Monthly Archives: June 2016

Infinite hope kindles revival of St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood

 

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

These words of Dr. King ring true as preparations move into high gear for Rondo Days, the week of celebration that fills St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood with music, dance, great food, sports and, most of all, stories of a community that never lost infinite hope. One has to be “of an age” to remember the pain and “finite disappointment” wrought by flagrant racism that paved the way for Interstate 94. Since that 1960’s travesty that would have destroyed a lesser community I have never traveled that strip of concrete without feeling the pain.

“Back in the day, my high school rose to its sandstone glory on the fringe of Rondo – we took the bus and got to know the neighbor kids as we walked the last few blocks; we traipsed down to Hallie Q. for mandatory gym class. Though we may have thought of ourselves and our school as part of the friendly neighborhood, local residents must have viewed us as uniformed interlopers with no sense of style… Still, those high school years helped me know a neighborhood of which I was not a part but which I experienced as home to loving parents who went to work early, children who hopped, skipped and jumped with joy as they played sidewalk games, a neighborhood overflowing with clubs and playgrounds, schools, countless churches, hairdressers, tailors and corner groceries that met the daily needs of a vibrant and resilient neighborhood that happened to be, in the language of the day, “Negro.”

Then came the bullies and the bulldozers. Rondo was decimated. Homes were leveled, many residents were forced to move, social and commercial life paused….but only paused. Though the strong people of Rondo “accepted finite disappointment” they never lost “infinite hope.”

That was then, this is now. Today the Rondo community is gearing up for Rondo Days, a celebration of the triumph of “infinite hope!”   Rondo Days 2016, set for July 12-16, marks the thirty-third year that neighbors, former residents and Minnesotans who know very little about the history will gather for the celebration sponsored by Rondo Avenue Inc. to revel in the music, dance, food and camaraderie that reflect the triumph of hope. The event is just one of several initiatives fueled by the creativity, energy, and vision of community leaders. http://www.rondoavenueinc.org

Rondo Days visitors will enjoy the event more if you can appreciate the roots and reasons the for grand celebration!!! And if you can’t make it to Rondo Days, the virtual visit will inform you about the history Minnesotans share, but may not know. The story of Rondo challenges all of us to “accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

So many stories, so many resources – following are just a few learning options:

To get a geographic fix on the Rondo neighborhood, click on this City Pages link: http://www.citypages.com/news/st-paul-map-shows-how-i-94-cut-through-heart-of-citys-african-american-neighborhood-6541556

To get a “feel” for the original Rondo you might want to start here:

  • Read Evelyn Fairbanks’ Days of Rondo, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1990 — ebook and audio book versions are readily accessible
  • View the video of Evelyn Fairbanks strolling and sharing her memories of the neighborhood with historian Hy Berman – though both Fairbanks and Berman have died since the video was produced their lively discussion and keen memories bring Rondo to life! http://www.mnvideovault.org/mvvPlayer/customPlaylist2.php?id=16134&select_index=4&popup=yes — the Rondo piece is just 27 mins long but you’ll want to watch the entire River, Railroads and Rondo video, a delightful historic overview of highlights of the Capitol City.

 To dig deeper into the stories of Rondo explore some of the many options including, but definitely not limited, to these:

  • Walk the neighborhood with MHS staffers to discover the secrets of Rondo. Though a last minute post indicates that “Neighborhood Secrets Walking Tour” is sold out, you might want to check just in case – http://www.mnhs.org/event/1349
  • Keep up with the latest on Rondo Days 2016 by faithfully checking the official website – rondoavenueinc.org

Earlier this month the St Paul Pioneer Press posted an informative – and supportive – editorial reviewing the past and offering a glimpse into what’s next for Rondo. It’s a must read: http://www.twincities.com/2016/06/01/editorial-rebuilding-around-rondo-values/ The editorial, based on an interview with community leader Marvin Anderson, cites several ideas; some fall under the “infinite hope” categpru while others are works-in-progress. The design is on the boards and a July groundbreaking is set for a commemorative plaza at Concordia/Old Rondo Avenue and Fisk Street. http://rondoavenueinc.org — (scroll to “commemorative plaza). Co-founder of the Rondo renaissance, Anderson, who retired Minnesota State Law Librarian in 2002, is just one of the leaders and lifetime residents who waste no time on “finite disappointment.” Instead, they harness their collective strength to get up and do what needs to be as they share emulate MLK’s vision of “infinite hope” for their vibrant neighborhood and for the Capitol City.

