I can never experience the Christmas season without remembering an event that took place in Ellendale which featured a live Community Christmas Pageant held at Rose Norby’s barn which was located right along highway 30 on the north edge of downtown Ellendale. Hundreds of people from all over southern Minnesota made their way to this small Steele County community to witness the pageant which was held yearly.

It all began in 1972 when Mavis and Orville Langlie and Cynthia and Russ Nelson acted on a special dream of organizing the first live nativity. The Norby barn was the perfect place and they obtained permission from Rose Norby to use her barn.

I stop here to share with you a letter to the editor of the Ellendale newspaper from Rose Norby that I have never included in remembering this event. The letter, written in 1973, reveals the beginning of the nativity scene as described by Rose:

“I wish to give you information of how a dream of one of our local women, Mavis Langlie, with the help of Cynthia Nelson developed to express ‘Let’s keep Christ in Christmas’, and also made it possible for the community to greet Christmas with the first Community Pageant here on the eve of December 23rd. How very appropriate to welcome Christmas before the Eve of Dec. 24 and 25 when we seem to be more concerned about fancy meals, entertaining, and material gift exchange, and forgetting how Christmas came about nearly 2000 years ago with the birthday of the Christ Child. We in this community were again reminded that ‘First things first’ should be our concern for the meaning of Christmas.

“When Mavis and Cynthia came to visit me some weeks before Christmas to ask if it would be possible to have this pageant in the hayloft of our barn. I did come at them with some negative ideas which could have discouraged them, but these two fine Christian women, with their strong faith came back at me with very positive answers, so I could do nothing but agree.

“I sort of tucked the idea back away in my mind, thinking no more about it when, the Saturday before I looked out the window and there was Orville and Russell busily preparing the background for the pageant setting. Then it was announced in the Ellendale Eagle saying, ‘The first Community Pageant to greet Christmas in a joyful manner by people from our local churches taking part.’

Mr. and Mrs. Dick Tracy as Joseph and Mary and little Jason, just a few weeks old as the baby Jesus, even cried so the crowd realized that he was really alive. The choirs, directed by Mrs. Eddie Jensen, and from the different churches sang out carols with joy filling their hearts.

Mr. Engel, singing Oh Holy Night to open the pageant made one feel we really were at Bethlehem on that very night Christ was born. The live animals did very well to help in the reality of the pageant.”

Rose ended her letter with, “I sincerely wish to thank everyone. How little we knew when we built the barn in 1958 that some day it would be used for such a beautiful affair. I only wish the men who built the barn could have been here: the late Edwin Lageson, Sherman Loven, William Yahnke Sr. and the help of Alvin’s father, the late Nels Norby.

I could not help but be taken aback when I saw the cars lined up and the crowd following the procession from North Central Plastics. I was filled with joy and want to thank the dear people for making this possible.”

Thousands came

The procession began on Main Street in Ellendale and participants made their way to the barn. Clarence Otteson’s donkey carried Mary as she looked for a place to rest.

The live nativity was held every year from 1972 to 1976 and then was changed to every two years. Over 1,000 people walked through the barn each time the event was held. The door to the barn loft was opened up so that viewers were able to walk through the barn and see the many different scenes that made up the Christmas story.

The live nativity scene lasted until 2006. In 2003 the pageant was moved to Brian Wayne’s seed corn warehouse. This display featured a 20-Minute staged performance on Main Street with the telling of the nativity with lighting, special effects, an angel three stories above and a procession of 90 costumed cast members. Live animals included horses, sheep, cows, and even a camel brought to Ellendale by the owner of a petting zoo in Swaledale, Iowa.

Terry Jensen and Dan Nelson and a group of volunteers assumed the task of organizing the pageant the last couple of times and did so until 2006, its final year.

The Holy Family selection

Each year a couple and their newborn baby were selected to portray the Holy Family. When there was no male baby born from Ellendale, a female baby and her parents were selected. The first year, Dick and Cheryl Tracy and their newborn son, Jason, starred as the Holy Family. In following years the following were selected: 1973: Paul and Jo Otto and Melissa; 1974: Ross and Cynthia Nelson and Mathew; 1975: Larry and Jean Klocek and Scott; 1976: Dan and Pat Simon and Kris; 1978: Jim and Marilyn Dobberstein and Jeff; 1980: John and Jackie Flor and Brian; 1982: Kent and Shirley Swearingen and James; 1984: Dan and Linda Underland and Jeremiah; 1986: Ray and Jane Winter and Alec; 1988: Steve and Barb McKinney and Andrew; 1990: Marty and Wendy Schultz and Jessica; 1992: Jeff and Kim Carlson and Lindsay; 1995: Brant and Wendy Hemingway and Daniel; 1998: Victor and Kelly Mrotz and Hudson; 2003: Scott and Melanie Crabtree and Hannah; 2006: Pat, Jessica and Colton Kruger.

New Central Park holiday lights

Did you realize that some of the lights that have traditionally been displayed up to this year in Central Park were at least 40 years old? Over those years, trees have grown, and the strings of lights that were placed on those trees are becoming harder and harder to maintain. Some strings stopped working altogether.

As you pass Central Park you will notice a few improvements this year. Check out the new decorations in the fountain, made possible by a $5,000 donation from a citizen. You will notice the new strings of white lights that decorate the trees in the park. They are quite spectacular, and a start to what is hoped will be new look to the entire park.

A committee of three including Brad Meier of the Chamber of Commerce, and two downtown merchants including Cindy Stelter and Tom Brick are making plans for a major fundraising effort for new holiday lights downtown. Up to this point funds have trickled in with no major fundraising effort. The registration funds for the recent Holiday Lights Parade went into the fund for new downtown holiday lights.

