Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When the polka music fades in Seaforth December 10, 2015

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

ON MY LAST VISIT back to my native southwestern Minnesota in late October, my husband and I drove through Seaforth. This community of 86 residents lies seven miles to the east of my hometown of Vesta in Redwood County.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

When I was growing up, my school bus passed Seaforth en route to Wabasso, stopping along the way to pick up farm kids.

The former post office in Seaforth. Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed.

Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed by the U.S. Postal Service.

On occasion I attended a funeral, bridal shower or wedding at the Lutheran church in Seaforth at a parish that, because of diminishing congregational size, closed years ago. The church is now a house.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

As a teen and young adult, I sometimes attended Seaforth Polka Days, an annual July event featuring, as you would expect, polka bands. For 42 years, Seaforth has hosted this celebration and billed itself as “The Smallest Polka Town in the Nation.” That will be no more, I learned from my mom, who today resides in an assisted living apartment in Belview the next town north of Seaforth. Mom didn’t know details. So I turned to the internet and found this July 14 entry on the Seaforth Polka Days Facebook page:

It is the end of an era, the booster club has decided that this will be the last year for polka days. Every year becomes harder to find enough volunteers to work and crowds have been smaller as well. Let’s make this year one to remember. Spread the word that it will be the last, for those who always planned to come one of these years or for those who have fond memories from years past this weekend will be your last chance to celebrate polka days in Seaforth!

Still open or shuttered, I don't know.

Still open or shuttered, I don’t know.

Such decisions to end large-scale small town celebrations are not uncommon. Year after year, the same locals often find themselves planning and working these events.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

Yet, Seaforth isn’t totally giving up. Area residents are still planning a 2016 community celebration during the last full weekend in July: softball games, bean bag toss competition, the fire department fundraising supper, tractor pulls, a DJ and one polka band (instead of many) and “buckets of beer.”

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

Now they’re soliciting names. Online Facebook suggestions thus far include C4th Small Town Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Fest, C4th Hometown Days, C4th Summer Days, Polka Days Part 2 and, finally, Redneck Fest.

Look closely, and you can see the faded words "Farmers

Look closely, and you can see the faded words “Farmers Grain Co.”

Thoughts, on any of this?

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don't know whether he still does.

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don’t know whether he still does.

Do you help plan and work at a small town celebration? Do you attend small town celebrations? Let’s hear. Why are such events important to rural communities like Seaforth?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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18 Responses to “When the polka music fades in Seaforth”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    When we first arrived in this community (40+ yrs ago), the July 4th celebration was a very special event held, mostly in the city park, with activities for all ages in mind. It was “low tech” and family oriented. It was “story-book”/”Little House on the Prairie”. Today’s version reflects current societal mores that define a “good time event”……emphasis to be placed on activities that pair well will (alcohol) consumption. I have inquired as to this necessity and been told that w/o such considerations attendance would make the event impossible to sustain. Although there are the city park activities and such things as the soap box races, the main thrust (and one that produces the ‘stats’ the committee is so proud of) is the draw of the “Fest Grounds” and the availability of drink. I am not against such, but take issue with its prominence in any event.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Kudos to this town for trying to maintain some type of celebration despite declining numbers. Unfortunately I would imagine this is far too common in small rural communities. Kind of like having churches having to merge together because their congregations can’t support the expenses anymore.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    The last years I lived in Nebraska, it was common to see the smallest of towns literally close up except for a post office, a bar or two and a church or two. Most schools were consolidated from 6 or more townships. And celebrations like the Polkafest you speak of, became memories. I never helped to plan any events, but I can say people from all around came to attend and support such causes back then (twenty or more years ago). Today, there is so much competition with other sources of entertainment, and sadly, small town celebrations have fallen by the wayside as well. It takes all sorts of dedicated people and some funds to pull off such events. With the economy in dire straits and many of our young people moving off to better possibilities in larger cities, it looks bleak to think of any kind of comeback to these celebrations.