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Personal note: Many of us who learned or taught in the Rondo community “back in the day” were painfully aware of what was happening to our neighbors. Though some of us may be post-peak for the revelry, we celebrate Rondo Days in our memories and in our hearts. We want to learn more about the Rondo neighborhood as it was – and as it will be.   We rejoice as character, health, knowledge and good judgment – fueled by infinite hope – honor the past and shape the new Rondo community! My sincere hope is that the spirit of the historic building at 355 Marshall will bolster the rebirth of Rondo. Though the school closed decades ago there’s residual gumption behind that stern façade.

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Loss, learning and love: A Father’s Day story

UPDATE: WCCO TV INTERVIEW WITH GRETCHEN AND HANS WRONKA 12-6-16:  http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/12/06/grandson-finds-wwii-airmans-body/

Family is one of nature’s masterpieces. ~ George Santayana

It’s just that families create infinite variations on a theme. For many, Father’s Day is a time of loving, sharing, sleeping in, shopping, more shopping and otherwise giving thanks and tribute to great fathers, grandfathers, ancestors as far as family stories live in memory.

For families, especially young children, Father’s Day can be less than idyllic.  Grown-ups who stretch their hearts and arms to fill in for absent dads deserve to share the largesse of the season!

Which brings me to a happy story of a happy family that is celebrating this Father’s Day is a very special way.

My dear friend, now a grandma herself, never knew her father. She has a picture of a young man holding an infant in his arms…  The Records of the Army Air Forces Record Group 18 testify to the fact that her father, whose name was Loren, died when his plane went down on a family farm near Bologna, Italy on April 21,1945, the day that Bologna was liberated.  She was born in January of the previous year.  Her father found out by letter after he was sent overseas that her mother was expecting a second child, a son born after her husband’s death.

And so the decades passed. My friend and her brother had a wonderful mother who reared two generous and engaged contributors to society; each of them reared children whose only knowledge of their grandfather rested on stories their grandmother had shared before she died. As grandchildren came along they heard the third-hand stories of their grandfather’s sacrifice.

Meanwhile, near the site of the crash, the narrative lived on. Locals remembered and passed on stories; Italian World War II buffs and amateur archeologists who wanted to learn the stories poured through the voluminous records. Everyone in the area knew a plane had been shot down at the very end of the war. The intrepid Italians persisted until they were able to identify the name of the downed pilot whose plane had crashed near their village.

Enter the digital age: The Italians googled the name of the man who had died. What they found online were messages my friend and her son had posted on a P-47 website; they learned that family members now living in Minnesota had posted messages seeking information about other pilots who might have known their father and grandfather.

Persistent and ethical researchers that they were, the Italians contacted my friend and her family. The Italians respectfully shared their plans, still pending, to excavate the site.  Though the remains of Loren had long since been buried in the American Military Cemetery outside Florence, the locals still sought for closure. The American family agreed to the Italians’ proposal.

The search continued as the Italian contact led one of the grandsons to delve more deeply into his grandfather’s story. He reviewed extensive official records of Loren’s death; he painstakingly compared official records with correspondence his grandmother had received about her husband’s death, messages from the military, from his squadron chaplain, and from some of his buddies with the more extensive official records.

Now fully engaged in the family’s quest, my friend and intrigued family members searched the records of the National Archives.  They checked the “Green Books” found on the website for the U.S. Army Center of Military History.  They plumbed the depths of documents archived by the Army Air Force Units now in the custody of the Air Force Historical Research.  Fortunately, they were guided through the voluminous files by staff of the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

An unexpected and remarkable turn of events is that the Americans got to know the Italians who would help them fill in the major gaps in their knowledge of their father and grandfather’s story. Scores of letters, emails and phone calls ensued. One grandson visited Bologna where he was warmly welcomed by the families who live near the site. He learned how they had broken bureaucratic barriers to get the proper permits for the excavation and rustled up the heavy equipment necessary to go so deep.

