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LEAP High aims students to leap high in their goals

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

Sixty percent of their students have never attended school before


Rose Santos, principal of the Limited English Achievement Program High School. (Photo by Jan Willms)



You’re a teenager in a new country where you don’t know the culture, the customs or the language. You may have left a place that was ravaged by war, and you have not had the chance to go to school before. Everything is new and different, and a bit scary.

The Limited English Achievement Program (LEAP) High School provides that safe place where you can learn and grow and become accustomed to your new home while earning your diploma.

The school, currently housed in the Wilson Building at 631 Albert St. N., has been at this location since 2003. It began in 1994 on the 4th floor of the 494 Sibley Ave, building. It initially shared its present location with the Wilson Middle School, but during the summer of 2004, LEAP took over the entire building.

“We draw students from all around the globe,” said Rose Santos, who has been the school’s principal since 2004. “Our students usually come to us with not very much English,” Santos said. “Many come from war-torn places, and 60 per cent of them have not attended school before.”

The school’s mission is to be a national leader in preparing immigrant students to become global citizens and critical thinkers. Santos said 100 per cent of the students are refugees or immigrants.

LEAP is designed to provide an engaging school experience, bridge cultural and language barriers, meet individual learning needs and build English language fluency, so that all students graduate prepared for a positive role in society.
Over 400 students in grades 9-12 currently attend LEAP.

“Our average class size is 19,” Santos said. “The largest class has 27 students.”
She said that 85 per cent of the students who graduate go on to post-secondary education.

“I think our students are motivated to be the best that they can be,” Santos declared. “They know they need to learn English to be successful.”

LEAP follows the St. Paul Public Schools regulations for requirements and for issuing credits for graduation.

“We have extremely fabulous teachers who get to know the kids very well,” Santos continued. “A lot of my teachers are dual-licensed in ESL and another academic subject.”

Santos herself is licensed to teach elementary, ESL K-12 and special ed, as well as having her principal’s license.

All the classes are taught in English.  Santos said there are also bi-lingual staff members or teaching assistants who come in to help with the students.

“The students learn English and other information at the same time,” Santos explained. “For example, they might learn writing and take a computer course at the same time, or study reading and learn social studies or science. They do two things at once.”

The students may be dealing with emotional issues as well. “Some have lost their whole families,” Santos noted. “Some are young adults, working at night and going to school during the day, getting only a few hours of sleep. Our school social worker is busy trying to find services for our students.”

She said that for her, the biggest challenge of the program is when some students reach age 21 and age out before they have gotten their diploma. “That’s very heartbreaking for me, when they are so close to graduating,” she said.

The most positive aspect of the school for her is seeing students complete their studies and attain their diploma, then return as volunteers while they are attending college.

“What’s even more rewarding is that every time a new group comes, we learn more,” Santos said. “We have had groups of Hmong, Somali, Spanish-speaking and Karen. Every few years, there is somebody new and we learn about a new culture.”

She said that LEAP provides a path of survival for many students.

“We try to have a warm, welcoming environment that is acceptable of the cultures they bring,” Santos stated. “We want our students to feel at home, socially and emotionally.”

A lot of relationship-building happens among students, teachers and staff, according to Santos.

“We’re a small school, and we know our students well,” she said. She explained that even though some of the students come from countries that are enemies of each other, when they arrive at LEAP that racial tension is not present.

She said that LEAP students realize there are many stereotypes about new immigrants, and they worked on a project that discounted the negative thoughts and instead emphasized the positive aspects of their cultures and of them as individuals.

The students made a video in which they acted out various strengths that they, as immigrants and refugees, bring to their new home. And on their arms and faces and legs, they wrote these strengths: determination, peace, love and helpfulness, among others.

Santos stressed how important education is to the students and their parents.
“Here, we take it for granted that we can get an education,” she said. “In some of the countries our students come from, only the rich can attend school. When they come here and get this gift of education, they truly appreciate it.”

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Another attempt to develop Dickerman

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

The challenge is to make a not-too-expensive park that doesn’t seem to be businesses’ front yards


The current plan for Dickerman Park hopes to develop two public plazas that are placed to distinguish them from the local businesses on the north. Walkways through the park would pass by public art and historical elements to celebrate its railroad and industrial history.


If it is rebuilt in 2016-2017, Dickerman Park would include public plazas, a water feature, art and places for visitors to sit or walk. A request for $3 million in city Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) dollars goes to the CIB Committee’s Community Facilities Task Force this month. If that funding is approved city officials would combine it with $2 million in 8-80 Vitality Fund money approved last year by the city.

More than two dozen people attended a February community meeting at Newell Park to review ideas for Dickerman. Proposals for the park were developed by a city-community advisory committee and consultants. The committee began meeting last fall and chose ideas from four park layouts.


For decades, anyone passing by would have assumed that Dickerman Park was the front yard of numerous businesses, such as the Griggs Midway Building, the Midway YMCA, and Marsden Maintenance.

One challenge park planners had to meet is making the land appear to be a park, rather than the front yards of businesses, charter schools and the Midway YMCA at 1761 University Ave.

The park would incorporate information about the Midway’s history, including its railroad and industrial history, in design of park elements and displays. It would have public art and some features that could be used for children’s play. But it won’t have a playground.

Those at the open house had some of the same reactions as the Dickerman Park Community Design Advisory Committee. While there is much support for the park proposals, and ideas such as native plantings, community gardens and the inclusion of art and information about neighborhood history, there are concerns about some park features. Some neighbors like the idea of a fountain or water feature while others question its practicality. There are also issues with how seating is provided, with some preference for fixed seating that cannot be moved rather than a mix of fixed and moveable seating.

Dickerman Park is one of the city’s most unusual and, until recently, neglected parks. The 2.4 acre property extends along University Ave., from Fairview Ave. to Aldine St. The land was given to the city by the Dickerman family in 1909-1910, with the goal of developing a linear park or green boulevard along University Avenue. But over the years parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and play equipment were placed on the park property.

The park is located along the Green Line light rail and near the Fairview rail station, so that was a focus, said Ellen Stewart, a landscape architect with the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation.

