Kumla, ham and history: Dinner raises funds for Fern Dell Museum

Marilynn Thompson, curator and director of the Fern Dell Historic Association, remembers the association’s first Ham and Kumla Supper 32 years ago.

During that first supper, batches of kumla, or potato dumplings, fell apart and had to be remade. They were not expecting such a large crowd, so fresh food was continuously being made throughout the evening. The last dinner guests were served at 10 p.m., and after cleaning up, the volunteers went home after midnight.

Now, the kitchen volunteers have the meal preparation down to a science.

“We peel 500 pounds of potatoes the night before, start cooking 500 pounds of ham at 8 a.m. and start simmering the kumla in the ham broth around noon,” said Van Mathre, co-treasurer of the association. “The men like to cook, so there are 10 men in the kitchen and more than 20 people in the dining room. This year, Boy Scout Troop 45 from Sandwich will help. We are always looking for volunteers.”

On average, the supper feeds more than 600 people. This year’s Ham and Kumla Supper will be held at the Newark Fire Department, 101 E. Main St. in Newark. Seating times are 4, 5, 6 and 7 p.m. The menu includes ham, kumla, applesauce, bread and butter, beverage and dessert. A baked potato may be substituted for the kumla. The supper also will feature a silent auction of nearly 100 items.

“Kumla are potato dumplings cooked in a ham broth,” Thompson said. “Every nationality has a dish like this, just with a different name. It can be very time consuming to make kumla, so many people don’t cook it at home.”

It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance, so there will be enough food. Tickets cost $13 for adults and $5 for children younger than 5. There is an additional 50-cent charge for carryouts. Tickets may be purchased at Heartland Bank in Newark and Millbrook or by calling Van at 815-695-5656, Arlene at 815-695-5638, Vic at 630-957-7346 or Ben at 630-553-2798.

The meal is the Fern Dell Historic Association’s largest fundraiser of the year and helps support the one-room schoolhouse, a working blacksmith shop, the museum building at 9 E. Front St. in Newark and the museum’s annex building across the street.

The Fern Dell Historic Association was incorporated in July 1985, growing out of Newark’s sesquicentennial celebration. Thompson said the group’s first goal was to move the one-room schoolhouse into town. The name “Fern Dell” comes from the original location of the schoolhouse, which was built in 1892 two miles south of town. The schoolhouse was located in a dell, or small valley, surrounded by ferns.

“We raised money, more than $20,000, that first year and moved the schoolhouse into town across from the grade school and restored it to how it looked in the early 1900s,” Thompson said. “We purchased the blacksmith shop in 1988, and a board member that was a restorative carpenter helped rebuild and restore the building, which was originally built in the early 1830s.”

In April 2008, the association purchased what used to be the Leland Hatchery Store, at 9 E. Front St. in Newark, to be used as a museum. In the past, the building was a feed store, antique store and a machine shop, but always a local gathering place for the community. The museum opened in July 2009. The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment. The museum will be open until 7 p.m. the evening of the supper.

In 2014, the association acquired the building across the street to be used as the museum’s annex. It is used to house displays, the Christmas train and a location for Mrs. Claus to visit with children.

The museum is free but is supported by donations, the Ham and Kumla Supper, two drive-through chicken and pork chop suppers catered by 5-B’s Catering and a winter garage sale.

All of the items in the museum pertain to the history and development of the Newark area. Displays include the original post office from the 1930s, a basketball display highlighting Newark boys and girls basketball through the years, a display for veterans, fossils from the Coal City Strip Mine, mussel shells used for the pearl button factory in Millington, and still-new items, including baby shoes, a bathrobe and gloves once for sale when the building was a store, a mural painted in 2006 by high school students, school yearbooks and a 1904 map of Kendall County. A display case will feature items from Millbrook until March 31. The museum received a large donation of tools and Indian artifacts when the Old Barn Museum closed.

There also are personal items from Newark residents on display, including handmade Christening gowns, a crib made in Norway in 1861, a spinning wheel with rosemåling, Norwegian catechisms and Bibles, a confirmation jacket and belt, and a horsehair blanket used to keep warm on sleigh rides.

Thompson said children that visit the museum love the Illinois Midland Railroad display. It features a model of the 1.9-mile railroad, once the shortest railroad in America, that started at the Newark grain elevator and ended when it connected to the Burlington Northern railroad’s main line in Millington. The railroad was abandoned and torn apart in the 1960s. Pieces of the train tracks can be purchased as souvenirs from the museum for $25.

“Many of our items were donated by residents, and each item tells its own story,” Thompson said. “The museum is a tie, a bridge from the past to the present. It tells our town’s heritage and the history of the area. These items are irreplaceable, priceless.”

Phil Hatland of Harding purchased Ham and Kumla Supper tickets for himself, his mother and his uncle. He said that although he loves ham and kumla, he is happy to know that his money will be benefiting a good cause: the museum.

“Ancestors from both sides of my family came from Norway,” Hatland said. “My grandfather actually had a farm in Norway, Illinois. My family tries to attend the dinner every year, because we love kumla. Now we don’t have to cook that night, and we get to help preserve our heritage and history by helping the museum.”

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