Archive | June, 2015

2015 Hamline Midway Spring Festival planned June 16

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin


Gather your friends and family and join your community for the Hamline Midway Spring Festival Tues., June 16, 4-8:30pm in the fields behind Hancock Recreation Center and Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood Ave.

Come explore and enjoy all that makes Hamline Midway such a vibrant and thriving urban community. Fun and festivities for all ages and interests will abound. The event is free and open to the public. Explore, discover and connect with more than 60 exhibitors at the Community Expo, including area businesses, nonprofits, schools, artists, neighborhood groups and more.
There will be three opportunities for you to do some good deeds at the festival:
—bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the food shelf with the Franciscan Brothers of Peace;
—scrounge up your old electronics to donate with Tech Dump; and
—drop off your old shoes for Shoe-Away Hunger.

Whether you bring one or all three, you’ll get a voucher for a free hot dog donated by Clayton Howatt of Verus Builders, LLC.

The main stage will be alive with music all evening. Ashley DuBose will headline the performances from 7:30-8:30pm. A St. Paul native, DuBose gained national recognition as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice in 2013. She has since gone on to build a local and national following and continues to bring her image-positive R&B, funk and jazz stylings to fans.
Other performances will include:
—the Irish Music Group Tipper Road, known for bringing new life to traditional songs from the Emerald Isle;
—the award-winning Americana powerhouses Urban Hillbilly Quartet;
—African drumming and dance from Babatunde Lea;
—the neighborhood all-star jazz and Brazilian duo Mira and Tom Kehoe with Maliya Gorman Carter Juggling and performing;
—spoken word and performing artists with the CANVAS Teen Arts Center, and more.

Acoustic blues-folk singer and guitarist Daniel Rumsey and the Arborators will also be roaming the festival grounds with even more music to enliven your evening.

Bring your appetites and sample the traditional Spanish cuisine of A La Plancha food truck. Seasonal and fresh ingredients are the backbone of the fair from this truck. Just look for the orange truck featuring a picture of a Mexican Wrestler, or “Luchador.” With vegetarian, as well as meat-eater options, A La Plancha will satisfy all appetites.

Fry Mama’s Fry Bread—the only food truck owned and run by Midway residents—brings a delicious twist to traditional native fry bread. With both sweet and savory options, you’ll have a choice of delicious toppings to adorn your fluffy flying saucer of fry bread. Owned by Barbara Ritt, former proprietor of Cookie’s by Barbara on Snelling Ave., Fry Mama’s Fry Bread bridges the old world with the new in a delicious fusion of Midway and Native pride.

Urban Farm & Homestead Fair
Whether you tend a plot at a community garden, keep a window box of herbs, or are just looking for new ways to bring the best of the country to your own urban oasis, you’ll find tons of resources and information at the Urban Farm and Homestead Fair.

Plant some seeds and watch them grow with the North Country Food Alliance. The University of Minnesota Bee Squad will be on hand with information about pollinators and what you can do to help make the Midway a “pollinator paradise.” Learn everything you need to know to start your backyard chicken coop with resources and supplies from Eggplant Urban Farm supply, who will bring a couple of their feathery friends for you to meet. You can also bring a soil sample to have tested by the University of Minnesota Soils Lab.

Catch up with all that’s happening at the urban farmstead over at Frogtown Farm. Ramsey County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all your home gardening questions. The Midway Green Spirit Community Garden will also be present with tips and tricks and to share what’s up this year at the garden. Are you trying to reduce your waste? Try your hand at the Zero Waste Sorting game from Eureka Recycling!

Kids Activities
The parents of our two community schools, Hamline Elementary, and Galtier Community School, have teamed up to host enough kid-friendly activities, crafts and games to keep every member of the family busy and creative. From arts and crafts, to face painting, lawn games and more, everyone is likely to leave with at least some glitter in their hair and big smiles on their faces. Get your bounce on in the bouncy house, provided by St. Paul Parks and Recreation, or test your mettle on the Climbing Tower and grab a glimpse of the community festivities from on high.

Issues & Opportunities Forum
Hamline Midway is full of passionate, informed and hard-working people who want to see our community and city thrive. What better way to discuss the issues that matter to you, and the opportunities to address them right here in our community, than in an outdoor living room. This space is specially designed to be conducive to passionate and constructive dialog focused on solutions and education.

Pull up a seat and hear what’s happening to alleviate the risk associated with train cars carrying Bakken Oil through our communities. Learn about the work being done to advocate for high-speed fiber optic internet as a public good in the city with Connect St. Paul. Connect with the Hamline Midway Environmental Group, and learn about the exciting environmental initiatives they have underway in the neighborhood. Learn more about the Hamline Midway Neighbors for Peace, and the Midway Progressive Women’s Network, as well.

Movie Theater Showings
If you’re looking to take a break and cool down during the festivities, hop inside the Hancock Rec. Center gym and pull up a seat for select neighborhood documentaries by Hamline University Students in David Davies’ Visual Anthropology Class.

