"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

St. Cloud has become cosmopolitan city

Skalicky Plaza, built in 2000, adorns the St. Cloud State University campus. (Ted Sherarts photo)

When Coborn's first came to town here in Morris MN, I felt like I was seeing an old friend.
"Coborn's!" It's where a St. Cloud State University student could go to write out a check for cash. No ATMs then. There was a Coborn's store just a few blocks from the SCSU campus, in between the campus and Division Street (the "main drag").
In my last two years at St. Cloud, I had a very modest sleeping room at a private residence in the northeast part of that central Minnesota city. I passed by Coborn's every day, walking to and from campus.
I also walked over the Mississippi River on the old DeSoto Bridge. That's the bridge that St. Cloud had to replace when inspections were stepped up in the wake of the Twin Cities bridge disaster. When I first heard the old bridge was coming down, I thought "wow, that will cause traffic mayhem there."
I gather that it turned out to be not quite that bad. I visited there because of a family medical situation and found that the re-routing was quite easy to accept. Today I hear that the new bridge is quite state of the art and pedestrian-friendly, with pausing areas where you can simply observe the majesty of the river.
St. Cloud is quite the resilient city. It's interesting coming from Morris, a town in which we always seem concerned about our future viability with population and the economy, to St. Cloud, which is worried about whether it can adjust fast enough to growth!
One might feel envy toward St. Cloud. But then there's the old saying "bigger isn't necessarily better." We want viability and at least some growth for Morris (or - let's be honest - a stanching of the decline) but we truly like the "small town" attributes of relative safety and quiet.
We have an Economic Improvement Commission because, well, we're just supposed to aspire to growth. We'd seem weird if we didn't.
There's a common joke around Morris these days that the people involved with "economic improvement" must be sitting on their hands. Indeed, the casual observer might well think we're becoming less like St. Cloud and more like Mayberry.
But I know there are many parents who are delighted to send their kids to the U of M-Morris precisely because Morris seems Mayberry-esque.
I remember covering the UMM Homecoming parade one year and jotting down names of young people on a float. A young man who said he was from St. Cloud had a last name that rang familiar from my college memories. I asked him if his father was the speech teacher from SCSU.
"Yes," he answered.
(I should note here that whenever I took down names of UMM students for photo captions, I liked getting hometowns because it was neat to see where all these young people came from. I could add that the Morris newspaper today will cover a big event like Prairie Pioneer Days and not even bother with captions for the full-page photo spread.)
Did the SCSU speech teacher like having his son attend college in a slower-paced community? That might have been one reason. Certain academic qualities might have been another. I didn't ask.
People will claim there are highly specific reasons for choosing one college over another, but I feel it's a little more impulsive. Any academic institution, even a community college, can challenge and enrich you.
At this stage of my life I trumpet the learning opportunities available online and have grown skeptical of the traditional bricks-and-mortar campus model. It's the kind of analysis heard from Governor Tim Pawlenty on The Daily Show.
My generation was completely plugged into the old model.
I was the opposite of that young man in the parade float, because I grew up in Morris and attended college in St. Cloud. I grew up hearing all the "elite" rhetoric about UMM, how only the cream of the crop would attend here, and I felt intimidated by it.
It was sort of nice "getting lost" in St. Cloud for a few years.
I have heard that St. Cloud State University has a reputation of being somewhat cold and impersonal. I was lucky because I never found that to be true in my own experiences.
My luck even continued when I visited "the old campus" in 2006 for Homecoming. I was there for the early-morning 5K run but wasn't sure exactly where it would start. A student working the front desk at a dormitory saw me outside apparently looking confused, and came out to see if she could help. I got directed properly.
I have always heard that St. Cloud is a little cold to non-Catholics. I think this is a fading stereotype just like the one about St. Cloud being an enclave of Germans. Like any area that is booming economically, the population is becoming steadily more diverse.
When I made that visit for the medical situation - my mother had a heart attack and today she's fine - I had to smile when I noticed an old building that was a hippie hangout when I was in college, which had become a Somali Grocery Store. The hippie hangout was the East Bank Bar and Cafe. (The owner growled at me once when I said "bar and grill.")
It didn't seem a very happy place. Today the building is emblematic of St. Cloud's evolution. Congratulations!
Cities develop stereotypes of course. I never sensed any prejudice toward non-Catholics. But it's not as if I were a Lutheran, I was an agnostic! Today I'm a Lutheran back in the mainstream.
I had Catholic friends when I was a kid who took me to "Catholic bingo." I later learned I wasn't eligible to be served communion at a Catholic funeral. I asked those friends about why I was welcome for one and not the other.
"We'll always take your money!" one said.
Interestingly, my landlords at the house where I spent much of my St. Cloud experience were a classic German Catholic couple - retired farmers. I had a wonderful relationship with them and looking back, I wish I had continued the friendship.
