By Anita Harmala
DASSEL, COKATO, MN It all started with a May basket.
Sixty-six years of marriage and four children later, Lois (Nelson) Danielson continues to reap rewards from a single May basket.
In 1940, Lois was 14 and a freshman at Litchfield High School. On May 1 that year, she was walking up and down the main street of Litchfield with her girlfriends, carrying a May basket filled with candy bars, Tootsie Rolls, and popcorn.
Lois was on a mission.
“I’m going to make one for Eldon,” she thought.
Eldon Danielson was from Dassel, and a senior at Dassel High School.
“We would go up and down the street, us girls walking; the boys would yell and whistle from their cars,” Lois remembered with a sparkle in her eyes.
She saw Eldon and knew “that’s the one I wanted.”
The boys pulled over in their Model A, Lois gave Eldon her May basket, and, “that’s all it took!”
Six years later they were married in Litchfield, having only dated each other. Lois wore a wedding dress handmade by her mother.
Town to country
The newlyweds first lived on a farm south of Dassel, where Eldon farmed with his brother Wayne. The town girl soon learned how to milk their Holstein cows.
On a particularly busy day for the farming brothers when the sweet corn had to be picked, Lois had to do the milking chores alone. By then they had their firstborn, Sherman.
Lois put “Sherm” in the playpen as she milked the cows.
“That was nerve wracking,” she recalled, adding that she checked on him often as she did the milking. “I gave him pots and pans, he liked that better than the toys.”
They also had an egg hatching flock of chickens. The eggs were picked five days a week and cleaned with sand paper. They couldn’t be washed with water, as that would remove the egg shell’s natural protective layer from bacteria. Then the eggs were picked up and brought to the hatchery in Dassel to incubate.
Lois helped pick the eggs. This wasn’t a favorite job of hers as she had to go in the chicken coop where a mean rooster lived with the chickens.
“So, I had Sherman come in and help me,” she said.
After 13 years on the Dassel farm, Eldon and Lois bought a 200-acre farm in Stockholm Township. On this property, they also had cows along with crops. By this time, Cheryl, Duane, and Brian had been added to the family.
As the children got older, they went off to the Stockholm school, and later to the Cokato school. Through the years, Lois worked part time at the Jack and Jill grocery store in town, Rein’s gift shop, a coffee shop, and in the canteens at both the Green Giant and the Northland Canning Company.
In 1975, son Brian took over the farm right out of high school. Lois and Eldon moved to Collinwood Park near Cokato and were the park’s first managers.
They lived and worked at the park until 1985.
While there, they planted thousands of trees in the park. They groomed trails, cut firewood, and kept the beach clean.
“My husband tried to keep the weeds out,” Lois said.
When the campground opened, they met a lot of nice people.
“If someone caused trouble, Eldon got them out of there,” Lois said. “It’s a family park.”
After their job at Collinwood, the couple moved to Cokato where they lived until 2009 when they moved to Dassel.
Eldon died in 2012.
“He was a very good husband,” Lois said fondly.
When asked for advice for the younger generation, after some thought, Lois replied, “Always tell the truth!”
What is a May Basket?
In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the tradition of hanging baskets of goodies (“May baskets”) on the doors of family and friends May 1 was widespread in the US, according to an article from Minnesota Public Radio.
In some places, May baskets were used to express romantic interest. Baskets were often filled with flowers, notes, and candies.