Just Because We Worship a Fiberglass Cow Does Not Make Us Pagans

The Fam at Harvard Milk Days, 2011

Eat your heart out ladies: I married a Harvard man.

That’s right: he was born and raised in Harvard, Illinois — a small town near the border of Wisconsin.

Every first weekend in June, we return to his hometown for the ultimate reunion of family, friends, neighbors and classmates. It’s Harvard Milk Days, the longest running festival in the state of Illinois. The week-long event boasts bed races, cow chip lotto, a kiddie parade, carnies and the best parade in McHenry County.

According to their website, it all began in the spring of 1942 when people got together to honor the area farmers for their War Effort of increasing milk and food production for the servicemen. At that time there were seven dairy companies within a 15-mile radius of Harvard and more milk was being produced than anywhere in the United States. Harvard became the self-proclaimed “Milk Capitol of the World.”

The fiberglass cow in the center of town is named Harmilda from the words Harvard Milk Days.

However, a lot more beer than milk gets consumed over Milk Day weekend.

Over the years, I have learned to give my husband a hall pass for Friday so he could live up his glory days without the old ball and chain. The kids and I arrive on Saturday to mixed reviews of his performance. I always know it was a successful night if he ends up eating donuts in Swiss Maid Bakery at 2 a.m.

Tom’s parents’ house is right on the Milky Way parade route so we have the best seats in town. The kids hoard parade candy and have a blast with their cousins. You won’t find a closer knit community, friendlier faces or more nicknames than the great people of Harvard. (Shout out to UT, Dude, Frog, Cluck, Big Daddy, Chief, Bull, LWJB, Bear, Boney, Billy Pete, Buffy, Buckwheat, Jimbo, Cricket, Hot Rod, Hodge, Squirrelly Earl, Beeters, Rustic Man, Kenny J, Sod Buster and all the folks at the Pound Bakery.)

I am so fortunate that my kids have this wholesome family tradition that is as close to a Norman Rockwell painting as you can get.

And it sure beats the summer rituals I grew up with on Chicago’s Northwest side. We’d make our own parade riding through alleys in abandoned shopping carts while blowing off M-8s in garbage cans. Our neighbors always called out our nicknames: Stupid Punks, Little A-holes and I’m-Calling-the-Cops!

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  1. Chris Erbach

    My son, Dane, moved up to Harvard last year with his wife Emily. They live on Brown St. and they love it. He was just telling me about the parade and some crazy lady yelling out nicknames from a porch above the parade…

  2. Ginger Chorney

    OMG- Pound Bakery SHOUT-OUT? Thanks Karen!! I got your virtual hug as well. Can’t wait to meet you and have my favorite blog page autographed! Sorry I missed the fun on the corner this year! The Milk Day photos of years past are AWESOME! I can’t help but shutter a little when I see the carnies and their RV’s pull into town by Milk Day Wednesday, and thank the good lord that I don’t bartend anymore. Nothing like a few “out of towners” sitting with your regulars at the bar and trying to make some small talk between the two!

  3. Tom King


    He lives a block from where I grew up, and I bet I know the nicknames of the people hanging at Brown. I need to look him up next time I’m in town! I hope all is well.


  4. Lady Estrogen

    Haha – that photo is definitely one for the photo album – and to be brought out for the collage presentation on his 21st birthday. LOL

  5. Stacy Krueger

    you were so nice not to mention Sydney dislocating Aidan’s shoulder on the way to Milk Days a few years ago! that has to be a treasured memory. (jk) such a fun event and a slice of americana.

  6. Kim Pugliano

    I’m so going to next year’s, if not for the photo ops alone!

  7. Dorothy Roewer

    Do you know who named Harmilda

  8. Tom King

    That would be Dorothy Mathews…..My mom missed by one-letter HAMILDA….

  9. Dorothy Roewer

    Wow yes Grandma did name it with help from someone from capron not sure who she was. Not many know who or how that all happened.
    Grandma also wrote a poem about her.

  10. Mary Wiener

    I think I’m jealous! What a cool tradition! Love the pics and love the love! Seein’ it and feeling it!

  11. Karen

    Yes, there are photo ops a-go-go! Especially of Junior passing out after his parade candy crash.

  12. Karen

    Egads! I was just telling that story the other day. I was the first to dislocate his arm — mommy dearest!

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