North West Rural Electric members contribute to the success of Annual Tulip Festival

People of all ages don their Dutch costumes as part of the Tulip Festival. Pictured are Ellie and Payton Hutton, son and daughter of Brett and Brittany Hutton. The Hutton family is a member of North West REC.

In Orange City, Iowa, on the third weekend of every May, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”

Whether it’s in their blood or they are just Dutch at heart, some 100,000 people flock to northwestern Iowa for the annual Orange City Tulip Festival, a three-day celebration of the area’s Dutch heritage that has been held for over 80 years.

Basin Electric Class C member North West Rural Electric Cooperative is headquartered in Orange City and serves the rural homes, farms, and businesses surrounding the city. While the Tulip Festival doesn’t take place on co-op lines, the impact it has on its members is immeasurable, both financially and in terms of community pride.

Junior and Kim Hoogland are members of North West REC and are co-owners of Woudstra Meat Market, a business that has been a fixture in Orange City since 1926. Woudstra’s not only sells meat but recently expanded to include food and gifts imported from the Netherlands and items it sells on consignment for local small businesses that don’t have a storefront. The store is located on the street where most of the events are held, so it sees tremendous traffic during the festival.

“The Tulip Festival is a way for our community to celebrate our ancestors and how hard they worked to get here,” says Martina Hoogland, Junior and Kim’s daughter and Woudstra’s marketing manager. Many locals and visitors dress in traditional costumes and local children learn Dutch dances in physical education class from first grade through high school. Martina says she fondly remembers performing those dances in the Volksparade, or people’s parade, while she was growing up. 

Kim Hoogland and her daughter, Martina, at the counter of Woudstra Meat Market during this year’s Tulip Festival. Kim and her husband, Junior, are members of North West Rural Electric Cooperative and co-own the store with Steve and Vonda Post, who are also members of the co-op.

From a business standpoint, Martina says the festival brings in new customers from surrounding states and beyond, and the businesses in the area get a lot of exposure they wouldn’t otherwise get. “There are times during the festival when the line at our store is from the counter to the middle of the street. In addition to the store, we have two food stands where people can stop for a meal or snack. Businesswise, it’s like a second holiday season tucked into three days in the middle of the year,” she says.

And just like the holidays, preparations for the Tulip Festival begin long before the actual event. Martina says they start ordering for the festival in January to allow ample time for imported items to arrive in time for the festival. “The days heading up to the festival are long, hard, exhausting days, but when people start coming in, they bring in such positive energy and it rubs off on us. It’s so exciting meeting people and getting to experience the Tulip Festival for the first time through their eyes,” she says.

Kim and Junior have been members of North West REC since they got married over 30 years ago, and Junior was a member before that. In addition to co-owning Woudstra’s, they own and operate a dairy farm on co-op lines. “We have about 2,600 animals and the business is buzzing 24 hours a day,” Kim says. “Electricity is necessary for all aspects of our operation from the milking parlor to the maintenance area, and we couldn’t function without it. North West REC has always been so good to work with. They are extra helpful and have always been there for us and our dairy farm through thick and thin.” Steve and Vonda Post, the other owners of the meat market, are also members of North West REC, owning and operating a hog farm on co-op lines. 

North West REC Executive Assistant and Human Resources Coordinator Renee Wynia has lived in the community since graduating from college 25 years ago and has volunteered her time during the festival ever since.

“It takes a lot of community volunteers to put on something like this,” Wynia says. “Over the years I’ve been a parade usher, taken tickets and given tours at the Century Home (a 1900s-era home filled with artifacts), an usher for the night show (an annual musical production), and for the last several years I’ve worked at the Little White Store making and selling poffertjes.” Poffertjes are a Dutch treat resembling mini pancakes. At the Tulip Festival they are topped with rum butter and powdered sugar and served with a little Dutch flag.

Wynia says her favorite part is meeting new people. “They come from all over,” she says. “I love hearing their stories – where they’re from, how they heard about the festival. This year, I met a doctor from Dubai who moved to Sioux Falls (South Dakota) a couple years ago. After living here for so many years, the Tulip Festival reminds me just how special this little town is. It’s so fun to see new people experience the festival for the first time. It gives me a new appreciation for the festival and our community.”

For many years, the Sioux County Regional Airport, a member of North West REC, has hosted a fly-in breakfast on the last day of the Tulip Festival. “We put the word out to surrounding airports, clear out a hangar, put in some temporary griddles, and cook breakfast for anyone who flies or drives in,” says Line Service Manager Lane Mars. “It’s an opportunity for pilots to fly in, have breakfast, and hopefully take in some of the festival before heading back home.” Mars says they typically serve around 1,000 people, and this year 20 aircrafts flew in from several cities in Minnesota and South Dakota.

Community organizations do the cooking at the fly-in breakfast. Since 2019, Living Water Community Church in Orange City has served the breakfast. This year the free-will donations went to the church’s youth group.

Mars says the airport temporarily adds extra outlets in its hangar to host this event because it doesn’t have enough to power all the griddles, coffee machines, and crockpots in addition to its normal electric needs. “A local contractor comes out and does that for us and we get fantastic service from North West REC that day and all year long,” he says. 

North West REC Communications and Member Services Coordinator Emily Vander Velde says the Tulip Festival is an annual tradition for many of the co-op’s members and employees who live in the area around Orange City. “They went with their parents and grandparents as little kids, participated in it in middle and high school, and now take their own kids and grandkids to it,” she says. “Growing up in this community, I have attended the Tulip Festival most years since I was very young, and now I bring my own kids to it.”

Martina Hoogland says at the parade at the end of the festival, alumni are invited to play with the band – the same song they played when they were in school – and it symbolizes the end of another year’s festivities. “Every time I hear it I get goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes,” she says. “It makes me feel so proud and blessed to be part of a community that comes together to celebrate its heritage and put on such a wonderful event.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s festival, which will be held May 16-18, 2024.

The Dutch tradition of scrubbing the streets is carried on at the festival. Boys and men throw buckets of water on the streets while women and girls follow with brooms ensuring the streets are clean for the Tulip Queen and her court, which consist of five high school seniors selected by the public.


Related Videos