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.
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 Enjoying – Veterans 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 burlap. 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. Nehi 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.