Small town church, big time tradition

A small-town church put on another big-time event that hasn’t been missed – except for a few years during World War II – since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States.

Spring Lake Lutheran Church, 8440 Erickson Road NE, North Branch, hosted its annual Kroppkakor Supper with a craft and bake sale Thursday evening, Oct. 24. And diners did not walk away without their fill of a potato dumpling dish that remains a holiday specialty in Sweden.

“It’s a wonderful tradition,” said Mary Johnson, who coordinates the event with fellow congregation members  Patty Johnson and Janell Masloski.

For this year’s supper, Patty Johnson said it took many members of the church to roll 2,863 individual dumplings with around 900 pounds of potatoes and 160 pounds of flour and pork. They started the previous Saturday by cleaning the entire church.

“It’s like we’re getting ready for company,” said Kathy Olson, office administrator for the church.

That’s a lot of food and preparation, but the work pays off for the church, which has hosted up to 800 guests in a single evening. Numbers have been down, however, due in part to the supper’s appeal to some tastes.

“The younger people are not eating this stuff,” Johnson noted.

Still, the demand presents itself year after year, as parishioners also make more than 200 takeout orders. When it’s all said and done, they seldom have any kroppkakor left.

Yet the majority come for the experience at the church, where guests begin by buying tickets, with numbers signifying their turn to eat, at the entrance.

“They (the church) have resisted in raising prices for years,” Olson said. “A large portion of the proceeds are given to charities and nonprofits, while portions go to outreach and for the church.”

Also upon entry, guests can take a look at the craft and bake sale — items are made and donated by church members — before waiting for their number to be called. When their number is called, they make their way to the basement dining area where their plates are filled by friendly faces; some servers dress in traditional Swedish attire.

“It’s crowd control. You know how hard Swedes can get,” smiled Olson, noting the church has its system “down to a science.”

The annual event, which is always held on Oct. 24, is quite the experience for the congregation, as well.

“This is a great time of fellowship for members of the church,” Olson explained. “They must rally to do all of the necessary work to prepare for the event.

“And there is so much laughing going on. It’s hard to believe they are actually working. (The supper) is an entire congregation participation event. Every single person here has a role to play. It’s a chance for members to get to know each other,” she added.

The intrigue factor of kroppkakor is evident through the many phone calls Olson fields prior to the event. She loves hearing from people from local communities to as far away as the Twin Cities metro area, greater Minnesota, into Wisconsin and beyond.

“It’s always fun for me because the people will call after seeing the ad in the paper, and often they come and try it out,” said Olson, noting others will find the supper on the church website. “People are always intrigued by the tradition. I make lefse, and I’m always surprised by those who don’t know what it is.

“Once people experience it, they often come back. People come back year after year for this,” she added.

Barb Higgins, of Roseville, said she and her mother Arlene enjoy making the annual trip to the Kroppkakor Supper because of their family tie to the area.

“My father ran a general store in Spring Lake,” she said of the former town. “My mother met my father while she was teaching in North Branch. It’s fun to come back.”

Others don’t have to travel very far at all, as a number of parishioners who were born and raised here still live close by. There’s much history to tell about the church, which was established as Spring Lake Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1874.

How it began

One of those raised in the church was Dorothy Gustafson Peterson, who has helped preserve the history of the Spring Lake Kroppkakor Supper through an essay she shared at last week’s supper. Following are excerpts from Peterson’s essay:

“The ladies have learned to make these potato dumplings under the direction of Alice Sjoquist. Making kroppkakor is still a holiday specialty in some parts of Sweden, as I learned from a relative in Stockholm who invites friends over every year for kroppkakor on the weekend after Christmas.

“It all began because of the Luther League, which had been established in about 1923, formerly called Young Peoples Society. In those days the Luther League consisted of all the youth after confirmation up to about 40 years, who were still single. There weren’t many activities available in those days, so Luther League was very important.

“In 1932, the church decided to do some remodeling. As time went on, the Luther League decided they wanted to contribute. So, most likely in the fall of 1937, we set up a competition in the Luther League to see who could raise the most money for the remodeling project. We divided into two groups, the east side (called the Eastern Strivers) and the west side (Plucky West).

“Each side sponsored many socials, with an admission price, and other things were tried, as well. My group, Plucky West, even sold glasses of water — that’s how desperate we were! No doubt there were other creative ideas used, for in the past, the Young Peoples Society had raised money to purchase the altar and pulpit through plays, selling candy, calf and turkey raffles, concerts and a variety of socials.

“Which side could earn the most money? It was a fun time and good fellowship. I was on the west side and my boyfriend, Lawrence, was on the east side, so we both attended the meetings for both sides. One night I joined Lawrence for the east side meeting at the Charlie Carlson home. They were discussing what they should do next as a moneymaker. Mrs. Carlson suggested having a kroppkakor supper. The Leaguers liked the idea.

“So the Eastern Strivers put on the very first Kroppkakor Supper, probably in the early months of 1938. It turned out to be a great idea. It was very well attended, with whole families coming out, and children getting in free. People really liked it, and it helped the Eastern Strivers win the competition.

“At the conclusion of the contest in June of 1938, the Luther League had raised about $631, which was a lot of money in those Depression years. Because of the competition, the Luther League was able to pay for the art glass window, the velvet altar cloth and carpets.

“The Kroppkakor Supper was most likely held again the next year because it was so very meaningful for the church. It has been a very successful all-church social. I am so pleased that something we began as a simple fundraiser so many years ago had become a tradition for Spring Lake Lutheran Church.

“And now, it is not just a church occasion, but it reaches out to the whole community, including the Twin Cities. My family, children and grandchildren make this Kroppkakor Supper an annual event. Thank you, women, men and children, too, for making this possible.”

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