And then, at 8:30pm, unwind with a special movie theater showing of the hit movie, “Paddington.” which will play on the Parks and Recreation Movie Theater Screen in the gym.

Bake Sale
After you fill up on dinner from one of the delicious food trucks, head to the Hamline Midway Community Bake Sale. Expert home-bakers, as well as area businesses,  will have a wide variety of delectable sweets for sale. Gluten-free, or gluten-full—there will be baked goods for all! Proceeds will be donated to a fund for next year’s festival and to support various neighborhood initiatives and programs.

Our Sponsors and Partners Make this Event Possible
This year’s Hamline Midway Spring Festival is made possible entirely by the generosity of our sponsors and the dedication of our partner organizations. Special thanks go to our major sponsors Hamline University and the Turf Club. The partnership of St. Paul Parks and Recreation and the CANVAS Teen Arts Center in organizing and producing this event has been integral to the scale and success of the planning process, as well.

This event would also not be possible without our Neighborhood Supporter sponsors: Neighbor Works, Greg’s PC Repair, the Melo Family: Mim, Fred & Baby Zoe, Chuddwerks, Verus Builders, LLC, The Friends School of Minnesota, Hamline Elementary, Galtier Community School, Tech Dump, Lloyd’s Pharmacy and the UPS Store.

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Sticker shock of street repair takes residents by surprise

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin


Street and bridge work throughout St. Paul isn’t merely a hassle for anyone trying to get around.

The increased costs of construction are causing sticker shock for city, county and state officials. Property owners who must pay assessments are also feeling the pain. That includes residents of the Como-Chatsworth neighborhood, who at one point feared that their assessments would almost double.

In the fall of 2014, the city told property owners that they would be paying $80 to $95 per foot. Word of a high increase to $140.50 per foot prompted many to attend a May 6 public hearing to object. That has now been reduced to $111 per foot, but it still causes hardship. Property owners on arterial streets will pay about $120.

St. Paul property owners pay about 20 to 25 percent of street reconstruction costs. Last year residents paid about $77 per front foot in residential street paving projects.

Jim Prayfrock’s family has owned its Oxford St. home for many years. “As a single dad, with one kid going out of college, one kid going in. . . These assessments are a hardship.”

Prayfrock said his block is in poor condition, and the street needs rebuilding. His family has paid assessments for street and curb maintenance, even though the curbs fell apart in the late 1960s. “The work is needed, but at what cost?”

Others urged the city to hold out for lower construction bids and subsequent assessments. Chatsworth St. resident Corey Plath joked that he came to the hearing wanting to talk about a $140.50 per foot assessment. On finding out about the  lower assessment estimate, he quipped, “Well that just took all my venom out of me, way to go.” Plath still urged the council to wait on his street.

Others said the work needs to go forward because property owners are already living with torn-up boulevards and sidewalks damaged due to water and sanitary sewer line replacement. Church St. resident Randy Croce said he and several neighbors already incurred a few thousand dollars in costs each to get utility work done. “Otherwise we’ll individually have to pay out more,” he said.

The actual fate of projects will not be determined until bids come in over the next few months. Bids will determine if assessments go up or down, or, even if some projects go forward at all. But for Como-Chatsworth residents, some boulevards have been already torn up for water line replacement and other work.

“Costs are coming in much higher than they ever have before,” said St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark. Not only have materials costs risen, a robust economy means that contractors have their pick of jobs. The City Council is considering holding a policy session to discuss what can be done to mitigate costs to property owners.

The cost of road construction has increased faster than the rate of inflation. Materials including oil, concrete and gravel have risen, along with equipment process. One estimate given to state lawmakers was that the costs of construction and materials have gone up by more than 70 percent in the last decade.

Kathy Lantry, director of the St. Paul Department of Public Works, said that higher costs mean fewer projects can be completed in a construction season. The city rebuilt many streets during a sewer separation and street reconstruction program that ended in 1996, and then began rebuilding the remaining 200 miles of older residential streets. That program was supposed to be done in about 2006-2007. It is now scheduled to end sometime after 2021. The city used to rebuild streets in as many as four neighborhoods per year. In 2015, only one neighborhood, Como-Chatsworth, can be done.

Final assessments won’t be announced until the projects are near completion. The city will hold a final assessment public hearing in the fall.

“Over the next few months bids will be opened, and we’ll have more accurate costs,” said Bruce Engelbrekt, St. Paul Real Estate Office. “We’re hoping for favorable costs but if the costs are much higher, we’ll have to come back and see if we can move forward.”

The fact that so many projects are moving ahead means contractors have their pick of jobs. A good economy is one factor. For Ramsey County, Hennepin County, and other Minnesota counties, adding a wheelage tax a few years ago has provided more resources for roads.
In some cases, projects get few if any bids. That includes Minnesota Department of transportation’s current Snelling Ave. and Highway 5 Bridge projects. “And in St. Paul, for the second year in a row, the Maryland Ave. Bridge project got no bids,” Lantry said.

