August 3, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
The former beer garden building at the Stearns County Fairgrounds in Sauk Centre has been demolished, but its century-old timbers still watch over fairgoers in the form of an American flag that hangs in the beer garden’s new space at the fairgrounds’ Activity Center. The flag was made by Sauk Centre resident Gavin Nelson, who has made several such flags before but never one with such unique material.
Gavin started woodworking by making a flag for his father, Lee Nelson, as a Christmas present about two years ago.
“(Lee) was in the military for 20 years,” Gavin said. “Then, I made another one for a family friend. I have a Facebook page, and (through it), some friends have asked, and I’ve made some for them.”
Gavin got the hang of woodworking through his family. They recently built a new house, handling a lot of the work themselves, and Gavin learned a lot from Lee. For the flag pattern itself, he learned how to make it through a YouTube video.
It was Suss Kluver, the mother of one of Gavin’s friends, who recommended he make a flag out of the wood from the old beer garden building. Kluver’s father, Charlie Walker, was a veteran who worked at the beer garden for years, and Kluver wanted a flag in honor of him.
The building had all the right colors Gavin needed. He did not have to repaint any of them.
“For the blue part, we took a door,” Gavin said. “For the white, we took (about) four sections off the bottom, and for the red, we had to piece that together. They were part of the windows, and we took a fair share out of them.”
The Nelsons collected the wood in mid-May, and Gavin worked on it, off and on, until he finished it a couple of weeks ago. In all, he estimates it took him about a day’s work to finish the flag. One of the hardest steps was making the stars, which Gavin carved out with a Dremel tool.
Although the wood was about 100 years old, Gavin did not have much trouble working with it. When the project was over, he was left with a couple of large white pieces but not much else.
“I just chose the better pieces and threw the rotten ones out,” he said. “The white ones, toward the bottom, were rotten, so I just didn’t use those. I had enough wood to get enough out of it. … With this one, you had to be a little more careful with the wood, not to break it. We were pretty close to running out of the blue, so we had to be careful not to waste it.”
With the flag now hanging in the beer garden, Gavin has heard plenty of positive remarks from his family, the Kluver family, American Legion Post 67 commander Scott Kowski, and other fairgoers who have stopped in for a drink. For Gavin, the flag is not so much a display of his woodworking skill as it is a tribute to his father as well as Walker and others who have served their country.
“Knowing that my dad served 20 years, I’m pretty proud of him for that,” Gavin said. “I feel good about it.”