morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Donnelly Threshing Bee has long signaled end of summer
In photo: a musical unit for the 1977 Donnelly Threshing Bee parade. No, we didn't play "disco." Your blog host, Brian Williams, is at right with trumpet. Joining me in the front row are Del Sarlette (left) and Doug Garberick (wearing helmet, a curious adornment and surely a conversation-starter). In the middle row, from left, are rock-solid UMMers Jeff Johnson, Marty Sarlette and Clyde Johnson. The gents in back are, l-r: Bruce Maus, John Woell (high school band director) and Jim Waage. I remember one year, a bright-eyed Harold Trost (RIP) drove past us as we were parked on the grounds and "compensated" us with a 12-pack or two of "brewskies." I actually preferred winning a liter of Pepsi at the ring-toss on the grounds. I warmly remember Darlene Awsumb (RIP) serving me some nice hot coffee. The ice cream shack was quite a temptation.
We're past the Donnelly Threshing Bee which means we're ushering out summer. The time between the county fair and Threshing Bee is an anticlimactic part of summer. Summer's glory most surely still reigns. We ought to relish it just as much as around July 4.
We seem to start getting distracted by anticipating the new school year. I was told many years ago: Don't schedule a class reunion for August because everyone will get back to you and say: "We can't come because we have to get ready for school." I'm not sure this statement is literally true. I just think people have fallen out of that state of mind where they do vacation-type things. That's reserved for earlier in summer.
Is it really so demanding to "get ready for school?" I told this story to Steve Dudding once and he said: "The ones who want to be there (at the reunion) will find a way to get there."
I have found that the older a class gets, the more likely it is to schedule a reunion for late in summer or even the fall. I think the 30-year reunion might be the hardest to organize. No longer do the alums have that naturally giddy feeling about reunions - they've been gone from school too long - and they are preoccupied with their own children, understandably I'm sure. They relax better when they get older.
Father Gerald Dalseth once shared interesting thoughts about reunions. He said the older we get, the more willing we are to open up with each other about our failures. Fr. Dalseth, a Morris native and quite wise individual, said that at the ten-year reunion, no matter what job we have, it sounds impressive. We become steadily more aware of our shortcomings as we get older. Humility grows. We smile at the brimming optimism that young people around us show - their naivete and occasional chutzpah. This is how God created us. We wouldn't have it any other way.
I was an organizer for our 10, 20 and 30-year reunions, then decided to take a pass for the 40th. I didn't attend last summer (in 2013). In response to a phone call, I did show up for a little informal gathering at the deck behind The Old No. 1. So, technically speaking, maybe you could say I attended. I didn't want to attend because I didn't want to end up in a photo that got published in the Morris newspaper. I was told that my services as a photographer would have been helpful.
I don't think any photos from the reunion got into the paper. The paper doesn't have as much room anymore for that kind of stuff. The paper contracted drastically between our 30 and 40-year reunions. It's a night-and-day difference. The Morris paper today is compact and only seems large because of that infernal pile of advertising circulars, many of them for Alexandria businesses.
I haven't been to the Donnelly Threshing Bee in about nine years, sorry. I may have been at the first-ever Threshing Bee. I began covering the Threshing Bee for the Morris paper in 1979. I believe the first queen I covered was Gayle Struck. I took a photo of Butch Ersted being dunked at the dunking booth. Way back when, I had a hard time getting over Butch's suspension from the high school basketball team. If he thinks people forget that kind of thing, he's wrong. I was in junior high and rather impressionable.
Nuggets of "Bee" memories
I remember a famous horseshoes player being a visiting dignitary for the Threshing Bee. Donnelly was associated with horseshoes for a time. I remember hot-air ballooning as an exciting exhibition for the Threshing Bee. I remember the Upper Mississippi Bluegrass Band supplying terrific folksy entertainment that fit right in with the atmosphere.
The royalty aspect was heartwarming on Saturday night. The emcee and candidates gathered on that stage in front of the depot building. I remember Mr. Sax starting out the dance at the town hall by dancing with his daughter, the queen.
The Threshing Bee has touted its "big top tent." It's quite the asset as relief from an overbearing sun or impending rain. Morris' Prairie Pioneer Days could use such an asset.
Soaking in "celebration of community"
I wouldn't be surprised if the total size and turnout for the Threshing Bee has declined in recent years. This isn't to say it has less value for attending. Prairie Pioneer Days has shown signs of decline, yet we enjoy it. It's a simple celebration of community. It doesn't need all the bells and whistles.