Feat3_15Dickerman3This is Dickerman Park’s fifth try for city funding. Park planning has gone on for almost two decades, much to the unhappiness of area residents and business owners who want to see something done with the space. A $12 million plan developed in 2005 was shelved due to high costs.

Stewart said it’s important to provide green space along the Green Line, at Dickerman and other sites. In the last month a site plan review was held for improvements planned at nearby Iris Park, which is one block west and south of Dickerman Park. Work on Iris Park is scheduled to get underway this year.

Feat3_15Dickerman4Some Dickerman Park work will take place this spring and summer, Stewart said. Parking lots and other encroachments onto city property will be removed and replaced with grass. Full construction won’t start until fall 2016. By then more design development work will be completed.

One major concern is how to make the park appear to be the public space it is, and not the front yards and parking lots of buildings to the north. One big change will be the removal of the pavement in front of the Griggs Midway Building at the northeast corner of University and Fairview. When the park is developed, two plazas will be placed in a way that doesn’t make them appear to be part of the adjacent buildings.

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Hamline United Methodist Church

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

An historic church looking toward the future


Hamline Church at 1514 Englewood Ave. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)



Hamline United Methodist Church (HUMC),1514 Englewood Ave., is an  impressive stone building that has towered above the neighborhood since it was built in 1929. According to Senior Pastor Mariah Furness Tollgaard, “The imposing architecture of the church is both our greatest asset and our greatest challenge.”

HUMC is a congregation with historic roots (the building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places), but they are committed to moving forward as a community in new, meaningful ways.

HUMC was recently in the news as a stake holder in the decision-making over Hamline University’s proposed campus expansion. In question, among other things, is the destruction of several homes in the neighborhood – some of which are owned by the University.

In September, HUMC offered up their space as a “neutral meeting ground” in which stakeholders could work toward resolution. “Our interest is in preserving integrity in our community, and demonstrating commitment to everyone working together in a civil process,” Tollgaard said.

This type of open-mindedness is apparent in the way the church is ministering lately.

“Our passion,” said Tollgaard, “is in claiming the sacred in everyday life, and with that in mind, the possibilities for ministry are endless.” The congregation gathers at 10am on Sundays for what Tolgaard called a “blended service.” Traditional meets contemporary here, and one is as likely to hear Brahams as they are to hear U2 or the Wailin’ Jennys.


Senior Pastor Mariah Furness Tollgaard. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Throughout the church calendar are opportunities to engage in study, service and fellowship. To name a few, there are vegetables to tend in the summer garden, providing food for the Hamline Midway Elders. Volunteers contribute time to the Block Nurse Program, which keeps seniors living independently in their homes. Thirsty Scholars is a monthly fellowship group for men with children under 18, which meets in local brew pubs. There are prayer groups, Bible studies and book groups as well as a women’s outdoor recreation club and a crafter’s night for all ages.

In April, the church will break ground for a community oven, and by May or June HUMC hopes to be inviting neighbors to join in the fun of baking breads and pizzas outdoors.

The current membership at HUMC is around 400, down from twice that in the 1950’s. “Our goal,” said Tollgaard, “is not to be a huge church, but rather a community of people woven together.”

Four years ago, HUMC merged with Church of the Good Shepherd in a move that attracted many young families.

HUMC is a reconciling church, welcoming all persons as full members into church life regardless of sexual orientation. Tollgaard feels strongly about revitalizing the church, helping people meet their spiritual needs and welcoming them into a community of faith.

Tollgaard is the youngest senior pastor ever called to HUMC; she will also be the first to take maternity leave when she and her husband have their second child in March.

After undergraduate work at the U of M, Tollgaard received her MDiv from Harvard’s Divinity School and served at a Methodist church in northern California.  She considers herself something of an anomaly, coming from a family where almost everybody studied law. Both her parents, her husband and one brother are attorneys. She said, “I guess I just found another way to do the work of justice.”

Growing up in Owatonna, Tolgaard was the only member of her family to attend church– though her parent’s names appeared on the membership roles of the local Methodist church. She received what she clearly remembered as a call to ministry when she was only 13. “I became aware that God was calling my name while on a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota,” she said. “There was a conversation with elders late one night about God and spirit and the land, and from then on, I knew what I wanted do with my life. I didn’t come out as a wanna-be minister for years, it was so not cool as a teenager. But there was no question in my mind, and I kept the secret to myself.”

According to Tollgaard, “This is a changing time for churches around the world. People everywhere are searching for more meaning and purpose, but not necessarily within the old ways of doing things.

At HUMC, there is a sense of the old meeting the new with grace. Tollgaard said, “People ought to come and check us out. We’re probably not the church you think we are…”

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Summer Camp Explorations

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

Popular local options include St. Paul Academy, Friends School of Minnesota, and Como Park



Adventure awaits your kids this summer. Construct a castle out of cardboard. Be a junior sleuth. Learn what it’s like to be a nurse or figure out how to do 3D printing. Monkey around with primate pals. Canoe, paint and innovate. Step back in time.

That’s just the start of the camp options available in the Twin Cities area. Browse below for more information on some of the camps offered locally.


Blackhawks offer several exciting half- and full-day soccer camps for players ages 5-18 that encompass a wide variety of activities and skills. Specialty camps focus on specific skills such as ball control, shooting, and goalkeeping. Cost: $75-175. 651-894-3527. http://blackhawksoccer.org

Feat3_15ComoCampCAMP COMO
Spend some time Monkeying Around with your primate pals; discover your creative side with Adventures in Art; take an African Adventure right at Como; or try on the hat of a zookeeper or gardener in Behind-the-Scenes! Como’s camps include “behind-the-scenes” experiences and meeting Como’s plant and animal ambassadors up-close! Five-day, half-day sessions. Extended care available. In partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), Como also offers summer camp opportunities for youth, ages 8-18, with autism. Cost: $117-150. 651-487-8272. http://www.tinyurl.com/p3u4lqv

From junior sleuths to budding lawyers to young artists, there are seven weeks of adventures and summer fun planned for grades 2-12 at the Friends School of Minnesota. Weekdays, half- and full-day. Cost: $100 to $280. 651-621-8941. http://www.fsmn.org

