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The Importance of Main Streets: Bird Island, Olivia and Willmar FINAL

This publication was shared by Rick Bonlender, Economic Development Professions of the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission on 1/28/2021. He requested anyone to feel free to use it as a template to write up your own Op-ed and post/circulate in your area.

In the small towns of Bird Island, Olivia, and Willmar, residents are deeply invested in their communities. Many return home to find work and start a family after graduating college, while others choose to stay local after retirement. Meanwhile, civic groups, entrepreneurs and city officials are actively engaged in these communities—each of which depends on central commercial districts as a magnet to bring people together. Whether it’s a local cultural center, treasured coffee shop, or family-owned restaurant, small businesses are at the heart of Bird Island, Olivia, Willmar, and other small towns like them.

Over the past year, these small businesses have been severely tested. Foot traffic is down, funding is scarce and local entrepreneurs are hurting. Yet, throughout the pandemic, Main Street groups have been—and continue to be—a critical lifeline, helping to direct local businesses to grants and other resources, guiding them through COVID-safe operations, and continuing to work toward a long-term vision of economic development for each community’s downtown. These groups leverage the support of the nationwide Main Street America network and the Main Street approach, which empowers communities to transform their economies, leverage local leadership, and improve overall quality of life. Today, Main Street programs like those in Bird Island, Olivia, and Willmar are vital—now more than ever.

In Olivia, for example, the local Main Street group is playing a pivotal role in the effort to find new buyers for Master’s Coffee Shop, which was a downtown staple for decades before it closed for good in December. Master’s is important not only because it is the sole dining option in downtown Olivia, but also for its time-honored role as a beloved community gathering place. While the owners had been trying to sell the business for years, the economic toll of the pandemic was the final straw. With the help of Olivia Main Street, the owners have already found a potential buyer and are in the process of negotiating a deal.

Meanwhile, Willmar’s Main Street group also remains focused on economic development—even as it assists businesses with the pressing concerns of the pandemic, like navigating grant options and applying for funding. Over the past year, Willmar Main Street has continued the downtown assessment it began in 2020, albeit with modifications. Through virtual focus groups with stakeholders, Willmar Main Street is quickly identifying a priority for downtown development: creating more green space. Before the state had even begun to shut down indoor dining last spring, Willmar was already at work creating outdoor seating options on sidewalks and street parking spots. The energy that effort generated continues to inspire their work. Willmar Main Street will begin exploring solutions for a more permanent green space downtown, ideally with a playground and other amenities to attract families.

Long-term planning has also continued in Bird Island, where the Main Street group is working to repurpose a shuttered elementary school that occupies a full city block near the heart of downtown. Along with a devoted group of community members, Bird Island is trying to save the building from demolition, transform part of the property into open space and find local entrepreneurs to occupy the remaining structure. Through that project, Bird Island Main Street built a network of community members who are committed to downtown revitalization—and that group was a critical asset in December, when the town had to pivot its traditional “Olde Fashioned Christmas” celebration, typically held indoors at a local bank. Working with the residents, the city’s cultural center and a family-owned B&B, Bird Island Main Street was able to host the event outdoors on the B&B’s circle driveway.

These examples demonstrate just a few of the ways Bird Island, Olivia, and Willmar Main Street groups serve as a vital support for small businesses and the community—both in response to the pandemic and in ensuring long-term economic development. While Main Street groups provide fundamental assistance to local businesses, these communities are still at risk. Too often, small businesses are overlooked in favor of big-box stores and online retailers that have greater resources at their disposal. Yet the entrepreneurs that make local communities special are also a powerful economic force—employing nearly half the workers in Minnesota.

State and local elected officials are the next—and last—line of defense in protecting Minnesota’s small businesses, the people they employ, and the beloved downtowns they sustain. In future budget negotiations, lawmakers must recognize that recovery depends on Main Street groups and the small businesses they support. Cutting funding for such programs would be a grave mistake, resulting in lost jobs and reductions to state and local revenue. Before, during, and after the pandemic, Main Streets have proven themselves to be an essential partner to downtown businesses—and those small businesses are essential to the recovery of Willmar, Bird Island, Olivia, and other communities like them.


Rick Bonlender, economic development professional, Mid-Minnesota Development Commission; Mark Glesener, director, Bird Island Main Street; Susie Lang, director, Olivia Main Street; and Sarah Swedburg, director, Willmar Main Street

Basketball Results Prior to 1960

Found in the scrapbook for the 1960-1961 Danube Hawks basketball, belonging to Rod Black was a none dated clipping listing the basketball results from 1931-1959.

