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This year, the Midsummer Festival at Elim Lutheran Church will have a western flair.

Cowboy poet Jake Riley of Riverdale is bringing his poetry and storytelling to the annual celebration. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. June 21 in the sanctuary of the rural Hooper church.

The event is free and open to the public.

After Riley’s performance, attendees are invited to a pie and ice cream social in the church parlors.

“This year’s Midsummer Festival will be extra special,” said the Rev. Judy Johnson, pastor, in a prepared statement. “Anyone who enjoys cowboy poetry will be in for a treat.”

Riley grew up in the Upper Arkansas Valley of the Colorado mountains and graduated from high school in Buena Vista.

He began roping and participating in rodeos as a kid. He was introduced to cowboy poetry as a young teen.

Much of Riley’s work involves first-hand ranch and rodeo experiences, often chronicling the contemporary “cowboy” who may not cowboy for a living, but has ties to cowboy culture.

Riley has released an album of original poetry called “Western Errors,” which ranges from cowboy wrecks to humor to philosophical observations and reflections on life.

He was a featured performer at the Buffalo Commons Storytelling and Music Festival in McCook. Riley also has performed at Old West Days and the Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Valentine.

Riley got his start at his church and has since gone on to perform at events from Iowa to Nevada. He took part in the 2018 and 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings.

Riley enjoys performing his own work and also reciting classic poetry.

He lives near Kearney with his wife and four young children.

“This will be 112th annual Midsummer Festival at Elim,” Johnson told the Tribune. “It’s a celebration that was brought over by ancestors from Sweden, where it is one of the oldest festivals and is still observed today.

“We’re pleased that Jake Riley will be able to share his cowboy poetry with us, and I’ll warm up the crowd for him with some Sven and Ole jokes. It’s a fun evening that will be topped off with pie and ice cream — what more could we ask for?”

The Midsummer Festival is one of many that founders of Elim Lutheran Church brought with them from Sweden when they started the church in 1871.

Midsummer has been celebrated in Sweden since the sixth century, A.D., states the publication, “Celebrating the Swedish Way.”

Since then, Midsummer bonfires have been lighted around Europe. Young people also enjoyed visiting holy springs, where they drank the healing water, played games and danced. These were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the Jordan River.

Throughout most of the world today, Midsummer Eve takes place between June 19 and 25.

Johnson has enjoyed the festival throughout the years.

“It’s a lovely tradition and reminder of the Scandinavian roots — both Swedish and Danish — of Elim families,” she said, adding, “Elim’s Midsummer Festival is so much fun. It reminds me of growing up in a time when people seemed to have more time to sit and visit and enjoy each other’s company.”

She notes something else.

“This will a fun evening for the whole family,” Johnson said. “We encourage everyone to attend.”

Elim is located at 2312 Swaburg Road, Hooper, two miles south of Uehling on U.S. Highway 77 and one mile east on County Road D.

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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