Girls and boys ages 6 to 17 can design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science and technology during partial-day, weekday camps. There are more than 88 classes available over 10 weeks. New this summer: an overnight camp for teens. St. Paul and Minneapolis locations. Cost: $185, scholarships available. 612-824-4394. http://www.leonardosbasement.org

Make Rube Goldberg machines. Take a writing workshop entitled: “A Week at Hogwarts.” Learn about 3D printing and movie-making. Debate, play chess, take competitive math, debate, or learn how to be a better leader. Twelve options at SPA cover a wide range of academic, arts, and enrichment activities for grades 2-12. The Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth offers the ExplorSchool for students in grades 4-6. Cost: $169-425. 651-698-2451. http://www.spa.edu/ about_spa/summer_programs_2015


Construct giant castles, get lost in colossal mazes, build suits of armor and more during these five-day, full-day sessions for ages 8-14. Eight weeks offered at 5 different parks. Cost: $299. 612-532-6764. http://julianmcfaul.com

Half-day, three- and five-day French language day camps for beginners and experienced students from age three through high school offering hands-on and artistic expression in an immersion setting. Cost: $175. 612-332-0436. http://www.afmsp.org

Unleashed summer campers entering grades 3-10 spend a full week immersed in animal learning and fun. Camp sessions are held in St. Paul and Golden Valley (as well as three other locations). Cost: $295. 763-489-2220. http://www.animalhumanesociety.org/camps

A variety of art disciplines and mediums with themes like Claymation, theater, art car, or food as art offered for ages 4-18. Five-day, half- and full-day sessions available. Cost: $135-260. 612-729-5151. http://www.articulture.org

Solve mysteries of the past in this three-day History Detective Camp for ages 11-13. Or, young ladies ages 9-12 can step back in time in a unique Finishing School for Young Ladies day camp. Cost: $200-$220. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Camp and canoe while learning leadership and teamwork skills in a seven-day resident camp for youths age 13-18 who live within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Held on the St. Croix River in Rush City and organized by YouthCARE. Cost: free. 612-338-1233. http://www.youthcaremn.org

Explore international circus arts at Circus Juventas. Five-day, full-day sessions offered for ages 6-18. Or make your own camp with Circus Sampler Days. Cost: $395 or $85/day. 651-699-8229. http://www.circusjuventas.org

Experience cultural and language immersion; 15 languages to choose from. Resident camp for ages 7-18 and half-day programs offered. Cost: $870-$4,570. 1-800-222-4750. http://www.concordialanguagevillages.org

Learn kitchen skills and safety along with basic techniques to get cooking, with an international flavor. Three-day, half-day sessions for ages 8-13 in Edina, Stillwater and St. Paul. Cost: $195. 651-228-1333. http://www.cooksofcrocushill.com

Explore prairies, wetlands and woodland trails during full- and half-day, four-day camps offered for students entering 1-8 grades. Shorter sessions available for ages 3-6. Cost: $42-255. 651-455-4531 http://www.dodgenaturecenter.org

Be an adventurer like Davy Crockett. Explore like Huck Finn. Experience the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Be a soldier for a day. Or, try out what life as an archeologist is like. Camps range from one day to one week. $60-$250. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Travel back in time and learn about life in the 1800s. Three- and five-day, half-day camps. Two-hour day sessions for ages 6-13 only $19. Cost: $99. 651-646-8629. http://www.rchs.com

High school students ages 15-18 can explore the craft, prepare for college, and connect with other young writers in the Twin Cities, while working closely with Hamline Creative Writing faculty and published authors. Register by April 15. Cost: $400. 651-523-2476.

Learn about history while creating models of period armor, examining real medieval artifacts and more. Five-day, full-day sessions for ages 7-14. New this year: Attend a Medieval, Roman or Viking-themed camp. Three sessions offered. Cost: $325. 612-719-1954. http://www.oakeshott.org

A variety of athletic, academic and enrichment programs are offered, including woodworking, Lego robotics, puddle-stompers, geocaching, movie making, sailing, painting, rocket science, guitar, and more. Half- and full-day, one- to three-week weekday sessions. Camp Minnehaha, a full day camp for pre-k to grade 8, includes daily devotions, games, indoor and outdoor activities, daily swimming lessons and a weekly off-campus activity. Cost: $175-750. 612-728-7745, ext. 1. http://www.minnehahaacademy.net

Bring your imagination to life by creating characters and inventing new worlds. Five-day, full-day camp for ages 6-11. Cost: $250-300. 612-215-2520. http://www.mnbookarts.org

Play music, get creative, bake bread and construct books while exploring the rich culture along the Minneapolis riverfront district. Campers aged 9-11 will explore a new experience each day at four arts centers, including Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, Minnesota Center for Book Arts and MacPhail Center for Music. $225-$250. 612-341-7555. http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

Half-day or full-day weeklong camps are offered in a variety of themes (from teapots and dog bowls to spaceships and garden gnomes) for ages 6 and up.  Cost: $170-$305. 612-339-8007. http://www.northernclaycenter.org/education/summer-clay-camps

Summer programs for youth ages 3 to 16 combine science, art, drama, and literature in ways that encourage kids to actively discover and examine concepts for themselves. Programs also offered at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center, the state’s oldest outdoor environmental education facility. Cost: $60-345. 651-221-4511, 651-433-2427. http://www.smm.org/classes

Explore careers in health with hands-on sessions for grades 9-12. Full-day five-day session in Minneapolis or four-day session in St. Paul. Middle School camp offered in Dakota County. Cost: $415-460. http://www.healthforceminnesota.org

Explore the variety of Y Summer Programs at over 60 metro-area locations. Programs include flexible three-, four-, and five-day options. There’s something fun for everyone from preschool through grade nine. Cost: $80-350. http://www.ymcatwincities.org/child_care_preschool/summer_programs/

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every camp in the Twin Cities. If you would like to be included in next year’s guide, please send us detailed information on the camp.