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George Vane

Hamline University honors George Vane

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Honorary degree for local resident is just the latest in long and distinguished career


George VaneReceiving an honorary degree in humane letters May 23 from Hamline University (HU) is just the latest in recognitions and awards that have been bestowed upon George Vane, who taught English at Hamline for 40 years.

When he completed his master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1948, Vane mistakenly thought a message of interest sent from HU was an invitation for an interview. He showed up on the campus unannounced. That impromptu meeting resulted in being hired, and HU has been a big part of his life ever since.

“I was only planning to stay a couple of years,” he reminisced, “because everybody had told me this was the land of ice and snow. I was from Illinois, and we had decent winters. I thought this would be too much. But, I liked it, and I stayed.”

Vane said he arrived at Hamline at a time when it was experiencing a lot of changes. “Hamline had been a small liberal arts college, a church-related college,” he said. “But with the end of World War II that was changing. GIs were coming in as students, and they weren’t interested in a lot of the old stuff that was going on.”

“There were changes in lifestyles,” Vane continued. “Hamline had been a place where women had to sign in and out. There had been a lot of literary societies for women. Those went away.”

Vane said new things took their place. Through government grants, foreign students were arriving, and that gave a global aspect to the university.

“And then, of course, they started building,” Vane said. “When I came, there were these old buildings. There were a lot of beautiful elm trees that went, as the building progressed. It’s a different campus now, and I think a beautiful campus. It used to be very drab.”

Vane said he also saw many changes in methods of teaching over the years. “They’ve changed since I’ve been there,” he noted. “I don’t know if I could fit in now,” he joked. When he first came, he taught four classes of freshman English and an intro to English.

“That went on for a few years, and those were some of the hardest days,” he recalled. “I had hundreds of essays to correct every week. As I continued, I got to teach more and more of the things I liked. As the department changed, so did our teaching methods.”

When asked his favorite course to teach, Vane answered without hesitation, “Shakespeare.”  He said he taught the course using lecture, discussion and use of media.

“I felt the students needed to hear, and they needed to see, to really understand Shakespeare,” he noted.

Vane earned a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in the 1950s. He received the Merrill C. Burgess Excellence in Teaching Award in 1967, Faculty Member of the Year award in 1988 and the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1994.  The George Vane International Scholarship Fund was created by alumni in his honor to encourage student study abroad programs. He traveled with student groups three times to England. He has traveled extensively, both during and after his career at Hamline, to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, India, Iran, Lebanon, and South Africa.

During two of the trips Vane co-led with students to Great Britain, the group made brass rubbings. Hamline has a collection of around 1,100 rubbings, possibly the largest collection in the United States. After his retirement, Vane spent three years writing the guide to the extensive Brass Rubbings Collection. He wrote detailed descriptions of the rubbings and the persons they memorialized. He also assisted with making the collection available online.

Vane’s close connection to Hamline continues today. Since 1992, he has volunteered in the University Archives, where he spends four mornings a week. “It’s in the library, in another room hidden from everyone else,” Vane explained. “I think some people don’t even know it exists.”
He said he loves the work because it’s about Hamline’s history. “It gets me out, and it’s enjoyable,” he said. “With archiving you never run out of material because there is always new stuff coming in.”

He is currently working on a project that involves a cache of letters from Henry Osborn, a professor at Hamline from 1887 to 1933, and his family.

Vane, who is 92, credits his work with “keeping me going.” He looks back on his long relationship with Hamline with joy. “I started in 1948, and they can’t get rid of me,” he quipped.
He came to Hamline after a tour of duty in World War II, which he said gave him a little different perspective on things than some of the other instructors had. He was there during the Korean War and the Vietnam protests. “Things that went on at every campus during that time hit us,” he said.

Vane said the most meaningful change for him personally was World War II.

“I was taken out of college and put in the army for three, four years. It certainly made me much more aware of what the world was like. Before the war, I had never thought I would be a university teacher. When I came back, I had a different perspective of myself and my abilities.”

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Gwen Larson

From student to teacher, local school has played life-long role

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Gwen LarsonOnce a student there, Gwen Larson will be retiring after teaching 26 years at Hamline Elementary


Hamline Elementary has played a primary role in the life of Gwen Larson, who grew up in a house four blocks from the school, located at 1599 Englewood.

As a child, she walked to the school, winding her way through the Hamline University campus.  The school was then called Hancock, and Larson said she still thinks of it by that name.

Her mom was very involved with the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and worked for the school as a secretary for 15-20 years, according to Larson. Larson graduated from college, taught school in a couple Twin Cities locations and then moved away for awhile.

When she returned, she began teaching at Hamline Elementary in 1989 and has been there ever since. She will retire in June from the school she has loved so much, and that has meant so much to her.

“I have taught first grade for all but the last two years,” Larson said. “The last two years I have been library support for K-2, teaching six to eight classes a day of reading and writing and providing remediation and tutoring.”

