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Ground broken for soccer stadium; everything else still tentative

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

All images provided

Ground was ceremonially broken Dec. 12 for a Major League Soccer stadium south of Midway Center. Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber, Minnesota United FC lead owner Bill McGuire, youth soccer players and a team of elected officials and fans took turns wielding shovels in a raised garden bed. About 200 people turned out for the event.

stadium-a16q9170_0Photo right: About 200 people showed up to break ground for the new soccer stadium on Dec. 12. Dozens took turns wielding shovels in a raised garden bed since the ground was frozen.

Still, there are more questions than answers about the project. The quest for breaks on property taxes and construction material sales taxes returns to the Capitol for the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Approval last year stalled when Gov. Mark Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill. Other questions remain, including when construction and pollution cleanup will start in earnest. For the past few weeks, Xcel Energy has done utility work on the former Metro Transit bus garage site, removing power poles and relocating power lines underground.

Otherwise, all has been quiet. No demolition, construction or other permits have been pulled with the city. A final plat needs to be filed, and the stadium developers also need to finish work on conditions outlined in the stadium site plan approved in August by the St. Paul City Council.

stadium-a16q8980_0Photo left: The groundbreaking involved Minnesota United fans, ownership, coaches and representatives from St. Paul and MLS.

McGuire, architects from the Kansas City-based Populous firm and Mortenson Construction, unveiled new stadium designs, showing more rounded lines and a lowered height for the $150 million structure. McGuire, Garber and Mayor Chris Coleman and others answered questions about the stadium. The event was timed a day before an expansion draft event, to add players to Minnesota United and a new team in Atlanta. McGuire also said it was a chance to show stadium design changes, promote season ticket sales and build excitement for the club.

Coleman said that he couldn’t think of a more appropriate stadium site, given the area’s economic diversity. He drew cheers when he suggested a future championship game on a cold day.

Garber quipped that Minnesota United had set a league record. “I can assure you, this will be our coldest groundbreaking,” he said.

Team officials had hoped to break ground in late spring or early summer of last year. However, to build the stadium and public plaza desired in the project’s first phase, the soccer club needs to acquire about two acres of Midway Center property, including Rainbow Foods and storefronts up to Walgreens.

Rainbow’s owner, Supervalu, leases the store from shopping center owner RK Midway. Negotiations between those parties are ongoing. When asked about the negotiations, McGuire and others involved in the project said the Dec. 12 event was about the stadium, not the negotiations nor the proposal to extensively redevelop the Midway Center property with office towers, retail, hotels, and apartments.

McGuire added that everything would be resolved at some point.

There are two property owners on the 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. RK Midway owns the northern part of the block, as well as a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Pascal and St. Anthony. Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit own the 10 acres at the northeast corner of St. Anthony and Snelling avenues, where a streetcar facility and later a bus garage stood for many years.

Minnesota United will play the 2017 season and at least part of the 2018 season at TCF Bank Stadium. The team has looked into using US Bank Stadium for larger events. Officials didn’t announce a firm opening date for the St. Paul Stadium.

Ken Sorensen, a senior vice president with Mortenson Construction, told reporters that construction would begin in spring 2017, with the idea of moving south to north. Work is ongoing with subcontractors and with the club on construction details. Sorensen estimated it would take one and one-half years to build the facility. The ongoing negotiations over the Midway Center property had McGuire unable to say specifically when the new stadium would be ready, so a 2019 start in St. Paul is not out of the question.

McGuire said the team owners could orient a stadium east-west instead to north-south, to keep it on the bus garage property, and has looked at some options, but would prefer the north-south orientation.

Another wrinkle was a property tax break approved by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill, citing a potentially costly scrivener’s error. McGuire said Minnesota United is confident the tax break could be approved in 2017.

The soccer team was able to get a liquor license approved by state lawmakers during the 2016 session. The City Council gave its assent to that license in December.

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

The stadium plans have changed (image left). It is four more feet lower than originally announced, with peak canopy height now at 78 feet. McGuire said that is meant to have the structure be less overwhelming. Sinking the stadium 18 feet into the ground (image  below) also means fewer, if any steps needed to enter.

The stadium will be 650 feet long. It will be 346,000 square feet in size. Its total capacity will be 19,916 fans, with the future expansion capacity to 24,474.

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Twenty-five suites, 38 “loge boxes” or semi-private areas and four club rooms are also featured. A restaurant at the stadium’s north end could be open for patrons year-round. Design is about 70 percent complete.

The stadium will still be bowl-shaped, but the new design is more rounded and less boxy. The roof design has also been reconfigured. It will be open to natural light over the turf field, but about 84 percent of fans will sit under a partial roof covering. The roof has been expanded at the south end and cut back in the north, with a slightly lower profile visible from University Ave.

The stadium will be wrapped in a synthetic mesh or skin, embedded with LED lights to allow for color changes. Other features included improved access for people with disabilities

Starting in 2017, Minnesota United will play as a top-tier team in the league, which has 22 teams. The team was granted an MLS expansion franchise in 2015. This year, Minnesota United played in the Division II North America Soccer League.

Fans and business leaders applauded the groundbreaking. Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Kulas said business leaders are excited to see the new plans and hear project details. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project and what it could mean for the community,” Kulas said.

Kulas also said the chamber is sensitive to concerns about traffic and parking and will stay engaged as plans unfold.

Fan clubs represented at the event, wearing Minnesota United Loon scarves, were also pleased. More than three dozen fans marched to the groundbreaking ceremony, chanting and waving team flags. Merriam Park resident and True North Elite member Philip Cross said he was pleased to see more stadium details emerge. “It’s exciting to see more detailed plans and to see the stadium move forward,” he said. “I’ve lived in the area for 12 years and bike through every day. It will be great to see the transformation of what used to be the bus graveyard.”
True North Elite is a smaller club, “but we chant louder and we chant longer,” Cross said.

