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Remembering the good old days

By Staff | Sep 6, 2020

I think I?have written before about the fact that I did not grow up in a small town.

Well, that is partially true, anyway.

I grew up in the “sticks” on the edge of San Diego, California. It was pretty much where the cities of Spring Valley, La Mesa and El Cajon all came together, as I recall.

I lived in Spring Valley, but went to school a short distance away in La Mesa.

And while these cities in the 1950s and 1960s were sort of like small towns, they really weren’t. They were suburbs, or what passed for suburbs way back then.

It would be like saying you grew up in the small town of Apple Valley, Minnesota.

From California I moved to Denver, Colorado, and then to a suburb of Denver called Aurora. And from there it was on to Bloomington, Minnesota, another suburb, this time part of Minneapolis.

All were pretty big cities. In truth, I was pretty much unaware of small towns until my junior year of college. I was attending Mankato State University, and I thought of Mankato as a small town.

And then, I got a college internship at the newspaper in Waterville and discovered not just small towns, but small town newspapers.

And, I pretty quickly fell in love with both of those things. (Not to mention meeting this very cute dark-haired girl and falling in love with her, too. But, once again, I digress.)

So, my story is, 47 years later I am still in love with small towns, small town newspapers and that cute brown-haired girl.

Many small towns have had their struggles over the years. All of the small towns in Faribault County are pretty much evidence of that. Many folks have lamented what booming towns like Elmore, Frost, Bricelyn, Delavan, Kiester and Easton used to be. Even Wells, Winnebago and Blue Earth once were much more bustling centers of commerce with lots of businesses on their Main Streets.

Small town newspapers have also suffered, with quite a few having disappeared over the years. Gone are the Elmore Eye, Bricelyn Sentinel, Frost Record, Winnebago Enterprise and Kiester Courier. Some live on as part of another newspaper, but some have simply disappeared.

Often, as the small town goes, so does the newspaper. The town thrives, so does the paper. But if the town and its businesses slowly fade away, well, you get the idea.

This year has been stressful for many small town businesses. That goes especially for the ones that were forced to close for many months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even those that are now open but have to curtail their operations are feeling the pinch. I only hope they can all survive this.

Once again, I digress.

While I lament the fact that I did not grow up in a small town, I am happy my kids had that opportunity. There is something very special about growing up in a small town, I have discovered.

Recently I had the chance to visit with former Wells resident Alton Ioerger. He contacted the Register about doing a piece on his first novel. As you can see on the front page, that short little news brief turned into a rather full blown story.

Alton also shared a little about growing up in Wells. I think it is pretty apropos for anyone who grew up in any small town in America.

Here is what he wrote.

“For a kid growing up, Wells was a wonderful place to be. It was a time of the post-war baby boom and there were lots of other kids on every block and the public school got so crowded that the community had to construct large additions onto the main building twice in 10 years.

“I had eight brothers and sisters and while we were a large family, there were any number of families in town larger than ours so there were lots of kids around town to play with.

“The town boasted a new hospital but us kids didn’t take much notice of that. We cared more for the new swimming pool.

“You could ride your bicycle anywhere in town. No one we knew locked their doors and everybody left their keys in the car, and if the weather was good, the car windows were left open.

“I mowed lawns, shoveled snow, sold popcorn at the local swimming pool and peddled papers to earn money.

“Among the biggest events I can remember happened around 1959, when the theater, the fire station and the city hall burned down. Everybody came to look.

“I liked looking out my grandmother’s upstairs windows above her downtown store and watching people on the street below and I especially liked hanging around the shop at the Ford garage until my dad would finally tell me to run along. When I got old enough I worked at Del Monte and then I would hang around at the garage until I learned how to fix my own car or motorcycle.

“Altogether, I have fond memories of growing up in Wells.”