The saga continued as a long-distance friendship flourished between my friend’s family and their new long-distance friends in Italy. Loren’s grandson has chronicled the details of this family epic – the meticulous research, bureaucratic hurdles and help, countless emails, photos, phone calls, travel, and most of all, a growing transnational friendship among individuals and families who shared a common tragedy.

This year my friend and her family will spend Father’s Day packing their bags for a grand pilgrimage to the site of their forebear’s death.  The entourage includes my friend and her younger brother, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Stateside preparations involve perusing and transcribing the journals, the poems, the photos and other reflections of a man that none of these people ever knew. Though this is to be expected, what have come as a surprise to the American family are the preparations taking place in Italy where local elders have begun to share stories prompted by the impending visit. Locals tell my friend that there is a palpable surge of local interest in the excavation of the remains of the young American pilot.

The elders who still live in the Bologna region were teenagers or younger during the turbulent wartime years; they bear the scars of German occupation and the horrific effects of American bombings on their villages and fields. After all these years, they are pausing to relive, remember and reflect on their wartime experiences.

The growing relationship transcends distance and decades. As one Bologna local assured my friend, “I’m very happy for you and your family. Since a long time we call Loren ‘the Grandfather’!”

Buona Festa del Papà!!!

We lose our bearings entirely by speaking of the ‘lower classes’ when we mean humanity minus ourselves. — G.K. Chesterton

This is just one of the pithy observations shared with the generations by Gilbert Keith Chesterton. (http://www.chesterton.org/quotations-of-g-k-chesterton/)

This compilation of quotes gathered by the G.K. Chesterton Society (http://www.chesterton.org) will inspire, irritate, amuse or otherwise offer an insight into the mind of G. K. Chesterton.

Scholars, critics and devotees have categorized Chesterton as a philosopher, a literary critic, a brilliant conundrum and a highly quotable curmudgeon. He is best known, perhaps, for the breadth of his work that ranges from scholarly tomes, often on the fine points of Christian orthodoxy, to his still-popular Father Brown mysteries and pithy quotes.

What has prompted my renewed awareness of Chesterton is an open invitation from the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum to attend a forthcoming Chesterton-rich public presentation. The speaker is renowned Chesterton authority Dale Ahlquist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Ahlquist) whose association with the life and work of Chesterton reflects both scholarship and commitment to share the works and views of this prolific writer.

It may come as a surprise to local scholars and bibliophiles that there is a deep and ongoing Minnesota connection with Chesterton. To wit: Minnesota is the home of The American Chesterton Society (http://www.chesterton.org) a national society founded by Ahlquist. Today there are some seventy local chapters of the Society. Members will be gathering for their annual meeting August 4-6 in Slippery Rock, PA.

Ahlqvist is also publisher of Gilbert Magazine (https://www.facebook.com/GilbertMagazine/) as well as author and editor of a dozen works and host of an EWTN series on Chesterton. Further indication of Ahlquist’s commitment is his role in the founding of the Chesterton Academy, a private high school situated in Edina.

Another Minnesota connection is the fact that the many works of Chesterton are archived in the Chesterton-Belloc Collection at St. Thomas University Library (https://www.stthomas.edu/libraries/special/rare/chesterton-belloc/) [Sad to note: Librarian and archivist James Kellen, who established and curated the Chesterton-Belloc Collection, died just last week in Minneapolis. Kellen’s life story is an inspiration in itself. http://www.startribune.com/obituary-james-kellen-university-of-st-thomas-librarian-84/382553851/]

The Chesterton lecture is 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 25, 2016.  All are welcome – free and open. Membership not required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BookWomen at 20: Celebrating the elegance of thriving

Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant ~ Maya Angelou

Though survival may have been on their minds when they launched Minnesota Women’s Press in 1985, Glenda Martin and Mollie Hoben have thrived – elegantly! In fact, they have just launched a celebration of their more recent twenty years as founders and leaders of The BookWomen Center for Feminist Reading, which is both a part and an outgrowth of Minnesota Women’s Press. The best known project of the Center is publication and global distribution of BookWomen, a bi-monthly journal designed to create “a readers’ community for those who love women’s words”.

