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For 25 years, All-Night Party has kept graduates safe

The 2010 Hudson High School All-Night Party will be 25 years old on June 12. And for the hundreds of parents, students and community members involved over that time, it is "mission accomplished."

According to organizers, over the event's 24-year history there have been no graduation night deaths or serious injuries involving HHS graduates. And that is what the party is all about.

Many of those involved in the event gathered recently for a reunion of sorts and to share memories of the event from the planning to the big night itself.

Winkie Coyne of Hudson was the party's first chairman in 1986 with help from her husband Bill, and 1987 chairman Linda Larson. Winkie and others went to other area high schools including Red Wing, Edina and Stillwater in Minnesota who already held graduation night parties to get ideas.

Heidi Leeson was the chairman in 1989 but was part of the planning committee from the start with Coyne, Larson, Cheryl Pietrich and others. "We got great ideas from those schools but there really wasn't a track or a template to run on. We really didn't know how to organize committees, ask for donations, solicit volunteers or come up with suitable games and prizes. While we had some ideas from other school districts, we really had to start from scratch. Winkie was instrumental in keeping the committee focused on what we wanted to accomplish," said Leeson.

She recalled that longtime Hudson elementary teacher and parent Kathy Roberts, who was the 1993 party chairman, was instrumental in soliciting donations in the early years. Said Leeson, "Perhaps the best thing about this event as it has evolved is the mission has always been about providing gifts to our graduating seniors, and keeping them safe."

In those early years it was all about the mothers. Husbands and fathers weren't asked to co-chair the event until 1996 when Murlona and Dave Austrum stepped up together.

"That was the first time a couple co-chaired the party even though husbands had been supportive going back to the beginning with Bill and Winkie Coyne," said Murlona, who is also a teacher in the Hudson School District. "As an educator for so many years, it is important to have both parents involved in these events to provide good role models and hopefully influence our kids to become involved in community events like this with their children."

Over the years of the party, the event committee has become a "well-oiled machine," divided into numerous committees including publicity, ticket sales, prizes and donations and volunteer recruitment. In the early years the party budget was between $10,000 and $13,000 and tickets were $25 per student. Today the budget tops out at about $30,000 and tickets are around $50.

Committee members have spread out throughout the community to get support for the party. In addition to parent and school support, Hudson area organizations like Rotary, The Phipps Foundation and others, along with businesses have stepped up with donations of everything from cash to food to valuable prizes to ensure a memorable and enticing event for the graduates. Prizes over the years have included cars, motor scooters, televisions and other electronics as well as most of the things needed to outfit a college dorm room.

The All-Night Party is a truly cooperative effort. Since it began, parents of the graduating seniors work with parents from the junior class to launch the event. Working with the senior parent co-chairmen are junior parents who will take over at the helm the next year.

The 2009 co-chairs, Tim and Diane Zais say they learned from the 2008 co-chairs in 2008, Slater and Edith Lampman. Despite the economic downturn last year, the committee planned and pulled off a very successful fundraiser that was important to the success of last year's party. Organizers say the community has always stepped up to make the event an impressive one for the graduates.

Every year the committee members, especially those selling the tickets to the graduates, make it their goal to have every member of the graduating class attend the party. Last year 90 percent of them, about 350 graduates, attended. And that's been a pretty consistent number for the past several years.

Committee members work aggressively to get all graduates to attend. The students' ticket price is purposely kept moderate and has never exceeded $50. No student is ever denied attendance to the party because he or she cannot afford a ticket and once inside the party, everything is free.

Diane Zais remembered watching her daughter Megan at the party. "It was great to see Megan and other students acting like seven-year-olds in a good way, reliving their early childhood and having unabashedly old-fashioned fun with great prizes, food and activities. And it is wonderful seeing the whole transformation of the building, taking the rather sterile environment of their high school and turning it into a magical place that many students hardly recognized."

Slater Lampman admits that he didn't quite realize what they were getting into as junior co-chairs. "Much of it was seat of the pants, but somehow it all worked, and each year, through evolution, the process has gotten better and better since it began in 1986."

Edith Lampman said she was impressed by how hard everyone worked--parents, HHS Principal Ed Lucas and his staff and the business community--to bring individual talent to the tasks at hand. She and her husband were an example. "Slater was good with the financial information, and I did more of the communication, pulling the committees together."

In 2007 now Hudson Mayor Dean Knutson and his wife, Joy, co-chaired the event and fondly remembered the experience. He said everyone is proud that there have been no tragedies in the district in the 25-year history of this event. "But the fact that this is an all volunteer, parent-driven event with help from business leaders in the community, as well as the school administration, makes this truly a worthy community event."

Joy Knutson noted that the 90 percent-plus of graduates who now attend is "incredible and a really significant figure in an age when there are so many other options the students could choose."

This year's chairmen are Dennis and Lois Duerst. They are veterans of the experience having previously served as co-chairmen with Schoen and Patti Schucknecht.

Said Dennis, "We learned so much from them, and met such good people here in Hudson. Every year the process gets improved. I remember the kids' reaction to the decorated school. They can't believe the transformation."

Retired St. Croix County Judge C.A. Richards and his wife Jeanette were co-chairmen in 1992 and it was Judge Richards who was instrumental in incorporating the All-Night Party as its own non-profit organization. This year, the Duersts have worked with others to create Hudson S.A.F.E. - Senior All-Night Fun Event, a separate charitable entity to make it easier for donors to make tax-deductible contributions in support of this program and to stage fundraisers like the upcoming "Cheesehead Monologues" April 10. See separate story.

The 2010 Senior All-Night Party is a chemical-free, lock-in event held on graduation night. For more information contact Dennis and Lois Duerst at (715) 381-7008 or, or Anita Stilwell at (715) 381-1683. To learn more about the Senior All-Night Party, go to the HHS Web site at under Senior Year and Graduation Information. To contribute to the cause, make your check out to Hudson S.A.F.E. Inc.

The Senior All-Night Party is a chemical-free, lock-in event held on graduation night. For more information, to make a donation or to volunteer contact

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604