How one Clark County family has maintained tradition with annual reunion
BATTLE GROUND — Well over one hundred years ago, a group of Finnish immigrants settled in North Dakota. This past Saturday, their children’s, children’s, children laughed and ate together in Lewisville Park.
The Kangas family first moved to Clark County in 1925, when the only daughter of Mathias and Everine Christianna, moved from North Dakota. Her 10 brothers and father followed over the next couple decades.
In 1948, the 11 siblings decided to organize something to keep the rapidly growing family together: a family reunion in the humble Juniper section of Battle Ground’s Lewisville Park.
Seventy years later, the descendants of the original 11 are still congregating to swap old stories of loved ones passed, meet new additions to the family and share in a home-cooked meal.
Nita (Kangas) Brigham was at the very first reunion as the newborn daughter of Eino Kangas, one of the original 11 siblings. Since then, she has helped coordinate and setup many more.
“I love seeing my extended family,” said Nita. “Where you’re close in family with your brothers, and maybe their kids, it’s harder when it’s your cousins. But this year we’ve gotten a really good turnout.”
Due to how much the family has dispersed, it is sometimes difficult to bring the younger generations together because they often don’t even know they are related, Nita said.
“They come because their parents make them feel guilty,” she said, laughing.
Elliot Kangas, 20, used to be one of those reluctant, young attendees, but as he grew older, he began to find reasons to come back.
“I get to see people I’ve never met my whole life, and like, ‘Wow! Our family is a lot bigger than I anticipated,’” Elliot said. “You can look at all our records … It was fascinating seeing statistics like, we produce 90 boys for every one girl in our family, which is nuts!”
Elliot’s father, Matt Kangas, also attended the reunion. He remembers a time when the goal of connection was far more prevalent.
We would get in the car almost every Sunday, and drive to four or five Kangas families in a day, just to talk and have coffee, Matt said.
Ron Kangas, 82, is among the oldest remaining relatives, and is also a child of the original 11 siblings.
Serving in the Navy for 24 years, Ron could not always attend the reunion, but tried to as often as he could; even hosting a few times.
“The reason I come to them, is because you won’t see someone next time,” Ron said. “But they’re all younger than me, so I’m hangin in there.”