Glenda and Mollie continue to thrive through their unstinting and endlessly creative work to give voice to women – women who write great books, women who reshape the political landscape, women who merit a platform to share their pain, women who are redefining the world of art, women who simply have much to say about literature and living.

Their tradition of amplifying the voices of others lives on as Mollie and Glenda celebrate another milestone.   The next issue of BookWomen will mark the completion of twenty years’ publication to inviting readers to share their thoughts. Questions to readers affirm their sincere commitment to learn and share – and thus thrive:

  • How did you get connected to BookWomen, and why have you stuck with us?
  • How has your own reading; life changed in the past 20 years”
  • What memorable book or other have you learned about from BookWomen?

For  two decades BookWomen readers have learned about great reads, personal experiences of readers and writers, literary news and views, updates on Reading on the Road retreats that have attracted vagabonds and locals at significant literary sites from Taos to the Coast of Maine to Iceland to Oaxaca, Mexico and England’s Lake District.

As one fortunate enough to have known the trajectory of Mollie’s and Glenda’s thriving since MWP was still a dream it has occurred to me how important it is for younger and newer followers of these women to know more about the narrative. We need to learn or remember the times and the impact of their commitment to share a critical light on the words of women – through Minnesota Women’s Press, later BookWomen and The Bookwomen Center.

The good news is that the narrative is preserved in print and in oral and video interviews they have generously shared. My hope is that readers of this blog will learn for the first time – or recall – more about Mollie and Glenda as they have shared their story.

  • My favorite interview with Mollie and Glenda was conducted in 1997 by beloved Minnesota poet Joanne Hart as part of the Northern Lights and Insights video series.  The interview  incorporates stories of the day when the MWP entrepreneurs not only published the newspaper but also hosted several reading groups and operated a bookstore (on Raymond off University) and a unique library of feminist literature contributed by readers and supporters of the enterprise. It is a forever treasure!(http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16022coll38/id/80)

Helpful histories of Minnesota Women’s Press were published when founders celebrated significant anniversaries of the Press. Here are some good backgrounder or refresher reads:

Back in the day, decades before the birth of The BookWomen Center for Feminist Reading, Virginia Wolfe lamented that “women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” (A Room of One’s Own, 1929)

In recent decades the “creative force” of women has indeed harnessed itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” Through it all Glenda and Mollie have thrived by shedding light on the power of women’s words to “overcharge the capacity of bricks and mortar.”

 

 

 

 

Floating through summer in a library without walls

An art book is a museum without walls.  Andre Malraux

The writer and statesman Malraux would appreciate the perfection of a summer evening on a floating library of art books anchored on a busy urban lake. The museum without walls is a reality this summer at the Floating Library, an experimental public art project set to launch mid-July on Lake Phalen on St. Paul’s East Side. (https://thefloatinglibrary.org)

Visitors to the Floating Library will find circulating and reference collections contributed by artists nationwide and internationally. A staff of hardy floating librarians will facilitate check out, make reading suggestions, answer reference questions and otherwise quench the reader’s thirst for information and ideas – whether it’s information on book art or traditional beach reading.

The Floating Library will be anchored off shore near Phalen Park Beach on weekends mid-July through early August (weather permitting). Daily hours are 1:00-6:00 p.m.

The genius behind the Floating Library is Sarah Peters, an artist, writer and art administrator who is committed to public engagement with the arts and the critical challenges of the day. Though she is primarily a book artist Parker is also a spark behind the Northern Spark Festival and a visionary with a “dream of turning the lakes of Minneapolis into a creative commons.” Some months ago Parker issued a an art for book arts appropriate to a raft-anchored library; background information on some of the other participating book artists can be found on the Floating Library website

Ever at the nexus of East Side St Paul projects, folks at the East Side Freedom Library are planning related activities. On Sunday, July 10, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, visiting artist at ESFL will host a bookmaking workshop for people of all ages and skills; attendees will create zine and book forms that will displayed on the Floating Library and archived at ESFL.

