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Craft Fair traditions

By Sister Mary Kay Ash, Local Archives Contact, Mankato, Minnesota

The Craft Fair tradition at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) dates back at least 45 years. A June 6, 1974, reference in Currently, a former Mankato Province publication, sets the dates for a “Craft Bonanza, not a Craft Fair. About the only difference will be – no food sale.” Sister Albertine Borowska, OLGC Activities Director from 1971 through 1996, coordinated a very active craft department, and held yearly sales in the motherhouse gym. Items sold were made primarily by retired sisters through the auspices of this craft department.

Sister Mercita Reinbold displays her rosemaling wares at the 1994 Craft Fair, held in the Loyola High School gym.

In 1983, a Convent Chronicle entry describes the next stage in the Craft Fair story, “Along with the Chicken Dinner today, an Arts and Craft Fair is being held with sisters of the province presenting the beautiful creations, which are a result of their special talents.” The Chicken Dinner was a long-standing Good Counsel Academy tradition in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and then was revived for a few years in the 1980s. The Craft Fair in 1983 was held in a large room near the Loyola High School cafeteria and featured 26 crafters. A dedicated committee of sisters planned and carried out the fair.

Over the next several years, the Craft Fair expanded, using space in the Loyola High School gym, hallway and cafeteria. In 1990, in addition to the 33 individual craft booths, there were four general tables; The Country Store included jams, jellies and baked goods, The Green Thumb with plants, Cozy Corner featured crocheted and craft items, and then a section for homemade cards. In 1993, an invitation to participate stated that there would be two locations – crafts in the gym and food in the cafeteria. In those years, the date fluctuated from mid-September to early October. Bread was baked the day before in the high school kitchen, first by Sister Petronia Schmaltz and then by Sister Barbara Simek. Crafts includes knitted, crocheted and stitched items, ceramics, rosemaling, and wood carvings. Large crowds came to the fair; and buses from the Twin Cities brought customers to Mankato, Minnesota.

Sisters Anita Kolles and Evelyn Ulmen are ready for customers at the 2010 Craft Fair at OLGC.

Eventually the date was set as the second Saturday in October. In 2005, it was decided to move the Craft Fair back to its place of origin – OLGC. It was getting more difficult for crafters to move their items across the campus and to set up during the one day available prior to the fair. However, this meant the loss of parking space, as well as two large venues for crafts, food and the lunch.

In 2005, a Garage Sale was added to the fair, and was held in the Red Barn. The idea was to spread the crowd around, but it became apparent that the barn was too far from the main fair, and the sale was not very successful. Throughout the history of the Craft Fair, committee members have learned what works and what doesn’t work, with the result that the Craft Fair has constantly evolved over the years. In the succeeding years, the Garage Sale was moved to an actual garage just across the parking lot and in the same building as Sister Mary Ann Osborne’s Wood Carving Studio. Items for the Garage Sale are collected all year and stored where those very first Craft Fairs took place, the old gym. This aspect of the Craft Fair has become one of the most successful. Originally, a small group of volunteers priced each item, a process that took days. Now, customers fill a bag or multiple bags and make a freewill donation.

For the past several years, baking bread has become a group activity. The Saturday before the Craft Fair, several sisters meet in the Loyola kitchen. Under the direction of Sister Rita Wollschlager, using Sister Barbara Simek’s recipes, they bake about 200 loaves from four different recipes. The loaves are transported across campus and frozen until the day of the Craft Fair. When the Craft Fair opens, many customers make their first stop at the tables with bread, jam, jelly, candy, noodles, pickles, salsa and other food items are sold.

In recent years, a tent has been located on the front lawn where soap and other items are for sale. This also helps keep the crowds a bit more spread out. The local Catholic Order of Foresters has, for many years, provided the lunch through their matching grant program. This is an invaluable part of the Craft Fair success.

The Craft Fair has been successful because of the efforts of so many sisters, associates and volunteers – from committee members to crafters, bakers and cooks, to cashiers and money counters.

Typically, the Craft Fair is held every second Saturday in October. Please join us for the fun! Tomatoes for salsa are now being harvested; jams and jellies are being put into jars; scarves and hats are being crocheted; stuffed animals are being crafted; ceramic figures are being painted; plants are growing; soap is being made; garage sale items are being sorted. Come and see this wonderful fundraising and friend-raising event for yourselves!


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