Larson also taught as an adjunct instructor at Hamline University from 1991 to 2005, quitting then because both she and her husband were caring for aging parents.

One class she took over from another instructor was Retelling, in which she instructed students on how to retell information. Hamline offered a one-week literacy institute, a project that continues to this day, according to Larson. For that, she was one of the workshop instructors, teaching several classes in writing and reading. “There were other classes with literary strategies and lots and lots of ideas,” she noted. She explained that as children, we learn to listen and that is how we learn to speak.

Larson said she has a lot of memories surrounding Hamline Elementary.

“The original school, built in the late 1800s, was an old brownstone,” she recalled. As the years passed, there were many additions, and now the original building is gone. A sign that hung in the old building is in a garden courtyard of the current school.

“The oldest part of the school now is an addition that was built in the 1960s,” Larson said. “It is currently the cafeteria area and office center. The cafeteria has doubled as an auditorium.”
She said originally, the school was K-8 and changed to K-6 in the mid-60s. Two years ago it became K-5, but then a preschool was added. Other additions in the mid-to-late 70s and as recently as 12 to 15 years ago include space for grades 3-5 and a learning center.

“The school has changed,” Larson said. It began as a community school. Kids would walk to school and over the noon hour go home for lunch. “Now the kids are served breakfast, lunch and a snack at the school,” she noted.

The nearby rec center offers an extended day program, and many of the students go there before and after school.

Larson said that in 1989, there was some diversity at Hamline Elementary, but not a lot.  There has been a gradual growth of students from different ethnicities attending. “There are a lot of cultural differences, and the kids mix well and have a good education,” she said.

Larson was a part of the school’s collaboration with Hamline, which began in 1991. “We had many meetings, and the principal and I went to faculty meetings at Hamline University,” she explained. “Hamline Elementary was the premier school in the country to have this collaboration.”

Each grade level at the elementary school is paired with a department of Hamline University. For example, the fifth grade is paired with the law department.  As part of this pairing, they take part in a mock trial on the Hamline campus. Other grades are paired with the art department and the gymnastics department.

“There is another program, Hand in Hand, that is similar to Big Brothers and Sisters,” Larson related.  Hamline University students serve as friends and mentors to kids who need them.

From a community school, Hamline Elementary became a magnet school. Today it is back to being a neighborhood school.

Larson said that in the past, there was a strong PTO organization, with a lot of special events. “When we became a magnet, that kind of fizzled,” she said. “Now that it’s back to a neighborhood school, we are re-developing that organization.”

Teaching children reading and writing has been a serious task for Larson, but according to one of her colleagues, Elizabeth Srigley, she also has a lighter side.

“Gwen has always been a great storyteller,” Srigley said. “She can describe things that make you smile and you want to hear more.”

“I always thought Gwen was a serious person who was always in control, but I found a different side to her when she did a retirement skit for another first-grade teacher,” Srigley continued.

“She could have been an actress or stand-up comedian. She was so funny–everyone was surprised and laughing.”

A combination of serious purpose and an ability to make others laugh are strengths that Larson brings to her teaching.  She said that reading was always a part of her life.

“I remember that my dad always had a book he was reading,” she said. “I remember being read to.”

She said she had always wanted to be a teacher, her mom was a teacher, and she played school at home.

“Having gone through my elementary years at Hamline Hancock, then my mom worked there and to be hired there as a teacher, it felt like home,” Larson said. “It was my school; that’s where my heart is, and teaching there was a special opportunity to give back.”

Larson and her husband both plan to retire from their jobs in June and spend time with their grandchildren, three boys in the Twin Cities and two girls in London. They also have lots of volunteering lined up. “We won’t be idle,” Larson noted.

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Midway Books 3

Midway Rare and Used Books celebrates 50 years

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

“We love books” say owners Tom and Kathy Stransky

Reporting and Photos by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Midway Books 2Long before they owned Midway Used and Rare Books, the bookstore was shaping Tom and Kathy Stransky’s lives.

As teenagers, the two book lovers used to go to bookstores on dates.

One day they walked into Midway Books, and in the basement they found a $5 copy of Alice in Wonderland that was illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

It was the first book Tom bought Kathy.

A few years later, they wed, and in 1980 they bought the bookstore. In June 2015, Midway Books celebrates its 50th anniversary.

“We spent our lives building this collection,” said Kathy.

Midway Books 3Housed in a Streamline Moderne building located at the corner of University and Snelling Avenues in St. Paul, Midway Used and Rare Books started off as a small paperback trading store.

Today it is overflowing with 50,000 books.

The bookstore will celebrate by holding its annual anniversary sale from June 13-24. Everything in the store, except for new comics, will be 30% off.

Caretakers of books
The couple views themselves as caretakers of the thousands of books in their bookstore and the 4,000 more at their home.

“You hold them for the right person,” Kathy remarked.

She needs many more lifetimes to read all the books she wants to. “How can there be so many worlds? How can there be so many things I don’t know about?” she wondered.

