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Jubilee marks community's milestones





DAMAR -- Memories sprang to life on the streets of Damar Saturday as former residents returned to the community to mark the 100-year anniversary of its historic St. Joseph Catholic Church and the upcoming 125th anniversary of the French-Canadian settlement.

The Damar Jubilee celebrated the community's unique history that dates back to its founding by French-Canadian settlers in 1888. As descendants of those early settlers displayed their historical memorabilia at the recently remodeled junior high school they shared stories that had passed down through the generations.

Hanging her satin wedding dress as part of the display, Elaine Brin Befort, Damar, reminisced with friends. She and her husband, Levi Brin, were married at St. Joseph in 1951.

Befort pointed to her wedding picture and explained the satin dresses of the early 1950s looked much better in bridal photographs than the lacy tiered dresses that became popular later.

"I borrowed a veil from my aunt," she said, as a friend helped her arrange the dress. "And I let my sister have it. My daughter got married in this dress and she made the hat. The dress had yellowed, so she made the hat to go with it."

Befort's daughter, like her mother, was married at St. Joseph.

Befort's first husband, Levi Brin, died the year of the last major celebration in Damar, the town's centennial. During the centennial, a similar antique display was coordinated during both events by local resident Nina Desaire.

"It's just a collection of things from people in the area," Desaire said, as she led a tour through the tables of glassware, photo albums and other historic memorabilia. "My criteria was, I wanted it to be old or I wanted it to be personal."

Many items were brought to the display by former residents. The town, now with only about 115 residents, has lost a significant part of its population since the centennial celebration.

"Small towns kind of disappear," Desaire said. "I thought to myself, those residents who were here in the 1980s, 90 percent of them are gone."

Across town at the church, a national historic site, all was silent as the midday sun illuminated the ornate stained glass windows. The Rev. Henry Saw Lone prepared for the upcoming Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving.

The Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving will get under way at 4 p.m. today, with 37 priests and Bishop Edward Weisenburger processing from the community center to the church.

Throughout the weekend, other community events included a craft show, poker tournament, parade, car show, barbecue dinner, catered dinner, kids games, helicopter rides, tractor show, vendors, dance, movie and fireworks.

"There are families that haven't been here for years," said Mayor Brian Newell standing in the middle of the town's main street. He said that more than 550 tickets had been sold to the evening's barbecue dinner.

Community leaders have been working several years to improve the main street area. In addition, most every resident has been busy throughout the past month sprucing up their yards and houses for the celebration.

"We've been working on it (the jubilee) for five or six months," Newell said. "There's a lot of pride here."