BY AARON BROM
Lifelong Albertville resident Leroy Berning is one of the founding fathers of Albertville Friendly City Days and is presently its president.
His wife Nancy, a lifelong resident of St. Michael and Albertville, wasn’t as involved in those early years, but she couldn’t afford to be.
"I had to take care of the girls at home because Leroy was never home!" Nancy said, pointing out the fact that Leroy spent many hours away from home planning the inaugural event in 1988.
Now celebrating its 25th year, Albertville Friendly City Days has ballooned from a small-town festival to an event that welcomed upwards of 10,000 visitors for the parade alone last year.
"It’s good for everybody who’s been involved," Leroy said. "That’s what makes things fun, it continues to grow. We can try this, try that and see the success."
It was that success that led to the Bernings being named 2012 Friendly City Days Outstanding Citizens of the Year.
"Once you make someone a citizen of the year, you retire!" Leroy said. "Just joking. I enjoy it. I don’t think we’re moving out of town."
"You’ll never leave Albertville!" Nancy responded. "Who are you kidding?"
Not only has the couple not moved from Albertville, they moved from their original home east of Main Avenue to a newer home near Cedar Creek Golf Club. They also raised daughters Brittany, 21, and Jenna, 19. Both are in college today.
"It’s an honor to be citizens of the year," Nancy said, "but I feel like Leroy does all the work."
"I thank Nancy for her great support more than anything," Leroy responded.
Friendly City Days culminates in the grand parade Sunday, June 10, where the Bernings will ride in a float. It will be a strange view for Leroy, who is usually behind the scenes helping run things, especially leading up to the festival’s start Thursday, June 7.
"I’m usually up late Saturday, putting up parade signs and judging stands," Leroy said. "Once the parade starts I just kind of watch it."
Leroy said the inaugural Friendly City Days was a culmination of several events – such as the Lions Pig Roast, a softball tournament and Albertville Royalty -that used to be scattered throughout the summer.
"We were pulling people aside all summer long, so we decided let’s do one big festival," Leroy said. "It’s one weekend and it’s done."
He guessed about 500 to 1,000 people attended the first year. The parade attendance is now in the five-figure range, whereas he said 5,000 or so attend nighttime activities.
"It’s exciting for us to see the success it’s become from day one to now," Nancy said.
"We have so many groups involved," Leroy added. "That’s what makes it a success."
Leroy is the son of Don and Janet Berning and has eight brothers and sisters. Nancy is the daughter of Richard and Margie Lenneman and has six brothers and sisters.
Each are involved with their church, St. Albert’s Catholic Church of Albertville. In addition to Friendly City Days, Leroy was also active on the city council, parks board, Jaycees Club, Lions club and Knights of Columbus. He is presently the manager of DJ’s home improvement store in Albertville.
Nancy presently works in front office support at Fieldstone Elementary School in St. Michael.
The couple has watched Albertville and its stoplights grow over the years, but one thing that has not changed in the last 25 years is the success of Friendly City Days, widely recognized as one of the most successful summer celebrations in the northwest metro.
"I’ve met a lot of people through my involvement with Friendly City Days," Leroy said. "A lot of good friends of mine. It’s a celebration that brings neighbors together and helps them become better members of the community. Come out and enjoy yourself."