Center Church Sign

CENTER FREE LUTHERAN CHURCH'S sign stands west of their church and baseball diamond. The church will be hosting its annual Midsummer picnic this Sunday. 

Center Free Lutheran Church, located southwest of Madison, is hosting its annual Midsummer celebration on Sunday at its baseball diamond, located a half-mile south of the church. A church service will be held at 4 p.m. with supper to follow at 5 p.m.

Midsummer is a celebration that originated in Sweden to welcome summer and the season of fertility.

The tradition came to the United States with the mass migration of Swedish people. Some of those migrants came to the Salem area and established the Center church.

“The old Swedes started [the Midsummer celebration] up here,” Ron Sandine said, noting that ancestors of some current members were some of those old Swedes.

Sandine is a lifelong member of the church and has seen the celebration change quite a bit in his lifetime.

During his childhood in the 1940s and ‘50s, Midsummer was celebrated at the church’s parsonage. Baseball games took place in a pasture east of the house and lunch would be served at the parsonage, with multiple games being required for the number of teams.

“It brought quite a crowd,” said Denny Pearson, another lifelong member who was confirmed the same year as Sandine. “Around 200 to 300 people would be there.”

The church’s Midsummer brought in so many people because there were many from outside the church who also attended. In those days, there were many more country churches and many more families around the countryside.

According to the lifelong members, a lunch stand would be posted south of the parsonage where they sold food and drinks. Pop would be kept cold in a stock tank filled with ice water. Pie, ice cream and egg coffee would be served at night.

In 1958, the church built its baseball diamond, located just south of the church itself. Midsummer celebrations then started to be held there.

“Lots of teams played,” said Gerald Schmeichel, who came to the church in 1955 and was confirmed in 1960. “We even had a married folks team and a single folks team play against each other.”

The tradition continues into the present day, and the celebration will again be hosted by the church at its ball diamond. People from around the area are still invited.

“There will be food, a church service and some kind of ball,” Sandine said.

Schmeichel, who is also the church council president, added, “Hopefully, someone brings pie and ice cream again!”

The celebration will have a freewill donation. All of the funds raised will go to a mission trip to Uganda that Pastor Dean Feistner and his daughter Faith are preparing to take.

While Schmeichel is “glad the Swedes let this old German in,” the lifelong members are grateful that their tradition has lived on.

“It’s part of us,” Pearson said. “It’s our heritage.”

Center Free Lutheran is located at 44312 245th St., Salem. Questions can be directed to the church at 605-247-3353 or message them on Facebook.