For many communities, celebrating 150 years since their founding means one big festival to give residents an opportunity to learn about or reconnect with those roots.
In Lindsborg, a central Kansas town founded by immigrants from Sweden in 1869, they already celebrate their Swedish and American heritage with festivals from the annual Midsummer’s Festival, a national Swedish holiday celebrating the end of Scandinavia’s long winters, to Svensk Hyllningsfest, a Swedish honoring festival held in odd numbered years.
The town about 70 miles north of Wichita already pulls off numerous long-established arts and culture festivals for a town of 3,300 residents. So a sesquicentennial committee of eight volunteers took another path.
“I really like the direction our committee went with doing several different events and several art installations over the stretch of the whole year,” said committee co-chair Betty Nelson, a longtime city councilwoman and community volunteer whose grandfather Bill Holwerda is recognized as the founder of Svensk Hyllningsfest in 1941. “It gives us a little bit of something for everybody. If you’re out of town for one event, there will be something else that you can attend.”
While the tone is celebratory, there’s room for reflection, too, organizers said.
“It’s humbling to think of those original 30 to 100 people who came in 1869 and what they went through just to get here, what they lost in getting here and how hard it was to get this started,” Nelson said.
The promise of a better land and a better life led the Swedish-Lutheran settlers to make the grueling trek to Kansas’ Smoky Hills.
“They lived in dugouts in the ground until they could build homes, and they did this while they were establishing their first church, educational programs for their children and Bethany College had its beginnings in 1881 in the sacristy of Bethany Lutheran Church,” said Holly Lofton, director of the Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau.
For that, sesquicentennial committee co-chair Susan Achenbach said, “the least we can do is remember the hardship and to celebrate that 150 years later here we are still a thriving community, still cherishing our heritage and what they did.”
Sesquicentennial activities started on New Year’s Eve and have continued through the spring with activities including releasing an official song of Lindsborg and unveiling a three-panel bronze relief sculpture depicting 150 years of plains living by the immigrant Swedes. Residents Mike and Rose Marie Wallen wrote the music and lyrics; the bronze installed on the north side of city hall is by Ed Pogue, an artist who chairs Digital Media Arts and teaches art and design at Bethany College.
The next sesquicentennial events are this week, turning the annual Old Fashioned Fourth of July event into a three-day celebration highlighted by an ABBA tribute band concert, a community barbecue and a grand fireworks finale.
A homecoming tradition
The town’s annual Old Fashioned Fourth of July has become a homecoming tradition among families and friends, so the event committee teamed with the 150th committee to super-size the event. They invite the public to celebrate America on July 4 and celebrate Lindsborg on July 5 and 6.
Public events on July 4 happen at Swensson Park (named for founder and first president of Bethany college), 433 N. 2nd St., and kick off with a patriotic parade. All ages are invited to meet at the gazebo at 5 p.m. to decorate strollers, wagons, bikes or yourself, then march behind costumed grand marshals Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty through the park.
Entertainment starts at 6 p.m. at the bandshell and includes about a dozen local and regional performers, from twirlers to dancers to musicians. Among the invited performers is the Peterson Farm Brothers, siblings who farm together near Assaria and became internet sensations seven years ago when they uploaded a parody of the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” Their “I’m Farming and I Grow It” music video went viral and they now have 16 parody music videos on YouTube.
Broadway RFD will give a preview performance of its summer show (“Into The Woods” July 19-20, 26-27) as well as music selections from its children’s summer workshop (“Peter Pan Jr.”) The organization is the longest running outdoor theater in Kansas, and the bandshell is its regular venue. The all-volunteer troupe has brought together talent from Lindsborg and surrounding communities for 60 years.
The Lindsborg Community Band plays about 45 minutes, ending the festivities by 8:30 p.m. While there is limited bleacher seating available, you’re encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets. All the events on July 4 are free, and the Lindsborg Lions Club will sell concessions starting at 5 p.m.
Fireworks, which typically close out the Fourth of July event, will happen on Saturday. Molly Johnson, lead volunteer for the July 4 event, said to expect some Lindsborg businesses to be open on July 4 before festivities start.
Most businesses try to be open a few hours that day since there are people in town,” said Johnson, who owns The Good Merchant boutique. “I plan to be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day, closing a little earlier than usual so I can get down to the park. We thrive on these wonderful, unique events we have in Lindsborg that bring visitors to town.”
