Kool-Aid man

The Kool-Aidman waves to all his adoring fans at this years parade in his honor.

HASTINGS — It was a Kool-Aid kind of morning in Downtown Hastings on Saturday as thousands gathered along 2nd Street for the annual Kool-Aid Days parade.

After early-morning thunderstorms, the parade started with temperatures in the upper 70s with sunshine, but breezy and humid conditions.

As the parade was getting ready to start, Marissa Sitzmore, who serves on the Kool-Aid Days executive director’s board, was attending to last-minute details.

Sitzmore and the other Kool-Aid Day organizers were excited about the day’s events ahead.

Also in the downtown area was an activity center full of fun family activities, including the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand. Event participants could purchase a colorful cup and access to an endless supply of all you can drink of 20 different flavors of Kool-Aid.

One of the flavors was Jamaica Kool-Aid, which reflected this year’s Kool-Aid Days theme: “Jamaican Me Smile.”

Edwin Perkins invented Kool-Aid in Hastings in the 1920s. Experimenting in his mother’s kitchen, he figured out how to make a flavored liquid concentrate into a powder form that could be easily transported and sweetened by adding sugar.

As a result of those kitchen experiments, Kool-Aid, the product and its name, have become an American heritage. From the original six flavors — cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange, raspberry, strawberry — came a whole slew of different flavors or fusions of flavors over the years.

Kool-Aid Days has been around since 1998. Along with celebrating Hastings’ heritage, Kool-Aid Days has evolved into a community-wide celebration that draws hundreds of people from throughout the state.

What makes Sitzmore excited about this year’s celebration and the parade is it shows no signs of slowing down over the last 22 years.

Typically, she said, the parade has about 50 units or so. This year there were more than 60 units.

“It is growing in popularity every year,” she said.

For the baby boomer generation, Kool-Aid has always been a part of their lives. There’s a sweet nostalgia about a glass of mom-made Kool-Aid on a long, hot summer’s day. Or, the budding young entrepreneur selling cold Kool-Aid at their street stand in front of their home.

And for those baby boomers’ grandchildren, there’s nothing better than a cold cup of Purplesaurus Rex.

Plus, the kids have more than 90 flavors of Kool-Aid to choose from compared to their grandparents, who had only a handful of flavors available.

“Everybody has a memory about Kool-Aid,” Sitzmore said. “We had Kool-Aid stands to make a nickel here and there. Now, it is kind of fun working the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand.”

Sitzmore’s favorite flavor of Kool-Aid is Peach-Mango.

And that generational attraction to Kool-Aid was evident with the many families attending the parade, such as Payton Cameron, who was with her three daughters, her husband, and her father.

“I was a little, little girl when I went to my first (Kool-Aid Days) parade,” Cameron said.

She started coming to the parades when she was 3 years old. Now her little girls have continued the tradition of coming to the parade and drinking Kool-Aid.

“I wanted to share this with the kids,” Cameron said.

Growing up in Hastings, she said her family bought Kool-Aid all the time. Her favorite flavor was Fruit Punch.

For her little ones, “They like them all,” Cameron said. “They also like their Kool-Aid mustaches.”