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FEATURE S JANUARY 2021 Volume 16, Issue 1
Getting to know Bukata Hayes Greater Mankato Diversity Council’s executive director talks family, social justice, and background
A deeper look at those who work at night while others sleep
Relieve cabin fever and head over to Ney Nature Center for some winter fun
ABOUT THE COVER Bukata Hayes and family at home. Clockwise from bottom left, Zuri, 9; Jalen,16; Zavier, 14 and wife Lisa. (Not pictured Damani)
MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 3
From the Editor
This Day in History
Colin Scharf: ‘Music is the gift’
10 Beyond the Margin
Trails, monoliths and county engineers
20 Familiar Faces
Merely Players’ Maggie Maes
22 Day Trip Destinations
A bit of Italy in Wisconsin
28 Let’s Eat!
Simplicity is Key at Cinco de Mayo Taqueria
30 Community Draws
Helpling out Healthcare workers
32 Country Minutes
The Dogs of Oshawa Township Part 12
33 Ann’s Fashion Fortunes
A new Q&A about personal style in uncertain times
34 Garden Chat Winter plannin’
36 From This Valley
Fast away the old year passes
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 5
FROM THE ASSOCIATE EDITOR By Diana Rojo-Garcia JANUARY 2021 • VOLUME 16, ISSUE 1 PUBLISHER Steve Jameson EDITOR Joe Spear ASSOCIATE Diana Rojo-Garcia EDITOR CONTRIBUTORS Bert Mattson Dan Greenwood Jean Lundquist Kat Baumann Leticia Gonzalez Nicole Helget Ann Rosenquist Fee Pete Steiner Leigh Pomeroy Nell Musolf Dana Melius PHOTOGRAPHERS Pat Christman PAGE DESIGNER Christina Sankey ADVERTISING Danny Creel SALES Jordan Greer-Friesz Josh Zimmerman Theresa Haefner ADVERTISING Barb Wass ASSISTANT ADVERTISING Christina Sankey DESIGNERS CIRCULATION Justin Niles DIRECTOR
Mankato Magazine is published by The Free Press Media monthly at 418 South Second St., Mankato MN 56001. To subscribe, call 1-800-657-4662 or 507-625-4451. $35.40 for 12 issues. For all editorial inquiries, call Diana Rojo-Garcia 507-344-6305, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For advertising, call 344-6364, or e-mail email@example.com.
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Change is inevitable
f you’re reading this ... congratulations. You officially made it through 2020. Most people had been looking forward to 2020 as we rang in the new year with large groups of friends at home or in a bar. The year looked promising. What could go wrong, we thought. After all, most holidays were going to end on a weekend. Who could complain about that? But as everyone knows, the year’s events were just one cosmic domino after another. It began across the world from late 2019 into early 2020 with the tragic Australian wildfires. The photographs seemed otherworldly. We even began in early 2020 to hear about the novel coronavirus — COVID-19 — spreading in Wuhan, China. And at the beginning of the year, bars were still filling up on Friday nights, live theater brought joy to communities, we could visit our families without a concern about spreading this disease, and toilet paper wasn’t a hot commodity. March hit and things began to shut down. The world had become eerily empty, void of human hustle and bustle. Life for many slowed way down. Then a few months later, the buzz phrase “the new normal” began to hit every single corporate commercial. As humans, we adapted to what our new reality was. Those changes became part of our regular routines: wearing a mask, sanitizing our hands, remaining 6 feet apart and limiting our time out of our homes. Then, May 25 came around — the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. That event brought much of the world together to fight against social injustices. Protests and rallies, and open, truthful conversations about race
and inequality. That conversation is something that has been taking place for hundreds of years with hundreds of leaders and activists. It’s a conversation that has been creating change. It’s a conversation that people in our very own community commit to every single day. And though the change can be slow, it’s the day-to-day efforts and initiatives that add up to make a better world and community. Bukata Hayes is one of those leaders. For this month’s issue, Bukata took time to speak with us about his background and family, the changes he’s seen in the community and in the Greater Mankato Diversity Council. Hayes, who has been in Mankato for the last 20 years, has led the community through those conversations of race, leading workshops to promote equality and equity. He’s a person who commits himself, his time and passion every single day to proactively bring diversity to the table. And a person who, ultimately, leaves a long-lasting impression on a community such as Mankato.
Also in this issue: ■ Ann Rosenquist Fee, executive director of the Arts Center of Saint Peter, is back in the Mankato Magazine. She will take on questions about personal style and fashion for her monthly column “Ann’s Fashion Fortunes.” (Go to annrosenquistfee.com to submit a question!) ■ And perhaps this year, you’ll commit to that resolution — losing a couple of pounds. Let’s be honest to ourselves (and waistlines) — the quarantine snacking got a little out of hand. Eat your veggies,
jump on that treadmill and then treat yourself to a nice, cold brew. But don’t worry! Bert Mattson’s got your back. Check out his column for recommendations on waistfriendly (and tasty) beers. ■ OK. So maybe losing some weight isn’t on your resolution list. How about trying out some delicious grub, while also supporting local businesses? Dan Greenwood talks with Diana Hidalgo of Cinco de Mayo Taqueria, on Monks Avenue near the Minnesota State University’s campus. They have shrimp cocktail, menudo and, of course, tacos!
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THIS DAY IN HISTORY Compiled by Jean Lundquist
Mankato police woman picked winner in beauty contest Jan. 8, 1924 Irene Kiekenapp beat out over 60 other contestants to win the beauty contest conducted by the Mankato Free Press. She was the first candidate to enter the contest and won by 13 votes. In all, 14,382 votes were cast. It was reported that Mankato policemen rushed to her campaign, encouraging all firemen and other city employees to vote for her, as she was “a cog in the municipal machinery.” She would go on to compete in the beauty contest at the Auto Show in Minneapolis in February. Her prize for her Mankato win was $100 to pay her expenses for the Minneapolis trip. No information was offered on what her duties in the police department consisted of, though it was certainly before women were accepted as members of the force.
Plant reopens without trouble Jan. 3, 1986 Members of Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union voted 775-540 to reject a proposal to end the four-month-long strike against the Geo. A. Hormel meat packing company in Austin in late December 1985. The 1,500 union members went on strike Aug. 17 in a dispute over wages and working conditions. In early January, seven union members crossed the picket lines to return to work, according to a report in the Mankato Free Press, along with non-union employees. The company reported that more than seven members returned to work but would not release numbers. The strike, at times violent, ended after 10 months when the parent union sided with the Hormel Company. As the nation looked on, Jesse Jackson visited Austin to try to broker an agreement. He was not successful. The strike officially lasted 10 months and left lasting scars in the community. ‘Going to L.A.’ the lad says; ‘No you’re not,’ says sheriff Jan. 6, 1967 With a coaster wagon containing a suitcase, sleeping bag, an extra pair of shoes, some deer sausage and a knife, a 9-year-old boy from Butterfield was spotted on Highway 60 in Watonwan County. Sheriff Harry Bohm caught up with him at about 7:30 a.m. after a trucker alerted him to the boy on the side of the road. When asked where he thought he was going, the boy explained he was going to see his grandmother in L.A. As he was returned to his parents, he was asked to wait a few years before attempting the trip again.
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Mini-courses offer help in how to make a living Jan. 15, 1973 Mankato State College offered courses directly related to making a living for people not officially enrolled in college courses. The classes were free, unless one wanted credits for them, in which case the standard $7.25 fee per credit was assessed. All classes were held on upper campus. One of the first courses offered was “Professionalism, Courtesy and Grooming.” It offered telephone courtesy tips, a style show, beauty tips from a beautician and a professional certified secretary to help students with setting goals. Other classes offered tips on interviewing and creating a resume and letter of application. Sales courses were also offered, plus information for the man who wanted to go into business for himself.
AVANT GUARDIANS By Leticia Gonzales
Music is the gift Colin Scharf of Good Night Gold Dust works on a new solo album
olin Scharf, a singer and songwriter for Good Night Gold Dust and Silver Summer, developed an interest in music and performing by way of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as a 5-year-old boy in 1990. “I was already a huge Turtles fan, collecting all the toys, drawing my own ‘Turtles’ comics, and watching the live-action movies over and over, but when the four turtle brothers traded their ninja weapons for guitars, something clicked for me — I needed to play guitar,” said now 35-year-old Scharf. Shortly after that premonition, he received his first electric toy guitar for Christmas, purchased from a JCPenney catalog. “My mom would snap off the ends of plastic spoons for guitar picks, and I’d strum that guitar in my room, singing along with the ‘Turtles,’ Garth Brooks, and Genesis,” he said. In addition to studying the trumpet,
Scharf started taking guitar lessons as a freshman in high school, where he excelled. He joined his first band at 15, a punk trio called The Young Ones, which toured the country for two years. He also picked up playing the drums, piano, synthesizer and drum machines. Despite contemplating studying sound recording in college, he received a bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s in fine arts in creative writing from Minnesota State University. He is an English adjunct instructor at MSU. “This move didn’t deter me from playing music, though,” Scharf said. “Throughout my four years of undergrad, I played guitar and wrote music for seven bands and did much of the recording for those groups as well. When I moved to Mankato for graduate school in 2007, I went about a year and a half without a band, and, I’ll be honest, those
were some of the darkest months of my life. They showed me just how important playing music on a regular basis is to me.” During his final year of grad school, he started Good Night Gold Dust with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Laura. The band has continued to perform over the past 10 years, participating in hundreds of festivals and shows throughout Minnesota and in Austin, Texas. “We’ve garnered numerous accolades from music blogs and MPR’s 89.3 The Current, and, more recently, our music has been featured on TV shows on MTV, Hulu and ABC,” Scharf said. “I don’t know what the future holds in store for my music, but a quick glance into the past shows me that all I need to do is write and play music, and good things will work out for me. My father’s mother was a music teacher, pianist, violinist and singer. Music is her gift to me.” One of Scharf’s recent projects is recording a solo album, “Silver.” “In my 20 years of being an active musician, this is the first time I’ve been the primary singer and songwriter of a band.” As a full-time artist, he is also working on a novel, “The Big Time.” Among other accolades, Scharf’s resume features writing a young adult sports novel for Capstone P u b l i s h i n g a n d p ro d u c i n g a Christmas album, which was sponsored by the Mankato Free Press. “What I look for in music is the same thing I look for in a Rothko painting — elation, exuberance, m y s t e r y, l o v e , h o p e , d e s i re , depression, sadness, joy — you know, the human experience.”
MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 9
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BEYOND THE MARGIN By Joe Spear
Trails, monoliths and county engineers
ou can get lost on the Red Jacket Trail even though it has a beginning and an ending, both of which bring you to civilization, Rapidan included. One can get lost, in a good way, in its history and in its lore. We’ve come to learn that these places in the past offer solace in a pandemic world. The warm November drew myself and hundreds of others to this trail on a former railroad bed that gradually climbs a 60 feet per mile grade from West Mankato to County Road 33 in Rapidan Township. The trail offers a microcosm of local geography. It leads you through urban neighborhoods of West Mankato, slices through the hills and valleys of the Le Sueur River watershed and offers a view of an expanse of purplish farmland and prairies. The trail, named after Seneca Indian Chief Red Jacket was developed in the early 1990s and only came to be after one third of the landowners and their libertarian lawyers lost in court. They didn’t believe in eminent domain, but the judge did. The public good was said to be paramount, and they got a good price for their land. The story of the Red Jacket Trail was penned in part by the engineers at Blue Earth County, politically courageous commissioners and tree huggers when they approved the project. And most everyone came to appreciate the decision. The original Red Jacket line was abandoned by the Milwaukee Road railroad in 1978 after there was little use for the line that went from Mankato to Rapidan. The wooden trestle was not serving locomotives anymore, but it was strong enough for the 2.5-kid families on bicycle or foot and for retirees looking to find something pure and wild from
the past. But trestles that cross rivers are not immortal. The spring floods of 2010 chipped away at the hundred-yearold stone pier and threatened to send the trestle crashing into the river below. Mongrel cottonwoods likely were hurtled by the teeming floodwaters at the crumbling stone at the base of the bridge. And it asked to be removed from life support. An emergency-like operation in the fall saved the trestle as a gigantic crane hauled in from the Twin Cities lifted a 2-ton piece of the bridge off the rotting pier and set it down on the riverbank. The pier crumbled before everyone’s eyes as the bridge was lifted from it. The story comes to life at the site as a twisted piece of iron pier stands as a monolith near the bridge along the walking path. The civil engineers of Blue Earth County who are awed by metallurgy and aggregate have offered us a look into the Red Jacket story by displaying the twisted piece of iron. A civil engineer cannot miss an opportunity like this to speak, and speak forcefully and loudly, because there are not that many opportunities to do that in civil engineering. The pylon stands 15, 16, 17 feet tall. And the force of God can be seen in its twisted limbs. Monoliths matter if we consider recent news accounts. They found an obelisk in the remote Utah desert in November. It was described as a tall threesided metal structure. Photos in newspapers captured its intense shine. Because it wasn’t hurting anything, the authorities let it be. It later disappeared. Mysteriously. According to news reports, the Utah Bureau of Land Management
reported the monolith was removed by an “unknown party.” The 12-foot high monolith drew worldwide attention as it resembled the one in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.’” Another showed up in Romania, and on a mountain trail near San Francisco and yet another on the Pine Mountain Trail in San Luis Obispo. That one was eventually vandalized by men who reportedly shouted “America First.” And finally, The New York Times discovered the creators of the monolith that was “riveting the world.” “We intended for it to be a piece of guerrilla art. But when it was taken down in such a malicious manner, we decided we needed to replace it,” Wade McKenzie, one of the California monolith’s creators, said in an interview. They rebuilt it permanently on the mountain trail. Terrie Banish, the deputy city manager of Atascadero, told the press that the city is happy to have it back. “It brings back that joyful spirit that was taken away and it gives something for people to look forward to” in a difficult time, she said. When you get to the end of the Red Jacket Trail, most people turn around and head back. It’s all downhill from Rapidan, and fat-tire bikes can reach Indy car speeds. While manmade things can have an end, some endure beyond their time for reasons that seem elusive. A trail can take you places you thought you’d never go and find things like the importance of county engineers and monoliths. Joe Spear is editor of Mankato Magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-6382. Follow on Twitter @jfspear. MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 11
Natural leader Bukata Hayes’ leadership begins from Mom and Dad’s experiences By Diana Rojo-Garcia | Photos by Pat Christman
ukata Hayes, is a self-proclaimed homebody. One who, when he finds time, prefers to stay hunkered down and endlessly stream “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” “I really love spending time with my wife and with my kids,” he said. “I could sit at home and binge-watch shows and movies with my family every single day if I could.” Family time is a priority in Hayes’ life. “It’s one of the best ways to spend a day.”
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And there’s always sports, too. “I’m a big sports guy,” he said. “Basketball being number one.” Pre-COVID, he and his boys would go shoot hoops outside. “Basketball is the only thing I could use to stay in shape because I don’t like to run,” he laughed. Hayes had been recruited his senior year in high school to play college basketball at Bethany Lutheran College in the mid-’90s, but the sport had always been a constant in his life. Growing up in Milwaukee, he and
his brothers would go to the courts just across the street from his home. It’s where he spent a lot of time. “You know, growing up in the hood, you would be shoveling off courts and you would be right outside playing basketball in the winter.” It might have been 6 or 7 p.m. during those cold wintery nights, but they’d be outside playing. “It was pretty cold, but it was fun. It was one of those things like you gotta get out of the house.” Though he hasn’t passed on the tradition to his kids — mostly because there’s access to inside courts now — it was an experience he wouldn’t trade for anything.
From family roots
Hayes, 45, has been the executive director of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council since 2006 — only two years after the council began. His name is ubiquitous in the Mankato area when it comes to exploring the issues of inclusion and equity. Along with creating the first-ever multi-ethnic center at Bethany Lutheran College and running for mayor twice, he is also the founder of Love & Struggle — a consulting company that helps communities work through issues on race, inclusion and equity. And it all begins with his parents. The many trailblazing efforts and projects in this community have been long term — a way to continue the legacy of Hayes’ father, Dia Damani Courtney. His dad was a pro-Black civil rights activist and did much of that work in Chicago, then eventually Milwaukee. “Milwaukee is where he met my mom,” Hayes said. Courtney’s projects involved community-building efforts and initiatives that uplifted the Black community in Milwaukee in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This includes the Warning Basketball League, which is still running
today in Milwaukee. The league had been created by Courtney and his friends in the mid-’70s. “They simply were trying to provide inner-city youth with some outlets, and all of them love basketball,” Hayes said. They’d go to a park and invite others to go play basketball at another park, or transport kids on a bus to a park to play basketball. “Through this kind of really grassroots effort, (it provided) young inner-city African American kids an opportunity and a positive outlet, some positive role models and mentorship.” The league started initially playing ball out on the blacktop. It’s now morphed into an indoor league still providing that positive outlet for youth in Milwaukee. “Those ways of impacting the community, for not just the short term, but the long term, I think is what really has drawn me to the work I do here in Mankato,” Hayes said. “In a way, to kind of continue his legacy of speaking truth to power and providing these outlets for folks to be involved in.” And the movement had taken his father out to Los Angeles in the early ‘80s. He’d come back and forth between Milwaukee and L.A. but, for the most part, lived in Los Angeles. “We have a great relationship to this day — talk daily about politics, sports, movement building,” Hayes said. “Developing that relationship with him — the long distance — I just learned a lot in terms of time and investment in relationships that it takes.” His mother, Karen Hayes, is Hayes’ symbol of strength that is a Black woman. She raised four boys in the inner city primarily herself. “She had brothers, so we had uncles, but it was her,” he said. MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 13
She worked whatever job she needed to make sure that her children — four boys — were being taken care of. “One of the things I gained from my mom is being tough enough to raise boys and being gentle enough to let us know it’s OK to cry and care for one another,” Hayes said. “And I still can thrive.” His mom, too, had been engaging in being the “first” in many ways. “She was the only African American woman in a respiratory therapist in classes and courses.” She’d talk about being in those classes, Hayes said, and being the only one coming back on the weekends to hear about the fun her classmates had. “She remembered never being invited. She just remembered how that felt, and I think that existence and experience shows her resiliency.” The leader of the family with insurmountable strength. The two distinct parental roles in his life shaped Hayes: His dad, a community leader with countless meetings and sacrificing time away from family; and his mom, an unconditionally loving role model figure for Hayes and his brothers. “It’s things I try to apply to my life right now.” Rather than beginning with a list of his accomplishments, Hayes’ biography has always led with family: first with Mom, Dad, then his wife, Lisa, and three boys, Damani, Jalen, Zavier, and daughter, Zuri. “Those relationships are what carry you. Those relationships are what matter.”
‘He’s a great young man’
Art Westphal’s relationship with Hayes began in the mid-’90s in the boiler room of Milwaukee’s Trading and Technical High School. “Imagine pipes kind of hanging all around,” said Westphal, former coach and now senior advancement officer at Bethany. “It’s not the glamorous recruitment you hear about today.” Hayes at this point hadn’t been sure of going to college when he had met with the then-head basketball coach. The meeting was set up by Hayes’ high school basketball coach, Win Parkinson, also an acquaintance of Westphal. The location and first meeting between the now longtime friends remains a fond memory, but it was Hayes’ essence that made a lasting impression on Westphal. “He was a very polite, kind of a quiet young man, but very sincere,” Westphal said. “From the first time I met Bu, he has this look … He looks you directly in the eye and you just know what he says — and how he carries himself — is very sincere.” Hayes, before being recruited, had only been playing high school basketball for about a year. Westphal had been contacted by Parkinson, suggesting Hayes to be recruited onto Bethany’s team. “He knew what type of college Bethany Lutheran College was and said he had a great feeling for the great player Bu was, that he’d be a great fit for Bethany,” Westphal said. “He was certainly correct.” Despite only having one year of high school basketball experience, Hayes had become an allconference basketball player. “Credit to how hard he worked,” Westphal said. Hayes experienced major change coming to Mankato
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to play ball at Bethany in the mid-’90s. The community wasn’t as diverse as he was used to, but his experience here had always been great — so he wanted to share that experience with others by creating the multi-ethnic center on campus. “I think that was his dream and vision — to make that opportunity,” Westphal said. “I think it’s worked — you look out on our student body today, and it’s reflective of what his vision was … Bu had an influence on that kind of thing on our campus.” And during his time in the admissions department and diversity center, Hayes’ strength was being a “wonderful mentor and role model” to students he worked with, Westphal said. “I would just say, the many, many athletes I have coached in 20 years of basketball and baseball, Bu would certainly be in that category of those guys that was such a joy to coach,” he said. “The kind of young man that you go into coaching for.”
