HAM LAKE, Minn. — The Swedish settlers who built Our Saviour's Lutheran Chapel in rural Ham Lake girded it with concrete, wood, and tradition.
“Christmas time, every summer service, they always ring the bell,” Anna Amann says while pulling the rope that extends to the bell tower of the white wooden church.
Aside from special occasions, the old church is now retired from service. Still, Anna has built plenty of her own traditions here.
“Every Christmas morning, before we could open presents or anything else, we'd come to church Christmas morning here,” she says.
Constructed in 1872, the old still somehow connects with the young.
“Yeah, it feels like home,” Anna says as she stands in the church’s center aisle.
Anna was sure of one thing from an early age.
“You know every girl has their wedding planned out since they were 10 years old, so I knew I wanted it here,” she says.
But traditions aren't just constructed with hammers and nails.
“We were talking about wedding dresses and wedding planning fun,” Anna recalls. “And my mom pulled her dress out and was like, “Put this on, see how it looks.'”
Anna's mom, Sheri Stockinger, wore the simple white dress for her wedding in 1995.
Twenty-seven years later, Anna slipped it on.
“And it was a perfect fit. I didn't need to wear heels. I didn't need to take it up. Everything was perfect,” Anna says.
While Anna admired the dress, her mom’s mind went elsewhere.
“I can't believe I was that little at the time,” Cheri laughs.
In that moment, for the first time, Anna considered extending a legacy. Before her mom wore the dress, her mom’s mom, Barbara Bylund, had also worn the dress on her wedding day in 1969.
“My dad just got back from Vietnam,” says Cheri, holding up her parents’ wedding photo. “And they got married right after he returned.”
But the story of the silk and rayon dress begins even earlier.
“This is my grandma's wedding party in 1947,” Cheri says, holding up another wedding picture.
In the photo, Hank Longley back from WWII, stands next to his bride, Alice, who’s looking stunning in the same white dress.
Anna recaps three-quarters of a century of family history. “My mother wore it, my grandmother wore it, and my great-grandmother wore it,” she says.
Then, last month, on a five-degree day, in a 150-year-old church with marginal heat and suspect insulation, Anna wore the same 75-year-old dress.
She was, however, the first of the brides to accessorize with Will Steger Mukluks.
Perfect for a young woman well-grounded.
“The little buttons are my favorite,” says Anna as she touches the tiny white buttons that stand in rows up the dress’ sleeves and down its back.
Their faith tells Anna and Cheri the first two women who wore the dress are now in heaven.
They like to imagine the looks on their faces when Anna put on their dress.
“Oh, they would have just loved it,” Cheri says.
Anna thinks so too.
“’Let me alter it and let me fix your hair and let me find you a matching vail.’ They would have been very happy,” she says.
For decades, Cheri has displayed in her dining room a framed photo of herself in the dress, sandwiched between wedding pictures of her mother and grandmother.
Anna envisions a similar photo display in her home.
“I definitely want to keep the story alive,” she says.
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