FORT RIPLEY -- The tradition of the John Thesing family and their chicken bouja celebrated 75 years of tradition Sunday, Sept. 2, at St. Mathias Park.
The family celebration, which includes 161 families, centers around an open fire with a big, black, iron kettle over a fire. The 55-gallon kettle is filled with the bounty of the families' gardens, such as 10 quarts of carrots, 10 quarts of onions and celery, 8 pounds of noodles and 50 chickens. The bouja is held every year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend at St. Mathias Park.
The family of John Thesing carries on the tradition at St. Mathias Park, which was started at least 75 years ago in St. Bonifacious. More than 150 family members attended the Sept. 2 chicken bouja.
John Jacob Thesing was born April 9, 1889, in St. Bonifacious and he married Lena Ditch on May 30, 1911. John and Lena moved to the Fort Ripley area in 1920 to start farming. Lena died in 1934 after complications of the childbirth of twins and John died in 1980 at age 91. John and Lena had eight children who are all still in good health with strong, healthy minds. They are all still living in their own homes without any assisted help and the only reference to their age would be that they are very hard of hearing.
The eight children are Marina Hartman, 88, Brainerd; Florence Longfellow, 86, Brainerd; Leander Thesing, 84, Brainerd; Ambrose Thesing, 81, Brainerd; Raymond Thesing, 78, Hopkins; Joe Thesing, 75, Brainerd; and Pete and Paul Thesing, the twins from Brainerd and Elk River, are 67.
The descendants of John and Lena Thesing total up to 347 in all. Many of the descendants live here in the Brainerd area, but some reach as far north as Alaska.
Holding on to the tradition that started so many years ago, the men gather the wood, prepare the fire, keep the fire burning and stir that iron kettle with a big 2 x 4, or a wooden paddle. The families bring their own chickens, bars and usually the other treasures from their gardens, including tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and rhubarb.
It is a time to reminisce and talk about years gone by. They all marvel at how the children have grown and how they look like their uncle or have their grandma's eyes. If you hang around the fire you may hear a sibling squabble about how much seasoning to put into the kettle.
Everyone has a chance to display their talent (or lack of) in softball, volleyball or the many of their favorites, horseshoes.
With more than 161 families represented at the event the legacy of John and Lena Thesing will be carried on, from one generation to another, the stories will be told and the memories will live on forever.
(Ruth Ann Hanson, Pequot Lakes, is the daughter of Ambrose and Lee Thesing.)
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