At one time, the wooden dance floor at the annual Hurlingen Picnic was cordoned off by ropes and it cost a dime to get in. This year, for the picnic’s 100th celebration, that dance floor will be revived and back out on the church’s grassy lawn, but this time, no dime will be required.
“When I was a kid, they always had it out, and I remember running on it as kids do. They had ropes around it and someone sat there at a little table and you paid a dime to dance,” says Pat Bray, member of Seven Dolors Catholic Church and longtime picnic organizer. “It had a big canopy over it in those days.”
Although the picnic isn’t until this summer, preparation began earlier this year for the centennial celebration for the rural church, including the coordination of colored T-shirts for Seven Dolors’ founding families’ descendents and the creation of a historical book about the picnic and the church, located near Easton, Missouri.
“We’ve been working on the book really hard, trying to get a lot of the history down and a lot of old pictures,” Bray says. “Then we are trying to get the T-shirts organized and done and distributed in time.”
The church was founded as a mission church, and members held Mass once a month before getting a full-time pastor for the parish in the 1880s. The Hurlingen Picnic started in 1916 to celebrate the end of wheat harvest and was originally held at Freeman’s Timber parish in Easton. It was later moved to the farm of Frank Wiedmaier before eventually moving to the church.
Over the years, the picnic has included homemade ice cream, an outdoor dance, bingo, turtle races, a chicken and ham meal and other activities. Although some of the activities fell by the wayside over the years, the turtle races have made a comeback, and, this year, the dance floor, made of native wood, will come out of storage, Bray says.
“We are digging out the dance floor,” she says. “My great grandpa Fisher helped build it. When I was a kid, they always had a dance and put the dance floor down, but I think the last time we had it out was the 75th picnic.”
After someone suggested organizing color-coded T-shirts for descendents of the founding members at last year’s picnic, Bray has worked to connect with as many of those families as possible. Just over a dozen families can be traced back to the founding of the church, and the families grew rapidly as many couples had 10 or more children.
“A lot of the founding families also are intertwined throughout the generations,” Bray says.
She is working to reach out to members of descendants of the founding families of Reardon, McManus, Wiedmaier, Sweeney, Waller, Schleicher, Fisher, Kessler, Zug, Wenda, Pankau, Siela and Weipert, each of which have been assigned a different shirt color for the picnic. Her hope is to connect with as many members of the charter families as possible, Bray says.
“I just want people to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m part of this community as far back as when my ancestors came from Germany and Ireland and settled here,’” Bray says. “‘My roots are deep.’”
A live band and picture booth also have been added, and the historical book will be available for purchase for the centennial picnic. The picnic, which draws between 800 and 1,000 people on average, also serves as a fundraiser for the church. It is open to the public.
“People are more excited about it this year,” Bray says. “It may make a difference, it being the 100th, encouraging more people to go to this one.”
Many T-shirt orders have been placed, Bray says, and people can order through Sunday, June 5 at email@example.com. The shirts range in price from $5 to $8, depending on size. Members of the church, which averages about 40 people on Sunday mornings, without a connection to the founding families are encouraged to get a white anniversary T-shirt.
“I’m excited to see how it all works,” Bray says. “I’ll be very excited that day if I see a sea of greens and reds and different shades of blue. Then I’ll be excited and say it’s all worth it.”
For the moment, organizers are focusing on the centennial picnic, she says, and the possibility of more picnics is undecided. The one-day event, held Saturday, July 30, this year, takes months of preparation by church volunteers, including collecting raffle items and making the homemade potato salad and “special recipe” applesauce on site.
“We are just focusing on this one for now,” Bray says. “Then we’ll think about the future.”