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A tradition for the ages

Caroling has been a tradition with the Zemke brothers and sisters since 1955. Last year three generations went caroling. (Photos courtesy of Sara Ramaker)1 / 2
Family members gather around to sing on one of their many excursions on Christmas Eve. There have only been two years since 1955 where no one has gone caroling due to the weather. 2 / 2

On Christmas Eve in 1955, in a house on East Avenue, there were six children who couldn’t wait to open their presents.

In an attempt to pass the time, the fathers of those six children came up with the follow two options for the kids: go caroling or help with the kitchen cleanup.

A tradition was born.

The Zemke family consisted of two boys and give girls and as they go older and started their own families they always got together with their parents on Christmas Eve, said Elaine Jorgensen, one of the five sisters.

Since 1955 Jorgensen can only remember two years the family did not spread their holiday joy through song — due to the 30-below temperatures one year and an ice and rain storm the other.

They even managed to make a couple stops while spending Christmas Eve on a farm in Hager City one year with the kids loaded into a pickup truck.

The family gathered at a different home every year and after everyone sat down and ate their meal there was the same decision to be made: Either sing with the family or wash the dishes with the family.

Every year they thought they would make a list of songs, Jorgensen’s sister Lorry Anderson said, but when they went out someone would just start a song and the rest would follow.

“That still the way we do it,” she said.

The carolers would stop at houses with lights on, Jorgensen said, and sometimes people wouldn’t know how to react.

At one stop, a lady said she had lived in that house almost her whole life and had never had carolers, Jorgensen remembered.

Every year family members say they’re not going to go, Jorgensen’s daughter Sara Ramaker said, but everyone brings their boots anyway.

“What’s great for me is people open their doors and everyone is so surprised,” she said. “You look forward to it.”

One year, Jorgensen said, there was a house with lights on, but when they rand the bell no one came to the door. Inside they could see a dog surrounded by all the presents torn to shreds.

A couple years there were close to 30 who braved the cold to sing, but Jorgensen said as the years have pass and their children have started their own traditions with their own families it has become harder to get everyone together.

Three generations went caroling last year, the youngest was 16 and the oldest was Cal Eastlund at 91.

Eastlund is the first one who wants to go, Jorgensen said.

“He’s such a trooper,” Ramaker said.

This Christmas Eve the sounds of voices singing Christmas songs will be heard yet again, ringing throughout a local neighborhood, with the hopes of bringing a little bit of happiness to those who open their doors. 

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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