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Julieauna (left) and Elizabeth Johnson prepare for the Father/Daughter Ball. Contributed Photo

Fathers and daughters - having a ball

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life Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Last Friday, Elizabeth Johnson, 3, of Carlton and her little sister Julieauna, 2, spent the night sleeping with their hair in sponge rollers, getting ready for the ball.

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The girls, along with their father Adam, were headed for the 10th Annual Wrenshall/Carlton Father/Daughter Ball, held Saturday night in the Wrenshall gymnasium. And even at their tender age, both girls are already veterans of the popular event, and it seems that it just keeps getting better and better.

"By the morning after the ball," reported their mom, Jolene, "both girls were ready to go again!"

The Wrenshall/Carlton ball is the longest-running event of its type in Carlton County, started in 2001 through the efforts of Wrenshall Community Education Director Mary Grover and Carlton Community Education Director Joel Soukkala.

"When the first Father/Daughter Ball was in the planning stages," said Grover, "we didn't realize it would be such a success. We were hoping the young girls and their fathers or father figures would see the potential for the special time and moments the ball would create."

Soukkala added that the event has been a worthwhile project for both the people of the area and the communities involved.

"I am very proud to have been a part of the beginnings of this wonderful event in the Carlton and Wrenshall areas," said Soukkala. "Not only did we begin a special event for young ladies and the men in their lives, we began a great partnership between the two communities."

The Wrenshall/Carlton Ball is part of an increasingly popular trend toward father/daughter balls that is spreading not only throughout Carlton County but the nation as well to help strengthen the bond between girls and their fathers. A similar event sponsored by a local church took hold in the Duluth area 15 years ago and grew from 150 participants in rented space at Marshall School to two balls accommodating 950 each, held at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

Nationally, the concept can reportedly be traced back to a father named Jim Massery, who decided to organize a Father/ Daughter Dance in 1993 at his church in Massachusetts to encourage other fathers and daughters in his area to strengthen the bond between them. That event was so successful that Massery voiced the hope that similar non-profit dances would be held all across the United States.

That dream is coming true.

When the communities of Wrenshall and Carlton first decided to give the concept a try back in 2001, it was held on a modest scale, with fewer than 100 people attending and featuring only snacks for the dancers.

"Since that time, it has evolved considerably," said current Carlton Community Education Director Bonnie Dinehart, explaining that 302 people attended the 10th anniversary event Saturday at the Wrenshall School gym, and a full, sit-down dinner was served. One thing that has not changed much over the years, however, is the cost.

"I believe we've only raised the cost of tickets once over 10 years," said Wrenshall Community Education Director Rhonda Jacobson. "We want to make it as affordable as possible for everyone, no matter how large the family. One man came with all four of his granddaughters!"

The theme for this year's 10th Anniversary Father/Daughter Ball was, appropriately enough, "Sailing Through the Decade" and featured a nautical look, with ship's masts made out of PVC piping and a working lighthouse fashioned out of last year's Eiffel Tower (the 2010 theme was "Springtime in Paris"). Twelve eighth- and ninth-grade boys in pirate's hats helped serve the dinner, area resident Shirley Van Guilder made all of the ship-shaped cupcakes and a host of 50-75 other volunteers helped organize and put on the event.

"There is simply no way we could do this without volunteers," attested Jacobson.

As part of the evening's festivities, special recognition was given to six father-daughter pairs who have attended all 10 years of the event, as well as two fathers who have attended for 10 years with different daughters. The evening also featured a photo session, bingo and, of course, a grand entry and

dancing.

Girls ranged in age from "almost one" all the way through 12th-graders, and they danced to everything from their favorite father/daughter songs to the Electric Slide, the Limbo and the Chicken Dance.

Dinehart said planning for the event goes on throughout the year. Though putting it on has become something of a major production, it is certainly a labor of love.

"By the time the ball is over," testified Jacobson, "our feet hurt and we're dog tired, but when you see all of the dads walk out there [on the dance floor] with those little girls snuggled up next to them, you realize it's all worthwhile."

Other communities around the county have followed suit with the popular concept.

Barnum Community Education hosted its eighth Father/Daughter Ball on Jan. 29, an event which first got its start in 2003 when it was held jointly with the community of Moose Lake as part of the Carlton County Fatherhood Initiative. The event soon got to be too big for either community's facilities, and after a few years they splintered off to hold their own individual events.

This year, 116 fathers and daughters from the Barnum School District dined and danced together to the theme, "Orient Express." On the same night, the local community education department also hosted a "Mother/Son Date Night" at the high school, featuring pizza, root beer floats and a movie for "the other half" of the family.

Registration for Moose Lake's 2011 Father/Daughter Ball, slated for Saturday, April 16, has already filled up, with 152 expected to attend. The ball will feature a butterfly theme, with decorations planned in large part by members of an After-School Enrichment Class on Party Planning taught by Community Education Director Vicki Radzak.

"The ball has always been a big hit," said Radzak, "with lots of volunteers offering to help. Fathers seem to really get involved when they're the only parent there with their daughters, and by the end most of them are drenched from dancing so much!"

The R.E.A.C.H. program in Cloquet will host its Fourth Annual Father/Daughter Ball on Saturday, April 30, in the gymnasium at Cloquet High School. R.E.A.C.H. Director Kevin LaJoie said 196 fathers and daughters have signed up for the event so far, "and they just keep coming!" he added.

The theme for this year's event will be, "Enchanted Evening Princess Ball," and it will feature a photography session at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and dancing until 9:30 p.m. It will also feature a slide show of submitted photos of the fathers and daughters in attendance.

Registration remains open for the Cloquet event and volunteers and sponsors are still welcome by calling 218-499-4293 or e-mailing ereachdreams@yahoo.com.

For young Elizabeth Johnson, however, this year's Father/Daughter Ball is already a happy memory. When she arrived home from the Wrenshall/Carlton event Saturday, the 3-year-old summed up the entire experience in one word - "Amazing!"

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