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Prairie Village Museum sees ‘large turnout’ for rainy Village Fair

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 4, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Volunteers at the Prairie Village Museum’s saloon pose behind the bar. From left are Marilyn Miller, Pam Anderson and Dennis Miller.

Rumbles of thunder and occasional downpours provided a backdrop for the annual Prairie Village Museum Village Fair Sunday, Aug. 22.

The event began at 9 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, blacksmithing demonstrations and hymns sung in the original Zion Lutheran Church building. Food vendors offering everything from street tacos to barbecue kept visitors fed throughout the day. Other vendors offered pickles on a stick and root beer floats.

In addition to the church on the museum grounds, other displays such as a cook car, attorney’s office and saloon opened their doors for a steady stream of fairgoers who saw items used by Pierce County residents in days gone by.

To bring the displays to life, volunteers strolled the grounds dressed in period costumes. Some sat at pianos in the church, saloon and Sandven Building to entertain the crowd with music.

Miss Teen Rugby International Ryli Kuhnhenn and Miss Teen North Dakota International Mackenzie Fuller also strolled through the museum grounds chatting with visitors and posing for photos.

The Heart of America Germans from Russia opened their building to give visitors a glimpse of the folkways they brought with them to Pierce County. Inside a glass case stood a 100-year-old wedding dress on a mannequin. In an area set up to look like a home at the turn of the 20th century, a cabbage cutter used for making sauerkraut sat on display on a kitchen table. Local resident Rob Rohrer donated the cutter.

Vicki Hoffart greeted visitors to the Heart of America Germans from Russia building. She provided information on the families who settled the area from Russia, where they had lived as immigrants from Germany. Hoffart said she was collecting genealogical information from their descendants to compile historical records of the people who established Pierce County towns such as Balta and Selz. Germans from Russia had also played a large role in establishing Rugby as a city.

“I’m just trying to visit with people to see if they have given us information about members of their families who came from Russia,” Hoffart said. “And we’re putting together a flip chart with family group sheets of those people who actually came from Russia. If they came on a boat, we would like their family information. Some of that, people have; some of it, they have only parts of it. But whatever they can give us, we feel like this is a good time and place to honor those people. Those people who came here are the reason we’re here.”

“It’s a work in progress. We’ve got 20 now and I’ve got 20 more that are partially done and we’ll just continue to work on it as people get that information to us,” Hoffart added.

Hoffart said her ancestors went by the surnames Brandt and Maier. They had settled north of Pierce County in Omemee.

“I’ve always been interested in genealogy and how people fit together. And even helping people with family group sheets is fun to see if people were from the same family,” Hoffart said.

Hoffart said some of the large farm families who settled the area “were a challenge, yes, but that just makes it like the difference between a 100-piece puzzle and a 1000-piece puzzle. It all still works together.”

Visitors with ancestors who settled from Russia paged through a large flip chart to find their surnames. Others read posters tracking the movement of German citizens to the Volga River or Black Sea regions of Russian and read a copy of Der Staats Anzeiger, a German language newspaper published in Rugby in 1906.

A few doors down from the Germans from Russia building, Dennis and Marilyn Miller served bottles of soda pop at one dollar each in the museum’s saloon. Pam Anderson played piano music to keep the mood lively despite rumbles of thunder outside.

“I’m surprised that attendance held up this well for the afternoon,” Dennis Miller said. “The people that were here had a good time and of course, people expected bad weather, but attendance was good anyway.”

“We sold pickles at the mercantile store this morning and I was surprised to see there were a lot of kids there,” Miller added.

The Millers said they’ve lived in Rugby for 25 years. They’ve volunteered for various museum projects for six years.

Dennis Miller said he’s enjoyed being on the museum board.

Pam Anderson said she also enjoyed volunteering and providing music at museum events.

“We had music in several different places today,” Anderson said. “We had it in the church for awhile. Then, the Thompsons in the Sandven building had quite a crowd.”

“I’ve volunteered off and on for this. I’m not always around this time of year. My grandson’s birthday is this month and he’s in Wisconsin, so I’ve often been gone, but this time I’m here, so when I’m around I try to help out,” Anderson added.

“It’s fun,” Anderson added as thunder rumbled again.

“We need the rain so bad but on the other hand, it’s the wrong time for weather like this, because they’ve worked so hard to plan this,” Anderson said of the weather. “It’s great for the people who’ve shown up and I think they’ve had a good time but it’s a shame the weather hasn’t been more cooperative today.”

Museum Executive Director Jennifer Willis greeted visitors in the museum’s main building during the Village Fair. “I think it was great,” Willis said of the day. “We had a large turnout. Even earlier this morning when we had lots of rain, we had a really good turnout. A lot of people seemed to enjoy themselves. We sold a lot of food and had a lot of fun.”

Willis said she “did a lot in the Germans from Russia building” to help get it ready for the fair. “I lived, ate and slept Germans from Russia for months,” she added with a laugh. “But I couldn’t have done this without all of our volunteers.”

“We have a big volunteer base,” Willis said. “They’re great to rely on. Kathy Blessum helped a lot; Dr. Seiler helped; Steve Fritel and Steve Dockter were here helping. Michelle Lake, Monica Houim with Heart of America Germans from Russia and Vicki Hoffart – they were all great helps. Every time we needed something, they were there to help.”

“I can’t wait until next year. I hope next year is just as pretty and not as wet,” Willis added. “With all our volunteers, I think we’re really lucky.”

Willis said another museum event called Harvest Fest would be delayed. The event, which normally takes place in September, would be on hold “until we see how the surge (the county has experienced) with COVID goes. It’s just unpredictable.”

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