The annual Dexter Daze festival is going back to its roots, literally. In honor of the festival's 40th anniversary, co-founders Nancy McLeod and Elaine Owsley will serve as grand marshals in this year’s parade, set for 10 a.m. Aug. 11.
"I'm just tickled that we will be leading the parade," Owsley said. "I've been practicing my wave."
“I can’t believe anyone remembers us after 40 years,” McLeod aded.
What started out as a sidewalk sale years ago has evolved into a full-blown festival that attracts thousands of people to downtown Dexter. This year's event features games, an assortment of live entertainment, and artisan booths showcasing local businesses.
The origins of Dexter Daze date back about 45 years, when McLeod’s family owned the McLeod Pharmacy.
“New merchandise was coming in and we had to make room. Instead of a sale table inside the store, I thought it might be fun to sell outside,” McLeod told the Dexter Leader. “I contacted other merchants about our sale, and others joined in."
The event was a success, and remained much the same until 1972, when Owsley, who had moved to Dexter the previous year, teamed with McLeod to co-chair the first “Discover Dexter Days” for the Chamber of Commerce.
"I thought we could do a better job of showcasing the community," Owsley said. "Nancy and I began rounding up people and businesses that were really enthusiastic to see this event grow. The whole idea was to promote this idea of community and keep the festival free of controversial political issues."
At the time of the Dexter Daze founding, Owsley said the Right to Life movement was gaining momentum and saturating local community events with political propaganda.
Instead, the festival featured pie eating and baking contests, pony rides, a canoe race on the Huron River, fashion show, fireman’s parade, a tractor pull, square dances, crafts, and yard sales.
"We tried to reach out to the local churches to hold an ecumenical service on Sunday for several years, but it never worked out," Owsley said.
In 1974, Dexter’s Sesquicentennial celebration replaced “Discover Dexter Days” and the festival enlarged. In 1975, the event was named “Dexter Daze,” and has retained that monicker ever since.
"Everyone who can has a way of making themselves known at the festival," Owsley said. "The whole thing is only limited by your imagination, creativity and good sense."
Though she admits that she hasn't attended a festival in recent years, Owsley said she is glad to be back.
"The festival has taken on a life of its own," she said. "People come to expect it every year, and though everyone aren't always jumping up and down with excitement, I think people would miss it if it stopped."
It's also a chance for old friends to reconnect, she said.
McLeod recently enjoyed a reunion lunch with Owsley at the Dexter Pub.
“It’s easy to lose track of folks once you don’t see them at school functions and Boy Scouts,” Owsley said. "My children are all grown up. When Dexter Daze started, there were 1,500 people living in the community. Now there are more than 4,000, so there's a lot of faces I don't recognize."
Dexter Daze takes place Aug. 10-11. For more information, or to view a schedule of events, visit www.dexterdaze.org.