Time at Bethany
There was no virtual tour that many are accustomed to today and he didn’t go on a campus visit, but Hayes decided to move from Milwaukee to Mankato to attend college. He arrived at Bethany in ‘94 to play basketball along with his friend Omar McMillan, also recruited by Westphal. “Frankly, the only reason I came (to Mankato) was to play basketball,” he said. “I came to play a sport I loved, and like everything else, was going to be part of the experience.” It was a culture shock, Hayes said, going from a predominantly Black community to a predominantly white community. Bethany at that time was relatively small, with only about 300 students. Mankato itself was smaller. Hayes tells the story about him and McMillan heading to the Super America that was located near Bethany at 10 p.m., and it was closed. “That was one of those things where I was like, ‘This is a smaller community,’” Hayes said. “Nobody must need gas after 10 o’clock!” He said it helped to have a hometown friend with him during the transition, even though he’d still been able to make friends on his own. “But I mean, coming into a predominately white environment after you’ve been in a predominately Black environment, Mankato was an adjustment.” He knew McMillan was always “ready to roll” and had his back. “All of that matters.” Hayes moved to Duluth in ‘96 to attend St. Scholastica with his then-girlfriend, Lisa, whom he’d met a couple of weeks into the first semester at Bethany. During his time in Duluth, he had worked part time in cardiac rehab while also selling screen printing. Hayes and Lisa married in Duluth, too, in ‘98. “We enjoyed (Duluth) … But the winters were just too crazy,” he laughed. So they packed their bags and moved back to Mankato in the early 2000s with their infant son, Damani. Hayes got a job as a salesman at Mankato Ford. “I was not a really good salesperson,” he laughed. He spent more than half a year selling cars but came to terms that maybe selling cars hadn’t been his path. “I can’t be forceful enough in terms of getting the sale, so I mean, I’m going to starve.” Then a job opportunity arose at Bethany. Hayes was
originally an admissions counselor, focusing on recruiting minority or BIPOC students. “While I was aware and active in terms of matters of race and inclusion because of who my mom and dad were, I think it was at that point in which I kind of owned it on my own,” he said. Through the work, Hayes was in charge of learning how to remove and dismantle barriers that had existed to provide access and opportunity. “I think it came into full bloom as an admissions counselor at Bethany Lutheran College.” He co-taught intro sociology courses at Bethany, then started the multicultural center as he continued to fully embrace his own work around inclusion, access and opportunity. The center had come to fruition after the experiences Hayes had been bumping up against while being an admissions counselor as he was recruiting more diverse students to campus. Some challenges included students who have not been in the best educational environments or financial hardships. Hayes had proposed a scholarship for minority students that had been approved to help out financially. But ultimately, the question was whether or not Bethany Lutheran College had been prepared to receive, and retain, diverse students. “That’s where the multi-ethnic center was really born out of, this continuing basic clarity around what students of color would need on campus to be successful,” he said. “The multi-ethnic center was kind of the culmination of that at the time.” It was a space where students could feel welcome and a place where they could let their guard down. But it also acted as a bridge between students and institutions to prepare the campus to receive the students by working with educational leaders and administration. First and foremost, however, building these bridges comes from an understanding of multiple backgrounds — knowing the campus historically and the experiences that students of color might have. The multi-cultural center had been one of the ways Hayes had begun to build those bridges in a community and foster connections he could use to move the
Bukata Hayes (right), executive director of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, shakes hands with Michael Fagin, a former ethnic studies professor at Minnesota State University, as the Juneteenth Celebration march ended in front of the Intergovernmental Center in 2018. File photo community, and campus community, forward. “I think I carry that with me over the (Diversity) Council, too,” he said. “I think one of the things I learned at Bethany was … ‘How do we meet folks where they’re at?’ To then talk about how we move forward.”
Stacy Wells, director of communication for Mankato Area Public Schools and co-founder of Love & Struggle, met Hayes more than a decade ago. “We actually met in Lonsdale on a very cold and snowy evening,” she said. At the time, she had been working in the Lakeville schools as the equity lead and Hayes had been working on a new collaborative. Since then, the two have worked together on various equity projects throughout the years since the initial meeting. The biggest project they worked on is WRITE on RACE — a program that challenges a community or organization to “journal, meditate, digest, and chew on the challenging dynamics of race, racism, white privilege and white supremacy.” Hayes and Wells co-created and facilitated that process from 2016- 2018 in Mankato, then wrote a book based on that process. Their consulting company, Love & Struggle, focuses on working with school districts and organizations around educational
equity, anti-racism and organizational shifts around equity. “It just kind of evolved over time where I had brought him in as a consultant and really admired his work and the approach he took,” Wells said. Throughout the years, he’s become a great friend and certainly, a great colleague, she said. “The way that we approach the work around equity was really complementary so it seemed like a good fit for us to do some of that work together.” His work has shown an incredible commitment to not only the area of Mankato, she said, but rural areas in Minnesota, too. Hayes travels across the state giving presentations and hosting workshops. “He has really committed to this area, and I think that he has enriched it and helped people understand that rural areas can adapt and change,” Wells said. And most importantly, she said, Hayes has stayed true to himself in a position where one could easily lose themselves. “He is a very proud and unapologetic Black man, that’s who he is to his core,” Wells said. “But he also knows that he has to show up doing this sort of work in situations as nonthreatening and nonconfrontational, while the work he’s doing is very heavy.” It’s a position that any person, especially a person of color, is steeped deeply in the work around MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 15
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equity, race and justice while trying to help the community through it all. That person carries that burden every day, Wells said. “You can lose yourself, and I would say he hasn’t lost himself,” she said. “I think that’s what allows him to do the work that he does, is just being really true to himself in that way.” Hayes is an intelligent, empathetic, creative, approachable and humble person who is also a gifted communicator, Wells said. “He’s one of those people that’s probably more of a natural leader than any intention behind it. And people want him to lead because he is willing to get involved and bring people together to help craft a vision.”
The tough talks
Hayes has been the executive director at the Greater Mankato Diversity Council for the last 14 years. When Hayes first joined the council, it had been engaging with 2,400 people, mostly students through its Prompting Respect Workshops and curriculum. “Now, we’re up to 15,000 folks a year,” Hayes said. They engage through different presentations, workshops with adults, businesses and organizations. “Outside of a COVID sort of existence, we were still engaging with about 9,000 students in our region as well.” But in terms of the council from 2006 to 2020, there’s a visible philosophical growth. “It’s courage,” Hayes said. “It’s courage to stand up for inclusion in the community and to be vocal about that, to lead on that truthfully.” Between 2006 when Hayes first came onto the board and now, realities have changed drastically. “When we talk about leadership, we knew no other leadership than white men being presidents in 2006 — that changed,” he said. “We knew no other existence of marriage being between a man and a woman — legally, legislatively — and that’s changed. All of these things that have changed since 2006, in terms of the realities in the environment, I think have also been ways that pushed the council to be more bold and courageous in the work that we do.” And Mankato’s community — including various organizations at Minnesota State University, the
YWCA, Diversity Council and others — has been active in being bold and courageous through various groups doing work in inclusion and diversity. “I think that constant tilling of the soil by organizations in communities aimed at inclusion, we’re planting seeds, we’re watering seeds and cultivating that,” Hayes said. The WRITE on RACE initiative was one of the many examples of the community showing up to have a conversation about race and a manner to build relationships with community members wanting to be a part of the solution around the issues of race. “They develop confidence and courage from that initiative,” Hayes said. The open conversations allowed them to confidently say that race mattered and also look at race through all sorts of societal institutions. It gave people the courage to stand up because they have seen others stand up for race, too. Mankato had that courage after May 25, 2020 — the killing of George Floyd. There are two questions that WRITE on RACE focused on: “If a racial incident happened in our community, how do you think we would respond?” and “Do you think we would be proud of that response?” “I think we got the chance to see how we would respond, and I would say, for the most part, folks felt proud of how we responded,” he said. “It was not in our community but it was in a community 70 miles away that we were closely connected to that we showed up.” The nightly protests on the bridge and marches and rallies — organized by people feeling compelled to do something about the heavy conversation on race that the nation faced. It took a community’s efforts — including the council’s efforts — in building a coalition of members that would show up when something such as this would happen. “I think that’s why I believe Mankato showed up. Mankato provided a space for folks to be heard, for us to grieve and to mourn and to challenge our community to be better,” he said. “I think all of those manifested themselves in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd here in
Bukata Hayes talks with supporters during an election gathering November 2018 at the City Center Hotel. File photo our community.” The conversations that have started and continued through Mankato also take place in Hayes’ own home. Hayes and his wife made the commitment to have tough conversations around race since they had begun dating. “Me and my wife — I think most folks know that my wife is white — made a commitment to ourselves to have the really tough conversations around race, even as we were a couple and as we were raising kids,” Hayes said. “We have those conversations with our kids, and we let our kids know that you can’t do some of the things that other people might be able to do.” They discuss with their children the potential of being racially profiled at the store or how to behave when being pulled over by the police. “Those conversations were happening pre-George Floyd, and I think for our kids, unfortunately, they’d been able to see in real time why we took that approach,” Hayes said. The conversations were upfront and real about what they would be experiencing as Black members of the community. “Because ultimately, we want them to know that being Black in this society can mean life or death depending on how you respond. And while that is unfair, and you shouldn’t have to bear it, it is what it is.” Hayes paused for a moment and added: “And that’s it, man. It’s unfair as hell.” He encourages all families, even white parents, to have those same conversations with their own children,
starting with things white members of society can do that perhaps their Black or brown friends can’t. Just to start those conversations can have a lasting impact. “I’m not telling white parents to say, ‘Hey it’s your fault.’ What I’m saying is, let’s talk honestly with our kids about how skin color impacts experience,” he said. “Let’s just be real to say, yes, you will have to deal with an environment that you didn’t create but you inherited, and Mom and Dad are working to try and make it so that we don’t pass that on to you and grandkids, and you’re going to have to do that work too to not pass it on.”
