Talkin' turkey with Tooje: Longtime volunteer Kris Tutje to serve as marshal for today's parade
WORTHINGTON -- Kris "Tooje" Tutje valiantly stayed at her post at parade headquarters, checking in entries, as the rain poured down steadily on last year's King Turkey Day celebration. With the parade eventually postponed for three hours, she returned home to dry out and wait out the rain delay.
A longtime veteran of the celebration's parade committee, it was the first time Tooje remembers the parade not coming off at its designated time.
"I got the drowned rat award that day," she recalled about the miserable weather. "For me, it was kind of the worst (King Turkey Day), but it turned out to be the best. When parade time finally came and I looked down that street and saw all the people lined up, all the people that stuck around, it was just amazing. We just stood there, and they (the entries) just lined themselves up."
This year, a different duty will take Tooje away from parade headquarters. She had been named as parade marshal and will have a spot in the parade rather than behind the scenes.
Tooje grew up on a farm near Sibley, Iowa, the daughter of Gayl and the late Chris "Bud" Tutje, and graduated in 1974 from Sibley High School. She moved to Worthington to attend what was then Worthington Community College, where she played a variety of sports, including volleyball, track and basketball.
"Our (relay) team qualified for Nationals, but back then the college couldn't afford to send us," she remembered. "I think we had a carwash to raise money to go to State, but we didn't get to go to Nationals. I played softball through the YMCA for years until I hurt my knee. I tried to make a comeback until I realized I couldn't get out of the way of the ball fast enough, so I got out of it and took up the G word -- golf."
In about 1976 or '77, Tooje became employed in the mailroom at the Daily Globe and then moved with the printing operation across the street to The Printers. She was there for about 11 years before circumstances took her back to school, this time to study graphic design.
In about the same time period, Tooje was selected for the Worthington Turkey Race team in 1989 and '90 and then was elected to serve on the King Turkey Day Board of Directors.
"I think we've still got the second-fastest time for a heat," she boasted about her race team. "During the first heat in Worthington my first year, Paycheck made it in 31 or 32 seconds. Paycheck just soared, then just before he got to the finish line, he stopped and waited for us to catch up and crossed the finish line."
Tooje thoroughly enjoyed both her years on the race team and the many friends she made in Texas.
"Probably the most fun thing I ever did was be on that Turkey Day race team," she reflected. "I felt like Dorothy going to Oz when we went to Texas. They're just so hospitable down there, and everybody calls you ma'am. It was just so much fun."
She really hit it off with one of her counterparts on the Texas team, Fred White, and was sad to hear the news that he'd been killed in a car accident a few years later.
"His wife, Sandy, came up with the Texans the next time, and she gave me a framed picture of me and Paycheck that was on the front of the Victoria paper that had Fred in the background, shaking his head."
For several years, Tooje worked various jobs in Worthington, including stints at Campbell Soup, Nobles County Equipment and Bedford Industries. Since she worked the late shift at Bedford, she was unable to make the meetings and had to resign from the KTD board. In 1993 and '94, she owned and operated Tooter's Pub, located across from the YMCA.
"I also worked at the Country Club, AX Photo, the movie theater, A&T Tap, I painted houses," she listed. "I think I did every job you could possibly do for a year or so."
In 1999, Tooje returned to the Daily Globe, this time in the graphics department, and stayed until just a few months ago, when she accepted the position of office manager at the Rushmore Plumbing office in Worthington. She's enjoying the change of pace.
"It's like having my own little acreage," she said about the business' location on Sherwood Street. "I get to mow the lawn, and people stop by all the time just to say Hi. ... But of all the missions I had as a kid, I don't think being in plumbing was one of them."
Tooje isn't sure exactly how many years she's helped with the King Turkey Day Parade -- at least 20 -- although she knows she got her start in mixing, where the marching bands are "mixed" in to the parade lineup. In her current position at headquarters, the action begins well before the parade ever gets under way, and Tooje is usually at her post at the far end of First Avenue by 11:30 a.m.
"We check everybody in, write their number on their windows," she explained. "Then, about 1:30 or so, I start to walk down the street, peeling the parade. You pull the units out in order -- well, sometimes they're in order, sometimes they're not."
The very first units of the parade are parked up by Wells Fargo Bank, near the start of the parade, but after that, the entries are in backward order, with the higher numbers toward the front and the lower numbers all the way down First Avenue. It's been that way for many years, and, as Tooje understands it, is so the people who are in the parade get to see the other entries, too.
"There's also more margin for error that way, if somebody's not where they're supposed to be," she added.
Although she's honored to be this year's parade marshal, Tooje anticipates that she will miss being part of the parade crew.
"There are so many people involved that we just only see during these three weeks leading up to Turkey Day," she said. "You don't hardly see them through the year until it's Turkey Day time.
"They're all fun," she said about each year's parade. "If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be doing it, and I would miss it, as much as I complain about it."