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‘In honor of 100 years’

Junior Pioneers celebrate construction of new park shelter at annual picnic

Former Junior Pioneers President Larry Mack shares his memories of the picnic shelter project during the Junior Pioneers annual picnic.

NEW ULM – This year’s Junior Pioneers annual picnic came with another reason to celebrate.

After four years of construction and preparation, the new park shelter and electricity at Junior Pioneers Park were ready in time for the group’s 101st anniversary of owning the park.

Former Junior Pioneers president Larry Mack said the shelter was a significant reinvestment and came from the mind of Loren Kraetz.

“It was his idea we should start doing something in honor of 100 years,” Mack said. “He was the major donor. I worked through his eyes to get his vision working with the architect and seeing if the board would agree to his concept. He [wanted] it to be rectangular, have a large overhang for protection and have little German architectural features.”

The idea was presented to Terry Sveine by Loren and Pat Kraetz in 2012, and by 2019 Sveine let Mack know the cleared park space could be used. Loren and Pat Kraetz paid for 75% of the project, but fundraising was still needed. When the proposal was sent out, Mack said the response had been massive.

Mayor Kathleen Backer reads a commendation from the city to Loren and Pat Kraetz for their support of the picnic shelter at Junior Pioneers Park during their annual picnic.

“We sent it out to 538 members to see if they would contribute and the response was overwhelming,” he said. “Hundreds of people told me to [go for it].”

Loren and Pat Kraetz were not able to attend the ceremony, as Pat Kraetz was sick. To ensure they didn’t miss out, a video package was created and will be sent to them.

Mayor Kathleen Backer said the park was purchased by the Junior Pioneers in 1923. They had $3,000 left over after celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Dakota War and chose to spend it on land they could use to reminisce and celebrate on.

Over 100 years later, Backer said the park shelter project fit right in with the original pioneer spirit.

“It’s tied in so well to the legacy of our founding fathers to make this improvement,” she said. “To have this, I imagined they were looking down at us with smiles on their faces because we’re continuing that rich legacy.”

The Junior Pioneers and their esteemed guests all join in to say thank you to Loren and Pat Kraetz, who raised 75% of the funds needed to build the picnic shelter. A video was created for them, since they were not able to make it.

To end the ceremony, Backer had two city documents to present. The first was a commendation to Loren and Pat Kraetz, for their generous support of the shelter.

“This evidence of commendation and recognition is hereby presented to Loren and Pat Kraetz on the occasion of being interested in and supportive of the preservation of rich history in New Ulm and the surrounding area,” she said. “The unchallengeable support and dedication to preservation of history you have demonstrated with your donation to the picnic shelter project have been duly noted.”

The second was a proclamation making June 23, 2024, Junior Pioneers of New Ulm and Vicinity Day. Backer said the proclamation was in recognition of the group’s 112 years of keeping the pioneers’ legacy alive, contributing to history preservation, providing public programs and maintaining the park as a legacy to present members and their descendants.

The park and picnic shelter are available to anyone who wishes to use it. Reservations for the shelter are not being taken at this time, but the Junior Pioneers board is currently working on the details to do so.

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