The Happ Family Picnic

The Happ-Selzer Picnic 1986
The Happ-Selzer Picnic 1986

The Happ Family Picnic is a tradition that seems to have always existed. The picnic was, and still is, looked forward to by both young and old. Happ Families will sometimes travel from far regions of the country to attend. It was usually held in late June, on the Sunday following Fathers Day.  The last few years it has been held in July.  This year, 2016, the Picnic will be held on Sunday, July 23rd at Veterans Acres Park in Crystal Lake, IL.  The annual picnic was previously known as the Happ-Selzer Picnic.  The Happ and Selzer families intertwined in more than one generation and both families attended in good numbers. More recently, it has been the Happ Picnic, but an effort is being made now to give a warm invite and welcome to the Selzers.  I did not attend the 1986 Picnic (pictured at top of post) but below is a group picture of the 1987 Picnic where myself and Nancy Lamm, my girlfriend at the time -now Nancy Happ, are in the back row.

The Happ-Selzer Picnic 1987
The Happ-Selzer Picnic 1987

Traditions evolving over the years make the Happ Picnic so worthwhile. As every child attendee in my generation soon learned, there were picnic traditions to be practiced without fail. What follows are my personal highlights of what I remember of the picnics as a youngster:

  • Exploring and EnjoyingVeterans Acres Park was known as “Walk up Woods” when I was a child. The best part of the picnic for me was exploring the trails through the woods while reuniting with my cousins who I hadn’t seen since the prior year’s picnic. The woods and trails seemed to go on and on, at least until I had a few picnics under my belt. The beautiful and peaceful environment naturally led to pleasurable discussions with my cousins. I especially remember a cute little cousin from Iowa that I had a crush on, even though she and I were only about seven and nine years old at the time.
  • Large Galvanized Tubs – Years back, when attendance was higher, there were very large tubs used as coolers with large blocks of ice covered with Washtub Beverage Coolersburlap. Always two tubs – one with beer bottles for the adults and one filled with soda bottles for the young. The drinks were for all to share. Although this may seem insignificant compared to other Happ Picnic attributes, for me, as a very young child,  this was amazing. There were so many soda brands and flavors to choose from. It was great. I wonder if the other kids were as excited as I about all the different sodas. nehiNehi offered more than ten flavors of soda: Dr. Nehi, Nehi Chocolate, Nehi Root Beer, Nehi Lemonade, Nehi Wild Red, Nehi Blue Cream, Nehi Strawberry, Nehi Orange, Nehi Grape, and Nehi Peach. Diet sodas were not yet marketed nor was soda in aluminum cans. I remember Nori Selzer being an early arrival to the picnic and he brought the tubs, beer, sodas, block ice and burlap covers. Nori is pictured in the 1986 Group Photo above. He is in the blue baseball cap, sunglasses and has arms folded. His wife, Ethyl, is on his left – or on the viewer’s right looking at the photo.
  • Tug-of-War – A large diameter hemp rope long enough for the two opposing teams was necessary as this was a serious game, and was usually a chance for the young men to show off their strength. Often young women would assist their mates but never in the first positions facing the opposite team. The Tug of War was for adults only.  I remember being impressed by such a large long rope. Whoever was in charge of adult games for that year was responsible to bring this monster rope.  However, some years later, the rope broke due to wear and/or age and both teams went flying backwards!
  • Egg Toss – A lighthearted event that was usually held later during the afternoon due to people ending up getting covered in raw broken eggs. Although many of the younger children wanted to participate, catching raw eggs at a distance is not easy, so this has been for adults only, or at least older teens. Here, it seemed, the many pretty young females liked to show off their elegance. Of course, the fun part was when they literally got egg on their face!  And the winners always got accused of substituting hard boiled eggs.   This was typically a couples event.
  • Sack Race – Each partner puts one leg in a sack with his/her other partner’s one leg and races against the other couples. This also was a couples event that took a lot of cooperation.
  • Softball – Played in the park down the large hill from the covered pavilions -teenagers and adults participated together. These were often serious games.
  • Treasures in the Sawdust Pile – A favorite game for the very young.
  • The White Elephant Auction – This was and continues to be a good time. The proceeds go to fund the following year.
  • As always, a smorgasbord of food, much of it homegrown and/or homemade, with everyone bringing dishes to share.

Many of these traditions mentioned above were enjoyed at the Happ Picnic held in 2015. Dotty Malin deserves our thanks for her work in continuing the Happ Picnic. Hopefully, we all can assist her and persuade more of our families to attend this year. The benefits to our families’ youth in learning and enjoying their heritage are immeasurable and will yield positive values for future generations.


