GODAHL — Mae Brekken used her fingers as she stood in the Godahl store and took an unofficial count of the hamlet’s residents.
The part-time clerk at the store, officially known as the Nelson and Albin Cooperative and Mercantile Association when it was built in 1894, arrived at a number quickly. Then she was corrected by the store’s manager, Darlene Olson.
“We forgot about the people back there,” Olson said as she pointed to the south wall.
“Oh, you’re right,” Brekken responded. “There’s two more and that would make 21.”
A quick count of everyone in town wasn’t possible Monday. The population there explodes to well over a thousand people every Labor Day. Godahl has the only parade and town festival that can be found in south central Minnesota during the last holiday of the summer, so it draws people from miles away.
This was the second year in a row that John Haack has attended Godahl Day. He decided to go to the parade last year because he remembered visiting his mother’s cousin in the area many years ago. Haack said he was about 13 when he last visited Marie Kintzi, whose picture is included in a 1981 story in The Free Press about the store’s regulars.
“It’s just a fun thing to do,” Haack said as he looked at the odd variety of items available for sale. “We watch the parade and then it’s nice to sit around and listen to the music.”
The event, which started 57 years ago, raises money for the Godahl Recreation Center. The park and building were created by farmers in the area who wanted a place to play baseball, hockey and basketball, said John Schmidt, one of 14 members of the center’s board of directors.
The ball field is used by a T-ball team, two youth baseball teams and a girls softball team. The recreation center is still used for basketball, roller hockey, an occasional wedding shower or reception and other family events.
Everyone who lives in the area pitches in to plan the music and man the large food stand, a smaller hamburger stand and the popcorn stand where Schmidt was working. He expected his 50 pound bag of popcorn seed to be empty by the end of the day.
“It’s a privilege of being a member of the Godahl community, you get to work at Godahl Day,” said Carlie Olson, whose jobs Sunday included handing out candy during the parade.
Even the prices at the event seemed old fashioned. A large bag of popcorn cost a dollar and someone looking for lunch could get a hamburger, pop and chips for $4. Homemade pie with ice cream: two bucks.
Carlie Olson, who is Darlene Olson’s daughter-in-law, said the Nelson and Albin Store has been a gathering spot for area farmers since it was built in 1894. It is currently the oldest continuously operated cooperative in Minnesota.
Like the recreation center, the store was started by a group of farmers in the area. They were traveling three or four hours in a horse and buggy to buy their supplies before the cooperative was created. The original by-laws were written in Norwegian.
Farmers still stop by the store, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, to eat lunch during harvest time. As with many small town gathering spots, there’s also a regular crowd of morning coffee drinkers.
“We don’t have the variety of the big stores, but we have the things people want,” Carlie Olson said. “But every year it’s harder and harder to keep open.”
This year’s challenge is the furnace. It needs to be replaced before winter if the store is going to stay open. A $10 pork chop dinner has been planned for Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to raise money to add to local donations. It will take place at the Recreation Center and the chops will be grilled by the Watonwan County Pork Producers Association.