The conversations don’t end
Hayes’ work in the community for the nearly two decades from Bethany Lutheran College to the Greater Mankato Diversity Council — and everything in between — doesn’t stop. It’s a lifetime commitment, and almost as a promise, to fight proactively against social injustices to better the lives of others. “I saw my mom saw be the first fired, I saw my mom be excluded from economic opportunities, so the combination of my dad’s work and in seeing my firsthand my mom’s experience, to me, it’s making sure that folks feel connected to a community and they have economic opportunities,” he said. “It feels like fighting the good fight, and it feels like I’m carrying my mom and dad with me and their experience to make sure other folks don’t have to go through that same experience.” MM MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 17
REFLECTIONS By Pat Christman
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ot everyone enjoys the snow and cold of winter. All the shoveling, warming up the car before heading out and wearing so many layers can wear a person out. However, some look for the silver lining and find something fun to do during Minnesota’s seemingly unending winter. Downhill and cross-country skiing, ice fishing, sledding and snowshoeing are just a few of the outdoor activities we find to give us an excuse to venture out into the cold and make the most of it. MM
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The artistic director
Maggie Maes has been an active member of Merely Players since the late ‘90s
M Photos by Pat Christman
Maggie Maes HOMETOWN: Madison Lake
That is the same as asking who is my favorite child. I adore “Hamilton,” I have seen “Les Mis” so many times, “Chicago” is also a favorite — in fact, there are only a couple of musicals I dislike and those who know me know which ones they are!
GO-TO UPBEAT SONG:
My go-to song has to be “Let’s Dance” byDavid Bowie. No Saturday morning house cleaning happens without it, no large baking project either.
NAME ONE THING ON YOUR BUCKET LIST:
It has always been to visit Petra in Jordan. Sadly with the political climate it will have to stay on the list for now
erely Players has been providing the Greater Mankato area with quality community theater since 1982. The nonprofit has helped community members find their passion in the arts while providing the community with entertainment. However, 2020 had put Merely Players’ productions on hold as the pandemic continued, and the board will assess 2021’s season productions. Merely Players’ artistic director, Maggie Maes, who has been with the organization since 1996, hopes to be able to pick up where they left off in 2020. “It will obviously depend on how soon we can get back to live theater,” she said. If possible, Merely Players will perform “Rex’s Exes,” an Agatha Christie mystery, “Spider’s Web” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” MANKATO MAGAZINE: It’s been a long, long pandemic. What have you been up to during this time? MAGGIE MAES: We are lucky enough to live on a lake and so staying home has been easier than for a lot of people. I have read a lot and, of course, baked! I have to say I have perfected my honey wheat bread! We have also caught up on a lot of Netflix series, watched the entire “West Wing” again and like so many others watched “Hamilton” a few times when Disney released it. MM: How did you first get involved with Merely Players? MAES: In 1996 my two oldest children who were 8 and 6 at the time auditioned for “Winnie the Pooh.” My son was cast as Piglet, and in true Merely Players fashion, my daughter was Pretty Little Skunk # 2 (we always try to include as many children as possible). I volunteered to help wrangle the children in between scenes and was hooked on how welcoming the organization is. The next show I ran a spotlight, then lights, props, even helped with costumes, which is funny as those who know me know how clueless I am about sewing. I then started assistant directing and eventually directing. MM: Over the years, you have taken up many positions
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at Merely Players including the most current as artistic director. Tell us one of your most memorable moments during one of those roles. MAES: Back in 1999 we were producing “Children of Eden,” I was working props for that show. The first act is about The Creation and the set was horseshoe shaped with some cutouts in them where some very pointy acrylic plants were placed and lit from the bottom. They were very effective. During the banishment scene, the stage would go dark and the “plants” would be removed. It was a large cast and very busy during that scene and one of the actors, Chuck Kind, got poked in the eye by one of the plants. He came off stage in obvious pain and at the time we had a fridge with an icebox in the green room, so I went to grab some ice for him and the only thing in the freezer were frozen Peppermint Patties, so here is poor Chuck holding one on his eye. Now, I should also mention that the second act was the story of Noah, and Chuck played Noah so we needed him to be able to do this. As luck would have it, we also had Dr. Michael Rath in the cast and he had noticed something happening with Chuck and because it was such a large cast (30 plus) was able to slip off stage and make his way to Chuck who obviously needed real help as the Peppermint Patty wasn’t doing much. Dr. Rath drove to his office in full makeup and glitter robe and came back in time to treat Chuck and send him on stage in Act 2 as Noah. MM: What has been the most rewarding work you feel you have done with the organization? MAES: I have seen the effect working on a show can have on people. They are able to walk in to rehearsals and leave whatever problems they have at the stage door and for a few hours be someone else. I have had people who were going through a divorce or illness at the time they were in a show. They said it was a relief to come each night and be able to forget everything else. Also, working with the children has so many rewards and to see their excitement at being cast and how hard they work. They bring an energy with them each night, and I love that we give children a chance to be on stage and give them that full theater experience. MM: What is something that some might not know about Merely Players? MAES: We joke and say we are Mankato’s best kept secret. Merely Players has been producing really good theater in Mankato since 1982! We have obviously been doing something right to have lasted that long! If there is a secret to our success, I think it is the Community Theater part; you come to any show and you might see your child’s teacher on stage or your banker or a check-out person from your local grocery store. We have had a judge on stage, doctors, students and, of course, your neighbor’s child. We take the title Community Theater very, very seriously. We love having new people on stage as without them we would not have been able to survive as long as we have. MM: If you could attend any musical or play in the world (pre-COVID), what would it be and why? MAES: It would have to be “Macbeth.” My love of Shakespeare started in my teens when I went on a school trip to the West End and saw a young Judi Dench in “Twelfth Night.” I walked out of that theater wanting more. I saw “Macbeth” about eight years later and was hooked. There
are so many amazing characters in “Macbeth” and if you have not read the play, take the time while we cannot see live theater and read it. Do not think “Oh, it is Shakespeare so it is probably boring.” No, no. This has it all — mystery, intrigue, murder, battles and one very conniving wife. MM: How do community theaters benefit/affect a community? How has it affected you personally? MAES: Live theater is such an amazing gift to give. For a few hours you are sitting in a darkened theater with 249 other people, forgetting the bills, work, the day-to-day and you are transported somewhere else. Each show gives opportunities to the people who are working on it to come together for six weeks and go from sitting in a circle reading a script together to standing on stage in front of an audience and taking them somewhere else. It teaches about teamwork and problem solving. Community theater also enriches the community artistically and financially. I cannot imagine life without theater; it is where I go to play with my friends and get to use my creative side. I have formed such strong bonds with people and have wonderful memories from past productions and look forward to future ones. MM: The production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” had abruptly ended earlier this year. How did the cast/Merely Players feel having to postpone the production indefinitely? MAES: This one still hurts; I had wanted to direct this show since I first saw it many, many years ago. I was thrilled with everything — the cast, the costumes, the props and the set. Our band was incredible and the guitarists would give me chills each night. We had worked hard, extremely hard and to have that second weekend taken away was painful. I remember standing backstage knowing I was going to have to tell the cast that opening weekend was also going to be closing weekend and even though we had seen the writing on the wall and knew it was a good possibility it was still awful. I hurt for them all and I was so sad that so many people in Mankato were not going to get the opportunity to see this show that I, my cast and crew were so proud of. However, we all knew it was the right thing to do, and I am glad we did it before anyone got sick. The board had long discussions about what we should do, and I am happy that the decision was made that the health of cast, crew and our patrons plus the staff at the Kato Ballroom should come first, regardless of the financial hit or how sad closing after one weekend made us. MM: Is there anything else you’d like to add? MAES: Like a lot of other theaters, we have been hit hard by the pandemic. We are a nonprofit theater group who relies on audiences, grants and donations to survive. We also realize people in general are hurting. This pandemic has changed our lives in a way nobody could have predicted a year ago, however, I am hopeful things will turn around eventually and if you believe live theater is as important as we do, please think about buying season tickets as by doing so you tell us that you consider us an important part of the Mankato community. Also, the theater might be closed, but the Board of Directors has been working hard. We are still having monthly meetings via Zoom and will be ready to go when it is safe to move forward. Stay in touch with us at merelyplayers.com whether to make a donation or just say hi until we can see you in person again. Compiled by Diana Rojo-Garcia MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 21
DAY TRIP DESTINATIONS: A BIT OF ITALY IN WISCONSIN By Leigh Pomeroy
Aerial view of Villa Belleza located in Pepin, Wis. “A day trip destination that feels a world away.” ALL PHOTO CREDITS are to Courtesy of Villa Belleza Winery & Vineyard
A bit of Italy in Wisconsin
or several months, my neighbor Judy had been suggesting to her husband, Preston, and me that we should visit this Italian Renaissance-style winery on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Pepin. We’re neighbors whose sons were (and still are) best friends, regularly visiting each other’s houses and playing soccer (and video games) together growing up. As we became empty nesters, Preston and Judy and my wife, Gretta, and I learned we shared a passion for good food and wine, so we met regularly in our houses and also once a year in Newport Beach, California, to enjoy this passion together. Sadly, Gretta passed away in December 2019. After that, Preston and Judy sort of adopted me, and we continued to share meals together several times a month. Judy would cook, and I would provide wine and salad with my family-recipe vinaigrette dressing, with Preston offering insights on politics, wine — his favorite is Cabernet Franc — and religion. Which takes us to our journey to Lake Pepin and the aforementioned Italianate winery. It was that memorable weekend in early November with unusually balmy 72-degree temperatures. The election had taken place the Tuesday before, and everyone was still awaiting the results. 22 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
