some of the classic black and white photos in his office.

“There were people in straw hats and bathing suits,” he said, while flipping through the stack. “With the river frozen like that, all the way up over to the Wisconsin side, it had to be very cold.”

A newspaper clipping from the Pioneer Press reports that the temperature was -15 for the first ice cream social in 1950, but nearly a thousand people turned out.

In a way, the outdoor ice cream social is a nod to the hardy lumberjacks who helped put Stillwater on the map.

“Actually the winter time was when most of the lumbering was done,” said Peterson. “That’s when the trees were cut down, the trees were brought to the river banks.”

But for some reason, the ice cream social went away in the 1980s.  Some say it got too warm.

It’s back, though, in part because of the folks at Leo’s Grill, who won’t need their cooler for this event.

“You really need hot water,” said Buettner. “That’s the key to keep the scoops hot. When (the ice cream scooper) is warm, it goes through the ice cream much easier.”

Supreme Bean is also giving out coffee, for those who’d like something warmer.

The organizers hope to keep building this event in the coming years, to bring it back to what it used to be.

“It’s good to get out and meet our neighbors again,” said Peterson.

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