Sixty-year tradition

Family has held reunion each year since 1956

The Kobs family has had an annual reunion each year since 1956. The reunion was formed after a death in the family brought everyone together in the mid-1950s. This photo shows some of the games they play at the reunion. Contributed photo

“We really like our family,” Beth Pruden told Gail Olson of the Northeaster newspaper in June of 2005. Pruden had convinced Olson to come to the Kobs family annual reunion and picnic that was held in Logan Park in northeast Minneapolis that year.

We like our family, Linda Kielty, of Long Prairie, and Marge Kobs, of Sauk Centre, said 10 years later just prior to the 60th annual Kobs family picnic and family reunion on the second Sunday of June.

The picnic has been held every year since 1956, and neither of the two women has ever missed a picnic.

“I was 8 years old in 1956, and my mother made me wear orange pedal pushers and a really brightly colored top,” Linda said. “I’ll never forget that.”

Marge admits to being late for one of the 60 picnics.

“That was the one they held out at the Flying Cloud Drive-In Theater,” she said. “Otto Kobs owned it, and the drive-in had an amusement park.”

Marge says she doesn’t remember what she was wearing at the 1956 picnic.

“Do you remember what you wore 60 years ago?” she asked.

The outfits of neither of the little girls were reported on in the brief newspaper account of the first picnic. But the East Minneapolis Argus did cover the event. The newspaper wrote about the large number of people that attended.

“They got it wrong,” Linda said. “I’ve got the attendance records for every year. It was 86 in 1956.”

Eighty-six members of the already extended Kobs family gathered together that June because family matriarch Ottilie (Tillie) Kobs had passed earlier in the year, and her seven children wanted to do something to keep the family close. They liked their family.

“There were seven of us kids, and when we were all together at the mortuary we decided we had to do something to keep the family together,” 95-year-old Margaret Kobs told the Northeaster reporter in 2005. “There were too many of us to get together at somebody’s house so we decided on a picnic at a park.”

They also decided to hold the picnic on the same date every year. Although the family wavered and held it on the first Sunday once, the second Sunday of June has become hard wired into the memories of most, if not all, of the descendants of the seven Kobs siblings. That fixed date is one reason for the longevity and success of the annual get together. Attendance nowdays is generally over 100 people, and the 2005 picnic drew 168 Kobs descendants.

Organizing picnics for that many people is no picnic. It’s a lot of work. From 1956 until the 1990s the idea was that the family of each Kobs sibling would bring a picnic lunch for their family. Then each family would have their picnic and mingle with the larger family after eating. In the ‘90s the family switched to a large one-family potluck.

One photo from the first picnic in 1956 includes the seven children of Frederick and Ottile Kobs: Otto, Frieda, Henry, Bill, Ed, Emma and Margaret. Contributed photo

Either way, each family brought their own food contribution, but responsibility for other aspects of the picnic was rotated. Each year the members of one sibling’s family would reserve the park, choose the games, buy the balloons and candy, arrange for the musicians, and take care of a myriad of other planning details. Based on many years of experience the family has developed a booklet with all the planning steps required to host a successful picnic. It’s broken down into ‘”Before the Picnic” and “On the Day of the Picnic” sections.

Some of the hosting family’s responsibility on the big day are: “Run the kids’ games, hand out prizes,” “Organize the older kids’ games, hand out prizes,” and “Organize the adult activities.”

The games run the gamut of picnic games, from horseshoes, three-legged races, bean bag toss, a wheelbarrow race, and something called a shoe scramble, among other activities.

Among the pre-picnic responsibilities for the hosting family are: “Buy Bubble Gum” and “Ask Gretch to bring her accordion for music for Hokey-Pokey.”

Most of your respectable family picnics have a three-legged race or something of that nature. But closing each picnic with a spirited rendition of hokey-pokey is a Kobs family signature tradition. Gretchen “Gretch” Condon has played her accordion for all those hilarious hokey-pokey dances. In years past Gretch’s sister Beverly played a duet with her. Beverly died in 2005.

“It’s sad to think of so many who are no longer with us,” Linda said.

“But we had 12 babies one year,” Marge said.

Marge (left) is holding a poster that says Schnitzelbank. It is a tradition to sing the Schnitzelbank song at the annual reunion. The song involves posters with German words on them. Linda (right) has a poster with images of Ottlie and Fredrick Kobs and the date of their wedding. The annual picnic was started by their seven children after Ottilie died. Photo by Jan King

“We always celebrate the babies,” Linda said.

Another signature tradition at the Kobs family picnic is the bubble gum blowing contest.

“Adults are the best at it. Some of them make really huge bubbles,” Linda said. “But you have to make sure you buy gum that won’t stick on your glasses or your face.”

“We’ve talked a lot about which kind of gum is best,” Marge said.

The origin of many Kobs traditions is lost to history, but Linda is pretty certain Margaret Kobs started the bubble gum contest. Margaret was the youngest and last surviving child of Otillie and Frederick Kobs. In her later years Margaret was the spark plug for the picnic, and if any of the younger generation had a question about hosting the picnic, they could contact her.

Margaret was more than a resource. She was a worker. At the picnics she made sure all the kids got Cracker Jacks and M&Ms. She led a guessing game, and she stayed late to help out the clean-up crew. In fact, her role was so central that some Kobs family members expected the picnic tradition to stop after she died.

That wasn’t what happened. In 1956 someone took it upon themselves to provide a short questionnaire to picnic attendees. Margaret kept those questionnaires, and now Linda has them in a series of scrapbooks of picnic mementos that she’s compiled.

“Everything sure went off nice,” Gretch wrote on her 1956 questionnaire.

“I think the committee did a very good job,” Viv wrote in 1956.

Years later the questionnaire turned into an autograph and comment book. For awhile Margaret took on the responsibility of being sure everybody signed it. When she passed in 2010 others picked up her work.

“Am so grateful to gather as a family once again. We miss seeing our dear Aunt Margie (Margaret) but we know she’s doing the hokey-pokey at home,” wrote Starr Christie, a Kobs family member, in 2010’s autograph book.

Her comment makes it clear: The Kobs family enjoys each others’ company, and they intend to continue to get together to celebrate themselves, the babies, and those who have passed. It seems like a pretty good idea.

When Margaret died the original Kobs family home was sold. From the proceeds of that sale a Kobs Family Picnic Fund was established. Hosting families may contact the trustees of the picnic fund to cover picnic expenses.

#60thannual #FamilyReunion #Kobsfamily

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