Most people at the event were supportive of the plans.

Mayoral candidate Tom Goldstein gave media his written statement to call for more human-scale amenities, more attention to business development, and to children’s and youth’s recreation and after-school needs. He also criticized the city’s commitment to fund $18 million in site work.

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Elpis Enterprises helps homeless and at-risk youth learn life skills

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

All Photos and Story By JAN WILLMS
elpis-20161229_124612Paul Ramsour (photo right), Executive Director of Elpis Enterprises, believes there is no reason to let the fact that you don’t know how to do something stand in your way.

He demonstrated that when he started fundraising in the early 90s for Elpis, a program that helps homeless and at-risk youth learn skills in screen design and woodworking as well as preparing them for further employment.

“My background was in hospitality,” he said. “I had no experience working with youth, screen printing or woodworking. Those were my biggest challenges.”

Ramsour was helping the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in Minneapolis fundraise for a youth development program for kids at risk. “I was raising money to fund primarily community projects the Jaycees were involved in,” he said. “But they had some extra money and wanted to have their own youth programs, instead of just granting money away, so they asked me to help design some. Elpis was set up as a special nonprofit organization in 2002, and we moved to St. Paul in 2004.” The organization now occupies 3600 square feet of a building at 550 Vandalia St. The location features a screen printing section, a computer lab that can double as a workroom, a woodworking section that has an assembly area and a general meeting room. “It’s not a huge space, but big enough to do a few things,” Ramsour noted.

“Our focus is on work-readiness,” he continued, describing the mission of Elpis. “We work specifically with kids at risk of homelessness, or who have experienced homelessness. We help level the playing field for them. Some youth who are living in supportive housing need a little help with their resume and help to understand what work expectations are all about.”

The program offers a three-month internship for youths between the ages of 16 and 23. They must be referred to Elpis through a youth agency, housing program, or drop-in center.

elpis-20161229_124123Photo left: Lashay Declerq-Ransom is shown printing t-shirts at Elpis, which has a full-service screen-printing company—printing custom t-shirts, bags, and apparel. The program offers a three-month internship for youths between the ages of 16 and 23, all of whom are referred to Elpis through a youth agency, housing program, or drop-in center.

“Being a part of our program can help add to their resume and assist them in getting their next job opportunity,” Ramsour said. “We do our work in the context of social enterprise, so we created these small businesses and have young people learn what is expected on a daily basis, be part of a team and communicate and follow through. Those are all transferable skills for the next job opportunity.”

elpis-20161229_123915Photo right: Ali Everett (standing left) and Willie Harris are two current interns at Elpis Enterprises. They are shown packaging birdseed for bird feeders which Elpis manufactures out of repurposed and recut cedar from old fences. They also make other outdoor items such as planter boxes.

Elpis has a full-service screen-printing company—printing custom t-shirts, bags, and apparel. The organization also has a small manufacturing operation that recycles cedar fencing. “We work directly with fence contractors,” Ramsour explained. “When they take down an old fence, they recycle that wood through us. We repurpose it or recut it, and we have designed and created a line of cedar products, mostly outdoor things like bird feeders and planter boxes.”

elpis-20161229_124228Photo left: Arione Farrar has been making t-shirts for the past three to four years since he was in high school. But he wanted to learn some things about screen printing and, following his internship, he has been hired on by Elpis.

Ramsour said that through Elpis, the participants do experiential workshops out in the community. “We take the assembly process out and set it up, and then kids or adults—mostly kids—at Parks and Rec or nature programs, step up to the table and build their own bird feeder. They take it home with them. That building event was facilitated by the youth in our program as a work experience.”

He said this project offers the interns at Elpis an opportunity to facilitate a group and focus on customer service. “We talk about that a lot and also do some marketing and sales work. The young people have help with bookkeeping and all aspects of a small business.”

Most of the screen printing is done at the Elpis location, although youth participants do go out in the community and do some simple one-color screen printing projects. He said they created small one-color printers that they take out in the neighborhoods, doing events with other companies that are having open houses. “We come in and print shirts for their guests or those attending the open house. We do that all the time, actually.”

According to Ramsour, much of the training offered to the interns is on-the-job and experiential. They learn in the process of doing the job. “When you print t-shirts, you have a lot of time to talk,” he noted. “Yesterday we had a lively discussion about pricing and how that works.”

He stated that good ideas result from these discussions. “There is good learning on both ends,” he claimed. “Most of the changes we have made at Elpis over the years have come from the young people.” There are usually about eight interns participating at a time over a three-month period. Many go on to become regular staff.

“Our goal is to work with 30 to 40 youths a year,” Ramsour said. The other area interns are involved in is e-commerce. “All of our products are for sale through two e-commerce sites,” he added. “Our next focus, from a learning standpoint, is to get young people involved in managing those e-commerce sites.” He emphasized that understanding e-commerce and how it works and how to navigate in those systems is really important, as e-commerce is here to stay. “Everything you can do in a brick and mortar store you can do in an e-store,” he said.

Elpis is located in the middle of what is called the Creative Enterprise Zone, according to Ramsour. “There are a lot of just really creative businesses that do these creative things, and so they coined this phrase to draw attention to it and celebrate all the businesses that do creative work in this area.”

He said the youth attending Elpis all have some kind of education plan. Some are in school or working at second jobs. Some are pursuing training in other post-secondary programs.

Arione Farrar has already been making t-shirts for the past three to four years since he was in high school. But he wanted to learn some things about screen printing and, following his internship, he has been hired on by Elpis. “I’m trying to figure out how to run a business like a store,” Farrar said.

