Jason Bradshaw was crowned King Boreas LXXXI on Friday night at the St. Paul RiverCentre, but it was during a Rotary Club meeting last year that he realized the true meaning of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

“It was last January,” Bradshaw said in an interview last week. “It was Winter Carnival Day at the Rotary.”

Lindsey Jo Sandoval is crowned Aurora, Queen of the Snows, while Jason Bradshaw is crowned King Boreas Rex in a ceremony Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. (Courtesy photo: Molly Steinke)
Lindsey Jo Sandoval is crowned Aurora, Queen of the Snows, while Jason Bradshaw is crowned King Boreas Rex in a ceremony Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. (Courtesy photo: Molly Steinke)

At the time, Bradshaw was not exactly unfamiliar with the carnival: The 42-year-old currently lives in Somerset, Wis., but he grew up in Stillwater and is president and CEO of Bradshaw, the funeral and cremation business that his father started, a business that is headquartered on Rice Street in St. Paul. His dad, Jim Bradshaw, served as the 1972 Titan, Prince of the North Wind — so some of the younger Bradshaw’s childhood memories include riding in parades and getting to sound that distinctive Titan horn.

But that day at the Rotary’s annual Winter Carnival meet-and-greet, Bradshaw gained a deeper understanding of St. Paul’s 131-year-old festival.

“Bob Olsen, historian for the Winter Carnival got up and talked about the origins of carnival,” Bradshaw said . “Obviously, everyone knows the story of the frozen tundra. …”

(The Winter Carnival started in 1886 after a New York Times reporter called St. Paul “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter.”)

“The part that actually struck me was the secondary story,” Bradshaw said. “How there were so many immigrants in the area at the time, there was very little that was holding everybody together — they had their own religions, they had their own festivals, they had their own cultures and Winter Carnival became that thing that everybody could bond behind. It brought them together. It was something they could all celebrate, no matter their background.

“So it was really a St. Paul holiday.

“At that time, we were coming out of Ferguson, Mo., we were coming out of Charleston, S.C., we were coming out of Baltimore, Md., we were hearing about these communities that were split up and had these subcultures and I thought, ‘Wow, there’s probably never been a more important time for carnival than today when you think about it, because we need things to bring us together.’ Things that help the community to bond. And so having a 10-day holiday where everybody can go, most of the events don’t cost to attend, and people can celebrate it, no politics behind it, no religion behind it, just people coming together to have a good time. In fact, there’s an article about it in the ’60s that said, ‘This is where St. Paul learns to play together’ and I thought that was so cool. It was really during that Rotary meeting that I decided, ‘You know what? Yeah, this is a neat, neat opportunity’ and, in my own head, that’s where I made my commitment.’”

He said it really is an honor to be nominated. 

“For me, even having a dad who was a North Wind, it was a real surprise to be asked,” Bradshaw said. “I was first asked back in November of 2015 if I would consider the role. At that point, you’re asked to do it, but you’re also interviewed for it. So there are a series of interviews, both one-on-one and just with myself and also with the spouse. They want to make sure as a couple, you’re both engaged. It’s a big commitment.”

Bradshaw’s wife, Brea Bradshaw, is certainly committed: She spent her 40th birthday — Friday — watching her husband crowned king.

Lindsey Sandoval
Lindsey Sandoval

Lindsey Jo Sandoval was crowned Aurora, Queen of the Snows on Friday night at the St. Paul RiverCentre. A professional media makeup artist, Sandoval lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two stepsons. Look for a profile on the new queen Saturday on our Winter Carnival page.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever live that down,” the king said with a smile.

She will also spend the year juggling her role as Lady of Boreas with her shifts as an emergency room registered nurse at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater and her role as mom to the couple’s three children: Anika, 7, Ford, 6, and Marta, 4.

It was Anika, Ford and Marta who helped inspire the couple with a “novel” idea for carnival.

“Saint Paul Winter Carnival Wonders,” a children’s book that the couple commissioned, became available for sale immediately upon the announcement of Bradshaw as King Boreas at coronation on Friday. The book can be purchased online at WinterCarnival.com, in Rice Park and at various Winter Carnival events.

“Basically, because we have young kids and we have good family time when we read books to them and frankly it’s sometimes the only time they actually listen to you,” Bradshaw said. “They started asking us about Winter Carnival and the book idea came out.”

It was a true collaboration.

“Kris Haslund, the author, is a friend of my mother-in-law,” Bradshaw said. “She was a St. Paul public school teacher, later a professor at St. Thomas, who has always wanted to write a book. So we talked to her and she dove right in full bore and wrote this book — it’s a grandfather telling his granddaughter the story of the Winter Carnival; it talks about the values of carnival and what it means to be a good citizen of St. Paul and there’s a fun twist at the end where the grandfather also reveals that he was a King Boreas.

“And we also commissioned an illustrator, Sara Weingartner, and Beaver’s Pond Press to assemble it. And, incredibly, Jim Flaherty (the last King Boreas, of Allegra and Image360 in downtown St. Paul), picked up the entire cost of printing the 3,500 copies.”

Bradshaw said the donated printing means 100 percent of the proceeds can benefit the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation (which runs Winter Carnival) and FamilyMeans. FamilyMeans is a nonprofit headquartered in Stillwater, with branch offices located throughout the metro, including St. Paul. The organization’s mission is to help families with a variety of services, including financial services, counseling, aging and caregiver services.

“My wife and I wanted a charity partner and it turns out this is something the Festival and Heritage Foundation along with Boreas 80 (Flaherty) had talked about,” Bradshaw said. “So it was one of those meetings that you walk away and say, ‘That couldn’t have gone any better.’”

Bradshaw said the royal tour of duty is a bit outside his natural comfort zone.

“I’m more of a supportive leader as opposed to the big personality out in front of everybody.”

Still, the graduate of Stillwater High School (Class of ’92), Pepperdine University (biology) and the University of Minnesota (mortuary science) has done a lot to quietly grow his family business, which has a home office on Rice Street in St. Paul but now also has locations in Stillwater, White Bear Lake and Minneapolis (four Bradshaw and two of their value brand, Simple Traditions by Bradshaw). The company  pioneered a new, environmentally friendly cremation process in 2012 called Green Cremation, which was written up in the June 24, 2013 issue of Time Magazine. Time also created a short documentary about the Minnesota company — called “Ashes to Ashes” — which has now had 1.5 million views on YouTube.

Perhaps no one appreciates life more than a funeral director — and St. Paul is certainly full of life during carnival.

“This is why I got into carnival,” Bradshaw said . “As I said in my message in the children’s book, this is a St. Paul holiday that brings people together. And I think you’ll see in the book that the characters are pretty representative of St. Paul: We have Malik, Mai, Joey, Carlos … we have to be representative of the city. At times I think maybe we’ve fallen down in that area in carnival, but it’s how we started, and it’s what we have to do.”

In addition to Malik, Mai, Joey and Carlos, three other kids get mentioned in the book, too.

“Anika, Marta and Ford — they did get a little shout out, too,” said the king of his children. “It was fun.”

“Saint Paul Winter Carnival Wonders”
Author: Kris Haslund
Illustrator: Sara Weingartner
Publisher: Beaver’s Pond Press

Price: $18.95

Proceeds: All proceeds benefit the St. Paul Festival & Heritage Foundation and FamilyMeans

Info/purchase: WinterCarnival.com, in Rice Park and at various Winter Carnival events.

Copyright 2017 Pioneer Press.