Have you ever had a feeling you should do something, but couldn't explain why?
My adventure started when a notice came in both the Albert Lea Tribune and the NRHEG Star Eagle of a man, Russell Anderson, who was going to be celebrating his 80th birthday on Sunday, October 6.
We see these announcements all the time. Sometimes they’re of personal interest, and sometimes we don't even know the person.
In this case my mother said, "Kathy, you will need to cover that event for the paper."
"Mom,” I said, “I don't even know the man." In fact my mother wasn't sure she did either, but it kept nagging at her.
On Saturday, October 5, when the day was done, she remembered. "We didn't make it to Russell’s birthday party today," she said, but still conceded she wasn't sure she even knew him.
When it came up in conversation on Sunday again, my nephew, Kade, said, "That party is today, today is the sixth."
Mom said, "I don't know why, but something just tells me we should go to that birthday party."
I was getting a little lukewarm to the idea by then – mostly because it seemed so important to my mother.
So we went, though neither of us knew where, or who we were going to see.
Matawan is a very small town, in fact almost just a neighborhood. We had to ask where we could find the little schoolhouse where the party was to be held. (We later found out the community has kept, renovated and made this old schoolhouse a mainstay in the town.)
We passed a coop of chickens feasting on grass in an enclosed yard. There were also cattle, just on the outskirts of town. "How wonderful,” I thought, “Organic livestock. Eggs and milk and meat you could safely eat without worry of chemicals." It warmed my heart immediately.
We found the school, and there were still plenty of cars, though the end of the party was drawing near. We were greeted at the door by some young people who eyed us rather suspiciously, but we went in and signed the guest book – and surprise surprise! Not only did we not know the people at the party, but they didn't have the slightest idea who we were either. We had crashed the party!
Thank goodness it was an open house party – for an 80-year-old man, given by his four lovely daughters and stepdaughter, who were gracious enough to welcome us to stay as if we were long lost friends.
Embarrassed? I was, but not for long. The Anderson family made us feel like welcome guests. We eventually recognized Karen and Curt Krause, Russell’s neighbors, as the only ones we knew. Later, reading the guest book, we saw the familiar name of Tim Krohn, also of Geneva, who we later found out is one of Russell’s relatives.
Russell’s four girls live some states from here, and the stepdaughter lives in Mankato. They were all a joy. Two of Russell’s daughters live in New Jersey, one in Tennessee, and another in Florida. They’re only able to see their dad two or three times a year because of the distance.
Nevertheless, these girls planned a party, long distance, to gather family and friends for their father’s 80th birthday, which was October 4.
The old Matawan school building is where their father attended school for eight years. The three older girls had also attended school there.
The girls seemed to have fun despite the hard work they had put into getting things organized. They had gone online and tracked down memorabilia of school in the days their dad had attended it, including old books, big red apples and pencil boxes, and used them for centerpieces along with large red and black balloons.
They were able to locate large murals which they mounted on the walls of the classroom. Some were a reminder of their father’s farm, while others illustrated the western stories of his favorite author, Louis L’Amour, along with television shows he enjoyed, like Bonanza.
The girls were also able to find authentic candy that might have been found at Walter and Dorothy Anderson’s grocery and candy store, which was located in Freeborn many years ago. For 50 years Dorothy donned her special apron and catered to the school children who visited their candy counter during noon hours and after school. She used the apron to collect the pennies and nickels the children brought to pay for their goodies. Walter was Russell’s brother, and the family has many fond memories of the candy store. Russell’s daughters sent small brown paper bags of candies home with their guests.
One of the things that caught my attention were the boxes of candy cigarettes.
They were something my mother took away from my sister and me as kids, because she felt it was a way of "teaching kids to smoke." The candy itself was quite tasty; it was what it represented that she didn't like. Times haven't changed, but think of all the things marketing does to kids to entice them to smoke, chew and "use," that might have helped form bad habits. But on this day it was a fun thing to see.
The girls also used "The Spanking Room," a little room off the main area of the schoolhouse, as a gallery for photos of their father and family.
There was also a unique door cover that resembled an outdoor "biffy," mounted on one of the doors in the schoolhouse which had led to the school restroom.