“He has an interest in the apparel business and design, and we are trying to help foster that and do what we can,” Ramsour said. “And we recently got some new equipment, so Arione has been helping us understand our new press and how to work with vinyl.”

Lashay Declercq-Ransom has worked her way from being an intern to becoming the screen print coordinator running the whole screen print side of Elpis. “We have a six-color press and can do six shirts at a time,” she explained. She points to another press that can do four shirts at once.

“Everything we do is with water-based ink,” she continued. “It feels like more a smooth print to the t-shirt, and it’s better for the environment and easier to work with.”

“I used to be homeless,” she said. “Now I have housing, and I’m going to MCTC to be a nurse. Elpis works well with my hours.” She recalled being out at a Prince Festival where Sounds of Blackness was performing, and they were wearing shirts that had been printed at Elpis. “The coolest part for me is when you see shirts you printed out in the community,” she added.

elpis-20161229_123452Shadaria Brown (photo left) also moved up from being an intern to becoming the woodshop coordinator. “I monitor interns, cut all the wood, get the products ready, organize things and just try to make sure the wood side is good and has all it needs,” she said. “I love being here and have been here five years. I started off as an intern and worked my way up to the top.”

Ramsour is proud of his interns and their paths toward success. He said Elpis, which is a Greek word meaning hope, looks for support in several ways, mostly through social enterprise. “We want people to try us out if they have t-shirts they want printed,” he said. “If a church group or school group would like a woodworking activity, we can come out. Of course, like any nonprofit, we will always take cash, but social enterprise is the really big need.” He said having individuals come and speak to the interns about their experiences and how they succeeded in their careers is a big benefit to the organization.

elpis-20161229_124337Photo left: (Photo right) Elpis Executive Director Paul Ramsour (standing left), and Woodshop Coordinator Shadaria Brown. Their philosophy? Sharing knowledge and learning together is the way of success!

And when he speaks of Elpis, he reverts to not letting lack of knowledge or experience stand in the way of success. He later went on to get his master’s in youth development from the University of Minnesota, but he recalls when he first started this organization with no background in the field. “If you can read and reason and think critically about what it is you are doing, there is no reason not to learn how to do anything. That’s what we try to instill at Elpis, and we have learned together.”

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Sunrise Banks uses business as a force for good

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

Sunrise Banks is one of only 28 banks in the world that belongs to the Global Alliance for Banking on Values—and they are on a mission. According to bank president Nichol Beckstrand, “Our mission is to be the most innovative bank empowering the underserved to achieve.”

“Sunrise Banks is really a social enterprise—our business just happens to be banking,” Beckstrand continued.

sunrise-banks-06Photo left: Sunrise Banks President Nichol Beckstrand. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Current bank owner and CEO David Reiling merged the former Franklin, Park Midway, and University Bank charters to become Sunrise Banks in 2013.

Continuing the family banking tradition begun by his father Bill Reiling, he has built Sunrise Banks into one of the state’s largest community financial institutions with more than $900,000,000 in assets in 2015.

There are six branches of Sunrise Banks in the Twin Cities: four in St. Paul and two in Minneapolis. Of those, four are located in low to moderate income neighborhoods, and all are easily accessible by public transportation. Beckstrand explained that they locate their branches “in the urban core in hopes of attracting jobs and stable businesses there through community development.“

What does that look like and how does it work? Two examples in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood are Habitat for Humanity (1954 University Ave. W.) and the Midway YMCA (1761 University Ave. W.)— both are large-scale, high-impact community development projects financed by Sunrise Banks.

According to Beckstrand, it isn’t always easy to find investors for projects in the heart of the city. Through a US Treasury program called New Market Tax Credits, Sunrise Banks can attract investors for projects like these by offering them tax credits. The purpose of the New Market Tax Credits is to spur or increase investment in the inner city by attracting investors who might not otherwise be interested.

Sunrise is one of 100 community banks nationally recognized by the US Treasury Department for spearheading urban renewal, and individual customers can be involved in supporting community development too.

“We offer all of the consumer and commercial products of a mega-bank,” Beckstrand explained. “We compete very well and with some products, like our Impact Deposit Funds, the customer has the added option of banking according to their values.”

When opening a savings, checking, or certificate of deposit account, the customer can choose to designate account balances toward affordable housing, small business growth, community services and economic development by signing up for an Impact Deposit Fund. “When you bank with us,” Beckstrand said, “you’re choosing to invest meaningfully in our surrounding urban neighborhoods. It really does matter where your money sleeps at night.”

She explained her own dedication to the work of Sunrise Banks saying, “As an accountant, I started in community banking right after college. I climbed the ladder fast and went from being an intern to a partner in six years. I didn’t like the bank I worked for though and the type of accounting I did, called public accounting, felt greed driven. I knew I needed a change. I identified Sunrise Banks as a place where I could put my skill set to use and still work within my values. I started in the back room as chief operating officer. Now in my role as bank president, I’m out in the community every single day.”

This connection to the community is the driving force behind Sunrise Banks. A policy was recently approved to give each of their 200+ employees 40 hours of paid time off annually for community volunteering. Beckstrand said, “We’re effective at delivering socially responsible banking because we haven’t lost touch with our neighborhoods, or with the impact our decisions and actions have on the people who live there.”

To illustrate, Beckstrand noted, “One of our greatest successes has been partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a house from start to finish. Sunrise donated $120,000 to jump-start the project and another $70,000 in community donations rolled in. With the help of our employees, we engaged 700 additional volunteers, and the house was completed last October. It’s only three blocks from our main bank branch near the Capitol. We were able to create a hands-on experience in community building and, most importantly, a home for a family that needed it.”