Judy is a great planner, so she secured an Airbnb in Pepin, Wisconsin, home to Villa Bellezza Winery. We took off from Mankato on Friday morning, laden with masks and preparing to socially distance. As it turns out, all businesses on both sides of the Mississippi were observing the same rules, which was a great relief. We traveled through Winona, where Preston and Judy once lived, pausing to survey the city from the Garvin Heights overlook. Then we headed north on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, eventually stopping at the Nelson Creamery. At one time the Creamery produced its own cheese that was well-known throughout the Midwest, but today it serves well as a gourmet food store selling Wisconsin and world cheeses, unique meats, wines, beers, sandwiches, ice cream and other items. We couldn’t help but stock up for our weekend. From there we headed north to Pepin along the Great Wisconsin River Road. Our lodging turned out to be a small single-story home identical to all the other small single-story homes in Pepin. On Airbnb it was advertised as having two floors, five bedrooms, two bathrooms and the capacity to sleep
15. Actually, it was a main floor and a converted basement, with the bathroom in the basement, a throwback to the days when northern Midwest homes had their showers in the basement due to low water pressure problems. And if you tried to fit 15 people in … well, good luck. Preston and Judy took the upstairs and I the downstairs, which was OK with me, being the subterranean guy that I am. By then it was late, but Preston and Judy wanted to head to the winery some five minutes away. Indeed, it presented itself as impressive as its online photos — straight out of medieval Italy, though clearly only recently constructed. Even before I went, I was skeptical of the winery’s offerings. Was it all show and no substance? I knew there was no way that western Wisconsin could grow classic Italian varietals like sangiovese and pinot grigio. I knew they could only be producing wines from French-American hybrids — vines that could withstand northern Midwestern winters yet produce somewhat palatable wines. We crept into the tasting room at about 6:45. The wine server was clearly a young Irishman from his brogue. I thought: Did he get displaced from a brewery to a winery? As it turns out, he came to western Wisconsin for love — he showed us his wedding ring — and had enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in hospitality leadership. Villa Bellezza was a logical part-time job. The first sample he poured was on the house: a very creditable off-dry white called Zitella, a blend of La Crescent and Prairie Star grapes. We’re dry wine folks, so after this we tried two of their six wines in this category, eventually settling on their award-winning Cotes Du Pepin, also a La Crescent and Prairie Star blend, buying a bottle to sip with the pizza served in their courtyard. It turned out to be a lovely evening as we enjoyed the wine and pizza (made by a real Italian chef), socially distanced under the patio portico enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Then we topped it off with the winery’s Brillante Rosa, a dry sparkling rosé that was delicate yet flavorful. While tasting these wines I kept
thinking how much I’d like to include them as ringers in a blind tasting with similar taste profile vinifera wines — the ones grown throughout the rest of the world in moderate climates like Europe, California and Australia — just to see if the tasters could pick them out as different. The next day we toured Stockholm, the funky, artsy tourist town a few miles up the road from Pepin, home to the Stockholm Pie & General Store; then on to Maiden Rock, home to the charming Maiden Rock Inn, a B & B converted from an old school building. A driving tour of Red Wing showed us a city that had preserved many of its historic buildings, including its downtown, churches and many residences. After circumventing Lake Pepin, we returned to Pepin, where we celebrated the election of a new president — the networks had declared the winner that morning — in our little Airbnb with a bottle of Eugène III Champagne, an inexpensive yet quality bubbly from one of Champagne’s many co-op wineries. Afterward, we treated ourselves to a lovely dinner at the Harbor View Café, sharing smoked fish in cream sauce, stuffed mushrooms, garlic prawns and plenty of linguine, along with a bottle of Villa Bellezza St. Pepin. At the end of the meal we learned from owner Ruth Stoyke that the restaurant was for sale. She said she is ready to retire. In my enthusiasm, I made a spur-ofthe-moment offer but was politely turned down. Oh well. I hope she sells it to a quality buyer, as it would be a shame to see this gem on Lake Pepin close. Alas, we had to head back to Mankato the next day, going by way of Wabasha and the Minnesota side on our way to Winona. We cruised through Old Frontenac where the historic residences are all painted white, and then stopped at Reads Landing Brewing. I had an excellent double IPA that measured in at 9% alcohol. Then on to Lark Toys in Kellogg, not too far north of Winona. I remembered visiting Lark with Gretta and our twin sons when they were very small. Since then, it’s expanded greatly from the one building that surrounded its classic carousel to numerous
Customers enjoying Villa Bellezza’s popular pizzas and Villa Belleza’s wine. Other menu items include salads, cheese and meat plates and desserts.
The outdoor winter cafe has been offering customers a socially distant, and comfort, spot to enjoy their food and wine.
Before making the trip to Villa Belleza, check out their wine list online. The winery offers wine tasting — socially distanced placing — where you can taste three wines for $5 per person. buildings all connected. Aside from the incredible collection of toys (and even a bookstore), it featured about a half-dozen classic toy exhibits behind protective glass. Some of these toys I remember from my youth, which, I guess, dates me. A lot of Minnesotans think about home-state vacationing as “going up North.” For a change, I suggest they go east to the Mississippi where there is a lot to discover. MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 23
Neil Mendonca at Minnesota State University’s campus security office. Mendonca has worked as the communications office at MSU since Dec. 2019.
NIGHT MOVES While some sleep, others work By Nell Musolf | Photos by Pat Christman
here’s no doubt about it. Working the night shift isn’t the same as working during “normal” hours. Leaving the house when most other people are getting home — or going to bed — requires adjustments both mentally and physically. About 7% of the population works the night shift. In Mankato, people who are earning their bread and butter after dark typically experience life a little differently than the day timers.
Keeping the campus safe
At Minnesota State University, security is an aroundthe-clock thing. Security officers are patrolling the campus each of the 24 hours in a day. Sydney Baldwin has been a campus security officer, or CSO, for almost two years. She’s working the night shift, checking in at 10 p.m. and going home at 8 a.m. “I’m responsible for leading the shift and supervising student workers,” Baldwin said. CSOs have a checklist of what needs to get done every night. Those responsibilities include checking the outer campus buildings such as the new sports dome, the observatory and Stadium Heights Residence Community as well as the Alumni and Foundation Center. CSOs also check all emergency phones on campus to ensure they are working properly. They ticket vehicles that are improperly parked, check interiors and exteriors of all campus buildings, and respond to any calls that might come in. All that walking helps Baldwin stay awake, but she also tries to sleep as much as possible before work. “My favorite part about working the night shift is
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having another full day off after my weekend ends,” Baldwin said. “It’s also nice working the night shift when it comes to making appointments and running errands during the day when everything is open.” The downside is sleeping during the day on work days. “My fiancé works out of town during the week, so when he’s home on the weekends, we don’t always have time to spend together because I need to sleep during the day before work,” Baldwin said. Another night shifter at MSU, Neil Mendonca also plays an important role in keeping the campus safe. Mendonca is a campus communications officer for University Security, a position he’s held since December 2019. Mendonca said that four components of his position stand out each shift. “First I man the security hotline,” Mendonca said. “I try, to the best of my ability, to answer questions that students, faculty and members of the community have.” Those questions can range from parking to safety issues and security. “Second, I keep track of where campus security patrol officers are by logging all radio communications and dispatching them to calls for service. Third, I assist members of the community when they need to come to campus with parking queries to event location information. Last, I keep an eye on the Mankato Department of Public Safety scanner to ensure that nothing that they are responding to is on campus or can trickle onto campus. I also liaise with their officers and dispatchers when their presence is needed on campus,” Mendonca said.
Mendonca stays awake by keeping busy. He said he needs to perform certain software tasks every night and he staggers running them to help keep him alert as the night goes on. “I also have a playlist of songs of various genres that I listen to and I keep that running when I’m working alone. I also make sure I have a cold shower before work, even on the coldest days of winter, and on days when I feel really tired, I take an ice bath,” Mendonca said.
The guests come first
Assistant Store Leader Tina McNeal has been with Kwik Trip for five years. McNeal has worked the day side but now works nights at the Kwik Trip on Monks Avenue near Minnesota State University. The two shifts can share similarities. “We actually see a lot of the same customers on both shifts,” McNeal said, “The main thing I see as different is the pace of the customers as far as how long they are shopping.” While working her shift, McNeal has a set routine she follows with office tasks coming first followed by more physical chores such as stocking and cleaning coming later in the night. “I plan my more physical work for the middle and end of the shift, so I keep moving,” McNeal said. As with all other businesses, COVID-19 has brought changes and challenges to McNeal’s job, including changing cleaning products to increase the protection of guests and workers, and changing how fresh products are packaged. McNeal also has noticed the flow of traffic is different. “The traffic flow seems to be steadier now without so many ‘rushes’ with people heading to events on campus or work,” McNeal said. She likes the night shift because it enables her to spend more awake time with her family. “During online schooling, I am always there for my kids when they need help,” McNeal said. Her least favorite part of working nights is the day when she transitions from nights to days. “I’m usually tired that day because I short my sleep to do things with my family.” McNeal prefers nights as she considers herself a night person. It helps, too, to have a supportive spouse. “I have an amazing husband who works mornings so that one of us can always be home for the kids and we get the evenings for family time,” McNeal said.