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Urban Boat Builders inspires positive youth development through the building and use of wooden boats

Posted on 11 March 2015 by robwas66


Joseph demonstrated lashing technique to a guest. Lashing is where intersecting joints on a boat’s skeleton are tied together with string. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)


Now in their 20th year, the non-profit Urban Boat Builders (UBB) held a grand opening for their new boat works and office space last month. More than 250 people packed the afternoon celebration which featured speakers, good eats and a chance to look at canoes, kayaks and prams built by program apprentices.

The new space at 2288 University Ave. W. is four times the size of the old location at Pascal and University. “We looked at dozens of properties before choosing this one,” said executive director Marc Hosmer. A generous donor contributed $25,000 to get the build-out started, and UBB was able to raise another $25,000 thru Indiegogo (an on-line, global fundraising site). Kraus-Anderson Construction donated countless hours of labor and materials at reduced rates, resulting in a wonderful work-space complete with work benches, wood floors and roomy offices.


Guests inspected canoe construction up-close. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

For two decades, UBB has remained true to their vision of engaging youth in hands-on learning, while building positive relationships with caring adults. Their apprentice program currently accepts 18 young people (16-19 years old) into six month apprenticeships.

UBB is a well-established intervention program, with most apprentices referred from Totem Town (Ramsey County’s juvenile detention facility), social workers or probation officers. UBB receives more applications than the 36 openings it has each year.

“The two key elements in the selection process,” according to Hosmer, are “who will benefit the most and who seems the most committed.”

To be considered, applicants submit an online application and come to UBB for an unpaid, two-week trial period. If accepted into the program, they receive a stipend in exchange for their nine hours of work per week.

During the first two months, apprentices learn to work with hand tools and develop their wood working skills. Each apprentice completes an individual project, either a paddle or a tool box, before moving on to build a boat with staff, volunteers and fellow apprentices.

The apprentice program is made up of youth from a variety of backgrounds; nearly all of them have had difficulties growing up.

Feat3_15BoatBuilder3Maila, 20 years old, is one of many successful graduates of the apprentice program. She apprenticed in 2010, after dropping out of high school and entering a treatment program. She went on to attend Augsburg College where she pursued her interest in engineering, and has since returned to UBB as a permanent, part-time instructor.

UBB makes several different kinds of boats, but their signature model is a 17’, 40 lb. skin-on frame canoe. “These boats are top quality,” said Hosmer. “Our instructors have very high standards for construction.”

The canoes are covered with industrial-strength nylon, which is easier and healthier to work with than a fiberglass coating. UBB sells the boats they build, with all proceeds going back into the organization. Their website lists the boats for sale and their prices. They’ll also gladly customize one for you, with the option to sign on as a volunteer to help build your own boat.

In addition to the apprentice program, UBB engages in 12-15 school partnerships annually. These partnerships with local middle schools, high schools, and youth-serving agencies deliver academically enhanced boat-building instruction with emphasis on developing science, technology, engineering and math skills. Classes are typically small, with 6-8 participants.

Whether a school partnership or an apprentice group, each person involved in building a boat has the chance to participate in a launch once their boat is finished. All members of the past year’s apprentice program are invited to travel to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area for a five-day trip each August, offering many a first-time experience traveling by water in the wilderness.


Joseph, a current apprentice, explained to Open House guests how he built his canoe paddle. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

UBB is firmly anchored in the community, offering opportunities for growth not only for program participants but also for volunteers. Wednesday night is Open Shop Night from 6:30-9:30pm, when adults prepare lumber for the week ahead or work on shop improvements. Anyone is welcome to join.

A limited number of volunteer instructor positions are available from 2-6pm, Monday-Friday. This commitment involves working alongside program instructors and apprentices, and wood-working experience is required. Visit their website at www.urbanboatbuilders.org for more information.

The skills developed at UBB, such as working with spoke shaves, block planes and hand saws, may not turn up on many job descriptions—but to youth adrift they are invaluable.

The pride of craftsmanship and the satisfaction of working on a long-term project as part of a team will translate to anything these young boat builders undertake in the years to come.

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Como rail crossing considered one of most dangerous in state

Posted on 11 February 2015 by robwas66

The at-grade crossing southeast of Lake Como will be upgraded to either a tunnel or bridge if MnDOT gets approval

Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation informed residents that upgrades are being planned for the at-grade crossing on Como Ave., southeast of Lake Como. The crossing has been deemed one of the most dangerous in the state given the large number of people who live within a half-mile of it. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation informed residents that upgrades are being planned for the at-grade crossing on Como Ave., southeast of Lake Como. The crossing has been deemed one of the most dangerous in the state given the large number of people who live within a half-mile of it. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)


An at-grade railroad crossing in Como has been ranked one of the most dangerous in the state, but plans are being made to change that.

The crossing at Como Ave. southeast of Lake Como (next to Minnesota Indian Econ Development at 831 Como Ave.) is the only at-grade crossing that remains in the Twin Cities along this high-speed, high-grade line.

There are 50 to 70 trains a day traveling along the line that bisects the Como neighborhood in St. Paul, according to Kathy Hollander of MN350. It’s one of the main lines in the state, and it is carrying seven trains each day of highly flammable crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.

3500 people within one-half mile


Currently 7 Bakken oil trains, carrying 21 million gallons of Bakken crude, run through the metro each day, and right through Como and Midway. And, the number could rise. (Click map for larger image)

According to Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) freight and rail planner Dave Christianson, this crossing has “the highest concentration of people around a grade level crossing in Minnesota.”

About 3,500 people live within a half-mile radius, according to the U.S. Census. That doesn’t factor in those traveling through on buses, enrolled at one of the three schools in the area (Como Park High School actually borders the track), taking classes at the training center, or enjoying the trails around Lake Como.

“Is there anything we can do to get the trains out of the area?” asked a Como resident during the District 10 Community Council Land Use Committee meeting on Feb. 2.
“Almost nothing,” replied Christianson. “We’re doing everything we can, but because it is federally regulated we are not the final decider.”

A tunnel or bridge?

However, the state can work to change the at-grade status at the intersection. Details on what this grade separation will look like, whether it will be a bridge or tunnel, will be made after an engineering study that the city and railroad will complete.