Sunrise Banks’ innovative approach to corporate philanthropy also benefits smaller-scale projects that align with its mission. Community-based initiatives that help create affordable housing, narrow the achievement gap, or increase diversity and inclusion will be considered for grants up to $10,000 in 2017. Go to www.sunrisebanks.com and click on the social responsibility tab at the top of the page to check eligibility and apply.

Lastly, Sunrise Banks give a minimum of 2% of pretax earnings each year to neighborhood organizations through corporate donations and sponsorships.

Organizations that have received funding in the past include Ally People Solutions, Episcopal Homes Foundation of MN, Interact Center for Performing Arts, Midway YMCA, Twin Cities RISE, Small Sums, Women Venture and many others.

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Ampersand Families launching new initiative in 2017

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

Ampersand Families is Minnesota’s only private, non-profit adoption agency whose work is focused entirely on moving older kids (10+ years) from the foster care system into adoptive families. Their offices are tucked quietly behind University Ave. near the juncture with Hwy 280, at 2515 Wabash Ave., but their 10-person staff is anything but quiet about the work they do there.

ampersand-families-07Photo right: As of September 2016, 866 children were under the guardianship of the state of Minnesota. Of those children, 489 were in need of immediate adoptive homes; 377 have already been placed in pre-adoptive homes, meaning that they live with relatives or families who plan to adopt them. These are the faces of some of the youth Ampersand Families serves. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In 2016, 35 Minnesota kids were placed in adoptive families or had their adoptions finalized with help from Ampersand Families. That number is more significant than it appears at first glance, because older kids are the hardest to place. They have often been living in foster care, group homes or residential treatment facilities for years.

Program Director Misty Coonce said, “Ampersand Families was co-created by our executive director Michelle Chalmers in 2008, based on the belief that adoption from foster care is more likely to succeed if adoptive families receive informed post-placement support.”

“We are a resource for youth, families, and professionals,” Coonce said. “We believe that to heal from the trauma of separation from their families of origin, young people need to build strong relationships with adults who care. Our organization is unique in our unconditional support of the adoptive families we help to create, for as long as they need it and at no cost to them.”

Toward that end, Ampersand Families is launching a new post-adoption initiative called Buddy Families. This is a volunteer opportunity for individuals, couples or families to provide respite for adoptive parents one weekend and a couple of evenings each month by bringing the adopted child into their home.

Kids who have been adopted out of the foster care system either have no parents or they have parents whose parental rights have been terminated. Before any child under the age of 18 is considered legally free for adoption, the state has to complete an extensive search for relatives. Adoption becomes the next best option if no relatives are found or come forward on their own.

In a way, the buddy family is filling the role of extended family: providing the same kind of support that an aunt or uncle would for a niece or nephew.

What is required to become a buddy family? Contact Coonce at misty@ampersandfamilies.org to arrange an initial one-hour consultation with a staff person. An overview of the child welfare, child protection, and foster care systems will be given. All interested persons must understand that being a buddy family means working with kids ten years of age and older. It is crucial that they enjoy spending time with teenagers.

The next step is to register for the upcoming adoptive family training to at Ampersand Families on Sat., Jan. 28, 9am-6pm, and on Wed., Feb. 1 and Wed., Feb. 15 from 5:30-9pm.

Coonce was quick to point out that, “Buddy families are just regular people in the community who recognize how important it is for these adoptions from the foster care system to work. More adoptions fail in this state than we would wish. We’re actively trying to keep that from happening by developing our Buddy Family Program, and by providing a host of other post-placement support services for adoptive families.”

ampersand-families-01Photo left: Ampersand means “and” and is represented by the symbol “&”. Adoptive families, and those who support them, are not replacing the families that adopted children came from—they are in addition to those families. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The cost of adoption placement for a child through Ampersand Families is about $45,000–but, that cost is born by public and private funds and not by adopting families. Families who adopt a child, teen or sibling group out of foster care in Minnesota have virtually NO expenses, and there is on-going monthly adoption assistance to families adopting in this way.

While $45,000 paid by public and other sources might seem high, consider the alternative. $300,000 is the estimated lifetime cost to a community for each teen who “ages out” of the foster care system without finding a permanent home. That young person is at much higher risk for becoming homeless, pregnant, substance addicted, struggling with mental and/or physical health issues, and becoming involved with the criminal justice system as either a victim or an offender—and the financial cost doesn’t begin to measure the opportunity that is lost to the child.

Ampersand Families extends the same welcome to prospective buddy families as it does to prospective adoptive families: individuals and couples, gay and straight, all religions or none at all, and persons of any racial or ethnic background are encouraged apply.

“Every child should be able to have an unconditional, permanent, and loving relationship with an adult or adults who are not their paid service providers,” Coonce concluded.

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ASL & Coffee is gathering spot for the deaf community and friends

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
asl-and-coffee-16In the basement of the historic Charles Thompson Hall at 1824 Marshall Ave. (photo right), a coffee shop staffed by volunteers is serving up coffee and conversation on Fridays from 10am–3pm. The three-story brick building anchors the SW corner of the Fairview and Marshall avenues intersection, with an off-street parking lot and doorway leading to the coffee shop in the rear.

Once inside, it feels like many coffee shops—but with one notable difference. The patrons are all speaking in American Sign Language (ASL).

The board of directors of the Thompson Hall Deaf Club—housed in the same building—originally thought the coffee shop would be open Monday through Friday, but, according to Richard Taylor, ASL & Coffee coordinator, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

“Our original purpose,” Taylor said, “was to make a space where ASL students from across the Twin Cities could come and practice their signing with members of the deaf community. And, of course, we wanted to have a place for the deaf community to gather mid-day.”

“Since we opened last July,” Taylor continued, we’ve realized there are a few things working against us. For starters, our building is zoned in a non-commercial district. That means we can’t have any traditional signage outside the building or on the street. We want people to know that we’re here and that anyone can stop by.”

