Cloquet resident ensures July 4 festivities live on

On July 5, Lisa Karulak will take a much-deserved break. "I plan to just sit and relax," she said. Karulak should rest on her laurels, at least for a day, until planning begins for the next July 4 celebration in Cloquet. The lifelong Cloquet resi...

On July 5, Lisa Karulak will take a much-deserved break.

"I plan to just sit and relax," she said.

Karulak should rest on her laurels, at least for a day, until planning begins for the next July 4 celebration in Cloquet.

The lifelong Cloquet resident said she likes to keep busy and she's held the reins on the city's July 4 festivities for the past six years. She became involved in the event after writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper seven years ago.

"I wrote a letter saying how bad I felt about the parade, among other things," she remembered about a time when its future was uncertain. "Next thing I knew, Freeman Johansen from the VFW called me to help and it sort of wound up in my court."


Working largely solo and volunteering countless hours, Karulak has managed to create July 4 memories in Veterans Park for residents akin to those she had while growing up.

"I remember fireworks and the carnival in Pinehurst Park - that venue had to change due to fire marshall safety concerns. Now that I have a son, I think it's important to make sure we have these experiences for the next generation," she said.

Diving headfirst into organizing the event has been exciting, gratifying and challenging over the years.

"I always say if I could clone myself, I'd have a whole lot more stuff done," she said.

It's been difficult for Karulak to find other volunteers to help with the planning.

"I've put ads in the papers, for example, without much luck," she said.

This year, however, the tide turned a bit when two people, John Badger and Jim Nelson, offered to help.

"Their help has been wonderful and I've had help from Annie Dugan at the [Carlton County] Historical Society," she said. "I also have to thank all the area businesses that donate with a special thank you to the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee for sponsoring fireworks for the past several years. Many thanks to my family as well for all their help."


Karulak also found time to create what she deemed a "July 4 bible," with the names of everyone she's worked with in the past from banners to food to crafters and fireworks, she said.

"That helps tremendously," she said.

The fact that Karulak has found her way to planning Fourth of July events isn't surprising, considering her penchant for planning in general.

She's been planning vacations for people since just a few months after graduating from Cloquet High School in 1984. A friend's mother was a travel agent and the work fascinated Karulak.

"As a kid, we never really went anywhere other than on camping trips and I knew I wanted to travel," she said. "I knew after talking with [my friend's mother] that this is what I wanted to do."

She enrolled and completed a three-month program, earning travel agent certification. From there, she was hired part-time at Cloquet Travel. She then worked at MainLine Travel in Hopkins, Minn., but the pull of home was too strong and she moved back within a year.

"I was back in Cloquet every weekend even while I lived in [Hopkins]," she said.

Karulak's first plane ride came soon after she began her career when she traveled to Breckenridge, Colo., on a familiarization trip through work.


"I was paired up with a travel agent from New York and it was a great, new experience for me," she recalled. "I wanted to see as much as I could."

Karulak's traveled to many destinations since then, some for work and some for play, including Hawaii, California, Utah, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, among others, domestically. She's also been to many countries in Europe. When American Airlines began service in Duluth, in fact, she won two tickets to anywhere she wanted to fly. She chose to visit a friend who was serving in the military in Germany.

"It was exciting to visit him on the military base, stay in military hotels and from there do our sightseeing," she said.

All that travel, which also took her to Mexico and Jamaica, came in handy when planning trips for her clients.

"It made selling vacations a whole lot easier," she said. "I always did 'the tour,' wherever I went, so I knew what I was talking about and I loved [my job]. It was such a sense of satisfaction to find trips for people."

In recent years, the job became less fun for Karulak, with all the new regulations and restrictions and lower commissions.

"I'd probably still be doing it full-time if I could," she said.

In 1990, the travel business was booming when Karulak began working at Paradise Travel in Cloquet with Sue Jamros from Moose Lake. In 1996, Karulak bought out Jamros and became owner of the business.


"[Jamros] was also an R.N. and she decided the travel thing wasn't for her," she explained.

In 2000, Karulak gave birth to her son, Chase, and at first, she brought him to the office every day.

"He came to work with me for 11 months and my mom would come in to help me," she said.

Her parents, Bernie and Delores Karulak, helped Lisa, a single mother, quite a bit with Chase and they still do.

"My parents have helped me tremendously along the way and they mean a lot to me," she said.

Karulak was starting to consider other occupations and just before the Sept. 11, 2001, events, she joined Potlatch as a resolution resource representative.

"That was a fancy way of saying I handled paper complaints," she laughed.

For the following year, Karulak worked there full-time, took care of Chase and ran her travel agency at night.


"I did that for about a year and couldn't keep it up anymore after that," she said.

She closed the travel agency. In 2003, when Sappi bought Potlatch, Karulak's job moved to Maine. After traveling there to visit, she decided to stay in Cloquet.

"I always like coming home after a trip," she said.

Next Karulak found a job at State Bank in Cloquet, where she moved through the office in different positions before landing in the operations department processing checks. When it was announced that the bank would be sold recently, Karulak started looking around again. She found a job at Enbridge in Superior as a cost management assistant, verifying invoices among other duties. It's only been seven weeks, but Karulak is enjoying her latest challenge.

"The drive to Superior isn't the best, but I really like Enbridge so far - it's a good place to work."

When she isn't planning for July 4, helping Chase catch frogs or helping a friend with travel plans, Karulak serves on the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee and on the Cloquet Parks Commission.

"If I don't stay busy, when the July 4 events are over, it's almost a let-down," she said with a smile.

She and Chase also like to spend weekends at their family's cabin near Finlayson, Minn., that her grandfather built. While she's there relaxing, or commuting to work, Karulak is always thinking of the next plan.


"I'm not sure what the future holds for next year's Fourth of July event since the Reservation has said they will no longer sponsor fireworks," she said. "But I hope other businesses and people will realize what we have in Cloquet and come forward to support that and other ideas I'm already working on."

Pine Journal Editor Lisa Baumann can be contacted at: .

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