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As state fair winds down, tiny Nimrod, Minnesota, launches annual bash — with a smile

With its number of residents and name’s meaning in American English slang, a town like Nimrod — population 69 — is bound to get noticed by anyone who sees a sign for the town on a northwestern Minnesota highway. And while the curiously named rural Wadena County town tends to keep on the quieter side, its streets will teem with people this Labor Day weekend during its annual “Jubilee Days” celebration.

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The town sign for Nimrod, Minnesota, seen Wednesday evening, Aug. 31, 2022.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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NIMROD, Minn. — As potentially hundreds of thousands attend the Minnesota State Fair for its final weekend, a tiny northern Minnesota community will welcome thousands to town for a lively end-of-summer get-together of its own.

With its number of residents and name’s meaning in American English slang, a town like Nimrod — population 69 — is bound to get noticed by anyone who sees a sign for the town on a northwestern Minnesota highway. And while the curiously named rural Wadena County town tends to keep on the quieter side, its streets will be teeming with people this Labor Day weekend during its 43rd annual “ Jubilee Days” celebration .

Despite being the name of a biblical figure, Nimrod in contemporary American use can mean “stupid person.” That means the town often ends up as the Minnesota entry on lists of funny town names from all 50 states on websites and blogs. Local residents know and embrace the name.

As the sun started to set Wednesday night, Aug. 31, ahead of Jubilee Days’ opening, longtime resident Ray Avelsgard greeted food vendors and trucks from a local sanitation company dropping off dumpsters ahead of the big weekend. As he helped a lemonade vendor from St. Cloud choose a spot to set up, he explained that having a good sense of humor about the name is part of being from the town.

“At the end of the day if you take offense to it you’re not from Nimrod,” he said.

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Nimrod resident Ray Avelsgard and St. Cloud vendor Tammy Smith laugh at a joke while posing for a photo Wednesday, Aug. 31.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Avelsgard said when he worked in a Wyoming coal mine, his fellow workers took to calling him by the name of his hometown. The name stuck so well that Avelsgard said he ended up requesting to have “Nimrod” placed as the name on his hard hat. His boss said he couldn’t have a joke name but relented when Avelsgard asked to have the nickname on the back of the hat.

Despite the town’s sign displaying the population “69,” Nimrod’s size has changed over the years, and the 2020 Census placed the population at more than 100. But when asked why the number on the sign hadn’t changed, Avelsgard, now with a Pall Mall light in his fingers, was ready with a joke.

“Sixty-nine. It stays that way. And you know why it stays that way? Some gal gets pregnant, two guys leave town,” he said with a big grin. “One guy finds out it wasn't him, so he moves back. So now we're still at 69, Although here a few years ago, we had a set of twins and three guys left out and only one came back.”

Nimrod map
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Nimrod is more than its name, though. It’s a community of people who look out for one another and take pride in the town’s independence, said Avelsgard, who recalled an instance where residents raised more than $30,000 to build a playground.

“There was not one government dollar that went into that,” he said. “It was all locally donated money. And we did that in three weeks.”

Something else of note about Nimrod: At the north end of town is Stigman’s Mound Park, a recreational area near the Crow Wing River named for professional baseball player Dick Stigman, who was born in Nimrod in 1936 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s. A baseball field behind the Nimrod Bar & Grill is also named for him.

Jubilee Days

Nimrod has celebrated Jubilee Days since 1979, the town's centennial. This year's event has offerings including music, mud volleyball, and a “Back Country Beer Pong Championship.” While some promotion amps up the rowdy atmosphere of nights, the festival also offers family fun like a parade, games and fireworks, and the Nimrod Booster Club, which puts on the event, also provides scholarships and bicycles to kids.

The event can attract thousands of people a day, according to estimates from organizers and the Wadena County Sheriff's Office. In 2018, when rock and hair metal tribute band Hairball played, the celebration very well could have drawn around 10,000 people. One organizer said he could never have imagined how big the event has grown.

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Members of the Park Rapids American Legion Post 212 rallied along the start of the route at the Nimrod Jubilee Days parade in this undated file photo.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

“We just wanted to do something for the town not even think it would get this big,” said James Weaver, who has been involved every year since it started in 1979.

Some of the promotional material for Jubilee Days has a distinct Minnesota flavor, taking inspiration from the Grain Belt Premium beer logo. The name “Nimrod” sits in the center of the beer’s classic red diamond logo, and beneath, a play on Grain Belt’s catchphrase: “The friendly town.” Premium historically has described itself as the "friendly beer."

Jubilee Days promoters don’t shy away from cheeky, irreverent advertising.

“The nights can get unhinged” ends one Facebook post, which elicited dozens of “laugh” reactions from followers.

One Jubilee Days promotion claims the event is “Minnesota’s Largest Beer Garden” — the entire square mile city limits. The Minnesota State Fair, where visitors can walk around with alcoholic drinks, covers a half-square mile.

Coinciding with Jubilee Days, which runs Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 1-4, is the annual Nimrod Bull Bash at the Meech Bucking Bull ranch just 2 miles east of town.

Nimrod etymology

Despite its meaning in contemporary American English vernacular, Nimrod is the name of an Old Testament biblical figure best known for being the ruler of a kingdom in Shinar in southern Mesopotamia who by some accounts directed the ill-fated construction of the Tower of Babel. He was a great-grandson of Noah and a renowned hunter.

In the rest of the English-speaking world, Nimrod retains its old connotation — for years the British military flew a sub-hunting plane named after the biblical figure. But for some reason in the 1930s, a name with connotations of might or skill started to become a term of derision.

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Some blame Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1930s and 40s for popularizing the use of “Nimrod” as a synonym for “idiot.” The term was directed at Elmer Fudd, perhaps as an ironic jab at his poor hunting skills. A 2016 Columbia Journalism Review exploration of words developing negative connotations points out, however, that the Oxford English Dictionary traces modern American use of “nimrod” to 1933, years before “Looney Tunes” characters hit the screen.

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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