It costs $15 a foot to go under and $25 a foot to go over.

The crossing is currently protected by four guard gates. There has been one recent accident at the Como crossing, according to Christianson. A driver broke through the gate in front of an oncoming train and was killed. It backed train traffic up for three hours. “The best protection we could put at an at-grade crossing wasn’t enough,” said Christianson.

7 trains carry oil daily

In all, 10 trains leave the Bakken oil fields each day. Currently, two travel to the west coast and eight come through Minnesota. Projections before the recent slowdown at the North Dakota oil fields was that those numbers would rise to between 12 and 15 trains a day, but those plans are on hold.

Those eight trains enter Minnesota through Moorhead (which is currently working to eliminate all at-grade crossings in its downtown). Then one travels south through Willmar and Pipestone to deliver the crude oil to the Gulf. Of the remaining 7, six are Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) trains and one is Canadian Pacific (CP). The CP train takes a different route into St. Paul, traveling through Plymouth instead of Anoka, but then hops on the BNSF double-track line that brings it through Como along with BNSF’s six trains that carry about 3 million gallons of crude oil each.

Can the trains be rerouted around the Twin Cities?

No, according to Christianson. “There are no other thorough tracks left of high quality,” he explained. “All trains come here and leave here.”

The cost to construct new tracks ranges from $2 to 5 million a mile. To bypass the Twin Cities, about 60 miles would need to be built at a cost of $120 to $300 million. On top of that would be the cost to hook up the 12 routes that come into the Twin Cities.

The risk to residents

The most common question Christian receives is: “How much are we at risk?”

His answer? There has been one accident in Minnesota in the last two years. There have been five in other places, including the fire that destroyed downtown Lac Megantic in Quebec and claimed 47 lives. The odds are high nothing will happen, “but at the same time there is always that chance and that’s what we’re worried about,” said Christianson.

One of the big problems with this type of crude oil is how unstable it is and how hot the fire burns when it erupts.


Community residents gathered Feb. 2 to learn more about the trains traveling through their neighborhood that carry Bakken crude oil. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

“The Bakken crude oil is light and extremely volatile,” said Christianson.

Treating it is like fighting a tire fire, observed Christianson. Instead of burning out within a few minutes, it takes hours. Emergency personnel handle it by evacuating an area within a half-mile radius of the fires.

In comparison, ethanol, which is also transported by rail through St. Paul at the rate of one train a day, has a low flash point. Because of that and its other characteristics, it can be treated with simple water. In the last 15 years of ethanol production in Minnesota, there has not been a single fatality or major injury associated with it.

New safety improvements

“The railroads are the safest they have been in the last 50 years, yet all you need is one incident and all bets are off,” remarked Christianson.

There have been several recent safety improvements. Last year train speed in major cities was reduced from 50 to 40 miles per hour.

The federal government is currently working on new guidelines to upgrade all existing tank cars that carry crude oil as they have been deemed insufficient for this use. However, it will take three years to replace the cars once the laws are written.

Additionally, as of Apr. 1, North Dakota is requiring that the crude oil go through a gas separator and then be treated so that it is not as flammable to transport.

Learn more Mar. 2

The District 10 Land Use Committee will discuss this issue next at its Mar. 2 meeting. Chair Kim Moon anticipates having a discussion with local fire fighters and police to learn more about how ready they are for an emergency at the tracks.

Railroads today

There are currently 4,400 miles of track in Minnesota, down by half from what it once was. Although 80% of hauling in the United States is done by truck, it is more efficient to transport crude oil via rail, pointed out Christianson. Rail offers more flexibility to the refineries on the coasts and the Gulf.

The railroads were declining prior to 1980 and so the federal government passed an act that deregulated the railroads. Within 15 years the number of railroads in the country dropped from 60 to seven, and they had returned to profitability, “They basically became land barges,” observed Christianson.

It takes 30 to 45 days for a truck to load, get to its destination and return for a new load. A train cuts that down to 12 days.

Because trains journey across state lines, they are categorized as interstate commerce and are regulated by the federal government rather than individual states. Three agencies govern the railroads: the Federal Railroad Association (safety), Surface Transportation Board (disputes, mergers, and abandonments), and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Railroads have the power of eminent domain. As common carriers, they can’t choose what they carry in their cars but must transport whatever they are paid to move.

1 in 7 barrels comes from Bakken

The first oil came out of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota in 2000. Before that the oil was considered unrecoverable, pointed out Christianson.

It is now producing 1.2 million barrels a day. One of every seven barrels produced in the United States comes from Bakken. It is the second largest oil field in the U.S. and stretches out over one-quarter of North Dakota.

Only one-fifth of the wells have been drilled.

While new drilling has slowed down in response to lower crude oil prices in the Middle East, they are still drilling at three-quarter their previous rate. They’re just not finishing the wells, remarked Christianson. This means that if oil prices rise again, they’ll be able to come back online quickly.

While some of the crude oil from Bakken is transported via pipeline, it only has capacity for one-third to one-half of production over the next 10 years.

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Making Art in a Spirit of “Radical Inclusion”

Posted on 11 February 2015 by robwas66

Interact Center for Performing and Visual Arts moves to Midway after 18 years in downtown Minneapolis


Artists at work in the studio space. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)


The former charter school at 1860 W. Minnehaha Ave. has a new tenant: the Interact Center for Performing and Visual Arts.

Interact is a licensed adult day program, which means that clients across the spectrum of disabilities come from all over the Twin Cities to participate in structured activities. In the case of this adult day program, all of the activities center around making art in a multi-cultural, inter-generational environment.

Interact has two components: performing and visual arts.


Members of the Interact ensemble cast rehearsing. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The performing arts department puts on two full shows annually, with opportunities for all involved to sing, dance, act and create with a contagious spirit of joy. This year’s spring show, called “Fool’s Cap World Map,” will run Apr. 23 – May 16. As in every show, the performing arts staff (all of whom are practicing artists themselves) will perform alongside Interact artists, showcasing the organization’s mission of radical inclusion.

