Hobo Day canceled then and now

World War II and a pandemic cause breaks in tradition


Gracie Terrall and Maggie Molitor

For the first time in over 75 years, the South Dakota State University Hobo Day Parade- one of the largest events in the Dakotas- has been canceled. There will be no vintage cars on the road, no people lining the streets of downtown and no children running for candy this year.

The parade, along with many events this year, was canceled due to the gathering restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The parade is a public event,” Marie Robbins, assistant pooba for the parade committee, said. “You can’t force them to wear a mask outside. You can’t force them to stand six feet apart. There is no way to control the crowds.”

The Hobo Day committee did explore alternative options, such as a longer parade route to disperse people over a greater distance and a possible live streamed event. However, in the end those options were not feasible.

“How do you stop people from standing on the edge of the street?” Robbins said, in rebuttal to a live-streamed parade.

The popularity of the parade has been an annual staple in the Brookings community for over 75 years. The last time the parade was forced to cancel was in 1942, during the midst of World War II.

Due to the amount of young men enlisted in the draft, lack of resources and of homecoming spirit, the Hobo Day Parade was canceled.

Chuck Cecil, author of “Here and Far Away: Brookings County and World War II,” is an alumnus of SDSU and local expert on the histories of Brookings.

“It was a tough life,” Cecil said. “Everything was rationed: meat, sugar and gas. People were forced to make sacrifices.”

According to Cecil, people were forced to quarantine– much like we have been now– because  of the abundance of resources taken for the war effort. The air of uncertainty and extreme loss circulates between both of these times.

“They impacted millions upon millions of people and that’s the same thing with this pandemic. Millions of people are affected and people are just trying to stay safe,” Robbins said.

Although there are many similarities between Brookings life now and during the second World War, Cecil made it apparent that the atmosphere and “psychological happenings” surrounding WWII were heavier, and sacrifices were far more extreme than they are now.

The sadness correlating with the absence of South Dakota’s largest parade is not the only thing keeping Brookings citizens down. Many local businesses around Brookings typically expect a large customer turnout during the parade.

Nick’s Hamburger Shop, a burger joint like the name suggests, has been located in downtown Brookings since 1929 and has a large fan base, particularly SDSU alumni.

“Hobo Day is usually an enormous event for us,” Todd Fergan, owner of Nick’s, said. “We usually open up early and have the carry-out window open until two in the morning. It is pretty much non-stop for everybody at every position, all day long.”

After an already strenuous year for business, Nick’s and plenty of other restaurants and shops in Brookings are sure to feel the impact of the parade cancelation.

Without having a parade, The Hobo Day Parade committee is ironing out details of what this year’s Hobo Days celebrations will look like. Virtual events and activities are being explored.

“To me, the parade is where students and the Brookings community are able to interact with each other, and not having it will be a great loss for both campus and the community this year,” said Robbins.