144th annual festival celebrated at Dalesburg Friday
By David Lias
Time marches on, and with each step comes progress mixed with a bit of yearning for the way things used to be.
Robert Lundgren, who served as pastor at Dalesburg Lutheran Church four decades ago, was among the crowd that gathered in the church Friday afternoon, June 21, to celebrate the 144th Midsommar at Dalesburg festival.
The celebration, he said, is way for local people to continue to tightly cling to tradition.
“This is my 41st Midsommar. Forty years ago, I took part in my first one here,” he said. “It’s fun to see all of these people,” Lundgren said. “I can’t believe some of them are 40 years older than they were, and now they are in their 90s.”
Lundgren witnessed a resurgence of the traditional celebration four decades ago that he believes, in part, may have been a response to some societal changes that were going on in the region at that time.
“I’m happy that they are still celebrating Midsommar here; we revived it a great deal back in the ‘70s, and had as many as 2,000 people here for the Midsommar Fest, and the Swedish ambassador from Washington, DC came out and visited here,” he said. “The people have really kind of clung to the Midsommar fest.”
Midsommar was an event that people could turn to during uncertain times.
“I think once the rural schools were closed back in about 1972 and 1973, what were the people going to hang on to? Right in this particular area, here at Hub City, you have people divided in this congregation, in this community, into three different school districts. The ones to the south go to Vermillion; the people in the northeast go to Beresford and those in the northwest go to Centerville,” Lundgren said. “This Midsommar becomes a community homecoming for the people here. It’s a way to come back and a way to celebrate a way of life that is fast disappearing.”
He recalls the celebration 40 years ago pales in comparison to the more contemporary Midsommar festivals held at Dalesburg.
“Back then, when people were just hanging on, trying to keep it alive, they had a catered meal,” Lundgren said. “My first Midsommar 40 years ago, they had a crew from Alcester that came over (to provide the meal) and it was nothing to write home about.
“It was not ethnic, it was not even good American food,” he said, laughing, “and we turned it around and brought back authentic home cooking that’s Swedish and in some cases Norwegian, and there are some Danish dishes, too. We put together a smorgasbord, and a lot of people loved that, along with the traditional Swedish music that is always offered here.”
While the Swedish folk group Bjärv was performing before a capacity crowd inside Dalesburg Lutheran Church Friday afternoon, women from the congregation and the region were busy in the basement, preparing the traditional meal that would be served smorgasbord-style.
Ron Johnson, a long-time driving force behind the annual Midsommar celebration, began welcoming people to descend to the basement at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The proceedings were calm and orderly; groups of 30 people at a time were allowed to descend the steps according to the numbers on their tickets.
That meant some people had to be patient as their ticket number finally gave them the go-ahead to get in line downstairs, with trays, plates and cutlery in hand, to begin choosing from a variety of ethnic dishes.
The Midsommar meal included potatis korv, meatballs, parsley buttered potatoes, several salads, fruit soup, and a variety of cookies, herring, cheese, pickles, and homemade bread.
People could either choose to dine at one of several tables downstairs, neatly adorned with tablecloths and centerpieces, or climb up another set of stairs that would take them outdoors for a more picnic-style experience.
Lundgren, now retired, lives in Arlington, NE, with his wife, Leona.
“She’s Swedish in background, and I’m Swedish, so we fit right in,” he said.
“We’re 100 percent Swedish,” Mrs. Lundgren said, laughing.
Retirement has allowed the Lundgrens to make the trek up from Nebraska to Dalesburg Lutheran for five consecutive years now.
More than just food and music compel the Lundgrens to celebrate Midsommar at the church year after year.
“I really like coming back to meet the people, and to see them, and the memories,” he said, while touching the back of one of the church’s pews. “These pews were new back in 1973, and the organ has got to back to the beginning of this building, back in 1899.”
Drought and Dutch Elm disease claimed most of the trees around Dalesburg Lutheran four decades ago. Lundgren and other church members planted hundreds of trees to replace them.
“One of the things that I really like observing outside when we come back here … is to see those trees. Had we not planted those trees, it would have been really barren here,” he said.
He worries that drought may once again be taking a toll on that newer generation of trees that he helped plant.
While Lundgren was serving as pastor at Dalesburg Lutheran back in the 1970s, he was also working on his doctorate degree. Mrs. Lundgren notes that his dissertation preserves a lot of the history and includes a lot of analysis of the Scandinavian homesteaders.
“My dissertation was on the use of Swedish ethnic activities in the renewal of this congregation, and in the 1970s, this congregation was already experiencing decline from the rural to urban migration,” Lundgren said, “and by pulling all of this stuff together and using the ethnic activities, this congregation grew from 300 to 390 members. It really took off.
“Those were some good years, and it’s fun to come back and celebrate with the people here,” he said.