Lori Leavitt, director of marketing and communications, is quick to point out that Interact is not an art school, but a base for creating art on a professional level. All performing and visual artists are paid for their performance time or sale of their work through the Interact Gallery and private commissions. This model goes a long way toward giving artists with disabilities a sense of identity and stronger self-confidence.

While artists do not need to have previous training in the arts to join Interact, they do need to have a professional work ethic and an earnest desire to work and live as an artist.

Jeanne Calvit, founder and executive director of Interact. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Jeanne Calvit, founder and executive director of Interact. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“Our goal is that each client feels happy, healthy and fulfilled as an artist and as a human being,” Leavitt said about the expectations of Interact artists.

The visual arts department moved into its new space with ease. On any given day, there are between 30-35 artists seated at tables painting, drawing, working with clay, weaving and making jewelry. The four staff people, headed up by studio and gallery manager Kathleen Richert, offer suggestions when asked, pulling from their own professional disciplines.

The studio artists have two gallery shows each year, and their hand-crafted artwork is available for purchase in the Interact Gallery during regular hours of operation.

Interact was founded by executive director Jeanne Calvit in 1996, and housed in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis for 18 years.

Calvit, a Louisiana native, is an accomplished actress and director herself, a graduate of the Lecoq School of Theatre in Paris and a veteran of acting on stages across Europe for 10+ years.

Calvit was trained in a type of acting called physical theatre, which is how the performing artists work at Interact. The actors on stage have a strong sense of physical presence, emphasized with hand gestures and body language. They are a collaboration of artists with and without disabilities, from mainstream and marginalized communities, whose stories and life experiences drive their ensemble-generated work. The artists start with an idea which finds its final form through improvisation, trial and error. Even within that final form, every performance is slightly different – keeping the work fresh and alive.

Members of the Interact ensemble cast rehearsing. (Photo by Margie O'Loughlin)

Members of the Interact ensemble cast rehearsing. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Calvit and the other staff are excited about their new space in the Midway neighborhood. While they miss the “buzz” of downtown Minneapolis, the tradeoff has been well worth it. The search for this space was a long one but, according to Calvit, “we knew we would thrive here as soon as saw it.” The many amenities include larger classrooms, huge windows, a community/lunch room, storage space, free parking and, best of all, everything is on one level.

Each of Interact’s 115 artists is paired with an artist mentor in their area of performing or visual arts – one of the professional artists they work with who sees them every day they’re there. In addition, each artist has a client care coordinator who serves as their case manager.

Karen Prince, client care coordinator for performing arts, has a rich background in social services and theatre. When she takes off her case manager hat, she works on every show backstage. “There’s a whole lot of choreography going on back there too: the timing of props and costume changes, helping people to get in their places on cue,” she said. “It’s an exciting place to be.”

Interact’s mission is to create art that challenges the perceptions of disabilities. They’ve been opening those doors for nearly 20 years, creating an atmosphere where both artists and audiences are challenged by what they see. That is the moment of interaction – when the idea of what is possible as human beings begins to change and grow.

Feat2_15InteractNaaMensahNaa Mensah, an actress/ dancer with Down Syndrome, is one of many shining stars at Interact. When she graduated from high school, she took a cleaning job in a local mall. There was limited social interaction and Mensah is an outgoing, sociable woman. When her family learned about Interact, her abilities as a dancer quickly surfaced and she has been studying and performing there ever since.

If you or someone you know would like to explore the options for adult day placement at Interact, call 651-209-3575 to arrange an “experience day.” The only requirements are to fit somewhere in the spectrum of disabilities, be over 18 years old, have an interest in the arts, and be willing to do your best work.

“Clients and staff alike come here and stay for a very long time,” Calvit said.

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Snelling projects looming

Snelling projects looming

Posted on 11 February 2015 by robwas66

Bridge work, mill work, overlay, lighting, median plantings, and bus stations all in the mix of projects planned in 2015


Construction signs, lane closures, and traffic delays will become the norm in 2015 along Snelling Ave. as major projects are undertaken.


Much of Snelling Ave., and its bridge over Interstate 94, will have a new look by fall. By year’s end new bus rapid transit service will be up and running as well, when the A Line starts service.

That’s exciting news for area residents and business owners, but getting there is likely to cause some pain. A mill and overlay project on Snelling from Pierce Butler Rte. to Snelling Ave., bridge re-decking, construction of in-street bus platforms and an array of streetscape and sidewalk improvements will mean detours at times for all types of travelers.

Lump in upcoming work on the I-94-Fairview Ave. bridge, as well as street projects along the current Route 84 bus line and it could be a long construction season.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Metro Transit and St. Paul, Minneapolis and Ramsey County departments of Public Works staff have been working to get the word out about the various projects. One message, at two Jan. 26 open houses, was that motorists and bus commuters need to plan their routes and travel schedules now to avoid disruption later.

“We’re coordinating the projects as much as we can,” said Katie Roth, Metro Transit A Line project manager. But she noted there will be delays.

Eric Rustad is a MnDOT engineer working on the Snelling project. “It’s always tough when you have to do a project in a busy urban area,” he said. But he maintained the long-term benefits should outweigh the inconveniences.

A Line station construction this year, in anticipation of a service start in late 2015, prompted MnDOT to move up its plans for Snelling and the bridge. Metro Transit plans to put 20 bus platforms in the street to create A Line stations, as part of the $25 million rapid bus project. The bus service will extend from Rosedale Center  to the Blue Line Light Rail’s 46th Street Station.

MnDOT and city officials said the A Line work means it makes sense to redo Snelling and the bridge now, rather than have to remove platforms later.

Rustad said MnDOT’s intent is to keep one lane of traffic on Snelling open in one direction at all times during the mill and overlay work. If the street has to be closed down in one direction the contractor would pay a “lane rental” charge. The one exception is a weekend closing between Minnehaha Ave. and Pierce Butler Rte., when the city will do storm sewer line work in conjunction with the project.

A multimodal transportation study of Snelling, which was led by MnDOT, was completed in January 2013. Ward Four Council Member Russ Stark said those who participated in the study didn’t expect some aspects of the study, such as accessible crosswalks, new street lighting and median plantings, to be implemented so soon. “It’s been a bit of a race for us to catch up,” said Stark.

