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Labor Day, a Cloquet tradition

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While most cities and towns across the Northland celebrate July Fourth and Christmas with some kind of community event, Cloquet owns Labor Day.

That much was obvious during Monday's parade, which included both U.S. Senators, both major party governor candidates, along with numerous state and regional candidates (even a few that wouldn't make the ballot around here).

"It's a tradition," said Mike Kuitu, Central Labor Body president, noting this was the 91st annual Labor Day celebration here. "They did this when I was a kid growing up here, too. But it goes beyond just Cloquet. There's just us and Bovey, on the Iron Range [holding Labor Day parades]."

In addition to the politicians, the parade featured a number of labor organizations, veterans groups, firefighters, church groups, Shriners in their tiny cars, the school patrol, Corvettes galore, a myriad of dogs and even a goat. One candidate, Chip Cravaack - running against Jim Oberstar for the U.S. House of Representatives - could have held his own parade, he had so many different vehicles (and the goat).

Following the parade, hundreds headed for the upstairs floor of the Cloquet Labor Temple for the annual picnic, where long-time volunteers served hot dogs, Polish sausages, potato salad, baked beans, cake and drinks free to all.

Edna Murto was one of the volunteers behind the counter. Murto reckons she's been helping out with the Cloquet Labor Day festivities for close to 37 years. She enjoys the annual event, which she has organized in the past along with many other union activities.

"Cloquet is a union town and this is their union picnic," Murto said, adding that she was a union member for 43 1/2 years at Diamond Match. "People come to see each other, to visit. People who are working are happy to have a job."

Murto was also the owner of the oldest Labor Day button at Sunday's Old Timer's Banquet, a button from the 1974 event. Congressman Jim Oberstar spoke about senior issues at the banquet, which was attended by close to 80 residents who have lived in Carlton County for 50 years or more.

Murto was joined in her break by two other long-time Labor Day celebration volunteers, Lola and Ervin Pettit. The husband and wife also spent much of their working lives at Diamond (now Jarden Home Brands): Ervin retired after 39 years there and Lola just celebrated her 39th year in August, and may hit 40 next summer.

"We have a strong organized labor presence here," Kuitu said, noting that local industries with a union workforce include the paper mill, the hospital, Jarden Home Brands, Super One grocery store, the utilities and a number of construction companies. "I think the community, the people here, know what good wages and good benefits mean."