Betsy Hermanson is 2018’s Kernel Days Grand Marshal
History has always been an interest for Wells’ 2018 Kernel Days Grand Marshal, Betsy Hermanson, so it’s only right that she become a part of Wells history as one of its Grand Marshals.
Hermanson has been a member of the Wells community for over 40 years.
She jokingly says though she was not born here, she feels becoming the Grand Marshal has solidified her place in the community.
“When I was first working at the Wells Mirror, I was not considered local because I was from the Mankato area,” says Hermanson with a smile. She was actually born in Montevideo and grew up here and there as a pastor’s daughter. “Now that I am Grand Marshal, I think it’s safe to say that I am local.”
She and her husband,?Ross Hermanson, moved to the small community in 1974 when Ross received a position at the local police department where he served as an officer for 25 years.
While her husband was keeping the community safe, Betsy was busy raising their five children, Maren, Carl, Erik, Pete and Luther. It wasn’t until 10 years after baby number five that Hermanson started working at the Wells Mirror newspaper.
There, she worked for one year before she then became editor of the paper.
“I then began learning about a lot of the local stories, local families, and big news stories from the past,” she says.
One of those stories included the story of Leonard Japp, a boy who picked coal off the side of the railroad tracks back in the 1920s. He then wound up moving to Chicago and served food in speakeasies during the prohibition days. He was asked for something called ‘potato chips’ which he had never heard of, and shortly thereafter began creating his own chips. In 1927, Japp started his own company called “Mrs. Japp’s Potato Chips.” In 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the name of the potato chips was changed due to the anti-Japanese sentiment and became Jay’s Chips, a company that manufactured pretzels, potato chips and popcorn.
“It’s hard to imagine how that little boy’s story started right here in Wells and he grew up to be a millionaire with potato chips,” Hermanson laughs.
It is this type of fascination in history that had keyed her interest for many years. An “Abe Lincoln afficionado” as well as an avid reader and writer of non-fiction, the former Wells Mirror editor says she is fascinated by history because it is around us every single day.
“You can’t work at the local newspaper and not be involved in the stories surrounding the community,” smiles Hermanson. “And then you get involved in the community and there is just no stopping you at that point.”
Hermanson added being involved in the Wells Area Chamber, and president of that Chamber in the 1990s, as well as helping at United South?Central activities including post-prom festivities, as well as the library board, and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels to her growing list of community involvement in the Wells area.
She also chose to go back to college to get her bachelor of arts degree in creative writing, with a minor in history, once her children were in college. “I had an AA degree and I just decided it was the time to do it when the kids were older, so I did it,” says Hermanson. “And it was really, really fun.”
After working at the Wells Mirror for 11 years, she helped at Hinkley Auto for a few years, and later assisted Sue Nasinek at Bruss-Heitner Funeral Home part-time before she retired just a few years ago.
Some time in 2005, there was talk of the Wells Depot being torn down. It was then that Hermanson, along with many other members of the community, rallied to save the Wells Depot and turn it into the museum it now is.
“When we had heard they were tearing down the depot, there was instantly a group of people who refused to let that be the determined future of a piece of Wells history,” she says. “After figuring out how we could save the depot, we received a huge grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is no longer available, so we are very happy we took action when we did. We bought the depot for a dollar in 2005, received the grant in 2006, and had to allow the process to work for us for three years before we could really get moving on anything.”
Hermanson says she and a number of Wells area volunteers put countless hours into restoring the depot beginning in 2009 to have it be opened and restored to its original capacity by Kernel Days of 2010.
“I can’t believe it’s already been eight years,” she says. “A lot of dedicated people volunteer, put on fundraisers, and help with different events and history projects to keep up our efforts. And since we have opened, donations to the city’s local history have not stopped.”
Hermanson hopes the Wells Historical Society will continue to be intrigued by the past and work on obtaining more historical structures for the future.
She is now beginning to prepare for Wells’ 150th celebration coming up and encourages anyone with a passion for history, or connecting historical dots, to join the sesquicentennial committee.
“I remember I was working at the Mirror when Wells celebrated 125, though I was not here for the centennial,” says the history enthusiast. “We would love to have as many community members as we can to be a representative of their church group or organization.”
She says being involved in the community is a key component to becoming a future Grand Marshal of Kernel Days.
“I remember many Grand Marshals from the past and I looked up to some of those folks,” says Hermanson. “When I heard I was chosen as Grand Marshal, I was in shock at first. I thought ‘this couldn’t be right’ but it truly is an honor to be right along side so many honorees I looked up to.”
Though Hermanson is technically retired in the job sense, she says she is hardly retired because she stays busy. She is still an active member of the Wells Active Living Coalition (WALC), as well as continuing her enthusiasm for local history with the local historical society. She also reads, writes, attends the Washington Avenue Writer’s Club in Albert Lea, belongs to two Bible study groups, and enjoys getting together with her family and babysitting her grandchildren.
Be sure to catch the Grand Marshal, herself, as she becomes a part of Wells history in the Wells Kernel Days parade on Saturday, Aug. 18.