He sees both projects as having the long-term benefit of helping to revitalize Snelling in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. “We have several vacant storefronts along north Snelling and that’s a concern,” he said. A resurfaced street and streetscape improvements could entice new businesses to come in. “North Snelling could use a little TLC.”

Both MnDOT and Metro Transit projects are to go out for bid in March, with work starting in May. Much of the early focus for both projects will be in the north.

The big disruption will come when the freeway bridge is closed and bridge re-decking starts in May and continues until August. Travelers should watch for detours. On some weekends, I-94 will be closed, so area residents should expect heavier traffic on east-west streets. Detours will be posted in advance.

All projects take a break during the Minnesota State Fair, so that Snelling can be open for traffic. Snelling needs to reopen Aug. 22 and stay open until Sept. 8. “As we know the state fair rules that area,” Roth said.

It’s hoped work on Snelling will be completed by November.

The two open houses on the Snelling and bus projects drew dozens of people. MnDOT’s open house at Hamline University gave neighborhood residents and business owners a chance to ask questions about the Snelling mill, overlay, and bridge re-decking. Staff answered questions and gathered information on everything from when businesses and institutions along Snelling are open, to which neighborhood events and festivals could potentially be affected by work.

Metro Transit’s presentation and open house at Macalester College provided information about the bus station platform construction. That event itself drew more than 30 people, with questions about loss of parking, bus service times and other issues.

Pre-construction work to relocate utilities around the Snelling-I-94 area has already caused traffic backups and detours. Snelling traffic, and traffic on adjacent streets, is impacted until Feb. 14 due to the closing of St. Anthony Ave. between Pascal St. and Snelling. There have also been lane closures on southbound Snelling. Cars can still use the westbound ramp to I-94. Trucks are being detoured along University to Vandalia St.

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Midway Murals seeks to ‘transform’ Snelling Ave. in 2015

Posted on 11 February 2015 by robwas66


Hamline Midway resident Jonathan Oppenheimer is the Midway Murals project organizer. He says the ambitious project’s goals extend well beyond the streetscape. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)


While Snelling Ave. is in the throes of construction this summer, the Midway Murals project will seek to transform a half-mile stretch of the street between University Ave. and Van Buren Ave. into a vibrant outdoor art gallery that tells the stories of the people, cultures and communities that define the area.


Mural artist Lori Greene is a Midway resident and owner of Mosaic On A Stick. (Photo courtesy Midway Murals)

The installation of four professional murals by four separate artists on the sides of primarily immigrant-owned businesses will connect artists, business owners and the community around the theme “starting anew.”

With Snelling Ave. due for major reconstruction in 2015 (see story pg 5), “starting anew” seems an appropriate motif. But project organizer and Hamline Midway resident Jonathan Oppenheimer says the ambitious project’s goals extend well beyond the streetscape.

The theme also refers to the changing nature of the Midway area in general, as well as the specific stories and experiences of new residents and immigrant communities, Oppenheimer says. The murals will be installed on highly visible walls at 512, 555, 638, and 689 Snelling Ave. N.

The project officially kicks-off with a public celebration at the Turf Club (1601 University Ave. W.) Feb. 20 from 4-7pm, where organizers will launch an intensive community process designed to gather input and bring together artists, neighbors and business owners to tell their stories.

“The artists will listen and engage with the community to craft their vision,” Oppenheimer says. Separate panels made up of business owners, residents and community leaders will review the artist’s designs for each location before installation.

Oppenheimer’s vision for the project was born of his daily experiences on Snelling Ave. and in the neighborhood. He sensed a lack of connection between residents and businesses on Snelling, he says. Both regularly express interest in beautifying the area and drawing more attention, visitors and customers.

Artist Yuya Negishi. (Photo courtesy Midway Murals)

Artist Yuya Negishi. (Photo courtesy Midway Murals)

With more than 30,000 vehicles a day, Snelling Ave. is one of the busiest roads in the state. U like the stretches around Selby and Grand avenues, the high traffic has yet to bring a surplus of customers or investment to the area around University Ave.—one of the most central transit nodes in the Twin Cities.

“If you are at the heart of the crossroads of St. Paul and the Twin Cities, how do you represent that in all its glory and beauty, and make it a place where people want to get out of their car and see what the businesses are all about and see what the neighborhood is all about?” Oppenheimer asks.

The project is not just about appealing to people outside the neighborhood, though. There’s also an integral community-building component. Hamline Midway is not exempt from the cultural and racial divides that still mark communities across the city, state and country, Oppenheimer notes.

“I think it’s very important that we talk openly about racial and cultural divides…this is one of the toughest discussions we can have—what keeps us apart? In order to focus on this notion of how do we ‘start anew,’ we do have to recognize some of these divides that exist.”

Public art has a unique power to unite cultures and communities, says Lori Greene, one of the four mural artists who is also a Hamline Midway resident and owner of Mosaic on a Stick, 1546 Lafond Ave.

“It shows the beauty and the history of people and culture, and it’s out there for everybody to see, and we all recognize ourselves in it,” Greene Says.

In addition to Greene, Oppenheimer has enlisted some serious talent from the Twin Cities’ public art world for the project. Each artist, he says, has a distinct style, medium, and background, but all represent an important theme of the project’s vision. International muralist Greta McLain, spray paint artist Eric Mattheis, and Japanese artist Yuya Negishi, will each install a mural on one of the four walls.


International muralist Greta McLain has worked on numerous Twin Cities murals. (Photo courtesy Midway Murals)

International muralist Greta McLain worked with Greene on the mural at Seward Co-op and was a featured artist on the public television series, “Minnesota Original.” City Pages voted her project at Green Central School in South Minneapolis the best mural of 2014.

Spray paint artist Eric Mattheis, also known as Blaster in the Twin Cities art collective Rogue Citizen, brings an important street element to the project, which Oppenheimer says was important to help overcome the stigma of graffiti and spray paint as merely vandalism and blight.

