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Arcola’s water tower is shown at one end of the downtown area of the village in southern Douglas County.

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ARCOLA — Dave Barry is encouraging people watching the parade at Saturday’s 50th Arcola Broomcorn Festival “to avert their eyes when we go by.”

The humorist whose nationally syndicated Miami Herald column won him a Pulitzer Prize and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism will join about 100 friends in the Arcola-based World Famous Lawn Rangers, described as a “precision drill team.”

The wacky funster’s column, which was carried by The News-Gazette until it ended in 2005, also served as the basis for the TV show “Dave’s World,” which ran from 1993-97 on CBS. In 2002, his first novel, “Big Trouble,” was made into a movie of the same name starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo.

The parade steps off at 3 p.m. Saturday in downtown Arcola as part of the festival, which runs today through Sunday.

Speaking from his Miami home this week above the barks of his dog, who he said was trying to scare away some thunder, Barry said he learned of the Lawn Rangers when co-founder Pat Monahan, whom he calls “a very funny man,” wrote him “a very funny letter” describing the group.

Barry said he was always looking for “stupid things to write about” in his column, but rarely had he found “something stupider than the Lawn Rangers.”

The group was right up the alley of a man who once picked his son up from junior high school in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, and he readily agreed to be part of the jocularity. Barry wrote about the group in his column and in one of his books.

“I loved it in all of its stupidity,” Barry said. “I went back I think the next year, a couple years in a row.”

He estimated he has been in the parade at least five times.

As you would expect, Barry is doesn’t take himself too seriously. In response to a column in which he mocked Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., for calling themselves the “grand cities,” the former named a sewage pumping station after him in January 2002. Barry, unfazed, made the trip for the dedication ceremony.

The Lawn Rangers’ reach extends far beyond Arcola. They’ve been in parades ranging from the Holiday Bowl in San Diego to the Fiesta Bowl in Scottsdale, Ariz., to the Indianapolis 500, plus former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Barry said their appearance there drew laughter from the first family.

Kevin Monahan, son of co-founder Pat, said his father and a friend came up with the Lawn Rangers and the theme because Clayton Moore, who portrayed The Lone Ranger on the 1950s ABC show, was the grand marshal one year.

“It was a tribute to him,” Kevin Monahan said. “They dressed as the Lone Ranger, pushed mowers and carried brooms.”

The first group totaled 13 people. It soon caught on, and alumni now number in the hundreds, ranging in age from 21 to 85. Kevin Monahan said this will be their 40th Broomcorn Festival.

“We’ve had some great mowers,” he said. “My mower has almost a La-Z-Boy chair fixed on it.”

One has a papier-mache Abe Lincoln head. Another is topped by a toilet bowl. Typically, the mowers have the engine and blades removed.

He said appearing in the parade and marching with such precision “is like riding a bike.”

“But we always have several rookies, and so they go through a grueling rookie camp,” he said. “We’ve had several years where it’s taken more than four minutes to do.”

Monahan said Barry is a “Hall of Fame Ranger. We have a mower and a broom waiting for him.”

Barry said it helps to be rowdy if you want to be a Lawn Ranger.

“They have a business meeting, we call it, before the parade, which is mostly an excuse to drink beer,” he said. “It is the most tasteless thing I’ve ever been involved in in my life. They’re disgusting. They probably should have been in some institution somewhere.”

Barry said two friends he brought along to the 2019 parade “were a little stunned by the business meeting. I prepared them as much as I could.”

The three-day festival is packed full of activities.

Other highlights include the national broom-sweeping contest, a ceremony honoring first responders, tethered hot-air balloon rides (weather permitting), Sunday worship services and live music.

Angie Miller, the festival’s executive director, said it was started by her uncle Allen Yoder. The first one featured a few vendors and has grown greatly since. Miller said the festival typically draws tens of thousands of people.

“I’m really excited this year,” Miller said. “We have some famous (replica) cars like the DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future,’ a Jeep and an Explorer from ‘Jurassic Park,’ the ‘Knight Rider’ car, KITT. Quite a few movie cars will be in it.”

Numerous vendors, including Amish ones, will also be on hand.

“We’ve been planning this since 2017,” Miller said. “We were disappointed when we couldn’t have it last year (because of the pandemic). We’re praying for good weather.”

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at dhinton@news-gazette.com.

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