An Aldrich Avenue block party with a history

Credit: This year's annual block party on Aldrich between 50th and 51st featured a Holi festival. Submitted image

At 46 years and counting, the block party on Aldrich Avenue South between 50th and 51st is an all-day affair, starting with yoga at 9 a.m. and continuing until 11 p.m.

Once a year, neighbors hang a vinyl sign on rope across the street that reads, “Love thy neighbor.”

Sharron Johnson helped start the parties in the days before email, knocking on doors and asking grocery stores for donations.

“It was kind of a humble beginning, but boy we really had turnout,” Johnson said.

At one time, there were 106 children on the block.

“Our block, before it became one-way, was our playground,” Johnson said.

In one early game, neighbors threw all of the kids’ tennis shoes into a pile and the kids had to sift through the stack and find them again.

“We never had yoga because no one knew what the heck yoga was,” Johnson said.

Block parties in recent years have featured hula dancers, an Elvis impersonator, a square dance caller, and reptiles (“I had an 80-pound snake around my neck,” Johnson said).

This year’s India-themed party on July 18 hosted Bollywood dancers, henna tattoos, a Minnesota Honey Company demo, a cricket game and a Holi festival. Members of the planning committee discreetly built a large elephant in the garage, unveiling it during the party.

The festivities don’t stop there.

In the fall there is Blocktoberfest, featuring brews, an accordion, a bonfire and hammerschlagen: a competitive game that involves driving a nail into a log with one hand.

Then there is the wintertime “Wine Around The Block.” The adults in the neighborhood travel from house to house enjoying appetizers, desserts and wine.

“Instead of whining about winter, we wine around the block,” said resident Sandy Puckett.

Several households on the block have stayed for decades — four since the 60s — and new neighbors have written letters of gratitude for the warm welcome.

“Even with the planes, people like the energy of this block and they like the camaraderie,” Johnson said. “…Someone is sick — boom, we’re right there.”

In the summer of 2004, block resident and triathlete Pia Sass was cycling in rural Wisconsin when she was struck and severely injured by a passing vehicle. She spent months in the hospital and in rehab.

For three months, neighbors took turns providing lunch and dinner every day of the week.

“Because we have that community, we care for each other,” Puckett said.

A therapist recommended that Sass return to playing the piano, which led to the concept of a Block Recital. All of the residents were invited to play an instrument, sing a song or recite a poem, and the tradition lasted for six years. They’re talking about bringing back the recitals, now that there are children on the block of performance age again.

“In today’s world, everybody is busy. They don’t know who their next-door neighbor is,” Johnson said. “That’s not us.”