Year —- Champion —– Runnerup

1931 Glencoe Brownton
1932 Buffalo Lake Glencoe
1933 Brownton Norwood
1934 Glencoe Hutchinson
1935 Glencoe Hutchinson
1936 Hutchinson Norwood
1937 Hutchingson Glencoe
1938 Lester Prairie Olivia
1939 Hutchinson Lester Prairie
1940 Glencoe Norwood
1941 Lester Prairie Olivia
1942 Olivia Hutchinson
1943 Hutchinson Norwood
1944 Brownton Hutchinson
1945 Hutchinson Brownton
1946 Hutchinson Buffalo Lake
1947 Hutchinson Glencoe
1948 Hutchinson Brownton
1949 Brownton Olivia
1950 Hutchinson Glencoe
1951 Glencoe Sacred Heart
1952 Glencoe Hector
1953 Renville Bird Island
1954 Renville Buffalo Lake
1955 Renville Sacred Heart
1956 Hutchinson Buffalo Lake
1957 Olivia Hector
1958 Brownton Olivia
1959 Renville Olivia

Editor Ploof Succumbs published in the Danube Enterprise Thursday, December 1, 1960

John K. Ploof, 65, editor and publisher of the Danube Enterprise and a former editor of the Bird Island Union was laid to rest Monday, Nov. 28, 1960.
Mr. Ploof passed away at the Renville County Hospital in Olivia, Friday, Nov. 25. In failing health for the past several years, he entered the hospital Wednesday evening. He underwent an emergency operation for bleeding ulcers about midnight Thursday. He developed heart complications and died about 7:30 Friday morning.
Funeral services were held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bird Island. Father Thomas Ploof of Rochester, a cousin of the deceased officiated at the Requiem Mass. Interment was in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Bird Island. Present also at the Mass were Msgr. George Rolwes of New Ulm, a former pastor of St. Mary’s and friend of the Ploof family, and Father Mark Otto, pastor of St. Mary’s.
Survivors left to mourn his death include widow, Ann; 3 sons, Robert of Chaska; John of Shakopee, and Kenneth of St. Louis Park; 5 daughters, Mrs. Adrian (Germaine) Weis; Mrs. Frank (Joan) Undesser, Jr. of Bird Island; Mrs. ARlyn (Eileen) Janke, of Hector; Mrs. Stewart (Lois) Holt of St. Cloud and Patricia of Minneapolis, 13 grandchildren; brother, Howard Ploof of Warroad, 3 sisters, Mrs. L.E. Alberts of Spring Valley; Mrs. John Johnson of Spring Valley; and Mrs. A.C. Ward of Lake Crystal. One daughter, La Vonne died in 1937 at the age of 9 months.
Pallbearers were : Ed Jungers, Ruben Ruehle, Bennie Maier, Al Ringness, Al Schnieder and Ben Neubauer.
Renville County Editors were honorary pallbearers. Those in attendance were: Vern Pushing, Olivia, Fred and Ed Schiere of Fairfax, Gene Hall of Franklin, U.T. Licklider of Renville, Jay Lighter of Sacred Heart, Garland Hubin of Buffalo Lake, Willard DeGroat of the Hector Mirror, and Art Noecker of Bird Island.
Glesener Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
Mr. Ploof was born May 14, 1895, at Wykoff, Minnesota, the son of the late William E. and Margaret (Baumgartner) Ploof. He attended school and began his newspaper career in Wykoff at a very early age, working for a newspaper that set all its type by hand. At the age of 13, he was already enrolled as a member of the Minnesota Editorial Assn., now known as the Minnesota Newspaper Assn. He was awarded a 50-year pin in that organization in 1958.
In 1914, Mr. Ploof began his career as a linotype operator in the employment of the Fairfax Standard, then owned by his older brother and a partner. He was also employed as a printer-operator in Iowa for a time.
He enlisted in the Army in June 1916 and from November 1918 to August 1919 was with the army of occupation at Coblenz, Germany. He was a Linotype operator at the Osakis Review from 1919 to 1921, then worked for the Alexandria Citizen-News until 1922 when he became advertising manager of the Bird Island Union. In 1924 he became publisher of the Bird Island Union, which he published for 22 years.
In 1946 Mr. Ploof sold the UNION and for a short time held a traveling sales job. In that same year, he was called to take the helm of the Morton Enterprise after the publisher suffered a heart attack. After leasing the paper a few months, Mr. Ploof purchased the Morton Enterprise which he operated for a number of years. In 1953 he moved the publication to Danube where he published the Danube Enterprise until his death.
In addition to spending his entire life in the printing and publishing profession, most of the couple’s children and at least one son-in-law learned the trade under Mr. Ploof’s guidance. Two sons, Robert and Kenneth have followed the trade and are presently employed as linotype operators at Minneapolis Suburban Newspapers, Inc., Hopkins, Minn.
John K. Ploof and Anna T. Brunner were married Sept. 18, 1923 at Fairfax and the couple made their home in this village (Bird Island) their entire married life. All of their children graduated from St. Mary’s Schools.
A World War I veteran, Mr. Ploof, with many years of service including overseas duty, was elected three times as commander and adjutant of the Bird Island Legion Post No. 430, as well as serving in the top position in the Osakis Post No. 111.
He was a member of the National Editorial Association, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, as well as the 7th District and Renville County Editorial Associations.
From 1923 to 1928 he was athletic coach at St Mary’s High School in Bird Island. During his first year as coach, his team qualified for the first state Catholic High School basketball tournament, where the team defeated St. Anne’s of LeSaeur 26 to 4. Ploof’s team of “Four Brothers” (four Baumgartners) as it was called emerged victorious in their second game as well, downing St. Mary’s of Waverly 24 to 7, but were defeated in the semifinals.
Mr. Ploof was also a great baseball enthusiast and was one of the organizers of the Bird Island Civic and Commerce Assn. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, and also had been a member of the Disabled American Veterans. He was a member of the Renville County Fair Assn. for many years, and was presently serving as first Vice-President. He also served as mayor of Bird Island at one time.
Many friends and former residents of the community came from Minneapolis, Chaska, St. Cloud, Benson, Fairfax, and other towns to pay their last respects and attend the funerals services of the widely known publisher.