From an email sent to Happ’s on January 4th, 2016:

JULY 23, 2016
We have the date for our reunion for 2016.  Please plan to attend and spend a day with your family.
Please forward this email to your family so we can have a great turn out this year.
See you July,
Dotty Malin Sutfin  (Replace “_at_” with “@”.)

Gerolstein, Germany

It probably is obvious from my previous post, Leaving a Land of Beauty and Enchantment, that I am enthralled by this area of Germany, known as the Eifel region.  Eifel is synonymous with history, geography, nature, and culture. The region presents the best of each of these categories.  The pictures linked in that post are of majestic landscapes and of ethereal scenic beauty that belongs in the realm of fairy tales.  But it is not just the landscapes and countrysides that one needs to experience as the cities and small towns are just as exciting.  For just one example, I will attempt to describe Gerolstein.

My great uncle, Gerard Happ, made three visits to this part of Germany researching our family history.  Below is a picture of Gerard and his wife Nancy enjoying a meal in Gerolstein.  It is obvious they are both enjoying themselves and their smiles are as real as it gets.


For those of us who live in not so ‘fairy tale’ parts of the world, and to assist us to fully appreciate the quality of this region, here is a video of Gerolstein.

After viewing this video, compare Gerolstein to a typical city or town in the USA that so many of us endure experience.  In Gerolstein we see attractive buildings and different architectures, an overall neatness and cleanliness, and inviting shops and restaurants.  When I first moved to rural North Carolina, I noticed many of these attributes to some extent, but things are changing here quickly and not for the better.  Much of the pine forest areas have disappeared – many replaced with failed housing developments.  Nearly all of the small family-owned restaurants have disappeared, replaced with fast food chains.  In general, the crime rate has increased as well as the pollution and litter.  Hog waste from massive farms far upriver pollute the Creeks and Rivers here.  The positive southern culture with the fine manners of the youth are being slowly eroded over time by mass media and marketing. Small elementary schools in different areas of the county no longer exist.  Except for a Charter School, all public school children are bused to the Town of Bayboro, our County Seat. Gerolstein appears to be a stark contrast to the many cities where I have lived or visited.  And surprisingly, Gerolstein is Germany’s oldest established city.  The video, linked to above, is fairly recent, produced in 2014.

I have never been to the Eifel region of Germany, but I did spend a few days in the large city of Hamburg (northeast Germany) not too many years ago.  Hamburg was impressive but I truly desire to visit the “Land of Beauty and Enchantment”.  For the time being, I can enjoy this fairy tale in a real way – just today I purchased some “Gerolsteiner” mineral water” Gerolsteiner-sparkling-natural at a local Harris Teeter food store, a product that is now shipped and enjoyed all over the world. 

– Rick Happ

Leaving a Land of Beauty and Enchantment

Blick auf GönnersdorfMüllenborn, a district of Gerolstein, is where my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Matthias (Heep) Happ, lived hundreds of years ago. It is where his son, John Happ was born, and later moved to the nearby town of Gönnersdorf  (picture at left). From there, John Happ took a courageous step and decided to travel to a new world with his family. When looking at various pictures of Müllenborn and Gönnersdorf, there are not enough adjectives to describe such beauty and enchantment. Breathtaking, romantic and inspiring without a doubt. I have a personal belief that such an environment, especially coupled with a strong religious faith, yields to imaginative and positive thinking. Positive thinking in that area was definitely needed back in the 17th and 18th Century, as unfortunately, the people faced rough times. Gerard Happ, my great Uncle, describes the history and situation very well with a note on the Happ Family Tree.

Who among us today would take such a risk as John Happ did, leaving his homeland with a wife and ten children? And facing not just the dangers of a long voyage in a small crowded vessel across the ocean, but also the risk of so many uncertainties to follow. The risk of more months or even years of additional travel overland. The risk of obtaining the necessities to provide for a wife, ten children and a father-in-law during the entire journey. A journey to make a homestead in a strange land where even the ability to communicate is another burden. Most people living in our modern American culture and environment can not even imagine, much less attempt, something so wide and encompassing. Yet it all made sense to John Happ. And I, like my forefathers before me, thank God for giving him such powerful gifts: an intense religious faith, a healthy environment for mind, body and soul, adept personal skills, and incredible foresight.

My special thanks to Eric Meeuwsen for allowing me to use his extraordinary photos from Gönnersdorf. In most cases, I tried to keep the original photo for clarity, but these are large files and may take awhile to appear in your Web browser.

– Rick Happ