90th annual Midsummer Festival

HIBBING— Finnish mojakka stew, Juhannus bonfire, FBI files and a performance from the Minnesota winner of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert contest— these are a few highlights from the 90th annual Midsummer Festival scheduled for Mesaba Co-op Park this coming weekend.

Mesaba Co-op Park, set in the town of Cherry just east of Hibbing, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places and boasts a wealth of tradition surrounding their summer solstice celebration. While the annual event has evolved over the decades, the heart of the festival remains the same for the park and its members.

David Bednarczuk, who has been connected with the park for more than 40 years, told the Hibbing Daily Tribune earlier this week, “This year’s theme is ‘90 years for the common good.’ We’re looking at this as a historical anniversary where we’re gathering all of our history. Being around for 90 years, there is so much material that we thought we'd focus on some of the things people have accomplished.”

Mesaba Co-op Park is a cooperative born of the Finnish socialist and cooperative movements dating back to the 1920s. The park’s traditions of the Midsummer Festival began nine years later when a group described as “radial consumers’ and producers’ co-operatives” from northern Minnesota purchased the wooded land and private spring-fed lake.

Bednarczuk arrived at the park in 1976 as a youth who was part of a “new wave” of progressives, including environmentalists and people active in the women's movement and the peace movement. Newcomers slowly breathed new life into the 240-acre park after adopting it from the aging Finnish immigrants, he said. They embraced the values of their predecessors and picked up where they no longer could.

“‘For the common good’ was a common theme with the Finns,” Bednarczuk said, speaking on the festival’s theme. “It was a way for describing what the cooperative was— it was a ‘good for everybody’ type of thing.”

Looking ahead to the festivities planned, Bednarczuk is excited to share their annual midsummer tradition with the public, beginning at 7 p.m. tonight with a pasty supper followed by music, dancing and surprises. Saturday morning, event goers can rise with the sun for a morning yoga session followed by two-hours of informational storytelling by past and present park caretakers during the “Mesaba Café” event.

A speaker’s forum is also planned for 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the dance hall, beginning with Pam Brunfelt, a professor and historian, who will be speaking on the “Co-op History and Mesaba Park.” From there, Rolf Anderson, a historical consultant with the Minnesota Historical Society, is scheduled to make a special presentation called “Mesaba Park: the FBI Files.”

Bednarczuk explained that there had long been speculation that the Mesaba Park was the subject of FBI surveillance, but, without proof of documentation, the topic was dead in the water— until now.

Inside the 90th anniversary booklet that will be available at the festival, an excerpt penned by Anderson shares how a year after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, copies of two FBI case files on the Mesaba Park arrived, confirming many members’ suspicions. One file came from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office and another from the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

These files will be center of Anderson’s talk on Saturday afternoon.

“This is very interesting for the park to finally see these files,” Bednarczuk remarked. “They’re redacted in that there are things that are blacked out or names not shown, but they indicate that the park and the people that used the park were under FBI surveillance for a fairly lengthy period of time— probably from the late ‘30s to possibly the early ‘70s.”

Bednarczuk said they obtained the files as part of the nomination process for getting the park listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which the park successfully did on May 28, 2019, after a long four-year process.

“That’s pretty exciting, especially when it’s our 90th anniversary,” Bednarczuk said. “We tried several times to get the nomination before. The process is lengthy and fairly bureaucratic and cumbersome, but this time we had a person— Rolf— who stayed on it.”

Bednarczuk invites everyone to come hear “how the government was doing their business in a routine way for a long period of time.”

Children activities are planned for that afternoon, with Terrence Smith’s Maypole Dance set to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. Bednarczuk describes the colorful Maypole Dance as a celebration of spring and life that predates Christianity. From there, a social hour is scheduled followed by a dinner by chef Colleen Betts of Food Magic, dancing and original music. The evening then culminates at 11 p.m. with a traditional Juhannus bonfire.

Finally, after mojakka beef stew is cooked in a cauldron over an open fire, a special “Solstice Music Magic” concert is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, beginning with comic/singer/accordion player Steve Solkela. From there singer/songwriter Clair Brockway from North Carolina performs, and at 2:30 p.m. headliner Gaelynn Lea will take the stage. Lea is a fiddle player and winner of NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest.

“She grew up here at the park,” Bednarczuk said, speaking of the musician. “She from Duluth and we’ve know Gael almost all of her life. We were astounded when she won NPR’s contest.”

According to NPR, Lea beat out more than 6,000 other artists who submitted videos, winning the heart of the six judges by performing “deep melodies of great Irish fiddle tunes,” while singing in a nontraditional style.

Lea’s website violinscratches.com states that she performs regularly and has played at venues like The Kennedy Center, House of Blues, Nashville’s Music City Roots and on BBC World News. Lea, who has brittle bone disease, also speaks on disability rights, finding inner freedom and accessibility in the arts.

Everyone is invited to come see her as well as the many other artists at the weekend festival. Beginning tonight admission for the entire weekend with camping is $30 for adults and free for children under 12 years of age. Meals are available for an additional cost.

Bednarczuk noted that admission is free for anyone who only wants to come for the FBI files talk on Saturday.

Mesaba Park is located seven miles east of Hibbing at the intersection of Highway 37 and County Road 5, near Thirsty Moose.

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90th annual Midsummer Festival

Mesaba Co-op Park

Friday, June 21

7 p.m. Pasty dinner, music, dancing & more

Saturday, June 22

Morning Yoga, “Mesaba Cafe” storytelling

1:30 p.m. Speakers forum: “Co-op History & Mesaba Park” & “Mesaba Park: the FBI Files”

4 p.m. Maypole Dance

6 p.m. Dinner by “Food Magic,” traditional dance

9 p.m. “The Confused Brothers,” “Lakeside Memorial Remembrances”

11 p.m. Traditional Juhannus bonfire

Sunday, June 23

Noon Mojakka lunch

1:30 p.m. Steve Solkela performs

2 p.m. Clair Brockway performs

2:30 p.m. Gaelynn Lea performs

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