Artist Yuya Negishi, arrived in the Twin Cities art scene with a splash five years ago when he immigrated from the rural Gunma region in Japan. His playful and vivid illustrations draw from classical Japanese techniques, and his work has been displayed in multiple gallery showings, public art installments and commissioned work.

“I’m just so happy to have these four artists from different backgrounds…It’s really important that all these murals not look the same and that they represent the diversity that we’re trying to highlight and lift up in this project,” Oppenheimer says.

In addition to the murals, all four artists are creating original pieces to be auctioned off at the Midway Murals launch celebration at the Turf Club on Feb. 20.

Midway Murals is one of 42 project winners in the 2014 St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge. That $25,000 grant will cover part of the total project budget, which is upwards of $85,000, according to Oppenheimer. He is working hard to raise the remaining funds through other grants, public and private donations, as well as a crowd-funding campaign that will kick-off Feb 16. The project will culminate with a grand unveiling celebration towards the end of August.

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Hamline-Midway History Corps: a neighborhood love story

Posted on 10 February 2015 by robwas66


Steve and Nancy Bailey of the Hamline-Midway History Corp. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)


Do you have questions about your family history?

Do you want to learn more about your neighborhood or the house you live in?

The Hamline-Midway History Corps can help you become your own best history detective. This group of amateur history enthusiasts meets at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse (721 N. Snelling Ave.) on the third Saturday of each month from 2-4pm. There is no cost to join or participate in the History Corps and the co-captains, Steve and Nancy Bailey, are so enthusiastic that they haven’t missed a meeting since assuming leadership in 2006. Steve noted, “If you’re going to commit to something, why not go all the way?”


Circus Hill, on the site of the current day Central Medical Building at Griggs and University avenues, was home to more than 58 different circus companies between 1860-1945. Tents could be struck overnight to accommodate the menagerie of exotic animals, curiosity shows, and the big top for main stage performers. (Illustration courtesy of Steve and Nancy Bailey)

The boundaries of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood extend from Prior Ave. on the west to Lexington Pkwy. on the east, and from University Ave. on the south to Pierce Butler Rd. on the north. It’s a small area, only 2 square miles, but has a decidedly colorful past. The Baileys have put together an encyclopedic volume they call the Book, which clearly lays out the history of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood going all the way back to 1878.

The Book consists of more than 500 fastidiously researched pages, organized into eight volumes. It is overflowing with maps drawn to scale, exquisite photographs, period illustrations and business advertisements, all of which combine to transport the reader back in time. Steve, a retired printing specialist, and Nancy, a retired office administrator, bring their unique talents to bear on the Book. In addition to being an impressive visual presentation of neighborhood history, is just plain well-written and fun to read.

Their particular interest is in tracing the history of business succession block by block. To understand how this works, consider the address of the Ginkgo Coffeehouse – the unofficial headquarters for the History Corps.

The Bailey’s findings for 721 N. Snelling Ave. begin in 1917, a year before World War I ended. Then, it was a meat market. In the nearly 100 intervening years, there were 13 separate listings including 7 grocery stores, a block ice business, 3 hardware stores, a book seller and, most recently, the Gingko Coffeehouse. The Baileys gathered this information using a combination of reverse telephone directories (where, if you have the address, you can learn a business name in a particular year), print ads in community newspapers and high school yearbooks, and research available for public use at the Minnesota Historical Society.

They are quick to point out that the Book is a product of their mutual love of history. Steve writes, Nancy edits, and they value using each other as springboards for new ideas.

In addition to collecting facts, Steve and Nancy also enjoy collecting things. Wearing one of his more than 60 Hawaiian shirts, Steve describes a few of their favorite collections with a broad smile. He says, “We love old-fashioned View Masters, depression glass and miniature rum bottles. We also believe that a bare wall is something of a sacrilege.” Nancy laughs.


The Midway Horse Market at 1945 University Ave. was the greatest horse market in the west. The cross-section of Prior and University avenues became the center for a number of support businesses such as blacksmith shops, livery stables and harness dealers. (Advertisement courtesy of Steve and Nancy Bailey)

Steve and Nancy are impressive history sleuths, and they have quite a history of their own. They married young and embarked on a six month honeymoon in a 1968 Dodge van, whose roof they had raised to accommodate their new “on the road” lifestyle. Heading east, they ended up in Washington DC where, true to historic form, they spent the next four weeks touring the Smithsonian Museums.

“We’re both collectors by nature,” Steve explains, “and collectors are history-minded people.”

The Baileys continued their extended honeymoon in Niagra Falls where, by chance, they visited The Houdini Museum. They stayed a few weeks, long enough to learn the basics of performing magic tricks—and slight-of-hand became their source of income for the next two years.

Eventually they landed in Southern California, and stayed there for three decades.

Both Minnesota natives, Steve and Nancy decided to return home in 2005—”for a thousand little reasons.” They now live in the 1913 house where Nancy grew up and, as Steve says with believable happiness, “Everything we do, we do together.”

Montgomery Ward Department Store, on the site of the current day Herberger’s, was a one-stop shopping experience as well as a catalogue-outlet. There was almost nothing that couldn’t be bought there, from a shiny washing machine to a flat of newly hatched chicks. Its state-of the art construction boasted the tallest tower of reinforced concrete (21 stories) in the nation at the time. (Illustration courtesy of Steve and Nancy Bailey)

Montgomery Ward Department Store, on the site of the current day Herberger’s, was a one-stop shopping experience as well as a catalogue-outlet. There was almost nothing that couldn’t be bought there, from a shiny washing machine to a flat of newly hatched chicks. Its state-of the art construction boasted the tallest tower of reinforced concrete (21 stories) in the nation at the time. (Illustration courtesy of Steve and Nancy Bailey)

This summer they’ll be celebrating fifty years of shared life (45 years of marriage) and, even after all this time, they have the easy confidence of two people still marching to the beat of the same drummer.

Steve and Nancy came to their first meeting of the History Corps in 2005, with some basic questions about the house they had just acquired from Nancy’s family. Once settled, they became interested in the grocery store on the corner, and then the grocery store on the next corner. The rest, as they, is history.

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