How do you make a light and airy doughnut? Practice. Practice. Practice. Thaden Family Donuts of Marvin has been making doughnuts for 41 years and, not only have the Thadens used the same recipe, they’ve used the same spoon! The stainless steel spoon stirred over 728,000 doughnuts while the founder of the business, Wanda Thaden, was in the kitchen.
In over four decades, the spoon has required a few repairs, but “it’s the perfect size, not too big, not too small,” said Stacy Thaden, Wanda’s son. “It can be very wearing on your arm, though, if you make more than two or three batches a day.” A batch of doughnuts mixed in the shop’s humongous mixing bowl yields 30 to 35 dozen doughnuts..
Haven’t tried a Thaden doughnut? Do-nut worry! You can taste the delightful dunkers this Friday and Saturday at the Grant County Farm and Home Show in Milbank. The 2019 show marks the fortieth year three generations of Thadens have sold doughnuts at the show, and the forty-first year they’ve had a booth there.
Wanda passed away on January 10, right before the 2008 show, but the family opened an unmanned booth that year in Wanda’s memory. Passersby left messages for the family and offered condolences.
The family also considered burying “the spoon” with Wanda, but decided to use it to continue her mission. Because as sweet as Wanda’s work seemed, it wasn’t just about the doughnuts.
Wanda accepted Christ when she was sixteen years old. She attended a Bible college in Chicago and felt compelled to do mission work around the world. Her doctor nixed that idea, though, and Wanda moved back to the Marvin area. (Her brother was Bud Thorpe who served many years as a deputy sheriff, and then two terms as the Grant County Sheriff. Cops and doughnuts – Wanda was onto something!)
Wanda first worked at the local grocery store and continued her education. She obtained three degrees from Northern State University and worked as a teacher at schools in Summit and Marvin for 18 years.
In 1977, she opened the Donut Shop, as it formerly was called, on Church Street in Marvin. The street’s name was fitting as more than one customer found bliss there in the form of an old-fashioned buttermilk or applesauce doughnut. For Wanda, the shop was an instrument of her faith. A notebook doubled as her guestbook and she counted customers from all 50 states in the US and at least four other countries. She discussed religion with them all. Not following the mission field didn’t keep Wanda from doing what she felt was her life’s work, she was a missionary in her own back yard.
She also spent many weeks as a volunteer cook at Bible camps. For 36 years, she cooked at Camp Lakota in Madison, South Dakota, Dakota Baptist Conference Camp at Lake Shetak in Slayton, Minnesota, Camp Byron in Huron, and Swan Lake Bible Camp in Viborg. In 36 years, she only missed one year – 1986 – because she had injured her knee.
Wanda also set a goal to make a million doughnuts . She kept count – up to 728,000 – and tried to get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Others had produced more doughnuts, but Wanda’s were all mixed by hand with the same spoon. A technicality kept her out of the record book, but did not deter her from turning the fryer back on.
When Wanda became ill in 2003, she moved in with Stacy and his wife, Shirley. The family changed the shop’s name to Thaden Family Donuts and three generations pitched in to keep turning out doughnuts.
In June 2017, Stacy and Shirley started making the doughnuts full time. Stacy said it seemed crazy to quit a fulltime job he had held for 21 years, but he believed doughnuts were also his calling. “It’s a family thing.” he said. “Shirley does the mixing; I do the frying. We package together.”
The couple has five children: Michael, (his wife, Jennifer, passed away last Christmas), Jessica, Kristina, Tabatha, and Anna, who lives in Washington and sends support from afar. But, as Stacy always remarks, “Just because you aren’t immediate family doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”
The most doughnuts sold at one event? A whopping 630 dozen in two days! That was the year the Twin Brooks Threshing Show hosted the national plowing contest. Stacy said his goal is to make it to the Minnesota State Fair and be the next Sweet Martha’s cookies.
What’s the best way to eat a Thaden doughnut? “Fresh is best,” advises Stacy. He admits he gladly performs “quality control” by sampling each batch, and cites his physique as proof. They still only make buttermilk and applesauce doughnuts according to Wanda’s secret recipe. (She wrote it down just days before she died.) And the doughnuts are still packaged with a Bible verse – John 3:16 – one of Wanda’s favorites.
Thaden Family Donuts will be selling half dozen and the original baker’s dozen packages at the farm and home show this weekend. Grab some coffee and stop by for the best tasting doughnuts…well, the best tasting doughnuts this side of heaven.
The Grant County Farm and Home Show runs Friday, January 11, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, January 12, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Milbank Armory.