Visitors to the Floating Library don’t just park and drop in. They will need a canoe, kayak, paddleboard, rowboat or other small craft.   Library users will BYOB (boat, that is) or check out navigable craft that can be rented by the weekend from the U of M Recreation Department. Cautionary note: The rental office is closed on weekends so craft pickup must be on Friday.

Floating Library visitors may want to test the waters by checking out these links:

 

 

 

 

 

These rare June days lure rare and antiquarian book lovers

Old books that have ceased to be of service should no more be abandoned than should old friends who have ceased to give pleasure. Bernard Baruch

What is so rare as a couple of beautiful days in June when bibliophiles gather to peruse, assess, fondle, critique, and otherwise revel in old books – and to spend a few hours with old friends who share their passion. As every collector knows, the 26th Annual Twin Cities Antiquarian & Rare Book Fair is set for Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, at the Progress Center on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. (https://twincitiesbookfair.com)

Some special features of the 2016 Fair:

  • Saturday visitors will have an opportunity to avail themselves of free appraisal of their treasures. From Noon-3:00 experts will evaluate up to four books for each visitor.
  • All day Saturday representatives of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ Artist’s Co-op will print free letterpress keepsake bookmarks on their Kelsey tabletop press.
  • Throughout the gathering collectors will have a chance to meet and talk with booksellers and other expert event partners. This is a unique opportunity to learn about book collecting, book arts, preservation, archives and more, all from representatives of authorities and Book Fair supporters including Rain Taxi, Minnesota Underground Music Archives, Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and others.

Planners of the Antiquarian & Rare Book Fair kindly offer some pre-Fair guidance for neophytes who may want to get up to speed: Check out this classic FAQ guide prepared by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries. Aptly titled “Your Old Books” the guide is a click away at http://rbms.info/yob/.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing Iftar, traditions and gratitude during Ramadan

Thankfulness (Sukrh) is a core value of Islam; Ramadan is a time to reflect on gratitude to Allah and, at the same time, to generous individuals who mirror the generosity of Allah. In the spirit of Ramadan we all owe a debt of gratitude to our Muslim neighbors who are opening their places of worship to friends who wish to share Iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal.

Taking Heart, the Iftar shared experience, has become a tradition in the metro area and is expanding state- even nation-wide. The Ramadan learning and sharing opportunity is coordinated by the Minnesota Council of Churches (http://www.mnchurches.org/respectfulcommunities/interfaithprogramming/takingheart.html) and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. (http://www.masmn.org/page/about.html)

As part of the Taking Heart project Christians and members of other faith communities gather at sunset with Muslim friends, neighbors, co-workers and others. All share the fast-breaking Iftar meal as well as conversation about the Muslim faith; last year nearly 700 non-Muslims in Minnesota attended open house Iftar dinners.

This year we owe additional appreciation to the Minnesota Council of Churches. Since the first day of Ramadan, which began June 6, lawn signs have sprung up all over the TC’s and the state. The message reads “To our Muslim neighbors – BLESSED RAMADAN.” For more about the readily purchasable or reducible signs click here: http://blessedramadan.org/respectfulcommunities/interfaithprogramming/BlessedRamadanSigns.html.

Twin Cities media have covered the Blessed Ramadan project well http://www.twincities.com/2016/06/06/blessed-ramadan-signs-springing-up-in-minnesota/ and http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-council-offers-ways-to-support-muslim-neighbors-in-ramadan/382164481/ are just two examples of media coverage.

Sukrh is also due to caring individuals who have helped to share the Blessed Ramadan message in their own communities. For example, in Grand Forks the entire community shared the message when a concerned citizen planted a “Blessed Ramadan” sign in her lawn. http://www.grandforksherald.com/news/region/4050405-christians-wish-muslim-neighbors-blessed-ramadan-minnesota

The initiative has merited national attention including this piece in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/interfaith-iftars ramadan_us_573f58b8e4b00e09e89f0061