Good times, rich history takes center stage at Dayton Heritage Day

McLean family serves as grand marshals for parade

Members of the McLean family gather at the cemetary at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church to honor their ancestors.
Members of the McLean family gather at the cemetary at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church to honor their ancestors.

The McLeans, one of Dayton’s founding families, will preside over the Dayton Heritage Day parade as grand marshals Saturday, Sept. 15. The honor was bestowed upon them due to their rich historical presence in the community since its first beginnings. Parade goers can expect to see siblings Terry McLean and Susan McLean, along with some of their family members, roll down Robinson Street at 1 p.m. This is the McLean family, proprietors of camaraderie and good times, so expect something different from the quaint convertible with two primly posed citizens waving. Think haywagon and fiddling.

When the McLeans arrived in the Dayton area during the mid-1800’s, folks were predominantly French Canadian, except for the McNeils.

“The McNeil family [another original Dayton homesteading family] sent back to Nova Scotia to find Irish and Scottish men to marry the McNeil women,” said Susan. “It was an arranged marriage because the Irish and Scottish didn’t wand their women marrying Frenchmen.”

Founding father William McLean started out as a farmer. The McLeans eventually moved into other areas of commerce in the community.

Terry and Susan are two of the four children of Doug “Dud” and Lillian McLean. Doug and his brother-in-law owned and operated the well known Crow’s Nest restaurant and tavern, which was once situated where the Talbot house — owned by a relative — now stands, where the Crow River feeds into the Mississippi River.

Although brother and sister followed different paths, both have been regaled for their accomplishments. Both look back upon their years in Dayton and the influence of their family’s lifestyle as significant contributors to their success.

“The Crow’s Nest was the original sports bar with no TV’s,” said Terry. “It was a gathering place for the Dayton ball team when I was a teenager.”

Terry knows a thing or two about sports.

“He was an athlete rock star,” says Susan, of her brother who played baseball, basketball and football growing up while attending the parochial school in St. Michael where many of the Dayton youth, with their strong Catholic heritage went.

“There were no pro teams in Minnesota when I was growing up so Dayton’s ball team was all there was. It was a big deal,” said Terry. “As kids, we’d ride around with our gloves hanging off our handle bars looking for a ballgame. Whether you got 3 kids or 15, we’d try to get a team going. It was our life.”

Time not spent playing ball was spent running the river, catching frogs, swimming, fishing and gathering their own night crawlers for bait.

Terry went on to play football at the University of Minnesota serving as the backup quarterback during the Gophers’ 1960 Rose Bowl appearance.

Later, he moved just down the road from his hometown into Elk River, coaching Elk River High School football for 28 years. He posted a 190-107-2 record, making five state tournament appearances, from 1971-97, with one Prep Bowl appearance, in 1990. He taught social studies, physical education, health and drivers training before retiring. He is recognized in three Hall of Fames, the Minnesota State Football Coaches, Elk River High School and St. Michael-Albertville High School for his achievements during high school. Twice, he was named conference coach of the year and in 1998 received a state award from Nike.

Today, Terry is the proud father of two and grandfather of four. His extended family all lives in Elk River.

While Terry found the source of their father and uncle’s business as a way to foster his love of sports and camaraderie, Susan fell in love with the social and music aspect. She also draws a sentimental connection to her great great grandfather, Johnny Bill, who used to promote dances at the McNeil Building in Dayton.

“Other kids played grocery store or kitchen, we played bar,” said Susan, who grew up in the highly social atmosphere of the Crow’s Nest.

Today, Susan is the sweetheart of the Twin Cities’ concert promotion industry.

When her siblings followed in their mother, Lillian McLean’s footsteps, and went to college to become teachers, Susan blazed her own trail. She attended St. Cloud State for speech and communications. But her true love was music. She worked at the college radio station and eventually got involved in the concert promotion business with Schon Productions. She worked her way up working with bars and other venues, landing a plum job as special events director with the Guthrie. She spent nearly a decade there, turning down other advancement opportunities some that would have taken her outside of Minnesota.

For Susan, it hasn’t been about making money; rather it’s always been about promoting the music and the audience experience. Through that love of the social connection, she’s succeeded in both.

In the mid 1980’s, Susan started her own concert promotion business retaining the Guthrie as part of her client base, which also includes Music in the Zoo and the Basilica Block Party.

Susan retains a home in Dayton where she and her 11-year-old daughter, Lilly, enjoy spending weekends for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Family ties are definitely an important part of the McLean family heritage. According to Patricia McLean, Terry’s daughter, growing up in a family that is such a big part of the area’s heritage has been a source of real pride. It also has had its funny moments.

“For example, we have so many relations in the area, my sons have to be careful what girls they like in school.”

But for the most part, the sense of pride wins out. Patricia says they are intentional about carrying on their heritage and instilling that pride in their children.

To that effort, the grandchildren took a cruise together to Nova Scotia to explore their ancestors’ heritage. The entire McLean family carries on a Memorial Day tradition visiting the graves of their forefathers in the St. John’s cemetery. The ritual encompasses all the best aspects of the McLean’s Scottish Irish heritage — reading a Scottish passage and taking a shot of Irish Whiskey.

“Tailgating in the cemetery,” laughs Patricia. But that’s what Dayton’s heritage was founded on for back in the earlier days, Dayton was a town of less than 500 people with two bars and the McLeans played a big role in that.

“Dayton was a rocking, cool fun place,” said Patricia. She would like to see some of that return to the historic village as would Susan.

“With the convergence of the two rivers, it could really be built into something like Stillwater with the shops and atmosphere,” said Susan.

While they don’t live out their daily lives in Dayton anymore, the community is never far from the McLean’s hearts and minds.

“I have high hopes for the development and rejuvenation of downtown Dayton,” said Patricia.

On Sept. 15, they will bring their jovial personalities back to downtown Dayton as at least a dozen members of the McLean clan, encompassing three generations, proudly take their place at the helm of the parade.