On August 8, 1907, old settlers of Western Hennepin County and their families held a picnic beneath the shady grove of trees at the Bederwood Temple by Stubbs Bay on Lake Minnetonka. The flies were almost as thick as the memories exchanged, the air nearly as warm as the feeling of friendship. These men and women had dared and suffered together to settle Minnesota's virgin Big Woods. Family interconnections were strong, making the entire gathering feel more like a reunion of extended relatives. The 20th century was well under way with signs of progress everywhere, but on this day nostalgia was running high. (Listen to an eyewitness account by Reg Ferrell recorded in 1972).
In discussions after the festive noon meal, the group resolved to form an organization called the Western Hennepin County Pioneer Association. They delineated its purpose clearly in this mission statement:
"The purpose is to cultivate fraternal and social relations among members; to preserve the record of the lives of territorial pioneers of western Hennepin County and, as far as may be practical, to provide for the preservation and care of such articles as portraits, paintings, manuscripts and records as may be of historic value."
The first president of the association was Warren Wakefield, old enough to remember the terror of the 1862 Indian massacres and how refugees of that conflict had fled through the area. The second president was Milton Stubbs, a veteran of both the Civil War and the military quelling of the Dakota uprising.
Charter members of WHCPA included John McGary, David and Janet Lydiard, James and George Turnham, Herbert Archibald, Arthur Stafford, George Stafford, John and Ella Stafford, Will and Dama Carr, Maurice Luby, Sr., Joe Brown, Rodney Johnston, Joel Stubbs, Miltion and Elizabeth Stubbs, Rolla and Esther Stubbs, William Kassube, Delila and Gilmore Maxwell, James and Mary Dillman, Mary Parker, Rachel Talbert, Frank Butterfield, Mary and Ina Hursh, Albert and Ruth Brooks, Arnold Griswold, Lauretta Smith Grave, and Henry Cox.
In ensuing years, annual picnics featured declamations and oratory by some of these grand old folks who became regular attractions. Elderly women recited long poems learned at old log schools when literary accomplishment was emphasized. One after another they would rise to their feet to tell about the rugged old days. Memorials for deceased members were read every year.
And there was, of course, music and dancing. It took the form of fiddle, phonograph and even parlour organ. Sometimes Homer Hursh or Donald Bennyhoff or Tony Ditter led old time singing. Sometimes the Long Lake Brass Band or the Bederwood Concert Band would stir even tired old feet to tapping. For if these hardy souls knew how to work hard, they also knew how to play hard. They lived life to its fullest.
These men and women were a vital people, survivors of countless hardships and ordeals of which 21st century American life has no concept. Many of them had come to Minnesota with nothing more than an axe. Some had lived throught their first Minnesota winter in a rude bark hut. They had endured Indian scares, the tragic losses of the Civil War, collapsed economies, attacks of locusts, disease, fire, horrible farm and railroad accidents, and above all decades of backbreaking labor clearing the land for farming. The bonds between them were strong. With one mind, they were proud of their accomplishments and wanted their lives to be remembered.
Just over a century later, in 2009, WCHPA is proudly and zealously still fulfilling this mission.