JACOBSEN TO PALISADE
I pulled the van into Berglund Park to wait for Victoria. She was still a few miles out – biking into town this morning for our big day in Palisade, Minnesota. I was greeted immediately as I stepped out of the van by Sharon DeWitt, our key contact in town. Sharon has a reputation for being industrious (“like a dog with a bone” according to one resident who we’ll keep anonymous).
We found that to be true. Sharon did a tremendous job coordinating our day, from the first interactions, to the events in the park, to our overnight stay in the DeWitt’s trailer at the Berglund Park campground. And she sent us off the following morning with a nice breakfast at Gabby’s Eats & Treats.
Victoria rolled into the park just in time for our noon meeting with Mayor Charlie Carlson and his father. We hopped in the van for a short trip up to his house on River road. Charlie greeted us at the door and put the new puppy out back before inviting us in. He led us to the dining table and introduced his father, Chuck. He gave glasses of ice water to Victoria and me, knowing that we had just run and biked from Jacobsen and were likely thirsty.
The conversation started with a retelling of some of the history of the River and region. Chuck has lived here since 1967 and Charlie has lived here all his life. Chuck has more detailed knowledge of the early days – the Finn dance hall, flood of 1950, riverboat landings and old milling operation. Charlie recalls the more recent past – growing up with friends, neighbors up and down the road, swimming in the Mississippi and watching the “weekend people” come to town during the summer months.
We moved on to talk about the present and learned what keeps the two of them occupied each day. Chuck helps out his kids – two have moved away, but five are still living nearby. He’s got a “pile” of grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Charlie tends to the business of the city, takes care of his two sons and continues to adapt to the new physical challenge that he’s been given. We were fortunate to share an afternoon with them.
We began our Palisade encounter a day earlier, when we met Monique Lamke at the town hall. She had bottles of cold water waiting and handed us some written notes as we sat to talk. She’s relatively new to Palisade, but has a story that connects deep into the heart of the community.
Monique took a big pay cut to come to this community and meandered her way through a couple of jobs before finding her current position as City Clerk. In hindsight, though, she wouldn’t change a thing. She found in Palisade a very special connection – a human connection between her family and a man named George. Mr. George.
Sergeant George Stephens, from Lineville, Alabama, served in the United States Army during World War II and continued to serve through Korea and Viet Nam until retirement in 1967. For the next ten years he taught Military Science at Cretin Academy. In 1976, he and his wife Ruth moved to a farm near Palisade – a property called Waldeck, MN.
Waldeck was a landing and layover for river travelers along the Mississippi. Built and operated by Mr. Waldeck well over a century ago, it had 13 rooms, a post office, general store and dances on Saturday nights. The original property was destroyed by fire in 1991, but Waldeck MN would persist. George rebuilt and remained there until his death in 2018.
Monique’s parents lived on a property adjacent to Mr. George and the two families had become good friends. By the time Monique came to live on her parent’s land, Mr. George had lost his wife and was living alone. The special friendship between Monique and Mr. George started with a simple request for help with fixing a lawn mower. As Monique explains it, George needed a monkey wrench and she brought one over.
Their friendship remained strong until George’s final days, and in an act of great generosity, Mr. George handed the keys to Waldeck, MN over to Monique and daughter, Olivia (Baby Girl, as Mr. George called her), upon his death.
We spent Thursday afternoon with Monique, Baby Girl Olivia, members of the local Lions Club and dozens of other Palisade residents at Berglund Park. The event, masterminded by Sharon, included presentations by the Corps of Engineers and DNR Fisheries, Mississippi River trivia, music by the Johnson Chicks, and a delicious community meal. It was a muggy afternoon, but we were under the pavilion roof and the breeze kept the bugs away (mostly). The sloppy joes tasted like prime rib to a couple of weary river travelers.
This was the biggest event on the Relay expedition so far – courtesy of the wonderful folks in Palisade, Minnesota.