    • Interestingly enough, in many Minnesota small towns, these celebrations continue and are going strong. I’m not sure this will continue into the next generation because, as you point out, many of our young people are leaving for larger cities. All of my “kids” have moved to bigger cities (Twin Cities metro; Appleton, WI.; and Boston). And I don’t live in a small town. Faribault’s population is around 23,000. I can’t see any of them ever returning here to live.

  4. Gunny Says:

    The wide range of opportunities for continuing education, availability and variety of jobs plus the technological advances built into the community infrastructure available in larger communities are what draws the out-of-high school crowds. Some small communities can pull off a specific or generic event and expand on that one. I know of (I am related to) a farmer who, between himself and his wife, have capitalized on a yearly event. Some of their produce (well really nearly all) is for sale and the Mrs. manages to sell some of this produce year round on the internet. Another risk taker opened a B&B. He was stunned to find that his & his wife’s one-time bank turned B&B was 100% occupied for well over a week by the grown children of one of the local residents. The formerly large families return periodically and take over the B&B. I just wish they served up a country breakfast rather than all that hooplah of quiche and other “continental” breakfast dining! Give me eggs over easy on buttered toast, biscuits and gravy, sausage links or patties, and strong coffee, maybe a juice

    The farming couple has managed to structure one yearly event (also on the net) that draws people from out of state. While a farming couple (at least this couple) rarely employ more than one or two helpers save at harvest time, during the time of year, this couple IS the largest employer outside (nearest) community of less than 200 and in the county they reside.

    While up in Michigan, one orchard does basically the same thing (with major event differences) and lets people pick their own fruit. They have entertainment for the kids, non-alcohol. Alcohol is severely restricted or not allowed in all of the examples I cite. For those less inclined, the people can buy the fruit fresh, baked into pies and other treats from a small store located on the edge of the property, Right down the street is Dudley’s Bakery, famous for their breads

    In California, the small community that has made a name for itself is Julian. There is a bed and breakfast there too. While it is a very nice and cozy place to take one’s sweetheart for a stay on a cold winter’s night, I won’t bring up how I ended up there. General U.S. Grant stayed there once, it is that old! Suffice to say I was “not happy”. In the fall they have an Apple Festival. If it can be made with apples, they have it. The demand for their apples and apple products is so high, they have to import apples! While apple is kind, they have artsy stores, stores selling and using wood burning stoves are off all stripes.

    One small town I drove through had a small interesting building they (the town) had turned into a museum. While I really enjoyed the museum, I also found some areas needing some additional artifacts and some items needing historical expansion of information being provided all of which I offered at no charge, none of which was accepted.

    Another small town (under 150), the spark that is going to put more life into it is if they seize o the fact they were the scene of a Civil War Battle.

    White Oaks, New Mexico is a ghost town with a population of zero. Yet visitors go there if for nothing else but to be able to say that they have been there.

    FYI, I am a history buff!

  5. Don Says:

    It is sad to see our small towns drying up. Economics certainly play a major roll in this and I wonder how many people (myself included) would rather live in a small town but do to the economics cannot do so. Whenever I am able, I try to attend my home town celebration “Pow Wow”. It just had it’s 81st celebration this past June and by all indications it is still going strong! Not bad for a town with a total population of 2,130 give or take a few.

  6. Don Says:

    Gaylord MN, I know where it is and have been through it but it is not my hometown that would be Mountain Lake MN on highway 60. Another town with a Pow Wow celebration, good for them!

    • You probably told me this before, that your hometown is Mountain Lake. I’d forgotten. I lived and worked in St. James for awhile as the “St. James News Bureau” for the Mankato Free Press. Mountain Lake was in my coverage area.

  7. Sue Ready Says:

    I live most of the year in a small town up north on a lake. It is seasonal place and the months of Oct to May are a real struggle to rally the residents to attend any planned events or find people to take leadership roles as they’ve did that done that. Late spring and through summer into early fall more life is breathed into the community. There is a concerted effort to plan events and rally the community. Its too bad this effort is not visible all year round as lack of resident living there and weather impact life up north greatly..

  8. Mark Says:

    I’m sorry to learn of the passing of a polka festival, it is fun music and part of our heritage. Hope this town comes back.


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