There was also a kitchen. Russell is a good cook, but on this occasion his girls took over the kitchen and prepared a harvest dinner. No banquet table could have held more. The girls produced mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken, ham, cowboy beans, macaroni salad, cole slaw, fresh buns, all no doubt their dad’s favorite foods.
The large cookies and pumpkin bars were delicious, but couldn't beat the taste of the lemon bars, all made from scratch. No box anything there. Obviously my heart melted just a bit more. When you make your own, you know what all of the ingredients are.
The birthday cake was almost gone by the time we got there, but the decorations told the story. The cake had had a pink fondant pig, Holstein cattle, and chickens, along with a John Deere tractor with huge candy tires.
Between sips of fresh lemonade and coffee we were able to learn at least part of Russell’s past, along with the story of this dad whom these girls obviously loved so much.
Before daughter Wendi was born, Russell bought a toy holster and guns and cowboy boots for the son he hoped to have, but he had to wait until his daughters gave him grandsons instead. Now he has five grandsons and two granddaughters.
Russell never moved from where his roots were planted. He still lives in his own home on the 100-year-old family farm. Now he rents out the land but is still able to sneak in and help whenever he can. Russell also worked at Streaters in Albert Lea for over 30 years.
Russell was married to Jeanette Fetchenhoer of Minnesota Lake. He later married Avis Jensen from Albert Lea. They have been married for 44 years. Avis is now a resident at New Richland Care Center. Russell’s only living brother, George, is also a resident there.
Russell’s daughters are Caron Musorafite and Wendi Wieczerak, both of New Jersey; Kerry Sullivan of Tennesee; Julie Rodriguez of Florida; and Anne Fiest of Mankato.
He has seven grandchildren: Ryan, Taylor, Patrick, Kaitlyn, Kelly, Jo Jo, Nolan, and Adam. Russell had two sisters and four brothers, one, George, still living.
This birthday boy looked like a contented gentleman on the Sunday afternoon of his party. He looked like he might have owned a bank or a big corporation, but we knew he was always a farmer and a dad to his girls.
Did I say we had a great afternoon? We certainly did, and even more, met new friends. I may not always remember all their names, but the activities, hospitality and memories relived will forever be with me.
I crashed a party. It was fun!
Some of our Star Eagle readers have commented they like to read about events such as family and school reunions, birthdays and anniversaries, and birth and wedding announcements. In order to read about these important things we need our faithful readers to pass along the information to us. ALSO, if you know of something that would be a good story to share with others, please give me a call, or send an e-mail.
This week’s birthdays and anniversaries include:
• Thursday, November 7th: Ella Dobberstein, Solveig Adelaine Mattson, her 2nd birthday; Ava Leigh Wangsness, her third birthday; Alymra Seath, Jolee Johnson, Travis Diederrich, Linda Dobberstein, Scott Olson, Mark Sundwall
• Friday, November 8th: Sydney Larson, Andrew Jensen, Brian Hughes, Burton Nelson
• Saturday, November 9th: Phyllis Hagen, Tami Lund Wacek, Scott Coxworth, Jon Aronson, Kent Kruckenburg, Cindy Gould, Tim Westrum, Christopher Jepson
• Sunday, November 10th: Keith McDonald, Eric Anderson, Russell Reistad, Tomm Richards, Jennifer Zimprich, Jessica Kasper, Andrew Olson, Jessica (Johnson) & Dan Rebelein, Stan & Liz Reichl, Everett & Diane Jensen
• Monday, November 11th: Jason Tracy, Kate Laudon, Agnes Christensen, Ione Hagen, Dale Hunt, Paula Swearingen, Jennifer Jacobs, Dawn Diemer, Rachel Gould, Dave & Linda Brandt, Amanda Schimdt, Tory Lee Christensen
• Tuesday, November 12th: Trinity Tracy Vulcan, Tatum Charlotte Vulcan, Samuel Henry Kaplan, Lois Johnson Aitchison, Jill Jensen, Holly Thompson, Craig Clausen, Helen Kellem, Scott & Jan Sorenson, Jill & Shannon Jensen
• Wednesday, November 13th: Geoffrey Nelson. Abbey Louise Titus, Bill Johnson, Jeffrey Nelson, Diane Brighton, Earl & Janis Klinger, Steve & Pennie Ladlie
Wherever this year takes you, may you feel happiness along the way!