On Friday evening nearly 200 relatives of those families, families who came to the prairie later, and other visitors were treated to an old fashioned ice cream social replete with singing, story telling, and short humorous charades, and all that was capped off by a fireworks display. At one time visitors were expected from at least 15 different states, to include Wisconsin. Wisconsin was of particular interest, as a high percentage of those first families came to Empire Prairie from Sussex, Wisconsin. The first settler from Sussex was David Bonham in 1856. By 1869 there were a total of 30 families of which 19 had come from Wisconsin. By 1900 another 22 families had joined that original group.
Many in attendance were descendants of several of those families. In my case, I am a descendant of the Bennett, Nugent, Inglis families and related to the Wildish, Combest, and several other families. Other attendees could probably count as being a descendant of several more families than that, and relatives to nearly everyone!
Saturday was devoted to touring Empire Prairie and visiting the cemeteries. A quilt display, as well as collages of family groups were posted around the room at the Empire Community Center. Refreshments were always available at the Empire Community Center and at Star Chapel, as were guides, even golf carts for those of us who needed them! In the evening we all came together for a BBQ dinner and a program with lots and lots of singing, vignettes, and closing up with the Virginia Reel. It was truly a social event that brought back many memories from my days as a child attending a one room school!
Occasionally we were treated to side activities such as horse and buggy rides, antique cars, trucks, even a modern day contraption used at tractor pulls! Sorry, it was a huge, high powered Ford tractor, that surely scared horses and cows that came it's way, along with anyone over the age of 60!
As if we weren't already worn out, Sunday morning brought us all together for a combined Empire/Star Chapel church service, led by local members and ministers who had grown up in the community. I, for one, had not realized the number of ministers that had come from the prairie. Fortunately they felt sorry for us, and let us out in time to partake of a basket lunch that lacked for nothing on the tables!
The closing event was sad, as the fun was coming to an end. However members of those original families were recognized, as were attendees from outside Missouri, and families who had kept title to those farms for over 100 years. Representative James Guest read a proclamation from the State of Missouri congratulating the community for staying together for all the years, and proving you do not have to be a town or city to be a true and compassionate community that has a very strong identity of its own.
Such an event could and would never have occurred if there had not been visionaries in the community willing to do the hard planning and work necessary to develop a schedule, and carry it through. There are a number who were, and should be recognized for all that work. In fact there were 16 people on the primary committee. Each one taking on a special task and finding people to assist them. Heading all that up, and certainly central to the music aspect was Betty Jo Howitt who endeared us all to her, and to whom we will all be thankful.
Programs, songs, pictures and a number of the artifacts generated for the event are presented below for viewing at your pleasure.
Name tag and button:
Music: Note that several of the songs have words written specifically for Empire Prairie
Star Chapel Church
The Empire Presbyterian church burned about 20 years ago.
The photographs and narrative are somewhat oriented towards the Bennett and Nugent families, as those are the one's who most often got into our pictures (being relatives), however any other family is welcome, and encouraged to provide me pictures they took of the event, and I will add them, along with whatever explanation you'd like to provide, so that this web site can truly be a site for Empire Prairie, and not just of the Bennetts and their relatives.