On Friday there is a community effort to create an aerial photo of a living Dala horse by positioning 400 people in color-coordinated shirts in the downtown intersection of Main and Lincoln. Registration for the endeavor filled quicker than organizers expected, and they anticipate a good sized crowd to watch as they begin assembling participants at 10 a.m. Watch the hashtag #livingdala2019 on social media to see how the photo comes together.
The Dala – a bluntly rounded, tailless horse – is one of Sweden’s best known icons. You can see pony-sized Dalas designed by local artists throughout town as part of a 38-horse permanent wild Dala herd started in 2000. Those who gather for the living Dala photo can help create the newest member of the herd. “Sol Foal,” named for the summer solstice, is being painted two thumbprints at a time by the public.
Another new wild Dala should be in its permanent home at 102 N. Main by July 4. “Legacy” by Swedish kurbit painter Carla Wilson has one side dedicated to significant people and places in Lindsborg’s first 75 and the other side covers the past 75 years. It’s been traveling to different spots throughout town this spring.
Food and fireworks
A Friday night concert features Dancing Dream, a tribute band playing the hits of legendary Swedish pop group ABBA. The New York City-based musicians will take the outdoor stage at 7:30 p.m. in front of the 1904 World’s Fair Swedish Pavilion at Heritage Square, 120 E. Mill St. Gates open at 6 p.m. and seating is limited; lawn chairs are encouraged. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for ages 6-17, free for those under 5. Buy at the gate or in advance at www.lindsborg150th.com; The Good Merchant, 131 N Main St.; or Scott’s Hometown Foods, 215 N Harrison.
Festivities return to Swensson Park on Saturday with a community barbecue prepared by grillmaster Stan Hays, a Lindsborg native who lives in the Kansas City area and runs Operation BBQ Relief. Hays co-founded and is CEO of the nonprofit that formed when the barbecue community assisted relief efforts after the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo. Since then, the organization has served nearly 2 million barbecue meals after 44 disasters in 24 states, and Hays was named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2017.
The meal includes pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, cole slaw and drinks. Service begins at 6 p.m. and lawn chairs again are encouraged. There is no ticket cost though the committee is accepting free will donations. Still, you need to register at www.lindsborg150th.com (under the Event tab) so the crew prepares enough food.
Another Lindsborg native is returning to put on what organizers are expecting to be the town’s biggest fireworks show. Brent Foley is a professional pyrotechnician based in Indiana who runs fireworks displays nationwide. This is the first he’s designed for his hometown, and it’ll have a custom soundtrack.
The show will start around 10 p.m. Saturday. Best viewing will be in the field directly east of or behind the Smoky Valley Baptist Church, 780 N. Kansas St.
More ways to celebrate
Lindsborg If you aren’t able to make the events July 4-6, there are several remaining ways to commemorate the anniversary.
The sesquicentennial committee is helping to bring to Lindsborg an American-Swedish Institute traveling exhibit, “The Stories They Told,” from Aug. 25 through Oct. 20 at Sandzen Memorial Gallery, 401 N. 1st St. The exhibit features flat plane figure carving, a Nordic art medium that captures many folkloric personalities in wood. Carvings range from the early 1900s to contemporary works and are brought to life with illustrated animation by Adam Loomis, a filmmaker and animator living in Minneapolis. The method allows visitors a closer look at the truths of the immigrant experience.
At 5:45 p.m. on Oct. 17, the committee will dedicate an art installation at Swensson Park immediately before worship service at Bethany Lutheran Church that serves as the kick off for Svensk Hyllningsfest, which has all-day entertainment scheduled Oct. 18 to 19.
A nearly 10-foot iron structure with four brick paths and landscape elements Järnkors, 2-foot-tall iron crosses, are commonly found in cemeteries in Sweden in place of headstones. Lindsborg’s is nearly 10-foot-tall with 180 hand-hammered leaves hanging from the iron cross bars similar to a wind chime. Artist and blacksmith Brian Holdsworth is making the piece, which will be surrounded by landscaping elements including four paths of red bricks that once paved the town’s streets.
Leaf and brick sponsorships are still available, more information is on the 150th website.
“Besides some really great events, I’m excited to be leaving behind what will be five pieces of art,” Nelson said. “We’re leaving a lot behind for the people of the next 150 years to reflect on.”
If you go:
Find details of the Old Fashioned Fourth of July: https://www.visitlindsborg.com/
Find more about Lindsborg’s 150th anniversary: https://www.facebook.com/Lindsborg150/ or at https://www.lindsborg150th.com