Valley Grove’s country social celebrates 150 years of Northfield community history

Monday, September 17, 2012 by KAYLIN FAUST

Every fall, Valley Grove Church holds its annual country social, an event meant to celebrate the church and educate the community on its historical significance in the Northfield area.

This year’s social, which included wagon rides, music and a raffle, was of special importance, as the church was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The country social took place from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16, and there were numerous period-themed activities on the church grounds.

Visitors had the opportunity to learn how to braid a rope with an old-fashioned rope-making machine, or they could enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride through the prairie surrounding Valley Grove. Musicians Alisa Leonard and Marilyn Johnson played piano and harp inside the wooden church, and refreshments were served in the original stone church.

An old-fashioned root beer keg was on hand, complete with hand pump for serving up cold, fizzy soda. And outside the stone church stood easels displaying old photos and information on the history of the two churches. Visitors could also enter a raffle, or stroll the church yard before the speakers took the stage.

At 2 p.m., the event officially got underway as Todd Lien, current president of the Valley Grove Preservation Society, thanked contributors and introduced the speakers. The first was Joseph Shaw, professor emeritus of religion at St. Olaf, who spoke on the historical figures responsible for founding the church, including Berndt Julius Muus, a Norwegian minister who went on to help found St. Olaf College.

After Shaw, former Minnesota Governor Al Quie took the stage. Quie attended Valley Grove as a child, and has ancestors buried in the Valley Grove cemetery. He shared some of his childhood memories of the church, and spoke on the church’s significance in the community.

Later, Quie received a surprise. Lien announced that his birthday was coming up, and led an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the former governor. Afterwards, Quie stood up to clap and laugh.

“Normally when this kind of thing happens, people start to yell for a speech,” said Quie with a smile. “Please don’t do that; I just finished talking!”

Following the speakers, the Valley Grove Preservation Society board members led a ceremonial tree planting. The small sapling was relocated from its spot under the large oak in the churchyard, and was transferred to just outside the church gates.

The afternoon also featured music from Hutenanny, a well-known Northfield group that specializes in Nordic and folk music.

Board member Karin Winegar was very happy with how the event turned out. She said it was particularly fun to see all age groups in attendance, from babies to young adults to older generations.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” said Winegar. “The weather’s perfect, and there are generations of people here who are all connected. This is a place that brings people together.”

As the social drew to a close, visitors could be seen chatting in groups about the beauty of the churches, or taking in the view of the prairie from over the churchyard fence.

Winegar and the rest of the Valley Grove Preservation Society hope that the event educated the community on the key role Valley Grove played in Northfield’s history.

“A huge part of Northfield is descended from this,” said Winegar. “When we’re here, we’re not far from our roots.”

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