Snellman Days is part open house, part family reunion
Over the holiday weekend, a tiny town of ten-or-less, one without so much as a postal code, threw a humdinger of a party.
Snellman Days kicked off with a blitz of bargain hunters hoping to grab up that elusive antique from the numerous flea market vendors early Saturday morning.
The party went for two days. With its advantageous location on Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids, Snellman, exact population unknown (good luck census workers!) capitalized on the holiday traffic and curious passersby.
A group of leather-clad bikers bought baked goods from the Wolf lake Amish family who set up a booth.
Flea market aficionados with out-of-state license plates stopped by on their way elsewhere. They left, bags in hand.
Finnish flatbread flew off the tables.
The hamlet's two businesses, the Snellman Store & Eatery ("just call it the Snellman Store," said proprietor Joe Furlong) and Aune Kauppala's Crafts & Gifts store, both did a brisk business.
"It doesn't matter how business is today," Aune said. "This is a thank-you to the community."
The festival was part open house, mostly family reunion. If you weren't related to Aune, chances were, you were Joe's relation.
"Here, honey, you have a dime coming back," Aune told a little boy who gave her a quizzical look as she took his crumpled sweaty dollar.
It wasn't so much that he couldn't do the math; his small hands each were clutching a toy car. He pinched the dime between two fingertips and left the store waving his treasures.
"Thanks, Grandma," he whispered.
They weren't actually related but Aune felt like kin to him.
The weekend schedule was somewhat elusive. An annual watermelon-eating contest had to be postponed Saturday until potential contestants could digest the lunchtime brats, burgers, roasted corn, frybread and other food that left a lingering odor throughout the gravel parking lot.
"Here's Bennie and the band!" went up a cry through the crowd shortly after 2 p.m.
No, it wasn't Bennie and the Jets. It was a Fargo-based band called "Face For Radio." Members set up near the Snellman Store's unleaded gas tank, so anyone filling up got an earful.
"They're all boys from the neighborhood," one woman explained. Ben Lukason, the drummer, grew up five miles away.
"We'll be playing 90s music and a few oldies," he said, scanning the crowd.
It was that connection to Snellman, that six degrees of separation tie, that bonded both hosts and guests throughout the weekend.
That, and pinpointing the actual population.
"I get to see all my relations, my old neighbors," said Celia Piippo of New York Mills. She's Aune's sister. She was dipping frybread into boiling vegetable oil.
"Here, have a taste of Snellman," she said,
"Population? There's a lot of us from here," said Melvin Longfors, pointing to the surrounding hills. He's Aune's brother.
"Let's see, one, two, three, four... I wouldn't actually know but everyone here with a booth is from Snellman."
"Aaah, population?" Joe asked, stumped by the question. "There's that one guy in that house over there, the lady here," he said pointing to the two houses in town. "I'd say there were four people in the Snellman metropolis. But there may be a few hundred more" in the surrounding region.
Joe's wife is due to give birth any day, so add one to that nebulous number.
When the town's post office burned down decades ago, neighboring Osage got the new postal center and along with it, the zip code. Folks in Snellman are still chapped about it. Their addresses are actually in Osage.
Postal politics aside, it was the mayoral race that captured the small town buzz. Vicar Ed Hosch got elected honorary mayor. The duties are a bit unclear. Hosch is from the Gethsemane Lutheran Church across the street.
"Sixteen votes! It was a landslide," Aune pronounced, laughing.
Asked if a higher power swayed the vote, Hosch said, "I'd like to think He keeps out of politics."
Outgoing mayor John Racer claimed he had a successful reign, but was still mystified a year later as to how he got elected.
"We had cheaper gas," he said of his platform. Indeed, Snellman gas prices are always a few cents to a dime cheaper than Park Rapids. And Saturday you got free entertainment with a fill.
"I think my grandkids had something to do with my election," he said. Explaining the residency requirements for the office - and voting - he swept his hand over the vast expanse of countryside.
"I think you have to be from somewhere around here."
Ken Hillstrom of Eden Prairie provided harmonica music until Bennie's band showed up. His wife is related to Joe's wife.
"It would appear as if everybody here is related to everybody else," he said.