In 1949 I stayed in an old Litchfield hotel with my father. I was very impressed with the town as a young boy. Main street was active, and small-town farming was prosperous. Many shops to choose from as my eyes lit up walking down their blocks, just looking in the windows. Never had I seen a town like this during our 13-state, summer-long travels with my salesman father.
Bernie Berman, the many-time University of Minnesota football coach was from here, and everyone had heard about him while listening to the Saturday afternoon Gopher games. That fall, all Minnesotans were hopeful for another national championship, the “Gopher 49s” schedule soon to be played. Like our Vikings, that just wasn’t to be for Bud Grant and other great players of that day.
We would soon be moving to a small farming village just west of Minneapolis. The village of 3,000 had just built a new high school with its neighboring community of Morningside. The village was small, nothing like the Litchfield I had experienced, and the land to the west was just open farm fields.
Soon, that land started breaking up for new housing. We were the third home built just west of our village. Most of my friends lived two or three miles away in an area with just one block of shopping. With excellent government and community management, that land exploded, with Southdale being built on the Schultz farm in 1956. Then, an industrial development started on the Danen’s farm, which is now the Braemar area. Today, that community of 3,000 people grew into a very successful city of 50,000.
That didn’t happen by accident. Some still say it was just its location; it simply wasn’t. It was because of very good community citizen involvement and qualified elected officials who had long-term vision of running the village. That allowed good development that benefited all its citizens. With the new growth, the village soon incorporated into a city.
Like the famous Litchfield writer Stan Roeser, our local writer was Cedric Adams. He wrote often about this new village in the Star Tribune, and his rural home was just two blocks away from us on Spit Lake.
George Mikan then moved in two blocks the other direction. The kids played daily in the driveway of the future five-time Laker star and national champion’s backyard. (Hours of playing “horse,” and I don’t recall winning a single game, but I do remember getting several free tickets from him to the Laker games.)
People like Curt Carlson (Radisson Hotels), Al and Art Erickson (Holiday stations), Carl Pohlad (Minnesota Twins) and Carl Hansen, a poor carpenter and Norwegian immigrant who may never have been a U.S. citizen, developed a sense of community.
Today, President Donald Trump would have deported that Norwegian, who, over the years, built more than half of the large homes in Edina that are still among the most prized.
All them were just ordinary people, with very ordinary kids, working very hard with vision that built that area. Most residents moved into those two villages of Morningside and Edina because of well-managed schools and government, which became Edina’s foundation. With that growth, Morningside and Edina villages then incorporated into the city of Edina.
I thought recently, after a conversation I had with a council member, that had Mr. Eitel, with his wonderful talent, been the mayor of Edina, would that growth have ever happened to that little farming community? We all have different God-given talents, but some of us have very linear thinking, and that worked well for Mr. Eitel’s running a great “championship band.”
Edina city and government grew because it had more business-orientated, long-term visionaries who were suited in the running of government. It takes openness to bring the best of these qualities to a community. I feel Litchfield and Meeker County need younger and more progressive citizen involvement in government. We need internal and external financial investment in small business to bring “main street” back to the prosperity of its past. Good local growth, beyond farming or agriculture-related businesses is needed today, as farming will never again be what it was for this community.
Litchfield has wonderful opportunities, but it will take banks with far more than “billboard slogans” arguing about “branches and roots” for that to happen. Large agriculture is financially just fine — look at who has the wealth — but small and medium farmers do need help. If not, they, too, will continue to decline in numbers, and spending in this community will vanish.
When the best jobs within this community are government related, teaching, social/community services, law enforcement or retirement from them, there isn’t much government spending left for the good financial growth of our community. The good news is, with our proximity to Minneapolis, a better highway system coming soon — a faster commute to the Twin Cities area — we will find new growth. But, only if we find a way to welcome and embrace it.
Many lessons are learned by our children and grandchildren from the policies and treatment of its citizens by the policies and spending our government puts in place. Those choices will determine our young people’s future quality of life.
Great nations, cities and villages are built by the communities that provide for the best investment opportunities and living conditions for all people. Government must respect, protect and provide for those adequate living situations for the immigrants on whose backs some of the greatest wealth in Litchfield was built.
We all deserve a government that serves — old and young, rich and poor, healthy and ill, citizen and immigrant. That’s how our government, good or bad, will be judged by future generations in the world that we all live in. If we show that, we will have hope for lasting peace in the world … community of mankind!
Stay well and do more in making your purpose in life matter.
Birdwing preserve, Litchfield