Death Claims James Vosika published in the Olivia Times on April 29, 1920

Young Man Gives Up Struggle After Hard Fight—Funeral Tomorrow

At the quiet hour of the early morning of yesterday James A. Vosika who had suffered for several days from that insidious disease, tuberculosis, passed to his eternal rest. Four several days he had been at the point of death and a few hours before he died he passed into a quiet sleep and passed away without awakening.
Mr. Vosika’s ill healthy dated back to about seven years ago when he was hooked by a cow and received a serious injury in one of his lungs, which was followed by a hemorrhage. Later on, he received treatment in a sanatorium and recovered his health, although his lungs remained weak. A few months ago he suffered an attack of influenza and from the effects of this he never fully recovered.
James A. Vosika was born in Webster County, Iowa, on July 9, 1896, the son of J.J. Vosika. The family moved to Olivia in 1912 and four years later on Oct. 24, 1916, James was united in marriage to Miss Veronica Kvech, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Kvech, who with two young children survive him. Other surviving relatives are his parents, four brothers, and two sisters, all of this place.
James Vosika was a young man of kindly nature and bright promise. He possessed rare natural ability as a machinist and had his life been spared would have taken a foremost place among the electricians of the country. His death in the springtime of early manhood, when life held out bright hopes and prospects, and when his young family was so in need of his love and care, is sad in the extreme. Public sympathy goes out to the bereaved wife and little ones in their great sorrow.
The funeral will take place tomorrow morning at nine o’clock at St. Aloysius Church.

Wilkinson honored for World War I Duty

Published in the Redwood Gazette November 11, 1993, written by staff writer Vicki L. Gerdes

FRANKLIN – Seventy-five years ago today, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an historic treaty was signed which would put an end to what was then referred to as the “the war to end all wars.”
And on that same day, Ed. J. Wilkinson received word that he would be going home to the wife he had married just six months earlier.
Three children, 15 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and one great-great-granchild later, Wilkinson was feted Wednesday night with a special dinner and ceremony in his honor.
Wilkinson, 97, is one of an estimated 30,000 World War I veterans who have survived to see the 75th anniversary of the Armistice Day which ended the first war to have ever been fought on a global scale.
The Lyon County native grew up on a farm between Echo and Vesta, the oldest of seven children.
Scarcely a month after his marriage to wife Lily, Ed was drafted by the U.S. Army to serve his country as a member of the 622nd Field Signal Battalion.

Left: Edward Joseph & Lilie or Lily (Nemitz) Wilkinson 29 May 1918.
Right: Edward Joseph Wilkinson in his U.S. Army uniform.

