“The whole town was there!” In most cases, when this is said, it merely means a well-attended event. However, in the case of the coffee social hours that are held in Farwell, Minn., since the early 1980s, it might very well be accurate.
For more than 30 years, The Farwell Friendly Folks have hosted coffee social hours that include snacks such as bars, cookies, sandwiches or bread and butter.
If you search the internet for Farwell, the population is reported at 51 residents. What the Internet won’t show is the fellowship that is displayed at the Community Center every Wednesday, April through October, when sometimes as many as 50 people gather for coffee from 2 to 4 p.m.
Anderson’s neighbor, LaVonne Carlson, asked if she would be interested in helping her serve coffee one day each week. The two decided on Wednesdays. Helen Bollum was another woman involved in starting the gatherings. “Helen was always gung-ho for anything for Farwell. She was one of the first ones too,” shared Anderson.
The get-togethers took place in the town hall. The women set up a kitchen on the old stage, something often seen in town halls. “That’s where we cooked the coffee,” said Anderson.
In the beginning, people from the Oscar Lake Lutheran Church and a handful of Farwell residents took turns hosting the event. Other groups and individuals have participated throughout the years: Lola Olson of Farwell, Ben Wade Covenant Church, the Ben Wade 4-H Club and Norunga Lutheran Church. The serving groups supply the napkins, paper plates, coffee and food and ask for a free-will offering. The serving groups decide what to use the proceeds for, but always for the better of the community or for those in need. Oscar Lake Church uses the proceeds to buy material and batting for the quilts they make for organizations and individuals. Whereas the Ben Wade Covenant Church uses their money for several budget projects, like giving to Someplace Safe, Birthright and the food shelf.
In February 1997, the roof of the town hall collapsed under the 110 inches of snow that fell that year. Anderson and Farwell resident Al Halvorson crawled into the wreckage to salvage some coffee pots, silverware and an old table. When the new Community Center was built and ready for use in 1999, the table that the two had saved was included in the décor.
The attendance was small at first, with just a dozen or so people, but throughout the years it has grown. Mostly retired people attend and a lot of local farmers will take an afternoon break and come in where the coffee is on and the conversation is good. Everyone is welcome to attend, and people from all over come to the coffees. Car and van loads of people have been brought from Cyrus, the Good Samaritan Center in Hoffman and the Starbuck Nursing Home. Many people who used to live in Farwell who have since moved to other communities return. “The old community comes back,” reported Anderson, “People look forward to it – they see their old friends and their old neighbors.” She admitted she never thought these Wednesday coffees would be so well-attended and continue for so many years.
Anderson has always organized the list of servers. When asked if that is a lot of work, she answered, “When you want something done, you’ve got to do it.” She lives only a block from the Community Center, so more often than not she is the person who gets the coffee started. Ironically, Anderson herself does not even drink coffee.
It is the fellowship that everyone seems to enjoy. “In the summer especially, there will be people who have moved away from Farwell who visit, and they always come for coffee,” she said.
The assemblies haven’t always gone off without a hitch. One time after Anderson had gotten the coffee started, it was discovered that the serving group had forgotten to come. “I was lucky because I had just made chocolate chip cookies,” she recalled. “So, I had two big buckets of chocolate chip cookies in the freezer. I took out those two pails and that’s what they had. But no one complained.”
Because she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February, this will be the first year Anderson will not be organizing the schedule and getting the coffee started. This will also be the first year the coffee hours will not start until May 7. “They had to get reorganized since I wasn’t in there telling them what to do I guess,” said Anderson with a chuckle. She went on to say that because of the terribly cold winter she had suggested the coffees be cut back one month and be started in May.
In her life, Anderson has always believed in community involvement. She has been influential in the Senior Center potlucks. The potlucks are held at noon the first Thursday of every month, except January, at the Community Center, and everyone is welcome. She has been on the Council of Aging for Pope County and a former treasurer for the city of Farwell. In the past, she was a caretaker of the town hall; cleaning, decorating and putting up the Christmas tree, and she managed the November craft sale. She also has been very active in the Oscar Lake Church, which included being the treasurer of the Mission Circle. “They have a hard time getting rid of me,” she laughed. “I like to be busy, and I don’t like to sit around. If you want things to happen, you have to get involved and work at it.” She also added, “I hope I haven’t been bossy, but sometimes you almost have to be.”
She was married to Bill Anderson for 44 years and has four sons, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren with more on the way. She gives a lot of herself to her community and her family. Her daughter-in-law, Cindy Anderson of rural Farwell, shared that when Norma was diagnosed with cancer she was quite concerned about not having enough quilts made for all of her grandchildren. The family quickly gathered to make quilts with Norma’s help. And when a hospital bed was being set up in Norma’s home, only older blankets could be found for her bed. “She gave all her quilts away,” shared Cindy. And because of that, Oscar Lake Church made Norma a soft pink quilt with the inscription, “Wrapped in the arms of Jesus. To our faithful friend Norma Anderson from Oscar Lake.”
Norma Anderson has lived a life of being involved, creating moments for people to share, and loving her community, friends and family. She said in a soft voice, “That’s the most important thing in life, if you can have people that love you and you can love them back.”