Frederick Touts Finnish Heritage with Wife-Carrying Contest
Dakota Digest - 06/23/2011
by Gary Ellenbolt
Once a year, north of Aberdeen in the small town of Frederick, people get together to celebrate their Finnish Heritage with Finn Fest. Among the pony rides, dunk tank and parade-a few things happen at the celebration that few towns in South Dakota dare to match-including the state's only wife-carrying contest.
You won't find any cars on the Main Street of Frederick right now-the annual Finn Fest Pedal Tractor Pull is going on. Tracy Olson is encouraging the kids who pedal the yellow and orange toy tractor, trying to pull the weight to the pink line in the street. Between this event, the dunk tank, a parade, and a food stand across from the bank, this looks like almost any festival in any small town in South Dakota. Anything else going on, Georgia Smith?
Smith says, "Our Miss Finn was in the parade, all dressed up her glory..."
Here's where it gets interesting. Listen to a sample of the newly-crowned Miss Finn, working the crowd at a festival event. It's quite a deep voice for a beauty queen.
As Smith explains, "The Miss Finn contest is actually where we have men dressed up as women. And it's actually held, just like a pageant is-you have your swimsuit competition, you have your talent competition, and we also have our evening gown."
Curt Smith, Georgia's husband, won the title Friday night under the name "Curtrina." After the parade, he changed clothes, washed off the makeup, and served as MC for an event that's huge in Finland, but unique in South Dakota to Frederick-a wife-carrying contest.
With some adaptations from the rules that came over from the Old Country, the concept is to carry your wife-or SOMEone's wife--through an obstacle course which includes a water hazard. Have the fastest time on the course, and the husband wins the wife's weight in beer.
Different strategies are out there to succeed in the event, but three-time defending champion Marty Morelock, who spends his days as head football coach at Leola-Frederick High School, has a winning approach.
Morelock says "A sack of potatoes is the best. Throw her over the shoulder--she has abs of steel, and we get running through the course pretty quickly."
Morlock and his wife, Jen, aren't competing for a fourth straight championship this year. Marty is having some problems with his knee. So that leaves the beer prize open.
Roughly halfway through the course, there's a five-foot high bar, made of PVC pipe, that the contestants have to get under. Last year, this is where title contention ended for Kayleen Klein and her fiancé, Randy Johnson.
"I didn't make it under this bar with her on my back. I had to bend and I lost my balance and I fell over and it was a mess from there."
The couple from Andover, Minnesota, examines the bar and discusses strategy for this year's wife-carry. Klein says their goal is simple.
"Just to stay up," she says, "because he was fast. He was on track for the speed part of it. So if we can get under this bar-if we can raise the bar-we'll be good."
Watching the racers work the course, two couples at a time-you start to understand the resourcefulness of the Finnish people. Women are carried almost every possible way there is to carry a woman. Watching the goings on is Heidi Matilla-Losure, who is helping to coordinate the festival. She says it all ties in with the theme for the weekend, "Show Your SISU."
Asked for the meaning, Matilla-Losure says "Well, it's hard to directly translate into English, but it's perseverance in the face of adversity. And Finns really take pride in that-they are tough, they will stick it out, no matter what the situation."
Everyone made it through the course, despite some drops, and one wife carrying the man over the finish line-but the winning time of 38 point three seconds came from Tim and Lisa Kauk of Eureka. Tim Kauk's a big, bearded guy, and obviously fast-to earn the win, he kept it simple.
Kauk says, "Go fast, and don't fall down. I prepared for the winning of the beer, with a few last night-and that's about the only training I did."
So the Kauk's win Lisa Kauk's weight in beer. Knowing that weight is a sensitive topic for women, there's no scale in sight. Georgia Smith says they've thought of that too.
As she says, "And it's really neat, the way we measure the beer's weight, because we don't actually want to put a woman on the scale. So we take a teeter-totter, we have the woman sitting on one side, and then we place the beer on the teeter-totter until it equals, so nobody has to divulge any secrets."
The Kauks end up with six cases of beer-and Finn Fest moves on for the day. The crowd leaves Simmons Park happy, ready to listen to music, eat, and follow the lawn mower races and bonfire on the water yet to come.
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