They had an adult son with developmental issues, but I was never fazed or distracted by that. Most likely this firmed up our bond.
My monthly rent was very reasonable, a figure that today would be unheard of. I was just a college kid so my demands weren't very great.
Lutherans did have their bastion in St. Cloud and there was a Lutheran church just down the street from my apartment. I'm ashamed to say I never attended a service there. On many weekends I came "home" to Morris. But I didn't attend church here either.
My old boss Jim Morrison says our generation never really took to church-going. We're dragging ourselves into that fold now. The passing years are impressing on us our mortality.
As young people we saw churches as part of that whole web we called "the establishment," which we thought was staid and unresponsive in a world moving forward on so many fronts like socio-economic, racial and gender empowerment. And relief from war, primarily.
Close your eyes and think what it would have been like if the iconic Billy Graham had called a press conference and made a sudden, bold statement calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Viet Nam! Think of the difference this could have made.
Graham could have endeared himself to the boomers forever (and in the long run, to everyone).
But the boomers were just "kids" at that time. We didn't have money. Yet. Yup, that makes the difference.
Graham had to hold his place in the firmament of "establishment" leaders. I hope that when he meets his maker, he can defend this. Perhaps he'll be assigned a room with Dick Nixon.
St. Cloud State U was a pretty left-of-center place in the 1970s. Prescriptions from the left seemed logical to us. Many professors were all too happy to lead us around by the nose with this.
I remember when the daughter of then-president Gerald Ford came to the SCSU campus to campaign for her father. The campus newspaper responded with a big blank block of space on the editorial page with a smart-aleck sentence at the top: "Below are highlights of the speech given by Susan Ford at SCS."
(Back then the "SCS" initials were typical because the "university" title hadn't yet been adopted. It was "college" then, and "SCSC" didn't quite roll off the tongue. It became a "university" when I was still a student.)
Gerald Ford was no Dick Nixon. He seemed to be a fundamentally good man who was in a tangle of post-war disillusionment and stagflation. Remember those pathetic "Whip Inflation Now" buttons?
Ford pardoned Nixon and that hurt him, but would we really have wanted it any other way? I mean, the powers that be clearly had Nixon by the balls anyway. He could just be deposited in the dumpster of history with other scoundrels.
Jimmy Carter was our president for my last two years at St. Cloud State. My landlords seemed captivated by him. A lot of us were, because he was unquestionably a nice, sincere and reverent man. We got a reprieve from the rat f--king of the Nixon years (the term associated with winning politically at all costs).
I'll be prejudiced here and say that Carter was a slow-moving and slow-thinking southerner, too much of an idle philosopher.
We were finally out of Viet Nam but our economy had seemed to become unhinged. What I remember most is that life seemed to move oh so slowly.
If you could accept the economic realities, it really wasn't such a bad time to be alive. I had a barely-serviceable apartment but it seemed wonderful to me. People weren't worried about identity theft and we didn't wake up in the morning concerned about how the S&P Futures were behaving.
People weren't nearly so defensive or paranoid as they are prone to being today. Parents would let their kids play outside unsupervised. Were there dangers? Yes, and pretty much the same dangers as exist today. But the media weren't inclined to sensationalize a lot of the bad things that happened.
Stories like the Scott Peterson murder case were handled on a regional basis - more toned down in quality. No Nancy Grace back then to express outrage.
We need to be vigilant vs. those dangers, no doubt, but we must not retreat into a cocoon either. Too much of the cocoon-like behavior is happening now: people never answering their phone, taking messages instead, for example.
Late in my newspaper career I was becoming troubled by how insulated people were becoming.
Whereas people once almost seemed flattered when contacted by "the newspaper," they were quite contrary toward the end.
I really wouldn't care that much but my job depended on people being a little more gregarious and responsive.
Eventually the rigors of the job, particularly under chain ownership - ugh - were unacceptable. I felt like one of those guys rowing in a Viking-like boat. I'm sure it's the same if you work for Jiffy Lube. You have to generate those numbers. You worship at the profit altar.
It makes me wax nostalgic for the Carter years when we seemed quite content with a more relaxed pace of life. Call it a "malaise" if you want but we had our share of good times (not including the "Smoky and the Bandit" movies).
St. Cloud seemed big in the '70s and it was stretching its legs, buoyed by its designation as an "All American City." A lot of us SCSU students thought that a bit dorky. We also didn't take too seriously the U.S. Bicentennial. We were too bitter about some of the more downbeat aspects of U.S. life then.
We found disco. I remember the Persian Club in St. Cloud having a dance floor with the big rotating ball projecting light.
Disco was a chapter that came and went. Ditto the Carter presidency. It all seems ancient now while St. Cloud continues stretching its legs, more diverse and cosmopolitan than ever I'm sure.
It's a terrific place. A part of me never left there. And the nostalgia goes beyond being able to cash a check at Coborn's.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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