Caroling brings Rudolph family together
By Mike Warren
RUDOLPH – A Christmas tradition continued in Rudolph this year.
Members of the Donnie and Irene Smits family and their children gathered on Dec. 17 for their 30th annual night of caroling and remembrance.
What began with a dozen or so carolers in 1992 has turned into a mobile family reunion on wheels. Members of a dozen unique families – 41 people in all – turned out for the big event this year. They were hauled around the village in a custom-made wagon, pulled by a pick-up truck driven by Kenny Feltz, who is married to Donnie and Irene’s daughter Jackie.
“A friend of mine built it,” said Kenny. “It works out really well for this. I just wish we had an old tractor to pull it with.
“One year our Uncle Ted Stoltz had a team of horses and a wagon, and that was really cool that year. But otherwise, yeah, the wagon works out well for everybody to fit on it.”
Donnie Smits no longer participates in the house-to-house caroling, but instead rides shotgun with his son-in-law.
“It’s still fun to come out and listen to them sing,” said Smits. “They can all sing. Everybody can sing. We used to sing as a family, my wife and I and the kids. That was probably one of the reasons behind this. Everybody liked to sing.”
“The family is very, very close,” Irene added from the backseat.
All five of Donnie and Irene’s children and their spouses made it to this year’s caroling crusade, including Jackie (Kenny) Feltz, Julie (Scott) Lieber, Jane (Kevin) Lubeck, Jill (John) Moran, and Craig (Sara) Smits. Of their children, twelve of thirteen were able to come. Of those, six are married with children, and all but five made it to Rudolph to join in the fun.
“A group of us first cousins, we all are promising that we’re going to continue this with our families and our kids for years to come,” said Katie (Moran) Schueller, daughter of John and Jill Moran.
“We all love it. We all look forward to it. We all enjoy it and just like getting together,” Katie added. “So, the first cousins of this group, we all said, ‘Yep, we’re stickin’ with it and doing it every year.’”
Katie’s family takes the two-hour drive from Eagle River each year to join in on the festivities, while others converge on Rudolph from places like Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee. The rest still live in the immediate area.
The energetic ensemble has their usual stops each year – like the homes of Jerry and Charlotte Rybicki and Dave and Christy Steinle.
“This is the greatest family in Rudolph,” Christy saod of the carolers. “They’re the most special people ever. It’s my favorite time of year, and they’re the most special family in Rudolph. They’re amazing people.”
Dave and Christy and their daughters, and Christy’s parents Rich and Nellie Larsen, were there waiting for the group with open arms, homemade holiday treats and refreshments for all.
The Steinle home is the group’s second-to-last stop each year. They save their grand finale – “Silent Night” – for Irene’s parents Marion and Helen Zak, who are buried at All Souls Cemetery at St. Philip Church.
“And I cry every year,” says Donnie.