When asked how many books he reads a year, Tom replied, “Not enough.”

Midway Rare and Used Books specializes in science fiction and fantasy, children’s illustrated books, photography, art, military, philosophy and science, and old and new comic books.

“We like to spread information,” remarked Tom. “All the information isn’t on the Internet and there’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet.”

He pointed out that it’s hard to cross reference stuff online. “There’s so much information out there you don’t know what is true or false.”

The Stranskys buy books every day and encourage anyone selling to use the parking lot in the back of the building (accessible off Sherburne). They have so many books in the store that some remain boxed in back rooms.

“When books give me shivers, either reading them or handling them, I have to buy them,” Kathy explained.

In building their collection, the Stranksys have become experts in many fields. “I don’t care for fishing and hunting,” Kathy confessed. But when they bought 68 boxes of fly fishing books, she learned how to appreciate the hobby.

Some of their specialties have occurred by happenstance. When the Hackers decided to sell their bookmobile packed with art books, they bought the whole bus. “It was the best education I got,” said Kathy. “We became known as having the best art selection in the Midwest.”

Old and rare
One of the oldest books in their store dates to 1561. It’s a book about Martin Luther King written in Old German. One of the things Kathy loves most about it is the notes and drawings written in the margins by former readers. Today, readers use post-it notes to mark a place, but back then they used a quill to highlight text.

“You see these things come through, and someone’s got to preserve it,” remarked Kathy. And so they had the cover and binding fixed.

Another old and rare item in the bookstore is a page from the Nuremberg Chronicle dating to 1493. They also have a page from the first King James Bible from 1600.

They started selling books online almost as soon as it was possible (in 1995) and have shipped books all around the world.

They also crisscross the country selling at various comic book shows and book fairs. One of their biggest is near home, held each June at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

A bookstore owner who still goes to the library two times a week, Kathy explained, “I love to read.” This summer, she’s finally opening up Proust, a wordy French writer she never thought she would find the time for. “There are books that wait for you,” Kathy observed.

‘I wish people appreciated books as much as we do’
“We always say to each other, ‘I wish people appreciated books as much as we do,’” said Kathy.
Their 4,000 square foot house is full of books–so full that Tom’s military collection and Kathy’s photography collection are kept at the bookstore.

Paid in books
Tom and Kathy are dedicated to books. When they were young, a man who owned the bookstore in Stillwater hired them to go through the books in his South Minneapolis garage to alphabetize them. “We did it in winter and no heat,” recalled Kathy. But they were paid in books, and that made it worthwhile.

After graduating from college with a degree in psychology, Tom realized he didn’t want to pursue that career, and instead got a job at the Nicola bookstore at Nicollet and Lake in Minneapolis. He had always loved comic books, reading Spiderman and Batman as a kid. At the time, only drug stores were carrying comic books, but Tom saw an opportunity there. He began ordering new comic books for the store and starting building up the archives.

In time he became the manager at Nicola, and then Al Kremer, who owned Nicola and Midway, hired him to run the Midway location. As he had at Nicola, Tom added a strong comic book section.

Meanwhile, Kathy was working part-time at both the University Hospital and Marly Rusoff’s bookstore. She was just about to buy Rusoff’s when Kremer told them that if they wanted to buy Midway, he would sell it.

“It wasn’t our dream place, but it was open and running,” said Kathy. Tom had already been there for 10 years.

They were young, and both felt ready to take on the challenge, Kathy noted. She kept her job at the hospital for a few months, and then dived in and started working full-time at the bookstore with Tom. Their two kids grew up at the bookstore.

Better inventory than a library
At the time, there were three to four other used bookstores within a five-mile radius. It didn’t hurt any of them to be so close, but instead they drew customers who stopped by all the stores during an excursion, drawn to each one by their various specialties, said Kathy.

Midway Books 1Photo left: Tom and Kathy Stransky have known each other since they were 16 and 13, respectively. They grew up in the Nokomis neighborhood in South Minneapolis, and their dates involved visits to bookstores. They’ve owned Midway Rare and Used Books for 35 years. This photo ran in the Monitor in the 1990s.

Now they’re one of a handful of used bookstores in the Twin Cities, evidence of how owning a bookstore has changed over the 35 years they’ve been in business.

Today, folks are buying fewer of the “bread and butter” books–priced between $20 and $100–that the Stranskys relied on, and instead go for either the very cheap or expensive ones, according to Tom.

Kathy challenges the idea that books will disappear with the advent of electronic readers like the Kindle. She has noticed a trend in the last five years of young people buying books.
Amazon has made things much more accessible, she observed. “But you can’t get what you can get from walking in here,” she said.

She encourages people to slow down, come in, sit down at one of the many chairs sprinkled throughout the bookstore, and pull out a book. Kathy loves talking to people who come into the bookstore. If you give her an author or genre you like, she’ll direct you to other books you might enjoy.

“We have a better inventory than the library does,” Kathy stated.

