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Big Wheels Celebrates ECFE’s 50th Anniversary

Well over 300 people gathered in the parking lot of William Kelley School on Wednesday, May 15th. Also gathered were logging trucks, an ambulance, construction equipment, law en­forcement vehicles, and more. Why was there this juxtaposition of man and motors that eve­ning, you ask? For a beloved annual tradition known as Big Wheels, when children and fami­lies can explore the vehicles that serve to build, protect, and rescue in our communities.

50 years ago, in 1974, ECFE was founded to provide early childhood learning. “ECFE has been a cornerstone of parenting education programs, offering invaluable support to Min­nesota families with children aged from birth to kindergarten entrance,” the 50th anniversary press release shared. Robbinsdale Area Schools added, “What began in 1974 as a pilot project in Robbinsdale Area Schools, and five other local school districts, has expanded to include almost every school district in the state of Min­nesota. We are so fortunate to have this robust parent-child program supported by our state, school district, community, and families. Since its inception, ECFE has always honored that parents are their children’s first and most im­portant teachers.”

In the Lake Superior School District, Kathy Trumbell was the original ECFE coordinator, starting Big Wheels in the mid-1980s at Mary MacDonald School. Since the 80’s, Big Wheels has been a nearly annual event, held “through sunshine, rain, wind off the lake, and snow,” according to Kim Lenski, Early Childhood Coordinator. In 1991, 27 people attended Big Wheels, then known as “Transportation Night”. Now, over 300 are in attendance. Some years have featured special vehicles – such as in 1996, when a life flight helicopter was part of Big Wheels.

“This event has been a family favorite for many years,” Kim Lenski said. “We have reached the point that people who participat­ed as children are now bringing their children and the ‘big wheels’.” Troy LeBlanc is one of the current volunteer and vehicle setup coordi­nators, and Lenski describes his role as “instru­mental”.

“We are so grateful for all our volunteers who have made this a tremendous success over the years,” Kim Lenski added. Longtime participants include VanHouse Construction, D&D Services, the City of Silver Bay Street and Recreation Depart­ments, the Fire Department, Police Department, Ambulance, and Sheriff’s Department. Other participants have included North Shore Oil and Propane, Northshore Mining, local towing com­panies, the Forest Service, and logging company owners.

Though the evening of May 15 was chilly, with a breeze off the lake, children still ran around, fueled by dinner from Na-Cho Bizness and the excitement of seeing the “worker trucks”. One preschool boy was fascinated by the tracks on an excavator, exclaiming that “those were wheels, too!” A usually talkative toddler was rendered speechless by the huge vehicles, and walked around, staring upwards. A brother and sister, both in early elementary aged, made sure to see the inside of the ambulance, curious about its interior appearance. A little play area was set up for the youngest children, where they could play with toy trucks. Bubble wands and books were given to children, and the wind was filled with translucent bubbles. Dads and their chil­dren alike were drawn to the side-by-sides owned by local law enforcement.

Big Wheels finished at 7:00 p.m. that evening, but it will be back next spring with more trucks to see. And, as reflected in their eyes, the dreams of one day driving those big wheels live on in the minds of those children.

Haley Searls
Haley Searls
Hello! My name is Haley Searls. I’ve loved writing from an early age, though my nonfiction writing at five years old consisted mainly of weather and gardening reports. I still have some of those early articles: “It’s sunny.” “It’s still sunny.” “It’s raining.” I’m glad to say my writing has improved since then. I wrote a guest post for the Silver Bay Public Library blog, and was the writer/editor of the newsletter for my American Heritage Girls troop. I have been writing for the North Shore Journal since June 2022. Besides writing, I love reading, drawing, photography, music, and spending time with family and friends. Two books that have really influenced my writing are Reforming Journalism by Marvin Olasky and Writer to Writer by Bodie and Brock Thoene. As a journalist, I want to share positive community interactions and inspire people to make lasting connections. Article topics that interest me are ones which show community activities and involvement. Such articles include community events, youth accomplishments, library programming, small businesses, local history, local artists and authors, art programs, and cultural events such as theater and dance. If you have an article idea, email the North Shore Journal with my name in the subject line! I look forward to hearing from you!
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