The Thompson Hall Deaf Club is one of the oldest continuously operating deaf clubs in the country.
The club celebrated its centennial last month, with four days of festivities. Representatives from Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for the deaf (located in Washington DC), traveled here for the event; St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also attended.

asl-and-coffee-03Photo left: ASL & Coffee guests relaxed on a Friday morning at the coffee shop.

The building was constructed in 1916 with funds donated by Margaret Thompson. She and her husband Charles were both active members of the local deaf community. $45,000 was given for the construction of Thompson Hall, and an additional $45,000 was invested in a trust fund to provide for long-term maintenance of the building. Thompson Hall was built by the deaf and for the deaf. Its existence has made possible a permanent home for the deaf community in the Twin Cities.

A plaque in the entryway reads: In loving memory of Charles Thompson, who found pleasure in contributing to the happiness of others.

In 2011, the building received a designation as a national historic landmark. Like any 100-year-old building, the upkeep and care required are considerable. In preparation for the anniversary celebration, Hirschfield Paints donated enough supplies to repaint all of the interior spaces.

The club has a full calendar every weekend with activities ranging from game night, quilting, planning meetings for camping and snowmobiling, holiday gatherings, Bible study and more.

As 2016 draws to a close, the future of the ASL & Coffee venture remains uncertain. Coordinator Richard Taylor and the Thompson Hall Deaf Club board of directors plan to give it another six months, to see if word spreads among nearby colleges and community education programs offering ASL classes.

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The history of Ford dealerships on University Avenue

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

Brian McMahon, author of “The Ford Century in Minnesota,” will give a free Illustrated talk on Mon., Dec. 19, at 7:pm at the Lifetrack Building (formerly the Owens Motor Company), 709 University Ave.
By the mid-1920s, there were three Ford dealerships on University Ave. The Avenue already had a cluster of auto-related businesses and had become nationally known as America’s Great Highway.

ford-dealership-sliderPhoto right: Historic photo of Owens Motor Company dealership, 709 University Ave. The building remains, and is now Lifetrack—and where Brian McMahon, author of “The Ford Century in Minnesota,” will give a free Illustrated talk on Mon., Dec. 19, at 7:pm.

McMahon will give an illustrated talk, using the Owens Motor Company, the W. H. Schmelzel Company, and the Muessel Motor Company, as a starting point to explain the evolution of the dealership system.

ford-6-3bHenry Ford not only changed the way cars were made; he changed the way they were sold. Ford realized early on that mass production could not work without mass consumption—a huge number of buyers had to purchase the cars streaming off the assembly line. To convince people to give up their horse and buy a Model T, Ford created the modern distribution system with dealerships in virtually every town with a population over 2,000. He also established a network of over 70,000 authorized service agents. Because cars were expensive to purchase, buyers needed reassurance that their complex machines could be properly maintained and serviced, particularly at a time of unpaved roads.

ford-img070Other dealerships later located on the Avenue, including Midway Ford and Saxon Ford. These are still in business but have since relocated. Ford’s trial and error methods could be hard on those who invested in their automobile franchise, and some were driven out of business by his harsh policies.

One causality, M.J. Osborn, lost his dealership at 117 University and invested in another business which had a more successful outcome—Ecolab.

ford-6-3aThis lecture will explore the business practices and the colorful personalities of those who sold, serviced and maintained Ford cars and trucks, Lincoln automobiles, and Fordson tractors.

McMahon, a trained architect, will also explain how the dealership buildings evolved as a new building type for the new sales and services operations. Large storefront windows were featured to showcase new cars, and the dealers utilized several other marketing gimmicks including sponsoring marching bands, novelty vehicles, and sports’ teams.

ford-img746McMahon, who was previously the Executive Director of University UNITED, will have books on hand for sale. For information call 651-399-7221.

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TakeAction Minnesota new member meeting overflowed

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Executive director Dan McGrath reached out to interested supporters of TakeAction Minnesota the day after the election, inviting them to roll up their progressive sleeves and get involved.

take-action-mn-02Two weeks later, on Nov. 21, more than 150 people (photo left) showed up at the organization’s Hamline-Midway headquarters. They came in response to McGrath’s call to action, charged up and hoping to find a place in the recently changed political landscape. The meeting had to be moved next door to Avalon High School, a larger space that could hold the overflow crowd.

take-action-mn-10Photo right: Prospective new members answered questions that helped them clarify their own reactions to the election.

TakeAction Minnesota is a broad network of people working to realize racial and economic equity across the state. Their initiatives connect people and organizations to each other: turning someone’s individual desire for change—to pass a more progressive policy or law, to improve an institution, or to influence a harmful idea or perception—into public action.

Chris Conry, strategic campaigns director, said, “We were caught off guard by the turnout. We haven’t done an impromptu style of meeting like this before—one that required only two emails and very little planning. “

“The organization’s priorities,” according to Conry, “are fighting for positive change in health care, climate-related issues, criminal justice reform, and economic policies such as minimum wage and paid sick time.”

take-action-mn-07Photo left: Board chair Mai Ching Xiong addressed the crowd.

TakeAction Minnesota offers opportunities to learn greater effectiveness as an individual citizen and as part of a progressive group. “There will be an opportunity shortly to attend a hearing about climate change at the legislature,” Conry said. “We’ll also be sponsoring a training series about the new face of local and national government.”

To learn more about the ongoing work of this organization visit www.takeactionminnesota.org. Their office is located at 705 Raymond Ave., Suite #100, just south of University Ave.