From dusk to dawn
Kristina Dyslin has been working the night shift as a registered nurse and relief charge nurse in the pediatrics ward at Mayo Hospital in Mankato for several years, clocking in at 7 p.m. and going home at 7 a.m. The highly coveted day shift positions are typically awarded according to seniority. That is fine with Dyslin as she prefers working nights. “There’s a pace to the night shift that I like,” Dyslin said. “I also work with a group of people I really like and respect. We all know we have each other’s back.” Nights in a hospital are different from days in that there are fewer staff members around and patients are hopefully sleeping at least part of the time. “I think it’s something of a myth that people go to the hospital and sleep the entire time they’re there,” Dyslin said. “It can be very hard to sleep in a hospital. It’s a different place than your home and you’re most likely
Missing cutline: Tina McNeal outside the Kwik Trip located near Minnesota State University. She is the assistant store leader. not feeling well.” Dyslin noted that at night there often seems to be a call light chain reaction — one call light from a patient seems to trigger another followed by another, keeping her and her co-workers hopping. Although Dyslin is primarily placed in pediatrics, she and her fellow nurses are cross trained to work in obstetrics and post-partum areas as well. Her area can also see general admission patients if there is no room for them in other places in the hospital. Working nights requires many lifestyle adjustments, but for Dyslin night hours have worked out well. “It takes a really long time to get used to working at night,” Dyslin said. “You have to figure out what works for you and then figure out how to make it work.” Dyslin tries to stick to her nocturnal hours even when she’s not working as she found that helps her maintain a regular sleep schedule. After a night shift, she’ll go home and relax for a few hours before going to bed around 10 in the morning. One of the harder parts of working alternative hours has been educating family and friends on when she works, when she sleeps and when she’s available to get together. “When I first started working overnights, it took a while for some family members to understand that I couldn’t answer phone calls at noon and that I wouldn’t be available for holiday meals at 4 in the afternoon. That’s like me expecting people to come to my house and have dinner at 2 in the morning,” Dyslin said. Another downside can be trying to schedule medical appointments and errands such as getting her driver’s license renewed. “My dentist is in Fairmont and seeing him practically takes a four-point plan of action. I definitely live in a completely different time zone than most other people,” Dyslin said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living on European time while everyone else is on Central time.” A big plus side of nights is having a flexible schedule that in the past allowed Dyslin to return to school for her RN degree while continuing to work full time. To stay alert, Dyslin limits herself to one caffeinated drink per shift before switching to water. The pacing of her job also helps keep her awake and on her toes throughout her shift. “I’m not a morning person anyway. I really prefer working nights,” Dyslin said. MM MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 25
Get OUTSIDE! Ney Nature Center offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing By Dana Melius | Photo courtesy Ney Nature Center
even groomed miles of cross-country skiing await you at Ney Nature Center, just two miles outside of Henderson. Atop the Minnesota River Valley bluffs and only a couple of miles west of Highway 169 on Highway 19, the center’s 446-acre site continues to grow in stature. Just 30 miles north of Mankato, the Ney Nature Center offers some of the finest cross-country skiing in the region. Recently designated as a part of the state’s Regional Park System, the Ney’s prairie presence just outside of the Twin Cities area also means it’s a short trip for metropolitan outdoor enthusiasts. And with seven miles of groomed trails, the Ney Nature Center continues to gain in popularity. “It (earning Regional Park System status) should help the park grow, not in acreage, but in stature,” said Emily Dufford, new programs and marketing coordinator at the Ney. Dufford started her tenure there in September during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasized the Ney’s programming remains in a cautionary state. But the open space the center’s grounds provides continued to attract hikers during the fall and will likely remain a popular destination for skiing and
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snowshoeing. “The Ney Nature Center is the best place to ski within 45 miles of Mankato,” says Deane Peterson, of St. Peter. He and wife Diane typically hit the Ney’s groomed trails four to six times a year, Peterson said. Lisa Jamison, who coaches the Belle Plaine High School Nordic ski team, often utilizes the Ney’s groomed trails for practice. “The Ney Center is a great natural snow facility that is perfect for teaching beginning skiers classic technique,” Jamison said. “They have several groomed short loops to practice skills without having to ski far out if the skier is still building up their stamina.” But the Ney’s trails also cater to the more experienced skiers, she added. And the center rents equipment as well, a big plus, she said. “For the experienced who would like to get out and ski many miles, there are several big loops where a skier could ski many miles,” Jamison said. “The bigger loops do have terrain changes that also allow for the skiers to learn and practice ski technique up and down the smaller hills.” And an important part of the cross-country skiing experience there is simply being out in nature, she said. “The Nature Center is a nice quiet place to ski and to
enjoy nature in winter,” Jamison said. “The view of the sunset over the river is also unbeatable in January.” Mick McGuire, of New Prague, agrees. “It’s a very nice single-track and varied trail,” McGuire said, who is also the center’s board treasurer. “There’s something for everyone with the diverse scenery.” McGuire also complimented the Le Sueur County Snowmobile Trails Association which negotiated an agreement with the Ney Nature Center, grooming the trails in a trade to access and connect metropolitan snowmobile trails along the Minnesota River Valley region. “They do a tremendous job grooming trails out there,” McGuire said. While a knee surgery has limited his skiing the past couple of years, he’s expressed pride in the development of the Ney’s programs and says this “hidden jewel” continues to be discovered by firsttimers. “It’s sort of an awareness thing,” McGuire said. “And this year’s really been a plus with COVID as a lot of people came out to the center. People I talked to who came out for the first time really enjoyed what they’ve found. It’s been kind of a nice thing. It’s a hidden jewel.” ■■■■ That jewel, the Ney Nature Center, “is dedicated to the preservation of the natural state of its surroundings, restoring and preserving the buildings of historical significance, and engaging the greater community in connecting with the natural world...” states the center’s website. The original acreage was bequeathed by Ruby Ney in 1990 to Le Sueur County, while nephew Don Ney added 80 acres a year later to total 446 acres of park land. The Ney family’s ties to the east Henderson farm site dates to the 1850s, land originally inhabited by the Sisseton Sioux. Don Ney began efforts in 1991 to officially establish the Ney Nature Center, including a 10-acre prairie restoration project as you enter the park land from Highway 19. It remains part of the Le Sueur County Parks Department and receives annual funding from the county. That commitment from the county has grown through the years. But the Ney’s ongoing success is often tied to its establishment as a membership organization, according to Ney Nature Center Executive Director Becky Pollack. Pollack’s ties to the Ney Nature Center run deep. She and classmates at Minnesota New Country School in Henderson participated in the discovery of deformed frogs within a pond on the center’s grounds in 1995. Now dubbed “Frog Pond,” it’s a popular spot for area students to journey through the Ney Nature Center trails, searching for wildlife and the spring ritual of finding new, and normal, frog populations. Youth programming remains part of the heart and soul of the Ney Nature Center’s mission, as it “... manages and protects the Ney Wildlife Preserve through education and interaction with the natural world.” Even though some traditional Ney Nature Center activities such as maple syruping, geocaching, orienteering, mountain biking and naturalist programming have taken a step back due to the
pandemic, as has the annual fundraising event, outdoor participants often do self-guided walks. While much of the Ney’s December programming remained virtual, it held true to that mission, Dufford said. But there’s also been growth in adult participation and programming. There was both “Backyard Birding” virtual programming for youth and the popular “Lifelong Learner Series” on Dec. 8 and 17, respectively. The 23rd annual Christmas Bird Count was held Dec. 19 and the annual winter solstice hike on Dec. 21. To kick off anticipated 2020 programming at the Ney, the After-School Birding Club for youth, ages 12 to 18, is set for three consecutive weekends on Jan. 11, 18 and 25. And there’s a planned “Youth Learning Series: Tracking” tentatively scheduled for Jan. 12. Much of the Ney Nature Center’s 2020 schedule of activities and programming, however, remains tentative as staff awaits new state COVID guidelines and protocols, according to Dufford. ■■■■ While early fall snows didn’t allow outdoor enthusiasts a job start on the cross-country skiing season, a pleasant autumn did see increased numbers of hikers as well, said Doug Thomas, of Henderson, also on the Ney Nature Center board of directors. “The trails were perfect for hiking,” said Thomas, a regular walker at the Ney, who noticed increased traffic there all fall. “With the coronavirus, that’s what people are doing — getting outside.” Dufford admits she hasn’t really seen “normal” since joining the Ney Nature Center in September. “It’s really been an interesting time,” Dufford said, adding that there can also be new opportunities. “I don’t know what normal looks like, but it’s kind of nice to be able to have a fresh look.” Youth and adult programming has often moved to a virtual state, although COVID protocols still allow for some outdoor activities there. But the Ney’s office area, which doubles as an indoor educational setting, has been limited to staff. “We’ve been physically distanced here at the office,” Dufford said. “We’re mostly just working through the (COVID) guidelines.” And as those guidelines and recommendations from the Gov. Tim Walz administration have shifted, Ney Nature Center staff members have adjusted. “We don’t know what the (next) guidelines will be,” she said. “But the point of everything here is to be outside and the point of our programming is to be outside.” Dufford said the center’s policies for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing rentals continues to be shaped by staff. But she’s thinking that interested outdoor enthusiasts will likely call into the Ney Nature Center to schedule activities. “We’re hoping to have people sign up for a time to pick up their snowshoes or skis,” she said so Ney Center staff can stagger the distribution of equipment and limit the number of individuals on the trails. Still, Dufford longs for a pandemic-free chance for the Ney’s overall range of activities and programming. “Yes, it has been disappointing to a degree,” Dufford said. “But we’ll be ready for a new year.” MM MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 27
Food & Beer
By Dan Greenwood
SOUTHERN MN STYLE Manager Diana Hidalgo and Alma Palomares prepare tacos for customers.
Simplicity is Key Cinco de Mayo Taqueria offers up traditional Mexican food, including pozole menudo
By Dan Greenwood | Photos by Pat Christman
iana Hidalgo believes that serving up meals quickly doesn’t have to mean sacrificing authenticity and freshness. The co-owner of Cinco de Mayo Taqueria, a new Mexican restaurant near Minnesota State University, had plenty of experience running a sit-down restaurant with her sister in Redwood Falls. But when her family moved to Mankato, Hidalgo and her sister decided to try a new approach. “The main goal for this location was to basically have something 28 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
simple, especially for the students in the surrounding area,” Hidalgo said. “It was mainly, come in, look at the simple menu and build your own.” She said the nachos and burritos are especially popular among college students, and while Mexican cuisine is nothing new to most Americans, for some international students, it’s a completely new experience. “The students that haven’t had Mexican food can ask questions, and we’ll answer with a smile behind our masks,” Hidalgo said.
