Business booming for owners of barn dance venues

She’s known as the Chex Mix lady.

For over the past 20 years, Loretta Dessen, 78, of Urbana has routinely distributed 25 pounds of Chex Mix every Wednesday and Saturday from mid-September to mid-November on her property, Farm Lake.

Dessen is the owner of two barns, which she regularly rents out to various University groups for barn dances.

“It’s a way for me to be at the party to monitor what’s going on while being a part of the atmosphere,” Dessen said.

An alumna herself, Dessen enjoys providing a fun place for students to enjoy themselves. From 8 p.m. to midnight, Dessen walks between her two barns distributing Chex Mix to the partygoers, only stopping to refill her basket at her house, which is in the middle of the two barns.

“I look forward to her at Farm Lake. She adds the homey feel of going to a barn dance,” said recent University alumna Jessie Oh. “The whole point of barn dance is to experience the country lifestyle and her being there, walking around, dressed up in a country looking sweater adds to it.”

As urban as Green Street looks, students are able to return to the country feel of Champaign-Urbana by attending barn dances.

“U of I is in the farmland area but even when you go to U of I, you don’t get the feeling of ‘out in the farms,'” Oh said. “I think most students should experience a barn dance at least once.”

Former Illini Pride Event Coordinator Amanda Golden has planned several barn dances, and although being on a farm is nothing new for her, she understands being out in the country is a unique experience for many campus students.

Dessen claims her farm gets busier every year as a place to host parties, but Miner Barn is also a popular venue for barn dances.

Miner Barn has been in Dan Miner’s family since 1850. Miner, like Dessen, is also involved in the barn dances he hosts. Instead of providing snacks, he takes on the role of DJ.

“I don’t play my preference, I play what they want,” Miner said. “I can tell within the first couple of minutes by their reactions to songs.”

Both places provide hay rides, DJs, bonfires and bathrooms. The rules at each barn are comparable as well, both stressing the importance of no glass bottles.

“Have you ever tried to get thousands of glass pieces out of a hay field so the cattle wouldn’t eat them?” Miner asked.

Cleaning after the parties is done by the owners of the barn. The bails of hay are often destroyed, and many personal items are left behind. Stray beer cans also tend to litter the ground despite all the trash cans provided. However, the barns seldom experience any serious property damage.

Drinking is only allowed to students 21 and over, and it is up to the organization to monitor this. At Farm Lake, the barn dances end at midnight, while at Miner Barn it varies.

After running a day camp for 16 years, Dessen traded in kids for college students and started in the barn dance business. Miner, on the other hand, was approached by a sorority to rent out the barn. Although hesitating at first, Miner has been successfully hosting barn dances for 23 years.

“It helps put groceries on the table,” Miner said.

Neither barn claims to be in competition with each other, and both owners expressed wanting to provide a safe place for students to go on weekends.

“I’m proud of this place,” Dessen said. “It is a glorious place to live, any season, day or night. I think the kids have a lot of fun.”