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Como writer, jokester, ‘bearder’ amazed at good fortune

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

Two volumes of Brian Beatty’s poetry being published—‘Coyotes I Couldn’t See’ and ‘Brazil, Indiana’

2016 was a big year for Como poet and performer Brian Beatty. He had two poetry collections accepted for publication, “Coyotes I Couldn’t See” and “Brazil, Indiana.”

beatty“I’m pretty amazed at my good fortune right now,” remarked Beatty (photo right).

“At 46 years old, I was late to get something book-length published. This interest in my work motivates me to keep knocking out poems.”

Natural creative outlet
Beatty was writing poems in high school English classes when he should have been reading Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Initially I was inspired by the song lyrics of my favorite bands, but I quickly realized, with the help of a great teacher, that song lyrics and poetry weren’t the same thing—mostly because I was no Bob Dylan,” recalled Beatty.

In college, he studied fiction writing because that seemed more practical. “At the time, you could still sell short stories to magazines,” stated Beatty. He sold one to Seventeen magazine during his senior year of undergrad.

His first published poem worth anything was about a homeless man who tucked the money he panhandled into his boot. It appeared in a university literary magazine, across the page from a poem by Charles Bukowski. “I was pretty pleased (and smug) about that at the time,” said Beatty.

In 1994, he earned a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and then quit writing for about a year.

“I’d pushed too hard too soon,” he explained.

He questions university MFA programs, worrying that the university’s ownership of literature has done something to poetry and fiction traditions. “Not enough of writing these days is about what happens outside of academia,” said Beatty.

When he eventually returned to a computer keyboard, it was with ideas for poems instead of short stories. “I’ve stayed at it since then because I’ve never found a creative outlet that feels as natural to me,” said Beatty.

‘Odd, endearing, adored by hipsters and Wobegonians’
Over the last 25 years, Beatty has written for over 20 publications. Among them are Arts Indiana, The Bark, City Pages, Elephant Journal, The Evergreen Review, Glasgow Review of Books (Scotland), Lake Country Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Quarterly, The Rake, The Sycamore Review, The Writer, Urthona (New Zealand) and Yankee Pot Roast.

The bearded jokester has appeared on more than 15 stages, such as the Bedlam Theatre, Brave New Workshop, MPR’s Fitzgerald Theater, 2010 and 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festivals, The Playwrights’ Center, The Ritz Theater, The Soap Factory, Trylon Microcinema, The Turf Club, and the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis.

For two years Beatty hosted “You Are Hear,” a monthly literary podcast, for mnartists.org, a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation.

Comedian Maria Bamford considers Beatty one of her favorite Minneapolis comics. “Odd, endearing, adored by hipsters and Wobegonians alike,” she said.

Read, steal, and avoid cliches
Beatty grew up in Brazil, Indiana and moved to south Minneapolis in 1999. He wound up in St. Paul’s Como neighborhood in 2015.

He’s a big fan of Lake Como and all that the park offers.

“My favorite thing about the Como neighborhood is how residential it is,” remarked Beatty.

“Neighbors wave across the street and chat in the alley. I love that I don’t see cranes when I look toward the horizon.”

He has started reading at Barbaric Yawp, Chris Title’s monthly reading series at Underground Music Café at Hoyt and Hamline.

Beatty recommends that aspiring poets read as much as they can and steal what they find valuable.

“Read and steal—and be as clear as you can about what you’re trying to communicate without falling into horrible cliché,” stated Beatty, who also writes marketing and advertising copy for business clients.

Comedy and poetry
Beatty’s writing process involves plopping down in his living room chair with his laptop and hoping for the best, usually first thing in the morning after the coffee is started. “When nothing’s working, I crack open a book and read until I stumble upon something that inspires me,” said Beatty.

“I typically start with a single image or phrase and follow that wherever it takes me. Most of the time, I wind up telling tiny stories or jokes in my poems.”

His first poetry collection, “DUCK!” was a 100-page humor collection he self-published in 2009.

Ravenna Press in Washington published a small pamphlet-length collection called, “Earliest Bird Calls.” It includes a couple of poems that wound up in revised versions in the Coyotes collection.

coyotes-cover“Coyotes I Couldn’t See” (photo left of cover), was printed recently by St. Paul-based Red Bird Chapbooks (redbirdchapbooks.com). This limited edition collection includes lyric and narrative poems written and published over a two-year period. The chapbook is loosely arranged to chronicle a year’s sequence of seasons. Included poems originally appeared in print and digital publications in the U.S., Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland, as well as in digital broadsides on the website of the Walker Art Center and in Motionpoems’ 2014 “Arrivals and Departures” public art project at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

“Brian Beatty’s poems conjure complete lives—houses, yards, people, ghosts, dogs, squirrels and invisible coyotes—out of just a few stanzas,” praised Minnesota musician Charlie Parr. “This collection reads like music, creating worlds that look like everyday life complete with the terrible uncertainty, the delicate and wavering balance, the long, long drop into the bottomless.”

brazil_coverBook tribute to grandmother
Beatty’s second collection, titled “Brazil, Indiana” (cover photo left), will be published in late 2016 or early 2017 by California-based Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press.

The 100-page sequence of short, 12-line lyrics pays tribute to the people and places of the poet’s rural, small town childhood years.

“It’s one long poem in the manner of John Berryman’s Dream Songs,” explained Beatty. “The book poured out in a handful of months. It started as a tribute to my late grandmother, who was my last connection to my hometown until her death last year.”

Excerpts from the sequence first appeared in numerous publications, including Clementine Poetry Journal, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, The Glasgow Review of Books (Scotland), Midwestern Gothic, The Moth (Ireland), Right Hand Pointing, Third Wednesday and Yellow Chair Review.
Twin Cities-based annual Poetry City, U.S.A. published the first of the Brazil, Indiana excerpts.

