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A beautiful autumn day to honor Uncle Ray

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Noelle Wright rolls two pumpkins up the hill at Ray's pumpkin patch.2 / 5
Jolie Irons with her autumn treasure.3 / 5
Pumpkins are piled up for people to cart away from the New York Mills event.4 / 5
Karli Kawlewski of New York Mills carries her prize pumpkin from the patch during the 8th Annual Uncle Ray's Pumpkin Day held Saturday at S&S Vineyards north of New York Mills.5 / 5

Pumpkins by the hundreds were hauled by the Radio Flyer wagonload and rolled to awaiting car trunks at the annual Uncle Ray's Pumpkin Day.

The pumpkin patch at the Brian Sillinpaa farm was opened up to the masses Sept. 26.

"There will be about 1,600 pumpkins taken out of here today--maybe 2,000," said Sillinpaa, who carries on the tradition of "Uncle Ray" Sonnenberg, who died a few years ago.

It is a tradition of generosity and family--as every pumpkin is given away, for free.

Hot dogs and goodies are served, and a donation box is out, but the money is immaterial. Sillinpaa said it is a way to keep Sonnenberg's memory alive.

"These are like my adopted 400 kids out here," laughed Sillinpaa, as he looked out at the mass of children and family scrounging through tangles of vines in search of their pumpkins.

The uncle and nephew started the tradition eight years ago. In addition to the large pumpkin patch, Sillinpaa also grows grapes and bottles wine at the farmsite, north of New York Mills on County 67.

The neighborhood helps at the farm, including the Frosts and the Steinbachs down the road, who mow and help with the upkeep while Sillinpaa is in the Twin Cities area--where he is an engineer. "It's like a co-op out a big family. Everybody pitches in," said Sillinpaa.

In turn, neighbors have used the barn for receptions, dances and family events.

Sillinpaa completely restored the barn at S&S (named after Sillinpaa and Sonnenberg) Vineyards. The barn has a large gathering area on the second level, including a stage and dance floor area.

Following the pumpkin picking activities, the second annual "Pumpkin Day Jam Session" featured a group of Sillinpaa's musician friends, "The Hillside Creeps," along with a number of locals who joined on stage.

Uncle Ray's Pumpkin Day is sponsored by Tender Hearts Home Care and family members of S&S Vineyards. Also contributing and volunteering are the NY Mills Lions, Civic and Commerce Club and the NY Mills bowling lanes.