Despite the ups and downs of the business, what drives the Stranskys can be summed up in three words.

“We love books,” said Tom.

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Murray 3

Murray Middle School works to put outdoor classroom to good use

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Murray 3Murray Middle School continues to develop its ability to use the local College Park space for an outdoor classroom. The staff will get special professional development on how to use the space as an effective classroom this coming fall, but for now, students are stepping up to make the park a better representation of the different biomes represented in Minnesota. Environmental Education students removed an invasive species—buckthorn–from parts of the park, and planted dogwoods and oak trees in their place. Jon Shumacher stopped by to say hello to the students as they took a short break.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe staff is also very excited about Murray 8th grade student Phillip Chervenak’s Eagle Scout Project. He, with the help of several Murray students and the boys in his troop, made 15 Leopold benches for the students to use during lessons in the outdoor classroom.

Recently, Murray Magnet Science II students conducted an insect survey to compare with data from several earlier years.

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IRace 2

St. Paul youth take a stand against racism

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Great River School students come together to raise awareness about apathy and take action against injustice


IRace 2Every spring, Great River School takes a day to talk about the effects of race and racism in our society. The IRACE Summit, which stands for Identity, Racial Awareness, and Cultural Education, is a student-founded and student-planned event. The summit brings together the school’s community and works to create open dialogue about racism and social injustice.

In the wake of the National Black Lives Matter movement, this year’s summit was held in a context that created a broader outlook on how race affects our world. The response from the Summit has been overwhelmingly positive from both community members who participated in the event and the students in attendance.

Through the day’s theme of “Apathy, Action, and Awareness,” this year’s IRACE Summit was focused on exploring what it means to overcome apathy by raising awareness, and taking action.

IRace 1The student leaders who planned IRACE worked with community members from around the Twin Cities to bring together a wide array of thought-provoking workshops that the students attended. Local experts and activists led the workshops covering topics ranging from the Prison Industrial Complex to the basics of having a positive conversation about race to the effects of institutional discrimination.

Great River School brought in college professors, midwives, and activists from throughout the Twin Cities to contribute. The goal of the workshops was to:
—generate conversation to raise awareness about topics and issues related to race, racism, gender, or economic inequality;
—think about the apathy we have towards those issues as a community; and
—give the students the tools to foster action in response to their newfound awareness.

To continue the growth of IRACE and the development of long-lasting conversations about race in our communities, this year the summit incorporated two local keynote performances to start and end the day.

Mina Moore, a local R&B artist and activist, discussed the marginalization of people of color in the music industry, and performed multiple songs with her wonderful band.

Mu Daiko, a local drumming group, performed and talked about traditional Taiko drumming. Mu Daiko is part of a multifaceted performing arts company that focuses on giving voice to the stories and culture of Asian Americans. Each performance allowed our students to interact with performers and learn in a more exciting and meaningful way.

One goal of the summit was to ignite the flame of conversation amongst St. Paul youth to kindle a burning fire in the fight for racial justice through creating safe and comfortable space for discussion.

The IRACE Summit is based entirely on the work of volunteers in the student and surrounding communities. If you’re interested in helping plan or facilitating a workshop at the 2016 summit, contact Andrea Christensen at achristensen@greatriverschool.org.

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Chad Kulas phot

Midway Chamber names Chad Kulas executive director

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Chad Kulas photThe Midway Chamber of Commerce has announced that Chad Kulas has been hired to be its new Executive Director.  Kulas was selected from a competitive pool of candidates after an extensive search process.  He will fill the vacancy created by Kari Canfield’s departure in April.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to bring Chad on as our new Executive Director,” said Dan Leggett, Chairperson for the Midway Chamber’s Board of Directors. “Chad brings with him a strong connection to this community as well as the knowledge, creativity and experience that will help the Chamber and its members continue to grow during this time of change for the Midway area and local businesses.”

Kulas brings more than 10 years of experience to the Midway Chamber of Commerce, having worked closely with local organizations and businesses, advising and managing government relation’s teams, as well as providing event coordination and public relations services.

His experience working for the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Saint Paul and most recently holding the position of Public Affairs Manager for a local management consultation firm specializing in Chambers has let him see the Chamber world from various different perspectives.

“I am excited to have the chance to help lead this great organization at such an important time,” said Kulas. “The Midway Chamber represents what is really the heart of our metro area and there are great opportunities to build on its recent success and make this an even stronger and more active organization.”

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Como Park third

Prep Sports Notebook: Individuals take home the trophies, even if teams don’t

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin


When state team trophies don’t roll in by the trophy case, individual athletes can still bring home state tourney hardware for their respective schools with individual-oriented sports.

Kia Vang and Sheng Vang of Como Park gave the Cougars at least one state title for the spring season during May.

The Vangs won the state badminton doubles title last month in defeating Johnson’s Julie Her and Kar Bao Xiong 10-21, 21-9, 21-17 in Eden Prairie. Before the state tournament, the Cougars tandem beat another Johnson pair for the St. Paul City Conference doubles title. The Vangs won 21-9, 21-7 over Kao Soua Yang and Xai Chang.

