40th Annual Swede Day to Celebrate Past While Looking to Future


It only makes sense that a pair of cornerstones will be front and center when the citizens celebrate a pair of milestones related to the centerpiece of their community.

Susie Hawes and June Gelvin will serve as grand marshals for the parade during the 40th annual Swede Day Celebration on June 15 in Rochester. The festivities will also mark 80 years of operation for Swede Hall, the community center that has played host to a litany of organizations through the decades.

The duo are the driving forces behind the Rochester Community Closet at the local Methodist church, which provides clothing and other supplies to people in need across south Thurston County and north Lewis County.

Gelvin also volunteers twice a week to lead exercise classes for senior citizens in Rochester. Hawes previously served on the local parks board and works with area animal organizations such as Covenant Creatures in Olympia, which provides pet food to those who are homeless. 

While both are a little uneasy about being the center of attention during the parade, which will begin at 11 a.m. at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Paulson Street, they understand why members of the Rochester Citizens Group, which organizes Swede Day each year, would want to give them that honor.

“I think the community really appreciates the outreach to the people that really need help in our area,” Hawes said. “We’re a rural community, and it’s hard for some people to get to Olympia to access resources there. Our whole goal is just to help people where they’re at and to hopefully get them to where they don’t need as much help to have success in school, in work, and daily life.”

Hawes and Gelvin each made a point to recognize the team of volunteers who work with them to operate the Community Closet and on other local projects. 

Not only is their help critical to the operation, which has grown to the point that the pair are in search of another portable building to hold all the clothes, but they’ve seen the volunteers themselves benefit from working on the front lines to lift up those less fortunate.

“I see how they change emotionally,” Gelvin said. “We had one gal who came in and got work experience with us that she used to get a full-time job. We never thought it would grow this much when we started this, and seeing the changes in people when they come and get their clothing, it’s such a wonderful thing to see.”

Swede Day itself will kick off the evening prior to the all-day schedule on the 15th, with the coronation of the Swede Day Court set for 6 p.m. on Friday at Swede Hall. Refreshments will be available for those who come to not only see which current Rochester High School student earns the title of Swede Day Queen, but to recognize members of previous Swede Day courts who are returning to commemorate the 40th anniversary.

Saturday starts bright and early with a pancake breakfast from 7-10:30 a.m. hosted by the American Legion at Swede Hall. Adults can eat for $8 and children for $5; families of five or fewer can purchase a pass for $25. 

The traditional lunch of Swedish meatballs will begin soon after at noon and run until 3 p.m. Potatoes, coleslaw, bread and strawberry shortcake will be served alongside the main dish. A meal for children ages 5-8 will cost $5 with adult plates going for $8. Hot dogs and hamburgers are available for $5.

Vendors, informational booths and children’s activities will be ongoing throughout Saturday in and around Swede Hall. Scheduled entertainment includes Scandinavian dancers and a martial arts demonstration. Key rings, buttons and other commemorative items will be available for purchase.

Information on Swede Hall itself will be presented during the festival, as there are plans to bolster the facility both in the short and long term. Nearly $200,000 was granted in the 2019-2021 state capital budget for needed upgrades to building infrastructure such as the foundation and the septic system.

Any money left over will go to start the fundraising pot for plans to pave the parking area and improve the outdoor amenities at Swede Hall. Members of the RCG hope to install a picnic area and additional outdoor seating.

“That’s more of a long-term goal for us,” said Lorraine Johnson, who chairs the Swede Day Coronation committee and volunteers on other aspects of Swede Day. “The building itself is probably always going to be the size that it is, but we have a whole list of things we want to do to make it better for the next 80 years.”