Family Roots

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Kilfenora in Collegeville, Minnesota

I recently enjoyed a lovely afternoon with my mother and my aunt, Susy enjoying the garden at Kilfenora. The roots of my family’s arrival in Minnesota lie in the St. Joseph and Collegeville area of Central Minnesota. St. Joe is the home to the colleges and monastery of St. John’s and the convent of St. Ben’s – and just outside town is the site of the old train depot and borough called, “Collegeville.” My grandfather was an artist, and both grandparents were social activists and pacifists originally moving to Minnesota from Milwaukee fleeing a potential military conscription. They were sent by friends, including Dorothy Day, to a Catholic Worker Farm in Aitkin. The farm, however was a lonely place for both my grandparents so they eventually ended up in Robinsdale to once again surround themselves with intellectual social activists and artists. Eventually through friends, Don and Mary Humphrey found themselves in St. Joe, and my grandfather became the artist in residence at St. Ben’s. It was in St. Joseph and later St. Cloud that my grandparents raised their eight children.

My grandfather was both a silversmith and painter who provided for his family by making chalices and Eucharist plates for various catholic churches in the area. During the depression he also worked as a WPA artist to paint murals. In fact, one of his pieces still exists on the walls of the North St. Paul post office.

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Our roots continue in the area as my aunt, Susanna Hynes and her husband, Denis tend to Kilfenora, the Hynes parcel in Collegeville named after their family’s home county in Ireland. The Hynes family was also involved in the social work of the Catholic church, had eight children, and were friends of the Humphrey family. Susanna and Denis actually knew each other as children growing up and often spent time playing in the very garden that exists to this day in “Kilefenora.”

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Over the years and through various tenants, the Kilfenora gardens had been abandoned, but since Susy and Denis returned to their roots, it has been revived. They first set out to renovate the house that Denis’ father built, and Susy proceeded to recreate the gardens. This labor of love spanning more than twelve years is certainly something to behold as both Susy and Denis share a deep love for art and all things beautiful. Everywhere you look, there is something interesting to see. They recently moved an old corn crib to the site to use as a screen gazebo. Trails have been mowed through the woods and rusted pieces of art pop out as pleasant surprises. Even the chickens live in an artful coop topped with a growing roof garden and Victorian windows.

This place connects me to my family, to my ancestors and to my roots. This garden and this place means much more than food and beauty, and I am honored that Susy and Denis have so lovingly maintained this heritage. In today’s world these kinds of connections are increasingly lost. A simple garden lunch and stroll brought to me the threads of memory and roots of ancestry.

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Succulent strawberries growing with a friendly hen and her chick.

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This is the chicken coop and a couple of it’s most gracious bodacious inhabitants.

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A field of poppies and zucchini ready for veggie bowling.

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Auntie Susy’s Lemon Vinaigrette Over Garden Green Beans With Roasted Cashews and Almonds

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Zucchini

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Onions

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Poppy seed harvest

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Penne pasta with tomatoes, basil, garlic, parmesan and olive oil

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Quirky Arty Garden

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The Corn Crib Screen Porch

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5 thoughts on “Family Roots

  1. Where is my invite to come next time. I love this. I love the periwinkle chairs, the personal history of this place and the deliciousness it yields.

    Did you get the borscht recipe AND! best thing to do with garlic, tomatoes and zucchini is roasting them with oil, salt and pepper before tossing them with orzo and basil. Yum!

  2. I was thinking that exact thing – that I need to invite all the blogger community that follows me to visit this place. It would be an amazing group of people and the perfect place to cook, visit, photograph and completely enjoy. Fun idea!

  3. Amazing garden and amazing story. How wonderful that you have this place to visit for inspiration and memories.

    Do you ever go to the South St. Paul post office to see the mural?

    • I have been to the post office to see my grandfather’s work, but it has been many years. All the rumblings about closing post offices makes me think I should get there soon to see it and photograph it.

  4. I visited the post office today to see the mural. It’s still clinging to the wall but needs to be cleaned. The postmasters were really happy to meet me and very helpful in showing me some information they had about a guy writing a book about WPA murals in post offices. The postmasters also assured me that they would get it cleaned. It’s a beautiful piece signed D HUMPHREY 41.

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