If Albin and Alice Carlson had been at Nelson Park near Dow City this past weekend, they would have been delighted, said a granddaughter, Leila Lansink.
Albin and Alice would have seen hundreds of their descendants having fun together, sharing old stories with relatives, strengthening bonds and sharing food.
The 30th annual Carlson Campout filled the upper level of Nelson Park last weekend. Only three campers in that area were not associated with the reunion.
The event takes place the first full weekend in August, always at Nelson Park.
Albin (born 1882) and Alice (born 1884) settled in the Charter Oak area. In a span of 24 years, they had 12 children – John, Edna (married name Blunk), Ethel (Hesse), (Mabel) Lucille (Benningsdorf), Earl, Charles, Florence (Jones), Nathan, Robert, Lois (Adams), Beryl and Delores (Krueger).
Ten of the children had their own children. Earl, who died from an illness in 1930 at age 19, and Beryl, did not.
Leila, at age 86, is the oldest of the surviving Carlson cousins. She was the third oldest in a family of 10 children. Relatives said her mother, Lucille, tried to equal the number of children her mother, Alice, had.
Her grandparents worked hard, Leila said. Albin made and sold brooms and Alice baked, cooked and took care of the family of 12 children and two adults.
Leila said they also made their own fun at home, and at the core of the work and fun was the family.
It’s the same with their descendants who for the past three decades have maintained the close family bonds through the annual campouts.
Many live in the area, but some live as far east as Pennsylvania and at far west at Nevada.
The Carlson cousins, now the oldest generation of the family, always had family reunions with their aunts and uncles. But the missing ingredient was the younger generation.
“A lot of the young ones weren’t going. That’s why we started this one,” said Dennis Carlson, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and formerly of Arion.
Lisa (Carlson) Angle, a member of the fourth generation, lives in the Kansas City area. She said the reason she didn’t attend the cousins reunion is that it lasted for one afternoon.
‘You’re driving five hours to spend three or four hours there,” she said.
“Then this (the Carlson Campout) started,” Lisa continued. “People were coming to camp on Friday through Sunday, and then it got bigger and people started coming on Thursday and staying until Monday, and now some come on Tuesday and stay until the next Tuesday.
“My kids and my grandkids live for this weekend,” Lisa added.
Dennis said the decision to have an annual campout was developed when cousins got together on a weekend at Nelson Park.
“We had a good time and decided to do it the next year,” he recalled. “I said we should all chip into a little kitty and all eat the same meat. And it’s been the same way year after year.”
At the inaugural campout in 1989, about 30 people attended, said Lloyd.
“The next year a few more decided to come. After five years we were up to about 80 people,” said Dennis.
The number varies from year to year. This year 140 were served at the Saturday night meal. Last year 190 were served. But it is always big and always takes a lot of organization.
“When I first started this I had two little Weber grills,” said Dennis. “I threw a couple pork loins on one and a turkey on one.”
After a few years that had increased to a case of pork loins, a case of hamburger and probably about four cases of bacon.
“We were up to 30 dozen eggs for a weekend after five years,” Dennis.
A huge cast iron skillet was used to fry potatoes in the morning for breakfast, said Lloyd.
Dennis remembers driving to Nelson Park with his Ford pickup crammed full of items and a 24-foot pull-behind camper filled waist high from front to back with supplies.
A culinary feature at the campout one year was sweet corn that filled a pickup bed to the top.
“Between Friday night and Saturday night it all went,” said Dennis.
As the Carlson Campout grew, so did the amount of equipment required to feed the army of relatives. This year’s addition was a water heater. Lisa said she, as well as others, were tired of washing dishes in cold water.
The work also increased through the years, but the work creates a lot of memories, and everyone helps out.
“You might not help cook, but then you do the dishes,” said Lisa. “Even my grandkids, they were cooking breakfast this morning. They are 10, 12 and 14. They’re in here trying to learn.”
About six years ago the torch for planning and organizing was passed from Dennis and Lloyd to Lloyd’s Son, Butch, and his wife, Shelly, of Norwalk.
“That’s why it’s good the young ones are cooking, so they’re learning,” said Lloyd.
“Over a 30-year span, this has been a learning experience of how to feed this many people and do it efficiently and economically,” said Lisa.
Donations are taken at the annual campout to help fund next year’s reunion, and on Saturday night each year, items are auctioned. One of the prized auction items is a quilt that features the photos of Albin and Alice and their 12 children. It was made by a relative, Janelle (Jones) Segari, of Missouri.
Dennis enjoys seeing the kids meet their cousins.
He recalled a year when Lisa’s son, Austin, was young and heard him tell another boy, “See you next year, buddy.”
“That was kind of heart-taking,” said Dennis. “It’s kind of been that way ever since.”
Austin is now 29 years old.
“The young people are really affected when they come here and see the group, and it connects them with people they never knew,” said Bill Anderson, of Denison, whose wife, Darlene is a descendant of Delores Carlson.
“We always make sure this is a fun event every year” he added, “with games to play – adults and kids. People come here and then youngsters especially, and the older ones, too, really enjoy it.”
Dennis imagined what his grandparents, Albin and Alice, might say as they look down and see the Carlson Campout.
“They’d probably come into tears,” said Dennis, “just to see the kids, how they get along so well.”
Lisa said her kids, and now grandkids, enjoy the Carlson Campout weekend.
“It’s their favorite thing,” she said. “It is the most amazing thing to me that our grandparents and that that generation (Dennis’s and Lloyd’s generation) really instilled in us the value of family – family first. At the end of the day, that’s what we have.”