“The highlight of my poetry ‘career,’ such as it is, would have to be publishing six excerpts from the Brazil book in an Irish literary magazine. Otherwise, I sat next to the poet Robert Bly at a local documentary premiere once,” said Beatty.

Check Beatty’s web site (brianbeattympls.com) for book signing events.

“For all the jabber about nobody reading poetry these days, I’m fortunate to live in a place where there’s an audience for the work I do,” said Beatty. “It means the world to me.”

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Local school joins two others to insure survival and growth

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

St. Peter Claver Catholic School joins in partnership with two Minneapolis Catholic Schools

Staff, parents and students at St. Peter Claver Catholic School, 1060 W. Central Ave., will no longer have to worry each year whether the school will continue to stay open.

The school has become a part of the newly formed Ascension Catholic Academy, described as a paradigm for urban Catholic schools in the Twin Cities. The other schools involved are Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis and St. John Paul II Catholic Prep School in northeast Minneapolis.

The Academy concept originated with, and was initially funded by, the GHR Foundation, started in 1965 by Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst. The Foundation seeks transformational change in education, health, and global development.

claver-3Photo right: DeMod McGruder, an 8th grader at St. Peter Claver Catholic School, at computer. (Photo submitted)

“The traditional parish school is led by a pastor, who then hires the principal and oversees the school,” said Meg Nodzon, senior program officer for the GHR Foundation. “In this model, the pastors of the three schools have ceded their authority to a board of directors that is made up of both clergy and lay people who will then manage all three schools together, which is a new form of governance for this archdiocese.”

Nodzon expressed gratitude to Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who partnered with GHR and the schools to adopt this new model.

“There was always the question of whether St. Peter Claver could stay open, and similar concerns with St. John Paul II,” Nodzon explained. “We wanted to look at whether there was a model that not only could stabilize the schools fiscally but could at the same time boost the academics so we could continue to close the achievement gap.”

Nodzon said that Ascension Catholic School was doing well both academically and financially. “They had a good basis of support, and a lot of partnerships throughout the community,” Nodzon claimed. “The model was based on Ascension being the anchor and helping to disseminate best practices and stability for all three schools.”

claver-1Photo left: Augustus Young, MS Math/Science teacher at St. Peter Claver, assists a student. (Photo submitted)

Patty Stromen, president of Ascension Catholic Academy, said the GHR Foundation had looked at many sites and at what was the cutting edge of how urban Catholic schools were succeeding. She said GHR looked at best practices and discussed what could happen locally.

“That translated to a more focused conversation around a wealth of information about what was working and what wasn’t working,” Stromen said. “Each situation is unique, so we didn’t simply take one model and institute it here, but considered the nuances of this archdiocese and the two cities. We’re bridging St. Paul and Minneapolis, and in Minneapolis, bridging north and northeast.”

Conversations have been in place for two years, and the project was put into effect Aug. 1.

Therese Shimshock, principal at St. Peter Claver, has been on board since August. She was previously an administrator at Faithful Shepherd in Eagan for 11 years.

“I took some time off and was trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up,” she recalled. “I was at daily Mass, asking God whether I should go to a public school or do consulting. Mass was at 8:30am, and at 8:32 Patty had left me a phone call. I think God was saying He had tried to give me these little subtle hints but I hadn’t gotten them, so he was going to hit me over the head with a 2×4.”

claver-06Photo right: Elonzo Simmons, Kaleb Carter, and Elijah Simmons, are all 5th grade students at St. Peter Claver. (Photo submitted)

“Patty asked me if I would be interested in coming in and talking. I told her that I am just a suburban white woman with no urban experience. We talked through that piece of it, and here I am,” Shimshock said.

The school originally opened in the 1950s and was closed in the 1980s. After about 20 years, it reopened in 2000. The school has always had an African focus, reflected in the African design on the floors of the hallway. The student population of K-8 is currently 68.

Shimshock said St. Peter Claver is in a reboot stage right now. Out of 10 teachers, eight are new. “Being under the Academy has allowed us to create a culture that is different from our past, not that we are forgetting our African roots. But it has let us start over and give these kids the academics and skills that they need to move forward.”

“One of the things Patty did was hire a dean of students,” Shimshock explained. “Even though we have a very low population in numbers, the kids that come to us have emotional or academic concerns. Andre Knight, our dean of students, is an African American man who brings that piece to it. While I work on the academic needs, he works on the behavioral part, which is phenomenal.”

All the schools in the Academy, according to Stromen, have over 70 percent of students in the free or reduced lunch program. Over 90 percent of students are children of color.

“Most of the scholars in all three of our schools come to us at an average of two years behind grade level,” she continued. “So it’s not only helping them achieve, but closing that achievement gap and progressing them through at a faster rate than students at grade level.”

She emphasized that all three schools have individualized learning plans, with a very specific awareness of each scholar’s needs, particularly in reading and math.

Stromen said that although it is in early stages, so far the program seems to be going well. “We’re looking at how we build structures, how we increase academic success and financial sustainability and how we bring best practices to each and every area of the organization.”

claver-2Photo right: Elicia Stevens was a 7th grade student at St. Peter Claver. (Photo submitted)

“We have a half-time enrollment manager, and half of her time is here in St. Paul, knowing we want to increase enrollment here next year.” She said that regarding structure, the Academy had built a comprehensive IT program. “Instead of each school trying to manage on its own, or manage emergencies, we now have a very cohesive way to do that. Whether it’s a piece of equipment that needs to be purchased or something that needs to be fixed, everyone knows who to go to. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a school setting it can make a big difference.”

Stromen stated that finance, HR, bookkeeping, volunteer and enrollment management, traditional development and raising of funds are all centralized.

“We brought Ascension’s best practices for finance, HR, and volunteer management to the other schools as well,” she said. “Ascension is also strengthened in the process.”