For state adapted bowling, Kayla Kellerman came five points shy of a state championship in second place for the girls physically impaired division. Kellerman bowled a 467 for her two games while state champion Emily Rettinger from Simley had 472. The Cougars ninth-grader scored 230 in her first game and had a 237 in game two.

Como Park thirdPhoto left: Como Park’s Valentino Diaz (second from the left) finished third in adapted state bowling tournament boys cognitively impaired division on May 15. (Photo by Matthew Davis)

Como’s Valentino Diaz finished third in the boys cognitively impaired division on May 15. Diaz bowled a 449 in his two games with a 218 in the first game and a 232 in the second. The Como junior finished just a point behind second place at Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Park.
Two Thousand, a freshman at Como, likewise took third in boys physically impaired division with a 446 in two games. Thousand bowled his best in game one with a 221 and then a 225 in the second game.

Nathan Parson represented Como in the Class AA boys tennis singles tournament on June 4-5 at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center. Parson won the Section 4AA tournament as the No. 1 seed in defeating Ryan Meger of Mahtomedi 6-2, 6-2.

Similarly, Trevon Clay competed for the Cougars in a state tournament this month in three events for the boys track team. Clay won the Section 4AA title in the 110-meter hurdles at 14.29 seconds to land a spot in the Class AA state meet on June 4-5 at Hamline University. He also finished at the top for the 300 hurdles in 38.53.

In addition to hurdles, Clay came in second in the long jump at 44-1.50 to earn a spot in state. Clay also earned a conference title in the event earlier in May as he did in both hurdling events.
Central had one boys Class AA state entrant with Jakobi Jackson. He ran a 49.92 in the 400 to finish second.

Team sports in the area have seen some success this spring too. Como baseball went 12-5 for the regular season and took second in the conference. The Cougars also battled their way through the consolation bracket to reach the final four of the 4AA tournament.

Central finished just a half game back of the Cougars in the conference standing but fell in the first round of the 4AA to DeLaSalle.

For softball, Como took the conference title with an 11-1 league record in a tie with Highland Park. The Cougars faced a brutal 4AA field with Visitation and Minnehaha, two teams that had three regular season losses between them. Como fell twice to Minnehaha by a run in the double elimination tourney.Central came in third for the conference at 8-4. The Minutemaids had a quick exit in sectionals with a first-round loss to St. Croix Lutheran.

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MN Chemical 3

Minnesota Chemical Company celebrates 100 years in Midway

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

The company is now owned by the third generation of Bakers—and the fourth generation is also involved


MN Chemical 4It’s been 100 years since Irish immigrant R.P. Baker began the Minnesota Chemical Company (MCC) in the Midway area, and today his grandchildren are running the family business.

Photo right: The Minnesota Chemical Company has been located in the same area for 100 years. Originally located at 2207 Wycliff Ave. in St. Paul, it moved one block over to Hampden Ave. in 1937 to be closer to a rail line and to gain warehouse space.

“We have changed with the times,” remarked President Mike Baker. “We have taken good care of customers and provided a good living for our employees.”

Mike and cousins Steve and Dan own Minnesota Chemical Company. They took over in 1985 from R.P.’s sons (Robert, Dan and John Baker) when the “Baker Boys” retired together. They led the company for 40 years through recessions, competition, inflation, and a host of other challenges.

MN Chemical 3Photo left: R.P. Baker’s three sons, (left to right) Bob, Dan, and John, left their management roles at Minnesota Chemical Company to serve in the military during World War II. The Baker Boys retired together in 1985 and passed the company down to the third generation of Bakers.

The Baker Boys had taken over after their father’s death in October 1943 during World War II.

The three boys had left their management positions at MCC when war broke out; Dan and John joined the Army Air Corps, and Bob joined the Army. All three served as officers based on their experience as cadets at Saint Thomas Military Academy.

According to a history compiled by MCC, the trio hit the ground running when they came back from World War II. When they rejoined the company, a primary focus was manufacturing soap for the laundry and dairy industries, and the only location was in St. Paul.

Within a decade, the “Baker Boys” moved the company away from manufacturing of soap. They refocused the company on distributing a full range of supplies, and eventually equipment, for commercial and institutional laundries and dry cleaners throughout the Midwest.

In 1952, a Milwaukee sales office/warehouse was also established. In 1962, an equipment sales and service office was added in Waverly, Iowa.

‘I felt my place was here’
Robert’s son Steve started working at MCC as a kid, cutting the grass and cleaning the bathrooms on Saturdays. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a liberal arts degree in 1975, he started working full-time at Minnesota Chemical.

He never considered another career path. “I always felt my place was here,” stated Steve. “I never had the pull to do anything else.”

Five years later his cousin Mike also started working at MCC.

