Friluftsliv: Hiddenwood Picnic going strong after 121 years


To loosely translate from Norwegian to English:

fri = free, lufts = air’s, liv = life

The English equivalent= Outdoor Life

In today’s fast-paced society, I was curious about the longevity of organizations. Is their existence measured in years, decades, or centuries?

I found my answer in the September 27, 2018, edition of the Harvard Business Review. According to their researchers:

“The average lifespan of a U.S. S&P (Standard and Poor’s) company has fallen by 80% in the last 80 years (from 67 to 15 years)… In stark contrast, organizations in other sectors celebrate their 100th birthday and look like they’ll be here forever. How do they do it? And what can business learn from them?”

I was curious because an organization I have known from boyhood will celebrate its 121st anniversary in June of 2023 and is still going strong. That means it is in its second century.

The Hiddenwood Old Settler’s Association was informally founded in 1903 by two of the original homesteaders on the south bank of Hiddenwood Lake. Hiddenwood Lake straddles the McLean County/ Ward County border eight miles south of Makoti, North Dakota.

The original intent was to entice area homesteaders to a new retail establishment on Hiddenwood Lake. The first year (1903) of what would become an annual community picnic went well. The second year (1904) was a different story. As reported in an area newspaper, “The blind pigs (illegal liquor operations) commenced doing business in the morning and did a rushing business all day…He (a Mr. Williams) ran into the house to get his revolver…had (he) got his revolver there would probably have been a lynching.”

Fortunately for the longevity of the organization, the unsavory characters were sent down the road and the area picnic settled into an eagerly anticipated annual family event.

How, then, has the Hiddenwood Picnic managed to survive into its second century? It has just naturally adopted some of the principles outlined in the Harvard study quoted above. A couple of examples are:

— A stable purpose: shape society, engage kids.

The picnic has, from its third anniversary in 1905, been a family friendly event. It was a gathering place for area homesteaders and their families to be introduced to and entertained by local Native American families. It was a place for local and state politicians to expound on their visions for the state. It was an opportunity for the kids to participate in games and races and test their entrepreneurial skills with pop and candy stands.

— Stable stewardship:

Harvard says, “Most organizations change their leaders every five years, but the Centennials we studied keep them in place for more than 10.” The current president of the Hiddenwood Old Settlers has led the organization for more than ten years and he assumed the role when his father retired from the leadership position.

— Stable openness: perform in public, help others.

The picnic has always maintained an open forum for local talent. Tales abound of some of the antics at past picnics. In addition, an all-faiths church service leads off the day’s activities.

Sunday, June 18th, 2023, will be the 121st annual celebration of the Hiddenwood Old Settler’s Picnic. Everyone is invited to attend, with an all-faiths church service at 11 a.m. followed by a program, prize drawings, kid’s events, pie social and more. See for yourself why this organization has survived and thrived into its second century. As the Harvard article says, it may just be here forever.

Doug Wurtz grew up near Ryder and graduated from Minot State University. His retirement activities include nature photography as well as serving as a Certified Interpretive Guide for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. He is past president of the North Dakota Archaeological Association. Doug and his wife, Linda, live in Bismarck.


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