There would be no fault assigned if the Threshing Bee is declining, it would simply reflect outstate rural demographics. This trend, or the seeds of it anyway, got started many years ago with the advent of the birth control pill. Singer Loretta Lynn once said "if the pill had been around when I was younger, I would've taken them like candy." The late Wally Behm told me about how people in education noticed the effects of the pill quite unmistakably, after a few years had gone by of course.
If you want to appreciate what life was like in the pre-pill times, watch the movie "Spencer's Mountain" and see Henry Fonda seated at the dinner table with something like nine kids seated around him, and his wife (Maureen O'Hara). Pity the O'Hara character. Or maybe she liked it - being beleaguered by so many hyper children. We can't assume it was all arduous. Many would argue that God wants us to multiply like this. I guess Catholics would lead the way, although their ranks include many who opt for the minimal child burden.
The Donnelly kids had a group identity when I was young. My class included at least a couple girls who your typical boy would describe as "cute." My elementary basketball team played a big "away game" at the Donnelly town hall. You know, that's an amazing little building. It seems so minimal and almost rather gloomy, yet so many festive community events have been held there - fish fries and the like.
Donnelly seemed to have more than its share of "characters" - interesting people. Were they eccentric or just intelligent and insightful? Take your pick. I'll never forget the genius artist Del Holdgrafer who left us too soon. I once asked him to do a custom drawing job and all he asked in return was "enough money to fill my gas tank." He resented how prices starting going up at the doctor's office. I'm sure he loved the days when doctors made "house calls." When he parodied the Morris doctors in a cartoon, he left out the name of Dr. Rossberg who was more the down-home type of doctor he preferred.
I have written before that Holdgrafer is one of the people I'll look up right away if I'm fortunate enough to get to heaven. I guess I've already committed to Willie Martin being the first. Arnie Hennen is on the list. I had better keep going to church.
The rumor today is that St. John's Lutheran of Donnelly could be on its last legs. I always used to smile when hearing St. John's described as the "town" church while Kongsvinger was the "country" church, as if either could really be considered "urban." I attended the ceremony of closure for St. Theresia's Catholic Church in Donnelly. I covered that solemn event for the newspaper, snapping a photo of the bishop (from St. Cloud) who offered consolation. "Maybe we could be a titular parish," he said.
It's no revelation that the small outstate rural communities aren't what they once were. The "Spencer's Mountain" model for families has dissipated. We can't expect the old small town atmosphere to ever be fully resurrected. We live in a world today that is too, shall we say, "efficient." Everyone behaves like they've had too much caffeine. (Holdgrafer would appreciate that statement.)
I remember playing in the band for the Donnelly ice cream social in the late 1960s. It was held outside, not in the town hall, and was most festive with a large number of attendees. Years later I played my horn in the Threshing Bee parade. Then my newspaper responsibilities took over for quite a few years.
Owen Heiberg and I did some judging for parade units. Each year Jan Greiner would ask us to do that. I wonder if Jan remembered that I was a very poor student of hers in junior high French class in Morris. Junior high French class! Horrors. Conjugating all those stupid verbs. And when we were all done with those classes, we couldn't speak French anyway.
A Sadie Hawkins "spectacular"
I was named coach of the "Donnelly Duds" basketball team for Sadie Hawkins week at MHS. This was the boys team. My opposing coach was Maureen Griffith who coached the "Crystal Lake Mud Hens." My gimmick was to have the boys line up for a "field goal attempt" using the basketball at game's end. These days I see Maureen at West Wind Village occasionally, on Sundays visiting. I guess if I had asked anyone to Prom, it would be her.
The Donnelly group of kids was most vibrant through school. There was Marv Stoneburg. Bob Van Zomeren. Chuck Kopel. The inscrutable Allen Anderson. Bob comes from a family with long lifespans. I was at his home once watching a basketball game in which Kareen Abdul-Jabbar still went by the name "Lew Alcindor" (at UCLA). Kareem was a long way from his role in the "Airplane" movie. I won't list any girls because you might wonder if these are the "cute" ones I cited earlier. I remember arguing with one of them over several weeks over whether there was such a thing as "moose meat loaf." Such are the quite insignificant memories that can stand out in our thoughts.
We get older and become more aware of our human failings. Will I be at our 50-year reunion? A whole lot is going to happen before then. I hope the Threshing Bee continues with a sufficient base of vitality, for a very long time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org