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Puckerbrush parade grand marshals

The 2018 Puckerbrush Days Parade Grand Marshals are Larry Kearney and Harlan Rodberg, 50-year employees at Winnebago Industries. Rodberg, who retired in 2014, is holding his first pay stubs from the company. 

FOREST CITY | Harlan Rodberg and Larry Kearney love reminiscing about the collective 100 years they've spent at Winnebago Industries. 

The two men have been chosen as the grand marshals for this year's Puckerbrush Days Parade, to be held at 10 a.m. July 21. 

"I couldn't believe it," said Rodberg, 73, who retired in 2014 after 50 years of working for Winnebago. 

"It's quite an honor," said Kearney, 68, who supervises mowing and snow removal at Winnebago. He celebrated his 50th anniversary with company on June 18. 

Winnebago is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. 

The company launched in Forest City in early 1958. A dozen employees started work on Jan. 28 of that year for what would someday become a leading RV manufacturer. 

By the time Rodberg began working at Winnebago in February 1964, he was their 73rd employee. He still has his wooden pin with the number 73 on it. 

The work was hard.

"I didn't think I would make it the first week," Rodberg said. 

But it was a steady paycheck -- $1.25 an hour -- at a time when farming "was going to the dogs," he said.

Six months after he started, a fire destroyed the plant. Rodberg and the other employees worked around the clock in two shifts to pour cement for the new plant. 

In 1966 Winnebago, which had been manufacturing travel trailers, built its first motor home. 

A lot of work went into that vehicle, according to Rodberg. 

He remembers watching it leave Forest City for its first test drive to Leland and back. 

"We were so happy to see that thing come back, you couldn't believe it," he said. 

Kearney began working at Winnebago in 1968. He started on a glue machine making sidewalls.

He took a leave of absence so he could serve a tour in Vietnam. When he returned to Winnebago, he was allowed his pick of whatever department he wanted. 

He chose the warehouse and worked his way up the ladder to become a supervisor before switching to the maintenance department.  

Kearney said when employees were allowed to borrow company RVs for the weekend, he would go to campgrounds and people in tents would look at the motor home in awe. 

Kearney said a lot of Winnebago employees are the second or third generation of their family to work there. 

"You kind of have that pride," he said. 

Chad Reece, director of marketing for the company, said it's an inspiration to have two "outstanding characters" who have worked for Winnebago for half a century each. 

He said more than 100 people have worked for Winnebago for 40 years or more. They will ride in four of the company's "people movers" in the Puckerbrush parade behind Rodberg and Kearney. 

It's hard to imagine what Forest City would be like without Winnebago, according to Kearney. 

"It's the heart of this town," he said. 

More on Puckerbrush Days 

In addition to the parade, Puckerbrush Days will feature fireworks, live music and many other activities. 

The Forest City summer celebration, scheduled for July 19-22, traditionally takes place a week earlier, but the dates were changed this year to accommodate those attending the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers (WIT) Rally. 

Kathy Rollefson, director of the Forest City Chamber of Commerce, said many rally-goers like to come to town a few days before the official start of WIT so they can take part in the Puckerbrush fun. 

However, this year another RV rally was scheduled for the traditional Puckerbrush dates, so the event was moved back so the WIT attendees can attend both rallies as well as Puckerbrush. 

Puckerbrush highlights on Thursday, July 19, will include a pet parade and a solo acoustic performance by Russ Lachney. 

The crowning of Little Mr./Miss Puckerbrush and the Battle of the Businesses will take place on Friday, July 20. 

Levi Smith will perform on the K Street Stage that evening, followed by returning favorite Pianopalooza, a piano duo from Des Moines. 

A new event at Puckerbrush this year is a free movie. 

"Coco" will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Atrium at Waldorf University. Refreshments will be available. Parents are welcome to drop off their kids and return when the movie is over. 

Rollefson said the movie will be over in plenty of time to find a spot to watch the fireworks.  

Flooding in Pammel Park, the usual spot for the fireworks, won't stop the show. 

Rollefson said if it's still too wet there for fireworks, they will be fired from the First Baptist Church property on Highway 9. 

If fireworks are held at Pammel Park, the band from First Baptist Church will perform there from 9 to 10 p.m. before the display begins. If the fireworks have to be moved to the church property, the band will perform there instead. 

The Bill Riley Talent Search returns, but in a new location. This year the show will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday inside the Atrium rather than outdoors. 

Rollefson said the sound is more controlled in the Atrium and it will be nice to have the competition indoors in case the weather is hot that day. 

Other Saturday highlights include a performance by Farm Rock, a cover band specializing in new country and rock. 

Sunday, July 22, is the annual flight breakfast at the airport and the Heritage Festival at Heritage Park. 

The first performance of this year's BrickStreet Theatre summer musical, "Pirates of Penzance," begins at 2 p.m. at the Forest City High School Auditorium, followed by a BST 45th anniversary gala reception at 5 p.m. at its downtown location. 

Visit forestcityia.com/calendar/puckerbrush-days for a complete Puckerbrush schedule and more information. 

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