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Rush River celebrates 70th Harvest Dinner

Doris Knutson holds up some freshly-made lefse. Many have been preparing lefse ahead of the Rush River Lutheran Church Harvest Dinner set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24. Photos courtesy of Rush River Lutheran Church.1 / 3
Rush River Lutheran Church will celebrate its Norwegian heritage with the 70th annual Harvest Dinner and Country Store Sunday, Sept. 24. Pictured are the Queen of Lefse Carol Bennett and the King of Grot Gene Larson, advertising the dinner at Spring Valley Dam Days. Sarah Nigbor / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Rush River Lutheran Church (N8623 County Road Y, River Falls) will celebrate its Norwegian heritage with the 70th annual Harvest Dinner and Country Store 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24. The family style menu includes ham, hand-rolled meatballs, lefse, rommegrot and other traditional Norwegian cookies and treats! Monies raised support the church as well as many local, regional and global charities. Photo courtesy of Rush River Lutheran Church3 / 3

Members of Rush River Lutheran Church have been cooking lefse, gearing up to feed a crowd at the70th annual Harvest Dinner, set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24.

"The Harvest Dinner is an opportunity to live our mission to 'Reach Out In Love' to each other, our neighbors, our friends, and every guest we serve," said church member Lisa Anderson. "Involvement of the whole faith community nourishes and builds the relationships that we have with each other."

The Harvest Dinner is an annual meal and fundraiser held by Rush River Lutheran in the town of Martell. Attendees eat traditional Norwegian food such as lefse, rommegrot, hand-rolled meatballs, and homemade Norwegian cookies, all served family-style.

The money will be split three ways between the church, a local charitable organization, and a world charitable effort.

The 70th anniversary

This year being the 70th anniversary, this Harvest Dinner will have a few extras, such as a prize wheel. Anyone who is 70 years old at the time of the dinner will eat for free that day, Anderson said.

The Harvest Dinner has also crowned a Queen of Lefse (Carol Bennett) and a King of Rommegrot (Gene Larson), who ride in parades, such as Spring Valley Dam Days.

There will also be a book full of memories from Harvest Dinners of the past.

The Harvest Dinner through time

Over the past 70 years, Rush River parishioners have made many memories associated with the Harvest Dinner. Doris Knutson is a lifelong member of Rush River. She was also the chair of the Harvest Dinner committee for years. She and Betty Swenson, another longtime member of the church who helped with the Harvest Dinner for years, said they have many, many memories of working together to cook food, to help prepare and serve the dinner over the years.

Knutson said she remembers the waitresses wore colored vests decorated with Scandinavian ribbon, a white blouse, dark skirt, white apron, and a little cap. Now, the servers just wear the aprons and maybe a dark skirt or dark pants.

Knutson said the vets have become harder to come by—and they were really warm.

The way food is prepared these days has also changed a lot, Knutson said.

Back in the day, she and Swenson said, "the guys" would sit around and peel the potatoes and "tell tales."

At that point the potato peeling and parking cars were the men's main jobs.

"Now the men are really more involved in the whole supper," Knutson said.

Knutson said she also used to bring 10 gallon cans to the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery to buy whole milk and cream.

Now the committee has to order gourmet whipping cream to make rommegrot — a dish made with sweet cream and a little bit of milk, which has the consistency of a thin pudding.

One thing that's stayed the same, though, Swenson and Knutson said, is the sense of community felt by the church members as they work to pull the Harvest Dinner together.

"Everybody just comes together," Swenson said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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