Dean Kuhn, senior project manager with Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, held two fireworks shells above the mortars they go into at his business in rural Pequot Lakes.
Little American flags lining the front porch are the first indication that Dean and Sue Kuhn of rural Pequot Lakes have a patriotic passion for the Fourth of July.
In fact, it's the biggest day of the year for Dean, senior project manager of the Northern Region of Zambelli Fireworks Internationale. The company's main focus is providing fireworks displays, and no surprise the Independence Day holiday is the company's busiest time of year. Dean does half his business for the year in that one week.
Nationwide, Zambelli, which started in 1893 and has headquarters in New Castle, Pennsylvania, will perform 700 to 800 fireworks shows July 4. Dean is in charge of 19 shows that night from Ely to Rapid City, South Dakota. Area July 4 fireworks displays that Dean will head up include Crosslake on Saturday, June 30; Grand View Lodge in Nisswa on Monday, July 2; Pequot Lakes on Tuesday, July 3; and Madden's Resort and Brainerd-Baxter on Wednesday, July 4.
Dean also does the Lower Hay Lake fireworks show, which is July 14 this year; City of Lights fireworks in November in Nisswa; Parade of Lights fireworks in December in Pine River; and Breezy Point Ice Fest fireworks in January.
While Dean's main job is to work with customers to plan their shows and to pack their fireworks, he said with a laugh, "I want to have fun instead of just sitting here. Yes, I'm still a shooter."
Dean's family fueled his fascination and love of fireworks.
"My family was always big on the Fourth of July," he said. "My dad and brothers came with trunk loads of consumer fireworks."
He grew up in Red Wing and Ames, Iowa, and his family celebrated the Fourth of July at his grandparents' home.
The family also vacationed each summer at Train Bell Resort in Merrifield. After his grandparents died, Dean's family changed their week at Train Bell to the big summer holiday. It's a tradition they carry on today.
When fireworks laws tightened, Dean's father found he could get a permit to buy professional grade fireworks.
"So instead of stopping when the laws changed, we increased. And since I had the most passion and enthusiasm for fireworks, I took charge," Dean said. "We continued for years as a family fireworks display, which grew and grew and grew to be quite a large display."
After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls with a business/marketing degree, Dean moved to Mound on the west side of Lake Minnetonka and worked for 20 years as an independent sales representative.
"Fireworks were more of a hobby," he said, noting he does regret that he didn't go into the fireworks business full time sooner.
About 20 years ago they switched to electronics rather than hand-lighting fireworks for safety. Dean, who had moved to the lakes area about 22 years ago, thought it might be fun to hire out a few shows to help pay for their family show.
"So my hobby grew into a side business," he said, that continued to grow until it overtook his day job.
About 10 years ago, he created his own business, Kuhn Fireworks Display, at his home, which at the time was on North Long Lake. Eight years ago he and Sue, who works at Grand View Lodge, moved to rural Pequot Lakes because they needed more space for the business.
In 2009, Dean joined Zambelli as that company's only independent facility, and he operates under the Zambelli name.
Dean's goal is to take a client's budget and put together the most entertaining show that gives the most action for the dollars budgeted.
"Every show is choreographed and planned out," he said, noting he also choreographs fireworks shows to music.
"Music can add emotion. It takes it to another level," Dean said, noting he loves giving people goose bumps by choreographing fireworks to patriotic songs like "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America."
The best fireworks display, he said, isn't too long and is action-packed with a mixture of slow, fast and dramatic bursts.
And one of the best things about fireworks is that they are for everyone, from ages 2 to 92, Dean said.
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