“I’ll give them samples of meat. They don’t need to be shy about asking because that’s what we’re here for.” The tacos, traditionally served with cilantro, onions and a variety of meats, are a Mexican staple. Hidalgo recommends the birria tacos, which she describes as the Mexican version of the French dip sandwich. It’s shredded steamed beef flavored with a variety of condiments such as ancho and guajillo peppers, sesame seeds and other spices stuffed in a fried tortilla dipped in
Caldo de Camarón (Mexican shrimp soup). a red sauce. “We take our broth, which is basically the drippings from the meat, and then garnish that with cilantro and onions,” Hidalgo said. “Then the customer takes the taco, dips it in the sauce and they eat it. It’s basically the Mexican au jus.” Visitors to Cinco De Mayo will have the chance to try a halfdozen homemade salsas inspired by Hidalgo’s uncle, a popular street vendor in the centralMexican state of Michoacán. “It’s made from a lot of different peppers, like chile de arbol, a very spicy dried pepper,” Hidalgo said. “Roasting will give the peppers a smokey flavor, but if you throw the dried peppers in a blender, it’s going to give it that pure, spicy chile flavor.” Hidalgo makes another salsa from avocados, a tricky ingredient because they turn brown when exposed to oxygen. She said other Mexican restaurants will use zucchini as a substitute, but Hidalgo found a special ingredient to keep that avocado salsa green, making it in small batches to preserve the flavor and freshness. Guacamole is made by the order here, as are the chips used in the nachos smothered in a homemade cheese sauce, another personal favorite of Hidalgo’s. She said a popular dish among Hispanic customers is their homemade caldo de cameron, a shrimp soup with a warm and spicy broth.
Shrimp coctail. “We also have pozole menudo and that’s every day of the week, not just on Saturdays and Sundays like other restaurants,” she said. That’s because menudo, a red chile soup made with beef tripe and Torta de Carnitas. hominy, is time consuming and takes several hours to make. Hidalgo begins preparing the soup in the early morning and it then cooks throughout the day, soaking up the flavor from bone marrow in small batches. She makes a new batch every couple of days to keep it fresh. Another popular dish sold by street vendors that Cinco de Mayo offers is the torta or the Mexican sandwich. “I like the asada (steak) torta, but a lot of people seem to like the barbacoa,” Hidalgo said. “It’s garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, queso fresco, fresh avocado and a little bit of jalapenos, and it’s good to go. It’s very satisfying and filling, so it doesn’t need any sides.” One international student recently walked through the door to try authentic Mexican food for the first time. He was unsure
Cinco de Mayo Taqueria
30 Stadium Road
What they’re known for:
Authentic Mexican street food, tacos, burritos, tortas and soups. of what to order, and Hidalgo recommended the birria tacos. He came back two days later, this time opting for the corn in a cup topped with queso. The following day, he was back again, a new convert of Cinco de Mayo’s Mexican cuisine. Hidalgo said that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. “Every morning I open my eyes and it’s just excitement – an everyday excitement.” MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 29
COMMUNITY DRAWS By Kat Baumann
30 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
By Bert Mattson
new year is upon us. As is the tradition of inventorying needs of self-improvement deferred until this arbitrary moment in time — preceded, ironically, by a holiday the eve prior by which to cram in caloric deferment up until literally the last second. Equipped with a countdown to warn of the impending atonement, some blithely celebrate the arrival of the reckoning by counting along. Others steal final sips and bites. All to awake in the morning and decide which fault is salient, and warrants official recognition. Making use of a gym membership might be the most popular repentance. Ritual gym-goers steel themselves for the several weeks it will take for this resolve to fade. At the time of this typing, the availability of gyms is far from assured. And pandemic weight gain is a reality — surplus poundage ironically dubbed “the COVID 19.” Further, in northern climes, January weather rarely meets our ambition with an encouraging gust. Someone, somewhere, said, “You can’t outrun the fork.” It’s a clever axiom to acknowledge that fitness in part — perhaps in greater part — is a matter of diet. On this occasion, in the spirit of positive reinforcement, why not let diet and winter pursuits dovetail into some kind of genuinely attainable resolution? The bright side, really bright, vision-impairing-glacier-bright, is that winter outdoor activities in Minnesota tend to be strenuous. Snowshoeing: check. Nordic skiing: check. Winter fat biking: check. Sledding is brutal, and even with lifts, alpine skiing and snowboarding can burn between 300 and 600 calories per hour,
which is pretty well masked by pleasurability. Also, skiing is a good segue to the “apres-ski” tradition, which tends to dovetail all these activities. Any sort of nip after such strenuous activity knocks the frost off, in responsible quantities, and sessionable beers are geared to that occasion. Granted, few find the moment after a strenuous snow adventure appropriate to sacrifice flavor. But brewers have thought of that. Bell’s Two Hearted American Style IPA is consistently ranked one of the most drinkable IPAs in circulation. Bell’s Brewery’s Light Hearted Ale follows in its footsteps, though treading a little lighter. Lighter, lower alcohol, lower calorie iterations of ales are not exactly a new category of beer; they’ve been on the rise for some time. Light Hearted, a latecomer, dodges some of the previous pitfalls. Too thin, or low in flavor, defeat the purpose. Hopping never in question (citrus and pine), Light Hearted also manages some semblance of malt backbone. It’s competitive at 110 calories (12 oz can), and at 3.7% ABV isn’t a grievous liability around winter activities. Under 9 carbs. Some pursuits are a stretch to label “activity” — here’s looking at you ice fishing! But even that isn’t categorical; most of the aforementioned modes of transportation are used here to get to the honey hole. We are hardy people after all. Some even say we’re eccentric — here’s looking at you Lake Superior surfers! B o t t o m l i n e ? T h e r e ’s n o imperative to let the gravity of a pandemic weigh us down. Bert Mattson is a chef and writer based in St. Paul. He is the manager of the iconic Mickey’s Diner. bertsbackburner.com
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COUNTRY MINUTES By Nicole Helget
The dogs of Oshawa Township F
or the past several years, I’ve spent my working life devoted to helping people transfer the stories in their heads onto the page in a shareable form. While I love reading and writing fiction, my heart lies in creative nonfiction in all its forms: memoir, essay, literary journalism, true crime, adventure, travelogues, sports writing, historical nonfiction and others. I’m addicted to this genre. If the people, places, and events really happened (or are rumored to have happened or have been mythologized, eulogized, saga-ized), I am hooked. Despite the enormous challenges this year, would-be writers are peeking out from behind their feelings of inadequacy and fear to confront an urgent desire: write that book they’ve always thought they should. It’s as though the highstakes conflicts and very real health crises of 2020 have lit a fire under creatives to get their project going. So, if you’re feeling an urge to write lately, I’m going to share with all of you a conversation topic I facilitate on the first night of class or in my first conversations with clients when a lot of them are burning with fear and wondering, “What in the world did I get myself into and who am I to think I can write a book?” Lots of people are oral storytellers. We all have them in our families and friend groups. They talk at family gatherings. They talk at the bar. They talk in the car. They talk over dinner. Those folks are important to our socialization, our feelings of unity and belonging, and our ability to remember and recall some events with some accuracy. The motivation of these storytellers usually floats in the area of entertainment. Few people are written 32 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
chroniclers. Written chroniclers transform oral stories into written forms, using the crafts of organization and idea development. There’s usually a plot and a point on the page. Written chroniclers, authors, are important because their manuscripts have longevity, meaning and are artful. The point of the work includes entertainment, but the work is also informative, thought-provoking and deeply emotion-provoking. That’s why we say, “Oh, that book was so moving.” Written work should physically make the reader’s body react. Transforming a told story into a written manuscript is hard work. This isn’t scientific, but in my experience working with writers for so many years, it seems as though a family group gets a sincere writer every few generations. If it’s you, you probably feel an enormous amount of responsibility to capture all the important details of your family’s story before they get forgotten. A lot of people who should be the family’s written chronicler don’t do the work because it’s too hard, it takes too long, people get mad at you for writing or not writing what they think you should, and because they don’t feel adequate. Some persist. Lucky for us. Usually, the writers who persist fall into one or more of these categories: The writer feels compelled to be the history keeper of their family or place. The writer feels compelled to be a change-maker in their family or place. The writer feels compelled to share their expertise on a particular subject. The writer feels compelled to process trauma (their own or
another’s) on the page as a way to acknowledge the reality of it and to try to make sense of it. The writer feels compelled to tell the story of a family member or other interesting person or place (dead or alive) whose voice or story was silenced because of time or cultural or social dynamics. The writer feels moved by a close relationship with the environment and can “hear” the music in it and desires to re-create it in an artful way with words. Do any of those descriptions sound like you? As we put 2020 behind us, this is my encouragement to anyone out there who has an ember in their heart for the written word. Start now. Make 2021 the year you commit to putting the events down on the page. Writing right now is one of the purist acts of hope — hope that there will be someone out there who will read what you wrote and care. I promise you, there will be. Write like there’s no tomorrow, because, let’s face it, for some of us, there won’t be. Nicole Helget is a multi-genre author. Her most recent book, THE END OF THE WILD, is a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, a Parents' Choice Award Winner, a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, a New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, a Kirkus Best Middle-Grade Book, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students, a Best STEM Trade Books for Students K-12, a Georgia Children's Book Award Nominee, and the Minnesota Book Awards Middle Grade Winner. She works as a teacher, manuscript guide, editor, and ghostwriter. She lives in rural St. Peter with her family and dogs. You can follow the Dogs of Oshawa Township at @TheOshawa on Twitter.
ANN’S FASHION FORTUNES By Ann Rosenquist Fee
New looks in dogwalking, lip-balming gift packaging. How do I move forward?
