Every two years during the second Sunday in June, members related to my father’s side of the family gather south of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and celebrate our relatedness. The Pramann Family Picnic began in central Minnesota in 1957, one hundred years after the original family farmstead was founded. (1857, which was one year before Minnesota gained statehood. The picnic was begun on the centennial on purpose.)
The “founding couple” (my great-great-grandparents Johan and Johanna Pramann) immigrated from Othfresen Germany. It’s speculated that they left, even though Johan’s family were the major landholders in the area, because Johan would not inherit the land because he was not the oldest son. Apparently, there was a tradition that the oldest son inherited the land and the younger sons were given money to build a house in town. Maybe that wasn’t good enough for Johan, so he came to the United States to seek his own land, with his wife and a foster daughter (Augusta, age six) in tow.
They spent seven weeks on the ocean and finally arrived in New Orleans, taking a boat up the Mississippi River. They disembarked in St. Paul, loaded their meager belongings on an ox cart, and walked beside the cart (the cart was small and there was no room to sit!) 77 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they stayed with some friends. That must have been a long trip.
Eventually, they settled in Fair Haven and had one son named Henry, who was my great-grandfather. Johan and Johanna were fairly successful farmers in spite of bad times, such as blizzards, fires, and grasshopper plagues.
Henry met his wife Margaret after she immigrated from Switzerland. They had seven boys and three girls. My grandfather John was their second son and was born in the family’s log cabin.
At our family reunion, those gathered usually identify themselves by which of the second-generation American children of Henry and Margaret they are related to. All I need to say is that I’m “John’s granddaughter” and the relative I’m speaking with can visualize where I fit in the family tree.
According to a biography that my Aunt Marguerite wrote, John was a good student. He went to the country school nearby and “remained in the top eighth grade for three years, he said, ‘until I learned all the teacher could teach me.’” With his older brother set to inherit the land, he realized the farm did not hold much of a future, so he went into town to get business training. That’s why my family aren’t farmers.
John moved to Minneapolis and worked for a hardware wholesale company (Janney, Semple, Hill and Co.) for two years and attended an evangelical church there (as did his two sisters) where he met his future bride Louise, “a blue-eyed young woman whose family attended the church and who was employed as secretary to the president of Metropolitan National Bank.”
They moved to St. Cloud, which is about fifteen miles north of Fair Haven, where my grandfather eventually worked as a banker and insurance agent. He built their house with his own hands, but alas, it is not standing anymore. The neighborhood was demolished for a parking lot. Somewhere along the line, they switched religions from evangelical to Methodist, although I guess they are closely related.
One thing perhaps a bit unusual about this side of the family is that they had their own cemetery and church. In 1873, the Pramanns donated some farmland to the Evangelical Association so they could build the church and cemetery. A church was built in 1880 and was known as Gethsemane. The church was officially incorporated in 1887. Services were held there regularly every three or four weeks in the afternoon until 1920. The church is no longer standing. Henry and Margaret are buried in the cemetery, as are Johan and Johanna.
The Pramann Family Picnic was delayed by the pandemic. We hadn’t gathered since 2018, so I was keen to continue the tradition when it returned this year. About one hundred of us gathered in the city park picnic shelter in Fairhaven, Minnesota, last weekend. Everyone brought a dish to share and their own silverware and plates. I brought potato salad made from my mother’s recipe (with black olives, mustard, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar and dill). She often used to make it for these occasions. Families tend to sit together, but also mill around and talk to other relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Most live locally or elsewhere in Minnesota, but sometimes relatives from out-of-state attend. (Pramanns live in New York, Louisiana, and the West Coast.)
After dessert (ice cream is a family tradition and must be served!), a family meeting ensues, conducted according to Robert’s Rule of Order, where minutes from the previous family meeting are read and approved. There’s a treasurer’s report, new family picnic organizers are elected, and various family members are recognized for their youth or age. In the past, people have verbally noted new deaths and births, but this time, everyone was encouraged to write those down on a special form so the family tree could be updated later.
The picnics originally were held at the homestead farm. Then they moved to the city park in Annandale, Minnesota, and then to Fair Haven. In the past, the group sung hymns and pledged allegiance to the flag, but now we just eat, talk and meet.
The weather can be unsettled in this part of the country in June. As a child, I remember my family packing up and leaving one picnic early when the sky turned a sickly green from an oncoming tornado. For last week’s picnic, Russ and I drove through an unexpected rainstorm on the way.
I had never seen the cemetery and church site, or the original homestead before (that I can remember), so, when the chance came to visit them during the picnic, I was eager. A cousin led us on the car ride north of town and down a gravel road to the sites.
The trees were the first thing I noticed about the small cemetery. Several pines tower over it, one with graceful twisting limbs. These trees feed on the bones of my ancestors.
Headstones bearing the name Pramann and other surnames from Gethsemane churchgoers dot the ground. Some markers are written in German. Some are so old the writing had eroded away. Some are so modern their occupants haven’t died yet. Farmland surrounds the cemetery and the Pramann homestead is visible a short way down the road.
Several other relatives arrived at the cemetery after us and regaled us with old family stories. One, that I recall hearing before, involved “how Johanna fed the Indians.” The story was written by my grandfather John (in “Some Facts on the Genealogy of the American Branch of the Pramann Family” – Jan. 1964), but basically, Johanna was home alone one day, cooking. A group of Native Americans – probably Dakota (Sioux) – arrived and asked for something to eat. According to my grandfather’s account, “She placed the large kettle on the floor, where the group sat and ate potatoes and even unbaked dough. After finishing their eating, they left, but a few days later, a whole venison was left on their doorstep.” The couple thought it might have been left in thanks for the food Johanna had provided.
Thankfully, their interactions with the natives were peaceful, or I might not be here to write this blog.
My grandfather John was interested in genealogy and was instrumental is beginning the Pramann Family reunion. My aunt found this prayer in his papers, which he must have recited for one of the reunions. Although dated and patriarchal, I think it sums up the thankfulness that many immigrant families must feel on coming to the United States.
We thank thee, our heavenly father, for the foresight of our forefathers in migrating to this free county where we can worship as we wish. In thy sight we are all equal regardless of nationality, color, creed, or church affiliation.
Lord Jesus, as thou “didst break the bread and bless the loaves by Galilee” bless our food and pour thy heavenly benediction upon us, receive our thanks and keep us all in perfect unity with each other and with thee.