For the 21st straight year, the village of Whalan and the Minnesota DNR will be sponsoring the Whalan Candlelight Ski, to be held on the Root River Trail on Saturday, Feb. 2. The skiing starts at 5 p.m., but if there is not enough snow, walking may replace skiing. No matter what precipitation is on the ground the event will go on.

"One year we had temperatures of 30 below zero," recalled Cedar Valley Resort owner Larry Johnson, who will be renting skis that evening, "I don't think we had it that year, but every other year we have."

Hundreds of people get drawn every year to the tiny town for this event. Skiing on the candlelit trail and warming up by the large bonfires have always been popular, but there is another reason to head out to Whalan that evening, and it is guaranteed to warm up your toes and fill your stomach.

At the same time as the candlelight ski, a soup supper will be put on by the Whalan Legion and Auxiliary Post 637. This has been occurring for the past eight years and is always held in the historic Whalan Village Hall.

"It started as a service project for the town and a small fundraiser for Veteran's programs," shared Donna Novotny, a member of the Post's 30 member Auxiliary. The past few years, the money raised from the supper has been going toward the continued restoration of the village hall, which the Legion and Auxiliary have been meeting in for many years.

According to Novotny, the money from those first soup suppers was the beginning of a fundraising campaign that has since raised over $50,000 for the restoration and renovation of the Hall.

"We've had numerous outpourings of support," Novotny said, adding that people in the area have been very generous in donating through the many events put on throughout the years.

"It is admirable that people are diligent in knowing that the Hall is a significant part of Whalan," stressed Novotny, noting that people understand that they owe a lot to their local veterans. The Village Hall, which was first built in the late 1890s, is also the location of a museum detailing the area's history.

"It was a big gathering place historically," shared Stephen Erickson of Lanesboro, "They held dances and plays upstairs and the Legion always held their meetings downstairs."

With the money raised from donations, the Village Hall was able to have a new foundation poured. The building itself was sound, but a complete resurfacing of the walls and floors will still be done and a bathroom with running water will be installed for the first time. Additional work needs to be completed, but Novotny hopes the hall's restoration will be completed before the Whalan Standstill Parade in May.

The Village Hall gives the annual soup supper a "quaint and cozy" feeling, as Novotny described it. "Even when the hall was dilapidated, people still came because they liked the atmosphere," she said.

This may be true, but another sure thing is that everyone comes to eat! Soups, chilies, sandwiches, desserts and drinks warm up those coming in off the trail and provide a yearly event to look forward to.

"It's something to do in the winter," remarked Arden Tuftin, who is one of 21 members of the Whalan Legion and enjoys bringing a 15-bean soup every year.

Many citizens of Whalan bring in their favorite soups year after year, and some change it up. Marilyn Erickson of Lanesboro said she tries to make a different soup every year, but doesn't know yet what she'll bring.

Young or old, the supper attracts over a hundred people every year. "It's one of those old-fashioned things that after you've done it you just feel good," commented Johnson, "There's nothing grand about it, but it's a fun thing to bring a lot of good people together."

Anyone skiing can do so for free, but will need to have a DNR Ski Pass which can be found on the DNR's website or at various Lanesboro businesses.

If you need to rent skis you can contact the Cedar Valley Resort at 507-467-9000.

The supper will start around 4:30 p.m. with the charge for soup per bowl is $2.50. Sandwiches are $2; bars and desserts, $.50; Bucky Roger's famous lefse, $1; and hot cider, coffee and milk for $.50. Water costs $1 because the Hall does not have running water in it yet, which points to the old-fashioned nature of the event like nothing else.

Additional information about the event can be found on lanesboro.com in the events calendar.