DEAR ANN: I just bought a new skirt for walking my dog. I said it out loud to everyone in Encore Consignment & Bridal Boutique: “This is my new dog-walking skirt.” The cashier smiled supportively. Someone else in the store said “yes!” I felt triumphant. What has happened to me? DEAR READER: It happened to us all, and it was 2020! And thank goodness, because how else could we have gained a real-life grasp of historical tropes like “the Civil War tore families apart?” Or “rodent control and sanitation can help plague from spreading?” Obviously the trope that came true for you, Reader, was the one about people dressing up to walk in the forest or a pasture. That’s not from a particular history lesson but it’s definitely a thing in art and literature — characters talking about the finery they’ll need starched or pressed or whatever to wear as they walk slowly through a garden or field or knoll. Or European olden-times paintings of people in bustles and hats and gloves, all for the special occasion of standing in a park. If you thought anything about these vignettes prior to the quarantine of 2020, it was probably, “I guess that’s all they had to wear” or “I guess they were just nonstop fancy.” Turns out, no. Turns out that when the main highlight of your day is a constitutional in the green space closest to your home, and nothing else in your schedule requires getting dressed at all, turns out you dress for the park. You give thought to what to wear in the company of nature because it’s one way to keep the planning and color-coordinating parts of your brain from going slack. And suddenly those women
Encore Consignment & Bridal Boutique owner Kim Stanton is ready to meet your dog-walking style needs. in those paintings don’t seem like such fripperies. They seem steely, like high priestesses of personal care and resilience, bearing the traditions of foremothers before them who did the same thing in even more olden times with animal skins and laurel leaves. Good on you, Reader, for carrying on that legacy. For dressing like the day matters, for shopping local, and for delighting onlookers as you stride in the finery known as your dog-walking skirt. DEAR ANN: My extended family used the weirdness of 2020 to finally do the thing we’ve talked about for years, i.e., not exchanging holiday gifts. On one hand, I’m still feeling the happy relief of not having to think up gifts for people I don’t see all that often. On the other hand, for the first time in my adult life I’m facing January without a new stash of soaps and lip balms in holiday
DEAR READER: Congratulations on receiving the great gift of agency over your own self-care routine! For the first time in your adult life, you’re going to choose y o u r v e r y o w n t e x t u re s and fragrances, the things that determine your daily disposition. And if you don’t think your disposition was affected by using a gift soap you secretly found gaudysmelling, you are wrong, because I guarantee you that for the whole life of that soap, you emitted traces of snobby disdain wherever you went. But no longer. As the chooser of your own hand soap and shower gel and lip protectant and whatever else you didn’t get in the family gift exchange you didn’t have, you’re entirely responsible for the fragrance you inhale and the resulting attitude you effuse. Be on your guard around postholiday clearance sales, because as logical as it might seem to grab yourself a 70%-off glitter-boxed 12-pack of cake-smelling product, that’ll only send you right back to where you started, rolling your eyes, this time with only yourself to blame. Seize the weirdness of 2020 one step further. Move forward. Be the boss of your balm.
Got a question? Submit it at annrosenquistfee.com (click on Ann’s Fashion Fortunes). Ann Rosenquist Fee is executive director of the Arts Center of Saint Peter and host of Live from the Arts Center, a music and interview show Thursdays 1-2 p.m. on KMSU 89.7FM. MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 33
GARDEN CHAT By Jean Lundquist
Winter Plannin’ Time to order seeds … but maybe online this time
n these throes of winter, my imagination runs wild. I have so many ideas! Last fall I managed to stand upright the panels of fence surrounding my former garden. I bought a brush cutter to take down the weeds I had allowed to grow unbridled that destroyed my weed whipper that tried to cut them down. The weeds I allowed to grow in my garden seemed bionic. And because I didn’t cut them, they went to seed. So I had to be creative, and I think I succeeded. I think before telling this story I should tell you I have always wanted to be thought of as eccentric. I realized at a young age, however, that to be eccentric, one needs a lot of money. Without wealth, one is merely crazy. I do not have a lot of wealth, but I still think I lean toward eccentric rather than crazy in some ways. 34 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
One day I stood at the edge of the garden, surveyed the weed seeds on the ground and had a brilliant idea. They needed to be removed and not tilled into the soil to give me pain and agony next season. I ran an extension cord to the garden, plugged in my shop vac, and proceeded to eliminate most of the anguish I could face in the spring, meaning the seeds. I vacuumed them up. Until the day I die, I will believe this was an ingenious, brilliant solution. At the same time, I hope no one saw me in the garden with a shop vac. I waited to go out until after the morning commuters on their way to work had passed by, so I’m pretty sure I’m safe … except, of course, I just confessed to my madness here in print. ■■■■
I hope to still be inundated with seed catalogs, but it seems most seed companies are going to online services instead of print services. I spend a lot of time in front of a screen, but I need a paper catalog to devour! With a paper catalog, I dog ear the pages with varieties I want to come back to when I get to the point of comparison. Can’t do that with a website. I guess it’s partly my fault. When I get a catalog and decide what I’ll order, I still go online to place the order. It seems a safer way to ensure I get what I want. When someone has had to transcribe my order from a sheet of paper to a computer, I have gotten long skinny Japanese variety eggplants that I am allergic to rather than the Black Beauty eggplants I want to grow and that I can actually eat because my throat doesn’t swell. It’s kind of a big deal. ■■ ■ ■ We ate the last of my greenhouse tomatoes in the middle of December. So, of course, I’m thinking about new varieties to try in 2021. I received an email from my friends at the Klee Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Harry Klee and his troupe are offering a program they call the Citizen Science Initiative, providing new varieties of tomatoes they are developing to compare to a favorite hybrid, Better Boy. For a donation, they will provide a couple of new hybrids plus a package of Better Boy seeds for comparison. For a somewhat lesser donation, they’ll send some of their improved Garden Gem, Garden Treasure and W hybrid tomato seeds, offering improved resistance to late-season blight. All are open pollinated, so saving seeds is possible. If you are interested in following the search for a better-tasting tomato, you should definitely visit the Klee Lab Website at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
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Jean Lundquist is a Master Gardener who lives near Good Thunder. email@example.com MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 35
FROM THIS VALLEY By Pete Steiner
Fast away the old year passes G
ood riddance to the old year, many of us likely are saying. Unless you’re older than 60 and can remember 1968 or if you’re one of the few surviving World War III veterans, 2020 was the year that set the standard for turmoil, anxiety and fear, a year dominated by life-changing factors: COVID19, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and a turbulent, endless election season. It was the year that “masking up,” “social distancing,” and “cancel culture” became dominant new terms in our dynamic linguistic landscape. While “cancel culture” typically refers to the online ostracism of a person who ventures too far against political correctness, I like to apply it to the virus that canceled culture this year, from concerts to plays to festivals and sporting events. I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day, the quietest T-day for me since my Army days half a century ago. Just Jeanne and I munching turkey and dressing, nobody else, out of COVID caution. But the quiet made it easier to focus on what I’m thankful for: enough to eat, a roof over my head, and friends and family, even if I haven’t seen many of them for nine months. Thankful too, if you haven’t yet “had the COVID,” thankful for friends who have survived it. Thankful for all the front-line workers in health care and assisted living, in grocery stores, in mail trucks and delivery trucks and garbage trucks, in convenience stores and day care centers. Thankful that we can apparently still do a peaceful transition of power in this country. Death don’t have no mercy in this land… So sang the Rev. Gary Davis in 1961, and certainly the virus had no mercy on the families and friends of its numerous victims (not to mention the so-called “long-haulers” who 36 • JANUARY 2021 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
survive but struggle with lingering after effects). In addition, Greater Mankato lost some real luminaries in 2020. Let me start with Kevin Oldridge. Kevin wasn’t a politician or city official or prominent artist. But he was the “Neighbor of the Year,” as I called him in my July column. He’ll be chuckling from wherever he is now, saying, “I bet you guys miss me!” when the first big snowfall hits. Because he always, without anybody asking, would spend hours clearing out the alley in our neighborhood, then the sidewalks and driveways of at least five or six neighbors. I will miss not only his endless cheeriness, but also the sound of his snowblower firing up at 6 a.m. Steve Murphy sold insurance by day and played music at night. And did he ever quit smiling? Oh man, that guy could play guitar. And he loved to fix guitars too. I would take my guitars to him for repairs and adjustments, and there would be cheery conversation, and when I returned to pick one up, he would always under charge me. A true music Hall-of-Famer. Speaking of musicians, Ralph Bailey was a superb guitarist, songwriter, musicologist and gentle historian. The trio, Steiner, Bailey and Knauff was the predecessor of my brother’s City Mouse band. Ralph also co-founded the Maple River Band, along with other musical endeavors. It was impossible to suppress a smile when Dixie Johnson was in the room. Mentor to hundreds of young women during her years as director of Bretts’ Teen Board and as church youth group leader, she always sparkled. We lost Jim Buckley at 92. Born on the Fourth of July, he became an All-American citizen in our town: 19 years as YMCA executive director and co-founder of the
Mah-kato PowWow, or Wacipi, which endeavored to overcome the sins of 1862. We lost my friend Ted, a proud veteran who was coy about telling anyone that he, from little old Mankato, was a key member of the small group that planned one of the most controversial military moves ordered by Nixon and Kissinger during the Vietnam War: the mining of Haiphong Harbor in 1972. Bob Galloway was one of my favorite business people. Shrewd but folksy, he was never above sharing a cup of coffee with an ordinary guy at the Wagon Wheel. How many good jobs did he save for Mankato? And his tenure with Ridley will linger, symbolized in the dramatic altering of the downtown skyline in recent years. There are too many names of those we’ve lost to list in this small space; forgive me for my oversights. ■ ■ ■■ Quick, random question: Do you, too, regret you didn’t invest in Zoom llast March? How many Zoom gatherings did you take part in over the holidays? ■■■■ Despite the trials of the past year, there’s an unusual amount of optimism heading into our coldest month, chiefly because new vaccines mean we might finally subdue the worst effects of COVID and get our economy back to normal. It’s a good bet that most of us would welcome a year with less drama. So hail the new, ye lads and lasses, and a Happy 2021 to all!
Longtime radio guy Pete Steiner is now a free lance writer in Mankato.
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • JANUARY 2021 • 37
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