guest column

Before Nextdoor


You remember the one. The one who knew the best car repair shop. The one who knew someone to get your snow blower started, or find your dog that got out. If somebody’s kid was playing a local gig, or it was time for a picnic, you’d get an email with a time and place. Every neighborhood had one. In our North Como neighborhood, that neighbor was Chloe Sterk.
Chloe is a native St. Paulite, born and raised. She attended Murray High School and the University of Minnesota. She now lives across the alley from the home where she grew up. Chloe has lived in Como Park for 58 of her 80 years.
Her deep connection to Como Park goes back to its beginnings. Her great-grandfather, Frederick Nussbaumer, was an early and influential superintendent of St. Paul Parks (31 years). He designed or collaborated on most of the current attractions, including the observatory and the zoo.
All that history made Chloe the perfect go-to neighbor when she started collecting North Como neighborhood emails 18 years ago. She coordinates referrals, sends info on crimes, and tracks the who, what and where in our neighborhood.
After 34 years as a chemical/tech rep, Chloe retired to become a VW service writer. Retired again four years later, she now works part-time at Kathe Wohifahrt, a German Christmas ornament company with only one retail store in the U.S. (Stillwater). Chloe often plays Mrs. Santa Claus at Hollidazzle. (She prefers the German term, Mother Christmas.)
Although the advent of the hyperlocal Nextdoor has somewhat reduced her activity, Chloe currently maintains 100 emails in her Chloe-net, and is arguably the most well-known neighbor in North Como. She laughingly explains her years of neighborhood service as “being snoopy.” I think her motivation goes far deeper than that. We sometimes forget, in this widening world of social media, how much we can, and should, depend upon our neighbors our neighborhoods to maintain the connections that make us who we are.
Sonjie Johnson has lived in Como Park for 28 years. An avid nature-lover, she has run or walked Como Lake all of those years, and find the park’s history unique and compelling. She also gardens, reads, and writes. She belongs to the church of the open sky.


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