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Eksjo church, county museum to co-host cemetery walk: Event to be part of Lake Park church’s Midsummer Festival, June 24

The congregation of Eksjo Lutheran Church in rural Lake Park will be hosting its annual Midsummer Festival in conjunction with the Becker County Museum's Eksjo Cemetery Walk, set for Sunday, June 24 at 12 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Odegaard/Lakes Country Connection)1 / 3
Approximately 15-20 historic figures from Eksjo Lutheran Church history will be featured in the Eksjo Cemetery Walk set for next Sunday, June 24 at 12 p.m. The rural Lake Park church was first established in 1871. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Odegaard/Lakes Country Connection) 2 / 3
The picturesque cemetery at Eksjo Lutheran Church in rural Lake Park will be the setting for the Becker County Museum's second Cemetery Walk, set for Sunday, June 24 at 12 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Odegaard/Lakes Country Connection)3 / 3

Last fall, the Becker County Museum and Eksjo Lutheran Church were planning to co-host a cemetery walk in September, but it just didn’t come together.

“It (September) was too busy for us,” said Eksjo member Terri Nelson. “So we decided, let’s do it at midsummer next year.”

Specifically, Nelson added, the planning committee wanted to do the cemetery walk as part of Eksjo’s annual Midsummer Festival, which takes place next Sunday, June 24.

“It’s kind of a big deal for us,” she explained, noting that the Midsummer Festival is an homage to Eksjo’s Swedish Lutheran roots. “Our church is over 140 years old, and we take our history very seriously here. Our Swedish heritage is very important to us too.”

As such, the actors portraying the 15-plus historic figures to be featured in the cemetery walk are part of the Eksjo congregation.

“When we picked someone (to be featured) who still had existing family in the church, we went to them first,” Nelson said.

Several members of the cemetery walk cast are thus portraying their own ancestors, added Becker County Museum Executive Director Becky Mitchell.

“The people being portrayed range from pioneers who helped establish the church to congregation members who passed away in just the past few years,” added Jenn Johnson, the museum’s research library director.

“It was tempting to focus on the original members of the church, the founders,” Nelson said. “But we wanted to have a variety, so we started looking for people who had made an impact in some way. There are some farmers, some businessmen, some who were involved in the medical field. We wanted to include a lot of different perspectives, from several time periods in our history.”

The Cemetery Walk will get underway at noon — but prior to that, visitors are welcome to come attend the church’s regular Sunday services at 9 a.m., followed by one of the Midsummer Festival’s biggest traditions, the Maypole dance, where a pole festooned with fresh flowers and garlands is planted in the center of a circle of people, who dance around it.

“We’ll also have some games, and some of the girls will be making flower crowns (another Swedish tradition),” Nelson said. “The meal will get underway at 11 a.m.”

Though the church has, in previous years, done a full Swedish-style meal, with ham and scalloped potatoes, or meatballs and gravy, Nelson said, this year they decided to go with picnic-style fare — which is actually more in keeping with Swedish traditions, she added.

“In Sweden they would have picnic food (for the midsummer festival),” Nelson said. “So we’re going to have burgers and brats, new potatoes with dill, breads, salads and some more Swedish style dishes, like rice pudding. It’s kind of a meld of American and Swedish traditions of celebrating summer.”

The cemetery walk starts at noon, and will continue for a couple of hours, Mitchell said.

“When you come into the cemetery, you’ll receive a welcome from the church members, and a map,” she added, noting that the map will be part of a small booklet that includes information about the church’s history, and the historic figures being portrayed. “You can walk around at your own pace, and visit with the actors.”

After the cemetery walk, the congregation will be serving up some traditional Swedish treats and refreshments, and there will also be opportunities to tour the historic Eksjo Lutheran Church building itself, Nelson added.

“We get a lot of requests for that,” she said, adding that the building has some rather distinctive features that catch the eye of travelers along Highway 10, who stop in quite frequently to take a look.

“This is a great opportunity for people to come see it,” Nelson said. “You can come in and stroll around, take a look at whatever you want to see.”

Eksjo Lutheran Church, and its adjacent cemetery, are located at 11516 US Highway 10, just outside the city of Lake Park. The cost to attend the cemetery walk will be $5 for adults, and free to all children age 17 and under. For more information, please call the Becker County Museum at 218-847-2938.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454