It was Mike’s dad, John Baker, who discussed retirement with his two brothers, and the “Baker Boys” retired on the same day in 1985. MCC passed into the hands of Steve and Mike, and Dan joined as owner a few years later.

MN Chemical 1Photo left: Brothers Steve (left) and Dan, along with cousin Mike (right) own Minnesota Chemical Company today. They strive to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps and treat their customers ethically.

“It was a very orderly and peaceful transition,” recalled Steve. “They never looked back.”
Robert passed away in 1998, Dan in 2006, and John in 2010.

Steve has seen many changes in the industry during his tenure with Minnesota Chemical. “The stuff we sell today is very different than what we sold when I first came into the business,” he remarked.

The chemicals are more earth-friendly than they were, and the equipment is much more efficient, he added.

They currently serve Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and parts of South and North Dakota. Customers come from a variety of industries, from healthcare, athletic clubs, hotels, and motels, dry cleaning, and coin operated laundries. Many of their customers are also family-owned businesses that they have served for decades.

Dan has been in Wisconsin for much of his career and has switched from selling supplies to equipment, and from laundries to coin-operated laundromats. Those shifts have kept him engaged in his work.

As distributors, much of their success comes from getting good lines of products to sell, he pointed out. “You’re only as good as the lines that you carry,” said Dan. Their suppliers include Milnor, ECOLAB, and Pariser, among others.

Mike also credits a shifting industry as the reason he has continued to enjoy his job. “Customers have different needs, and they come to us with problems looking for solutions,” he observed. “Since I concentrate on equipment, mainly large washing machines and dryers, sometimes it is a matter of helping customers making better use of machines they own. Other times we can help customer staff be more efficient with newer, more productive equipment.”

An ethical company
Steve thinks that the main reason that MCC has been in business for 100 years is that they’re an ethical company.

“Ethics matter today,” observed Steve. “You have to be fair and consistent with all your customers. You have to do what you say you’re going to do. You have to warranty stuff.”

Steve has been a Rotarian for 30 years and is a founding member of the St. Paul Sunrise Rotary Club. Recently, while reciting the Rotary Four Way Test, he was struck by how accurately the document describes the Minnesota Chemical Company’s way of doing business.

Steve isn’t sure if R.P. ever saw a copy of the Four Way Test, but “its core ideas influences everything we do at MCC – being truthful, being fair, building good will, building friendships, and being mutually beneficial to us and our customers,” he said. Steve’s father and his uncle John were also Rotarians.

Steve Baker never knew R.P. as he died young. “I’m sure he’d be proud and probably a little amazed it was still going,” commented Steve.

Immigrant success story
MN Chemical 2His grandfather was an immigrant success story. He journeyed from Ireland to America as a teenager, and first worked in upstate New York selling woolen goods.

When R.P. moved to Minnesota, he discovered that most soaps were being transported to the state from the east coast. “He realized there was an opportunity there,” said Steve.

Photo right: Irish immigrant R.P. Baker founded Minnesota Chemical Company in 1915 in the Midway area of St. Paul. His three sons took over after his death and the end of World War II, and ran it successfully for 45 years before passing the reins to the third generation of Bakers. Today, R.P.’s great-grandson James works at Minnesota Chemical.

R.P. and several other Irish immigrants began manufacturing soaps and cleaning compounds.

MCC founders were originally attracted to the Midway area in St. Paul for two reasons—proximity to the Minnesota Transfer Railroad’s hub and the presence of meat processing plants in the area. The plants provided a critical component in soap manufacturing: beef tallow.

R.P.’s handwritten ledger from September 1915 lists cash in the drawer at $10. Cash paid out ranged from sponges at 15 cents to stamps for 10 cents–and “car fare” for a dime (i.e. a taxi cab fare).

Salt was one of the biggest company expenses that month: $2.67 for hundreds of pounds.
Among the cleaning products that were being produced in the early years was the product Nokomis Bubbles. The hand-written recipe lists salt, tallow, grease, and borax.

The company’s soap and cleaning compounds were so popular that Minnesota Chemical Company expanded into an eight-state area in the Midwest within a decade.

The company was first located in a small building at 2207 Wycliff St. Then it moved to a 50,000-foot-space on Hampden Ave. in 1937 because of frontage on a spur rail line and lots of ground-floor warehouse space. It had once been a mammoth 300,000-plus-square-foot three-story building that took up a whole city block. But, eventually, most of the building was torn down, and a portion remaining on its eastern edge was purchased by MCC.

Today, the building is too large for MCC and is up for sale. They no longer need space for manufacturing, explained Steve.

They currently have 27 employees spread out among their locations.

What they’ve always appreciated about the Midway area is how central the location is.

Laundry is as basic as it gets
Dan is very proud of the fact that MCC is a fourth-generation, family-owned business. “Not many people can say that,” he observed. “We’ve been able to prosper in the good times and bad times.”
Although the industry continues to evolve and change, Steve is confident there will always be a place for MCC. “Laundry is about as basic as it gets,” said Steve. “It’s got to get done somehow.”

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