Crafts are close to Susan Nafziger’s heart. An early childhood education specialist, she has spent many years creating activities for kids, including her own two children.
It is only natural that her love of crafts and children became intertwined with another family interest, old-time engines and tractors.
“My grandfather always took part in Threshing Days with his engines,” Nafziger said. “My husband, Brendon, is out here all weekend with his tractors, and now my son, Colby, is working on his own motor at age 5. I might as well be out here doing my thing — crafts, too.”
This year, Threshing Days activities take place Aug. 4 and 5, and Nafziger will celebrate 10 years of organizing make-and-take craft activities for kids.
“I just love the atmosphere here,” she said. “It’s so important for children to have a chance to explore their heritage, through the pumping motors, the steam whistles, and the wheat. I just like to add in something fun for them to make and take home with them. History is so much more interesting in that way.”
Through the years, Nafziger has based her Threshing Days craft activities on old-fashioned themes.
“The whole idea is that we are teaching kids the way it used to be, and having fun with it,” she said.
Items made include corn-cob dolls, pioneer lunch tins, painted wooden tops, single-stitched drawstring purses, and milk carton immigrant houses.
Nafziger keeps a running list of more than 50 activities and games tried in the past 10 years. Some were more successful than others.
“I think my favorite was the wire-handled tins we made as pioneer lunch boxes,” she said. “They each got a calico fabric square in the bottom and a zwiebach with a piece of the traditional funeral cheese. Then they could go have a picnic anywhere on the grounds.”
Nafziger keeps plans and patterns for each activity, should they work out for another year. Her involvement at Threshing Days, however, began and continues in Uncle Milt’s Shed on the Threshing Days’ museum grounds.
“We call our craft building Uncle Milt’s Shed, because the first year I did this, one of the museum board members was Milton Reimer,” she said. “He was very interested in helping us find a way to revive Threshing Days. It seemed that providing a place for children’s activities was a way to do that, so this place has always been Uncle Milt’s Shed.”
Through the years, many people helped Nafziger with craft activities, but in the end, she was the mainstay to the program, something she felt very good about.
“This is just my thing,” she said. “This is my project that I can do with kids and just watch the light bulbs go off in their heads. It is so much fun to see them understand how simple things used to be, and how much fun they still can be.”
It takes 15 to 18 additional volunteers each year to assist the many children that come through the crafts and activity learning center.
Every year, Nafziger plans six to eight activities, and she prepares for at least 100 participants.
“The best years we have had around 130 or so participate,” she said. “Last year it was really hot, so numbers were down to 80.”
Nafziger learned early that water activities were very important to the success of kids’ crafts at Uncle Milt’s Shed.
“It’s always hot, and we do have fans,” she said. “But the kids are drawn in to water activities. They just need that out here.”
Some favorite activities that stand out include wooden boats, made by longtime Goessel farmer and woodworker Orie Voth.
“Orie was always so dedicated,” she said. “He made many wooden items for us, but the best was the wooden immigrant boats, patterned after one Mennonites might have sailed to America on.”
Children participating in the wooden boat activity could pound a nail or two to attach a smoke stack, then sail it in a large tank of water.
“Oh they enjoyed that one so much,” Nafziger said.
In addition to making barnyard stamp books, paper dolls, and wooden tops, kids at Uncle Milt’s Shed this year can make and play with homemade fishing poles, toss beanbags, float paper boats, and try their hand at corn shelling.
Crafts will not be the only attraction for kids. As usual, Threshing Days will include a parade on Saturday morning, an all-day petting zoo by FFA members, and a pedal tractor pull with registration at noon.
Regular Threshing Days activities, such as engine displays, antique tractor pulls, old-fashioned wheat threshing, sawmill and blacksmithing demonstrations, will take place throughout the weekend.
Additional entertainment will include a concert at the Goessel High School auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The concert will feature Detour, a women’s a cappella group; Huxman Boys, a men’s quartet; and Heritage Quartet, another men’s quartet.
Wheat marquetry demonstrations and genealogy assistance will be available Saturday afternoon in the Immigrant House on the museum grounds.
A variety of ethnic and modern food will be sold on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.