Walt Keller Memorial Bingo will debut

    For almost four hours on Tuesday evening, Aug. 5, Crookston's Central Park is going to be bustling with families, fun, educational activities and food.    

    The first Tuesday of August tradition in Crookston is known as Night to Unite, and Crookston Police officer Don Rasicot, the chief organizer of Crookston's version of the event that takes place in communities across the country, wants those who attend Crookston's version of the event to know that nothing would be happening in Central Park on Tuesday if not for the generosity of the community.   

    "We wouldn't have this event, or at least it wouldn't be anything close to what it has become, without our donors; I can't stress that enough," Rasicot told the Times. "Everything is donated; we end up paying very little for what you're going to see happening in Central Park."   

    Night to Unite began years ago as National Night Out. It serves as an opportunity for neighborhoods and communities to gather and have some fun while also learning about the services that their local law enforcement and emergency response agencies provide. Within that goal, the specific focus is on making young people more comfortable around law enforcement officers and emergency responders, and vice versa.   

    The award-winning Crookston Night to Unite on Aug. 5 will feature traditional favorites like the watermelon-eating contest, dunk tank, Tae Kwon Do demonstration, fire extinguisher training, golf ball drop, vehicle extraction demonstration and other activities. There will be numerous tables and booths highlighting various agencies and service providers in Crookston and Polk County, and there will be plenty of food and entertainment, too.   

    A major new addition to the evening's itinerary, Rasicot said, is Walt Keller Memorial Bingo. All proceeds from the bingo event will benefit the new Walt Keller Memorial Scholarship, named for the longtime Polk County deputy who died unexpectedly last year.    

    "We're kind of aiming at senior citizens for that, who love to play bingo, but anyone can play," Rasicot said, adding that arrangements have been made with Tri-Valley's T.H.E. Bus to transport senior citizens to and from Central Park if they want a ride.   

    This year's Night to Unite theme honors emergency responders, police, fire and EMS personnel, Rasicot said. There will be a ceremony at the beginning of the event, which runs from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Last year's event recognized veterans.
Strength in numbers   

    Not only would Night to Unite not be possible without the contributions from individuals, agencies, organizations and businesses, Rasicot said it wouldn't happen without a dedicated Night to Unite Committee, which starts planning the annual August event in May. "They're all volunteers and it's a lot of time and effort," he said. "Beforehand and on the day of the event, it's very taxing and stressful, but it's fun because they have a passion for it."   

    Rasicot said committee members will work up to 18 hours on the day of the event.   

    He thanks the Crookston Police Department, CPD Chief Paul Biermaier and the City of Crookston, through City Administrator Shannon Stassen, for "giving me all the resources necessary to do this event."   

    Then there are the contributors.   

    "Night to Unite in Crookston has become a huge, huge success because of businesses, service groups and citizens who donate," he said.   

    For years, he said, the committee has wanted to purchase a full-page advertisement in the Crookston Daily Times that recognizes all of the contributors. "The Times has facilitated that, with a free ad," Rasicot said of the advertisement submitted by the Night to Unite Committee that appears on the back page of the Friday, Aug. 1 edition of the Times. "I would encourage readers to look at the donors listed on that ad and to please patronize those businesses."   

    Each year, a national crime prevention organization has invited Crookston's Night to Unite organizers to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension headquarters in St. Paul to be recognized for the success of the Crookston event.   

    "When I'm there, coordinators like me from all over the state brainstorm on what's successful and what's not," Rasicot said, adding that he gets phone calls from people all over the state from people wondering how they can make their similar events as popular as Crookston's. "I've assisted communities all over the state, from small to mid-sized, to organize their Night to Unite," he said. "But for many reasons, ours is the best."