Stelter told me that the aim is to install lights that would remain on for other winter activities in Owatonna such as Bold and Cold held in January. More lights could be added as the years go by to include displays on side streets off of Cedar and on Main Street.

Amount needed

Back in the 80’s when the first display was purchased, the tab was around $40,000. Today it is estimated that the cost for a spectacular display would run in the neighborhood of $200,000. “We are planning to draw up plans for the public to see,” Stelter said. “We would seek financial support in this endeavor not only from the downtown merchants, but from the Owatonna citizens who would enjoy them during the holiday and winter season.” Meantime enjoy the new lights that have been purchased for trees and the fountain in Central Park. Hopefully this will be the start of something big holiday seasons and beyond.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Central Park light fund can make a check to the Chamber Foundation, 2320 Hoffman Dr. and indicate the light fund.

Christmas community dinner

Thanksgiving is over and now it’s time to prepare for the annual community dinner on Christmas Day. Joe Falteysek and Mike Meyer thank everyone who volunteered for the Thanksgiving dinner.

Joe and Mike are now seeking donations of bone-in hams for Christmas Day. No turkey’s needed. You can bring hams to the VFW Club by next Saturday, December 21. As usual, dinner will be served beginning at 11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Volunteers will be needed to help prepare and serve and for home deliveries. You can arrange home delivery (maximum of four dinners) by calling the VFW at 451-1001 beginning at 7:30 a.m. Christmas Day.

Rugg receives state Farm Bureau honors

Brad Rugg of Owatonna, who has devoted most of his adult life to 4-H, was recently recognized by the Minnesota Farm Bureau for its extension Faculty and Staff of the Year award. Farm Bureau gives the honor to an extension faculty member who devotes time to promoting agriculture and Farm Bureau.

Brad is no stranger to 4-H and agriculture in Steele County. He was 4-H program coordinator for Steele County in 1989, a position he held for two years. Prior to taking the state job he served as a 4-H summer assistant in Steele County beginning in 1973.

Brad has continued to be involved in the Steele County Free Fair. For several years he has served as emcee for the annual recognition of the Steele County Livestock Hall of Fame honorees. He grew up on a dairy farm near Austin and has been a resident of Owatonna for the past 30 years.

Thanks from the Hospital Auxiliary

Members of the Hospital Auxiliary Bazaar committee issue thanks to all who supported their 2019 Christmas bazaar. The event raised enough monies to purchase sleep sacs for all the newborns at the Owatonna Hospital.

Gifts to the public schools

The Owatonna Public Schools Board of Education recently accepted with great appreciation the following gifts to the school district: $500 from Arkema Inc. to McKinley Elementary for material for their Marker Space cart; $31.32 from Coca Cola Gives to Owatonna Middle School; classroom supplies from Federated Insurance to Wilson Elementary; $2,000 anonymous donation to McKinley elementary for sensory and regulation tools for the special education department; $50.00 from Paul and Janet Peper to Owatonna Middle School for Husky Pride Day field trips; $200 from Kim Wilder to Nutrition Services for unpaid meal balances; $100 from Dan and Katie McIntosh to Lincoln Elementary for negative lunch balances.

OHS Athletic Hall

of Fame deadline

A reminder that December 31 is the deadline for nominations to the 2020 OHS Athletic Hall of Fame. Nomination forms are available on the website, www.ohshalloffame.com. Questions can be addressed to Steve Erdman at soerdman51@gmail.com.

MBO Music Hall

of Fame

The Music Boosters of Owatonna are now accepting nominations from the community for candidates for the 2020 MBO Music Hall of Fame. There are three categories: Student category: Must be a former Owatonna music student, graduated by 10 years or more and have utilized their music talents through performance and music education in their communities; Educator category: Must be a former Owatonna music educator and is eligible after five years or more after leaving the Owatonna Music Department; Community category: Must be involved in the Owatonna music community and does not include former Owatonna students or educators.

A brief summary should be submitted with the nomination as well as contact information. You may email to tonemusic1990@gmail.com or drop nominations off at Tone Music.

Serving on the selection committee are Marilyn Pederson, Gloria Coulter, Karen Jorgenson and Jerry Besser.

The 2020 honorees will be recognized at a special reception in May and at the Pops Concert.

100th birthdays

Klement Simon will celebrate his 100th birthday on December 15. An open house for Klem will be held tomorrow at Ecumen Brooks from 2:00-4:00p.m. His mail address for cards is 2480 St. Paul Road in Owatonna.

Bernard Falksen formerly of Ellendale is celebrating his 100th birthday with an open house today at the Good Samaritan in Albert Lea, 75507 240th St., from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Bernard’s wife, Ruth, was KRFO’S Ellendale reporter for many years.

Holijazzle concert coming

The Owatonna Jazz Band will present a Holijazzle Concert next Sunday, December 15, at Torey’s Restaurant from 4:00-6:00 p.m. Light appetizers provided with a cash bar.

Tickets in advance are $15.00, available at Kottke’s and Owatonna Shoe. Tickets at the door are $20.00. Proceeds will benefit Rachel’s Light.

Joke of the week

I asked my grandpa, “After 65 years you still call grandma darling, beautiful and honey. what’s the secret?” He said, “I forgot her name five years ago and I’m scared to ask her.”

And finally, I went line dancing the other day….well, it was a sobriety test…about the same thing.”

Todd Hale can be reached at tmhale632@gmail.com or write him at 632 14th St. S.E. Phone contact is 507-456-7304.

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