He departed by train from North Redwood in June 1918.
Wilkinson remembered how, as the train continued on its journey to New Mexico, it would frequently stop to pick up new recruits.
“There were 12 carloads of us by the time we arrive (in New Mexico),” he said.
The first night after their arrival, the new recruits took one look at the meal which had been prepared for them, and promptly dumped it in the mess basket.
“The food was all right, but everything was all mixed together in one (helping),” Wilkinson recalled. “That first time no one would eat it, but the mess hall manager said, ‘Wait three days — it won’t be empty.’ And he was right — he knew what would happen once we got hungry enough.
After three months of basic training at Camp Cody, Wilkinson and his fellow soldiers were ready to make the trip overseas.
“They drilled us hard,” he said.
But they never got the chance to prove their fighting skills.
Shortly before getting their orders to ship out, the battalion was quarantined with influenza – which was a deadly epidemic which ravaged the camp and left few untouched.
“Carl Hultquist (from Belview) and I were the only ones who didn’t get it,” Wilkinson said.
Day after day, the group would eat and sleep outdoors, to prevent stale air from infecting those who had not yet fallen prey to the flu’s symptoms.
Though temperatures frequently reached 100 degrees during the day, the air would cool rapidly at night. Soldiers were given two planets to go underneath them, and another two for on top.
The fact that there hadn’t been any rainfall in the area for three years created another problem.
By moring, the wind had kicked up so much sand up on top of them that the blankets were difficult to lift off, Wilkinson said. The drifting sand s also made meals rather unpleasant.
“The wind would come up, and kick the sand up into our food,” Wilkinson said, adding that they were required to eat their meals regardless — sand and all.
Besides the sand, the two things Wilkinson remembered most about Camp Cody were the “rattlesnakes and cactus.”
In fact, Wilkinson remembered a time when, as usual, the line for the latrine (bathroom) was excruciatingly long, and suddenly, everyone inside came racing out full tilt.
One of the men had found a rattlesnake by one of the urinals.
“We had to wait until someone went in and shot the snake before we could go back inside,” he said. “It was a long wait.”
Still, he survived all these misadventures, and three months later, was among those who left Camp Cody to receive their discharge papers.
“By the time the quarantine was over, so was the war,” Wilkinson said.
As the flu epidemic had by that time spread throughout the U.S., the group traveled from camp to camp until they reached on which wasn’t quarantined, in Camp Dodge, Iowa. They spent the next few days waiting for their official discharge.
Upon returning home, Wilkinson resumed farming in the Vesta-Echo area.
With the “four good horses” which his parents and Lily’s parents had kept for him while he was at Camp Cody, Wilkinson resumed the occupation upon which he had embarked prior to being drafted, at the age of 19 — farming.
He also worked on the road rews which helped to build State Highway 19 from Morton through Gibbon.
Wilkinson recalled how culverts in those days were made big enough to enable cows and cattle to us them as paths to cross under the highway.
In the early years, the Wilkinsons moved around from farm to farm, as the depressed farm economy caused one operation after another to close down.
We would start a job, and stay a couple of years, then the farm was sold or the bank foreclosed…we had to move three or four times before I bought my first farm by Franklin, in 1939,” Wilkinson said.
He and Lily stayed on that farm until 1961, when they moved into Franklin.
Thirty-five years later, Ed still lives in his own home and drives his own car, though he admitted that, since Lily died three years ago, “it’s damned lonesome sometimes.”
He spends his time on various woodworking projects, when he’s not visiting with friends and family.
Thought slightly embarrassed by all the attention, Wilkinson was nevertheless honored when he received word that he and the other men who survived to see the 75th anniversary of the end of World War I would be receiving commemorative medals.
The Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation based in Chicago, Ill., had created a medal patterned after the World War I Victory Medal given to all those who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during that war.
Surrounded by a laurel wreath with symbolizes honor, the medallion is also encircled by a blue band bearing the inscription “75th Anniversary of World War I” at the bottom. The blue color signifies loyalty and devotion to duty. On the reverse side is an oak branch, representing strength and acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions of the veteran who fought for the freedom of this country.
The inscription, “They Came on the Wings of Eagles” comes from the historic World War I American Memorial Monument, located in St. Nazaire, France. Also inscribed on the medal are the words “A Grateful Nation Remembers” and the commemorative dates, 1918-1993.

More than 150 people came to the Cedar Mountain Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday night to watch Wilkinson receive his medal.
As his daughter, Faith Bock, said in her address to the group, “We feel very privileged that we’ve had him with us for so many years.
“Sometimes he has asked ‘Why me? Why am I the one who is left?’ But we are very grateful that he is still here with us.”

Fellow Legion member Vic Sather examines the World War I 75th Anniversary comemorative medal awared to WWI veteran Ed Wilkinson Wednesday night in Franklin. The medal honors the signing of the WWI armistice treaty, Nov. 11, 1918.

Besides Wilkinson, there are sever other known World War I veterans in Redwood and Renville counties, who have also been awarded one of these medals:
Arnold Miller, 93, of Wabasso.
Charles Selle, 94, of Buffalo Lake.
Frank Gaasch, 96, of Morton.
Harold Dirks, 96, of Olivia.
Richard Schuetz, 96, of Buffalo Lake.
Axel Christopherson, 96, of Morgan.
Carl Davidson, 100, of Belview.