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How Swede it is! Nelson 'girl' cousins helping plan July family reunion

The pavilion at Detroit Lakes, Minn., is going to be rocking in July. That's where the Nelson family will be holding its reunion. OK, there are a lot of Nelson families out there. But this is the family of the late Bengt "Bennie" and Evelyn Nelso...

The pavilion at Detroit Lakes, Minn., is going to be rocking in July. That's where the Nelson family will be holding its reunion.

OK, there are a lot of Nelson families out there. But this is the family of the late Bengt "Bennie" and Evelyn Nelson, who farmed west of Kennedy, Minn., and who had 14 children.

Twelve of those children are still living, so when you put them together with 11 surviving in-laws, 61 grandchildren, 63 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren, you've got a convention.

The Nelson reunion is held every three years. This year it will be July 9-10. Among the events being planned are a silent auction, since the family has many artistic members in it, a golf tournament, lots of food and laughter and a church service.

That church service will be something special, not just because it will be strictly a family service, but also because it is being cooperatively planned by a select committee: the "girl cousins" in the family.


Karna Nelson, West Fargo, who submitted information for this story, is one of the "girl cousins" who dreamed up a get-together last month just for them.

They got the idea from the sisters of the previous generation; the six women who are Karna's aunts. They began having a sisters' weekend a few years ago, when the gals would get together and have a great time.

That got the women of the next generation thinking: Why couldn't they have a "girl cousin" weekend, too?

So they set one up for April in Sioux Falls, S.D., and some of them sent e-mail invitations to all the other female cousins. The planners had no idea how many would show up, since the cousins are spread all over the country.

Well, there are 22 "girl cousins," and 20 of them were there.

They ranged in age from 57 to 27. They came from Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, California and Oregon. And they had a ball.

Because of the range in both age and distance, many of these cousins didn't know each other all that well. So they spent one night in which everyone had to obey some strict rules: Each one had to tell a little bit about herself and then anyone could ask her questions.

"We laughed, cried and learned a lot about each other," Karna says, including the fact that about nine of them played the clarinet.


And there's this sidelight: The people in the adjoining motel room, seeing all these women together, thought it was a Mary Kay convention.

Meanwhile, other than "convening," the cousins also did a little sightseeing and they went bowling "and found out just how horrible we were," Karna says.

And they had one more mission, which they accomplished. They were responsible for planning the family church service for the July reunion.

For the record, let's go back one generation and give the names of the 14 children of Bennie and Evelyn Nelson. In order of birth, they are:

Floyd, Kennedy, Minn.; Clare, Gunnison, Colo.; Corinne Gunnarson, Kennedy; Bonnie Johnson, Kennedy; Jeanette Spilde, Kennedy; Hazel Hansen, Wadena, Minn.; Carol Drake, Edina, Minn.;

Paul, Phoenix; Wayne, Lake Park, Minn., who died in 2003; Bob, Traer, Iowa; Larry, Hallock, Minn.; Rebecca Neuberger, Wakefield, Kan.; Jim, Alexandria, Minn.; and Susan, who died as an infant.

When the siblings grew up, married and had children, the reunions occurred only for Christmas, and the family had to rent the city hall in Hallock to hold everyone.

And one more fact which Karna feels should be included is this: The family is 100 percent Swedish. Hail to the blue and the yellow!


About 10 years ago, some people put together a family history album tracing its Swedish heritage.

It took a long time and a lot of work. But it turned out beautifully. Now, however, there was a new problem: how to keep it updated.

Karna's father, Wayne, suggested he and his siblings start a round-robin letter; he'd got the idea from an Ann Landers column he'd seen in The Forum.

So the letter was begun. Each sibling writes a letter and passes the packet of letters on to the next one. It's a handy and popular way to keep up with everyone.

But now, the various segments of the family are looking forward to July and that bash in Detroit Lakes, including that special church service planned by the "girl cousins," the golf tournament and the meals, which will include fried chicken and a taco bar which, Karna admits, will be "pretty far from Swedish."

But there might be one at least one Swedish item on the menu: Swedish potato sausage, called "korv." To make sure the caterers served it, Karna's parents taught them how to make it.

But Karna says she and her sister agree "it's kind of disgusting, but they all seem to like cold potato sausage sandwiches the most."

At any rate, the folks around the Detroit Lakes Pavilion can gear up for the influx of a whole bunch of Swedes in July.


No, it won't be a Mary Kay convention. There'll be a bunch of guys there, too. And there won't be a lot of pink Cadillacs around there. Just people munching on their cold potato sausage sandwiches.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com

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