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Hats off to Ole, Lars and Sven

PIPESTONE -- The red hatted women giggled a little when the emcee announced they couldn't afford to bring the Chippendale dancers to town, but by the time the Norwegian Chippendale Whistlers -- Ole, Lars and Sven -- completed their stage act, those same red hatters were chortling, clapping, humming on their kazoos and rising for a standing ovation.

Imagine three grown men each disguised by a top hat covering their face, showing a bare midriff adorned with painted-on big blue eyes and a round red mouth encircling their belly button -- a suit jacket dangling from their waist and swaying with the dance moves. Their bellies shimmied and shook, stuck out and were sucked in, in tune with the whistling melodies. After a few minutes in front of the lights, the paint from the makeshift eyes and mouth began to run -- resulting in even louder hoots from the audience.

Pat Beyers, a member of the Red Rockettes -- a Pipestone Red Hat Society -- and one who helped plan the Red Hat Extravaganza in Pipestone on Saturday, said the men only agreed to do the act on the promise their identities would never be revealed.

The whistling act was just one of a number of fun activities for the more than 100 red hatters who spent the day, or a long weekend, in the community. The day-long Red Hat Extravaganza served as a fund-raiser for the Pipestone Performing Arts Center. Events included tours of the Masonic Temple and Pipestone County Courthouse, a salad luncheon, style show, cooking show and a performance by the Red Hattitude Steppers, a Red Hat line dancing group from Worthington.

Red Hat societies came from towns throughout southwest Minnesota, and as far away as Crookston and Stillwater, for the second year of the event. There was even a Red Hatter from Virginia and another from California who spends her summers in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The sole purpose of the Red Hat Society is to have fun, with a license to act downright silly. As Beyers explains, there are no real rules to the disorganization.

That being said, the Red Hatters were paraded down the streets of Pipestone on one of the town's fire engines, driven by Fire Chief Mark Otter.

"He keeps going until everyone gets a ride," Beyers said.

"We had to have our parade wave down," quipped Donna Mae Stohlmann, a member of Stillwater's Beautiful Blazin' Babes Red Hat Society who lives in North Hudson, Wis. Stohlmann made the six-hour trek to Pipestone with 11 other members of her Red Hat Society, along with many of their husbands.

"I've never been out here (to Pipestone)," Stohlmann said, adding that the trip was the longest, and the first overnight stay, she's taken as a Red Hatter. In addition to the scheduled Red Hat activities, she said she did some shopping and learned a lot about Pipestone. Saturday evening, the group was to attend Pipestone's Hiawatha Pageant.

"It's exciting and fun," she said of being a Red Hatter. "Plus, you do things that you probably wouldn't do yourself."

Sisters-in-law Cornelia Zeinstra and Marie Zeinstra, members of the Holland Hot Hatters, had one of the shorter commutes to the Extravaganza, but said it was well worth the time to attend.

"I've lived here all my life and haven't seen the whole courthouse," said one. "And, go for a ride on the fire truck."

The Zeinstras said they enjoyed meeting fellow Red Hatters from all around the state and Midwest and seeing the different styles of Red Hats and color combinations in their outfits.

The extravaganza was more than just a chance to have fun and act silly for three Minneapolis sisters in attendance. Mary Althen, Carol Schumacher and Joanne Robillard said they joined the Stillwater Red Hat Society, so they could do something fun together as sisters. This particular trip was their chance to celebrate Robillard's 68th birthday, which was Friday.

"I said, 'It's my birthday, I want to do whatever I want,'" Robillard said. With an interest in history, the Pipestone trip was quite appealing. On the way to the western side of the state, the trio stopped at the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a visit Robillard said she's wanted to make for many years.

The sisters made their visit to Pipestone a three-day affair, with no husbands or distractions -- their cell phones didn't even work, Schumacher said.

Althen said they've enjoyed being a part of a Red Hat Society, adding that it was something they had long talked about doing.

"Joanne got the book, "When I'm (An Old Woman), I Shall Wear Purple," and we used to kid around that we were going to do that. Then, when the Red Hatters came out, we decided to join," Althen said.

"It's amazing, when you get in a large group with purple and red hats, there's no barriers," Schumacher added. "It gives you permission to be silly and to have fun. You just smile."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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