Pioneer Club fitting Heritage Day’s grand marshal


If anyone knows about life on the farm, it is members of the Stearns County Pioneer Club. Since the mid-1970s, club members have showcased rural life during their annual Albany Pioneer Days and Threshing Show each September.

So, it is only fitting the Pioneer Club is grand marshal for the Saturday, Aug. 6, Albany Heritage Day, since the theme of the Albany Chamber, Albany Area Lions and Jaycee’s sponsored event is “Life on the Farm.” 

Tom Skudlarek, current Pioneer Club president and a member since the late 1990s, said it was a pleasant surprise when the club was asked to be grand marshal.

“It’s a heck of an honor,” he said.

On July 27 he explained the past few years the Albany Chamber has worked with the Pioneer Club on a few projects, including Santa Days, held on the Pioneer Days grounds north of Albany. 

“The drive-thru on the Pioneer grounds was the most unbelievable experience, with the chamber, town’s people and club members working together,” he said. 

His wife, Mary, said this year’s Heritage Day theme is perfect for the club, which is all about preserving rural history.  

Heritage Day starts with a medallion hunt Wednesday, Aug. 3, and a car show Friday, Aug. 5. Among the Aug. 6 events are a run/walk, bean bag toss, card tournament, pedal tractor pull, music, evening parade and fireworks. Food, refreshments and games will be available throughout the day, starting around noon. 

The city celebration is a precursor to Albany Pioneer Days, Sept. 15-18 on the Pioneer Days grounds. Club officers and directors and hundreds of volunteers are gearing up for a great four days of fun, food and frolic with a country atmosphere.

While much has been added since that first Pioneer Days, much has also remained the same. 

 John and LouAnn Peternell started Pioneer Days in the mid-1970s as a way to celebrate the past, showcasing John’s collection of tractors and holding a threshing show on land they owned, where it is still held today in an expanded fashion.  

“They got family and friends together to do some threshing, threw a potluck lunch and had a good time,” Tom said. “John also contacted other farmers in the area who had older equipment and asked them to bring it.”

That included Tom’s dad, Frank, who brought his 1928 International truck to the first event. 

“And we still exhibit it today,” said Tom, a college student back then, recalling how he helped his dad get the truck ready to bring to Pioneer Days. 

A few years after the first Pioneer Days was held 48 years ago, the Stearns County Pioneer Club was formed, Tom said.

“The club bought a small parcel of land (from the Peternells) and then added more land, including for parking and camping, and added buildings,” he said. 

Today, the close to 60-acre Pioneer Days’ grounds includes more than 80 buildings, plus 30 acres for parking and camping. Demonstrations showcasing rural life grew to include lumber making, threshing, corn shelling, flour milling, quilting, other fancywork and much more, allowing visitors to experience life years ago. The Arbon Church was moved there from rural Holdingford and the country school came from Emmanuel Lutheran Church, south of Albany, along with other old buildings familiar to people and new buildings were built. A flea market attracts people. There is a variety of music from old time to country and gospel. 

This year’s event will feature Ford tractors, equipment, vehicles and Cushman gas engines. Other years Allis Chalmers, Minneapolis-Moline, John Deere and International brands have been featured.  

Pioneer Days is put on entirely by volunteers, ages 8 to over 90.

“It takes so many to make this click,” Mary said. 

There are 12 board members with close to 540 memberships, many that are spouses, so Tom estimates the total members is closer to 1,000.

“The core group has a good vision of what they are doing, especially vice president Brennan Shay and director Greg Fuchs,” said Tom, of two other board members, who Mary said repurpose a lot of things, citing the example of hotel and barbershop buildings which were built using donated repurposed windows and doors to make it look authentic. 

Other board members are secretary Lee Mortenson, treasurer Darren Eisenschenk and directors Tom Eveslage, Pete Kruger, Mike Peternell, Gary Pilgrim, Ken Ritter, Dwight Kohout and Natalie Kohout.

The week before the show, the Pioneer Days grounds is a flurry of activity with dedicated members pitching in. 

“It’s like magic,” Tom said. “They all know what needs to get done.”

The Skudlareks, who live on the family farm near Holdingford, became more involved with Pioneer Days in the late 1990s, and Tom has been the Pioneer Club president for three years and before that vice president and a board member.

Mary said Pioneer Days is like a reunion.

“We catch up on things,” said Mary. “We are so happy to see each other.”  

A retired teacher, she coordinates the country school, learning from long-time volunteer Viola Flynn.

“She was an original one-room schoolmarm,” Mary said. “She went from a one-room school house to modern day.”

Authentic items in the country school were donated by Flynn’s family after she passed away. 

“Viola’s beautiful handwriting remains on the chalkboard and I will not allow that to be erased,” Mary said. 

A new addition to the county school display is a non-functioning outhouse with a Spiegel catalog, a tribute to the time when catalogs or peach paper was used as toilet paper in outhouses.  

Around the grounds, stories and knowledge of the past shared by visitors are treasured. 

“I live for the elderly to come in and share those memories,” Mary said. “They are my teaching tools,” Mary said.   

Tom said every venue in the four-day show is unique. 

“One guy is making concrete blocks in a building,” Tom said, and Mary added, “There are hundreds of spool of threads in the rope making building.” 

A Pioneer Days’ queen and princess are crowned and are yearlong ambassadors.

Club members look forward to September’s shows, which draw close to 15,000 people. 

Referencing the line “It takes a village to raise a child,” Mary said, “The bottom line is it takes a village to run Pioneer Days.”  

But before that, they will share their love of rural life as Heritage Day grand marshal.

“When you think about life on the farm, you think about farming with family and neighbors working together,” Mary said. “That’s what Pioneer Days is all about.”