DAY 18 – FRIDAY, JULY 26

RICE TO ST. CLOUD

We were told the Creamery is hopping in the morning, with two groups of men who know their Rice, Minnesota history—seating themselves according to political affiliation: Democrats in the front, and Republicans in the back. We were told to come early so we could learn a lot. Well, we did decide to show up early, but not for politics and history. Rather, we made a 7:10am appointment to have breakfast with Ken Nodo, former councilman, former mayor, current park commission member, and most importantly, avid cyclist. Ken, at 78 years old, bikes everywhere that’s anywhere in Benton County, MN, through the heat of summer and the ice of winter (thanks to his fat bike!).

By the time Ken sat down to breakfast with us, he had already walked his dogs through the woods of his 60 acres and submitted a weather report to NOAA. Then we got him talking, mostly keeping him from eating his breakfast, and he shared his love of fly fishing for small mouth bass in the river here, revealed his gentle spirit in babysitting for his two year-old great grandson, and gave us pause with the story of his traumatic brain injury when being hit from behind by a motorcycle while cycling.

Ken rode south with Tom this Friday morning, and I converged with Tom at the Sauk Rapids, Minnesota bridge. Uphill and around and round I went up the helix structure that leads to the top of the bridge. I followed the sidewalks and pedestrian trails that parallel the river all the way into downtown. Just as I was approaching the finish, I was stymied by detour signs everywhere! Detour signs leading to more detour signs leading to road construction. I was lost. An elderly woman looked at me with compassion and out of breath I asked her where to go. She said, “You can’t go.” My head dropped. 

I looked back to where I came from, and decided to reverse course until I could see a way again. I knew I had to keep going south and stay parallel with the river to reach the convention center, and eventually I did. There we met up with Jennifer Penzkover of the St. Cloud Arts Commission, Solveig Anderson, Sarah Drake, Mayor Dave Kleis and a few others. Welcomes were exchanged, photos taken, and a fascinating interview wandered into with Mayor Kleis.

Development along the river and civic infrastructure projects took up some of the conversation, but I also learned about the Mayor’s love of history and his work to bring not just history but story into the community of St. Cloud. The mayor sees history as a way to understand the present, our present stories—so the immigration stories of the past, whether Swedish, German, Norwegian, can be studied and learned from in their detailed experiences to empathize with the immigrant experiences of the Hmong and Somalis that are prominent in the St. Cloud community today.

While I visited with the mayor, Tom took the opportunity for an ad hoc interview with Jennifer, our partner in organizing Relay in St. Cloud. Jennifer is from Rice Lake, Wisconsin and took a circuitous path to find herself at St. Cloud State University for college. She stayed in Saint Cloud, Minnesota after college, but would prefer to live in a bigger city. She’s a big personality, and while not in a bigger city, she is doing a lot to make the city of St. Cloud be a part of the larger arts conversation.

Enter stage left, artist and activist Sarah Drake—friend and colleague of Jennifer who is expanding her boundaries far beyond St. Cloud, far beyond the US even. Sarah, a white woman, has a passion for taking her privilege and extending it to those who she feels SHOULD have the same. She has started a non-profit focused on producing and selling artwork that educates on global topics, especially water quality and access, to provide funds for communities in Burkina Faso. Sarah moved to St. Cloud from Long Prairie, a small community nearby, and has been a trailblazer in the arts for years—teaching, exhibiting, and making change. She’s a single mother, with daughter Tabara, and more to come on their story on the Relay Blog (relayofvoices.com/blog) very soon.

Sarah took us all over the St. Cloud landscape, to her favorite spot at Munsinger Gardens and to a riverside park bench near where she lives in Sauk Rapids where we saw a duck fighting the current. Afterwards, we stopped off at our hotel to get our van and reset, then drove out to Wilson Park for the evening community event. As we were just yards from arriving, the sky opened up and one of the plagues descended—that is, hail, golf ball-sized hail. The temperature read out on the Chrysler Pacifica was 72 but the sky was dropping balls of ice. This Louisiana girl didn’t quite comprehend the science of this, or the magic, but there it was, and I’m just saying my Hail Mary’s that the rental van doesn’t get injured as each projectile impales the windshield and rooftop.

We wait in the parking lot outside the shelter of the park, hoping for the hail to let up. Finally there’s a pause, and we make a break for it. Inside the shelter we find our group, small but jovial, and very well decorated thanks to Jennifer. There’s also another group that was having a birthday party outside who Jennifer welcomed into the shelter, thank goodness! Everyone helps themselves to the fabulous spread of wraps and potato salad, chips and dip, sparkling water and sweat treats, and then we gather around to share what we are doing and throw in a few stories. 

After the stories, as is our wont to do, we as for some of theirs. This group of librarians and culture workers had a lot to say and it was a wonderfully rich conversation. Before we could end our night, though, we had an invitation to the local brewery—meeting up with Kelleigh and Sarah for a drink or two, more stories, and what I think will turn into something of a collaboration on this project and more in the end.