Stromen added that all three schools not only want their scholars to graduate from high school, but to also be post-secondary education ready.

Nodzon said St. Peter Claver is one of the last Catholic schools in an urban setting in St. Paul. “With the Ascension Catholic Academy, we can ensure scholars will have a school in their neighborhood for hopefully many, many years to come.”

“A school that educates children successfully, and in this case in a faith setting, brings hope to a neighborhood,” added Stromen. “We see our mission as educating any child who comes to us along with a family member who desires to be educated in a faith setting, regardless of what their faith background is.”

“Some people say why are Catholics educating non-Catholics? We say it’s because we are Catholic. It’s part of our mission to educate children who deserve strong, positive, successful education, and we welcome anyone who walks in the door.”

She said the schools are in neighborhoods where there are families of color, many living in poverty, many not Catholic. “Let’s open the doors,” she said.

Stromen said she has the delight of signing off every Thursday morning on deposits. “Today there was a $5 gift from someone and a $50,000 gift from someone,” she related. “We honor each of these gifts, no matter the size.”

“As a Twin Cities community, and as individual neighborhoods, it’s all of us together giving all of our unique gifts that are going to provide a future full of hope for these amazing scholars that we know and the scholars that are going to come to us that we don’t yet know,” Stromen continued. “Each and every child who lives in this neighborhood deserves that future of hope and deserves an education, and their needs met, and deserves to be in a safe setting.”

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A Living Nativity scheduled for Dec. 10 at Bethel Lutheran

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

The three-hour event takes a year of planning and up to 100 people to organize

(Photos courtesy of Bethel Lutheran Church from their 2015 event)
For the fourth year, the sights and sounds of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth will be re-enacted at a pantomime presented by Bethel Lutheran Church. A Living Nativity will be offered to the congregation and the public Dec. 10 between 6 and 8pm at the church, 670 W. Wheelock Pkwy.

lving-nativity-03Congregation members will take part in a skit that shows the birth of Jesus. There will also be a Bethlehem Marketplace offering visitors a glimpse of what trades might have been offered in Biblical times.

“We added the Marketplace last year,” said Anna Zimmerman, Director of Discipleship and Outreach at Bethel Lutheran. “We call it the Bethlehem Walk, and that will go on from 5:30-8pm. People will have a chance to experience what it was like in the marketplace.” A Living Nativity was created by Jordan Ray, who held Zimmerman’s position until last year, and the church’s pastor, David Seabaugh. When Zimmerman arrived for last year’s production, she brought along the idea of the Bethlehem Market. “I had seen it in other churches; I saw one in British Columbia,” she noted. “So I presented the idea to our church, and they said yes.”

lving-nativity-07Last year the church’s basement, which holds a large fellowship hall, was also opened to people attending. This gives them an opportunity to sip on coffee or cider or sample some of the 400 cookies baked by women in the congregation.

“That brought in about 100 more people last year,’ Zimmerman noted. “It offered a warm place for people to sit and have fellowship with each other.”

She said the weather has so far not been a problem, but there are always contingency plans. Zimmerman said the congregation brings blankets for extra warmth if needed, and there are bleachers so people do not have to sit or stand in snow. There is also a fire pit for extra heat.

Cravin’ Pies, Belasquez Family Coffee and Bundles of Love, a church charity to help mothers in need, have all participated. Last year there was also a translator, who translated children’s names and spelled them out in Biblical Greek.

Zimmerman said she has also gotten in touch with Concordia Academy, which presents a craft show in November, to have them contact all those participants who might want to offer their crafts during the Living Nativity.

living-nativity-01“Bob from Bob’s Cock-a-Doodle Zoo brings live animals for the production,” Zimmerman said. Sheep and goats, as well as other animals, take part in the pantomime. Shows are offered every 15 minutes. When they are over, children can come up and pet all the animals.

Zimmerman said that Seabaugh had written the scripts for the skit each year until this one, since he is leaving to serve a congregation in Illinois. “I reached out, and Jeff Burkart, a professor from Concordia, agreed to write the pantomime. He did a beautiful job,” she said.

The presentation calls for a show team, which includes actors for the skit as well as Roman soldiers who will be announcing the birth to those gathered in the fellowship hall. “Last year we focused on shepherds and angels,” Zimmerman explained. “This year we are focusing more on the Wise Men.”

lving-nativity-04She said that the play always is about the birth of Christ, but looked at from different perspectives.

The show team also includes those who assist with stage managing, costumes and audio/equipment.

“The actors can choose to speak or not speak,” Zimmerman added. “It is a pantomime skit purposely.

So if Little Sally Johnson is afraid to speak, she can just stand and be an angel. All ages participate and attend. It is definitely a family event.”

There is a media team, a hospitality team and a building team. “We take the stable apart and put it up each year,” Zimmerman said. “We will set it up in a few weeks while it is still warm out.”

lving-nativity-05She said the planning for the next year’s Living Nativity starts before the current year’s event is even over. “I started reaching out and brainstorming about two weeks ago.” Then, right after the event, “we look at what went right and what didn’t work. Then I revisit that the next year.”

Zimmerman said that although she coordinates the event, it is totally a church undertaking. She said it involves participation from 75 to 100 people.

But all the work is worth it, according to Zimmerman. “Christmas is so rushed, and so much emphasis is put on gifts and Santa Claus and shopping. But we like to remind the community the reason we celebrate Christmas is that Jesus Christ came and saved us from our sins. That’s why we share the story.”

She said the pantomime is by and for the congregation, but it is also an outreach to the wider community. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

“And we always make sure we tell people the story is not over when A Living Nativity ends. They are always welcome to join us for a candlelight worship service on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, too.”

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