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And now for the rest of the story

By Staff | May 6, 2018

Remember the ‘From the Editor’s Notebook’ column on April 9 where I reprinted a column from 1991 which had been written by a columnist named Jim McNeile which appeared in an Elkhart, Indiana, newspaper?

It was titled “Heaven hiding in Blue Earth,” and in it McNeile wrote about attending a wedding in Blue Earth because his son was marrying the daughter of Chuck and Barbara Baker.

McNeile praised Blue Earth as being friendly, clean and nice.

That column created a lot of comment locally.

And, it resulted in me receiving an email message from columnist Jim McNeile’s son, Dan McNeile.

You know, the guy who was getting married to Chuck and Barbara Baker’s daughter, Laurie, and thus caused his parents to come and visit Blue Earth to attend the wedding.

Which resulted in the now famous column about finding heaven here.

Dan McNiele, as it turns out, followed in his father’s footsteps and is a newspaper guy. That makes me like him right off the bat.

He works for The Pantagraph, a newspaper in Bloomington Illinois, that is, not Bloomington, Minnesota as a night editor.

They do come to Blue Earth once in a while Laurie more than Dan, he says and he writes that his dad’s words still ring true today. Blue Earth truly is a very nice place.

Sadly, his father Jim, the columnist, passed away in 2009. His mother still has all of his dad’s columns stored away in the old fashioned way, as boxed up yellow clippings.

“I always make it a point to read a few whenever I visit Mom,” Dan writes. “It keep his wonderful spirit alive.”

I guess there was one mistake in Jim McNeile’s column about Blue Earth.

In it, Jim wrote about staying in the Super 8 Motel here, which was owned by an industrial arts teacher who made all the furniture in the rooms.

Not quite accurate, my neighbor, Don Beckendorf, pointed out.

It seems that maybe McNeile may have assumed that since the Super 8 Motel owner had built all the furniture, he had been the industrial arts teacher. But Beckendorf says the motel owner was Ernie Wingen, who had been the ag teacher at the school. It was Beckendorf who had been the industrial arts teacher.

The two teachers were friends, and Wingen used Beckendorf’s designs as the plans for the furniture he built at the motel. Beckendorf has several pieces of furniture of his same design in his home.

Both Beckendorf and Faribault County Register office manager Wanda Gieser, who worked for Ernie Wingen, say the Super 8 was quite the place when Wingen first built it in 1984.

Besides Wingen, an accomplished woodworker, making all the furniture, his wife Mary Kay (known as Mickey) made all the comforters, pillow covers, window coverings and more. She gave it all a Scandinavian look, Wanda says, and they added things like a patio with a fountain out back and flower boxes on all the windows.

And then there were the fresh homemade caramel and cinnamon rolls which were served with coffee and juice every morning. Jim McNeile made special mention of those rolls in his column.

It was a warm, friendly and welcoming place for the 10 years the Wingens ran it, both Don Beckendorf and Wanda attest to. It sounds like it was no wonder that an Indiana newspaper columnist would have thought he had found heaven in the town that had such a wonderful motel.

Here is exactly what Jim McNeile wrote about the motel.

“The only lodging is a Super 8 motel. No ordinary Super 8, this motel is owned by the former high school industrial arts (or ag) teacher and his wife who decorated and painted each room after he built each piece of furniture. Window boxes on both floors are bursting with colorful petunias, the lobby is filled with local craft items and hot, fresh homemade rolls are available to guests each morning.”

Sadly, Ernie Wingen passed away in 2011 in New Ulm at the age of 88. That was just two years after columnist McNeile died.

Wingen was survived by nine children, stepchildren and their spouses, 20 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. And his wife Mickey.

He left quite a legacy, and quite an impression on many travelers with his unique Super 8 Motel. Especially a traveler from Indiana back in 1991.

And now you know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.

Gee, after writing this column, I am suddenly hungry for a fresh cinnamon roll. How about you?