The Wolfgramm family would like to introduce Utahns to a different kind of pioneer.
In this year's Days of '47 July 24th parade, watchers will experience a touch of the Polynesian culture. About 50 Wolfgramm family members, robed in traditional island costume, are scheduled to walk in the parade, and 20 others will ride on the almost authentic Tongi Aki, a canoelike vessel which the Polynesian people used for transportation.This year's Days of '47 celebration is very special for the Wolfgramm family, natives of the Tongan island of Vavau, as they celebrate both the 57th wedding anniversary of 79-year-old Iohani Wolfgramm and 75-year-old Salote Fakatou Wolfgramm and the first family reunion.
Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm raised 20 children, two adopted, in Tonga. They came to Utah in 1965 to be closer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to have their family sealed to them in the church's temple. During their lifetimes they have served seven church missions. Their ancestors first came to Utah in 1904.The immediate family has extended to now encompass 110 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and three great-grandchildren on the way.
Even internationally the Wolfgramm name is known. The Jets, an adolescent pop music group which has had three Top 10 singles, is made up of Iohani Wolgramm's grandchildren. Because the group is on tour in South America, they probably will not make it to the celebration but are trying to fly in to surprise their grandparents.
Because their ancestors were some of the first pioneers to settle in Utah, and the Wolfgramms were instrumental in introducing the LDS Church to the people of Tonga, Iohani Wolfgramm decided the family should enter a float in the parade to show their pride, said his daughter Tisina Gerber.
Aided by his son, Samuela Wolfgramm, and nephew, Tua Unga, Iohani Wolfgramm designed and built the Tongi Aki. Constructed of scrap wood donated by lumber yards and family members, the red-bottomed canoe is about 30 feet long and 14 feet wide.
Family members strung thousands of tiny shells and seeds for the walls of the beautiful hut that will sit in the middle of the canoe. Authentic coconut leaves will make up its roof. Gerber said the family is also hoping to get the original kava, a large Tongan bowl that Tupou, the first accepted king of Tonga, presented to her ancestors. They plan to perform the ancient Kava ceremony as they go along the parade route.
Originally, Iohani Wolfgramm also planned to invent a machine that would propel the canoe without the use of electricity or batteries, but has now run out of time. Instead, he said he plans to invent such a machine after the parade.
"My father invents a lot of things," Gerber said. "The island people used to laugh at him. But they always worked."
Also for the combination anniversary celebration and reunion, about 1,000 relatives will travel from Florida, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand, and many will bring with them the beautiful island flowers of gardenia, ginger, bird of paradise and anthurium to decorate the canoe and make leis.
"I'm so very happy to see all of them and the many, many grandchildren," Iohani Wolfgramm said.
As part of the wedding anniversary celebration, Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm will also have a special wedding reception on the "birthday" of their original wedding day, July 20. A 19-tier cake will be made to represent the living children.
"It's always been mom's dream to be in a white dress and have a wedding line," said Gerber.
And on Monday, July 23, relatives will put on a special performance of five or six native Polynesian dances at Murray Park's amphitheater from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Food also will be served. Gerber said donations at the door will be given to her parents as an anniversary present.
So far there are 150 other entries in the Days of '47 parade, including about 52 floats. The Wolfgramm entry is an unusual float and something everyone, including the parade committee, can look forward to, said Nancy Blair, committee member.