Letter: You’re invited to a (big) Lanesboro party

When the popular American humorist Dave Barry turned 50 he listed 25 things he learned in his first five decades. Number 10? “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.”

Well, I don’t agree with Dave Barry. Most people don’t. Especially the good people of Lanesboro, Minnesota, who this year are making a very big deal about their town’s birthday. Why shouldn’t they? It’s not every day that someone turns 150!

In 1869 Lanesboro received its “birth announcement,” official incorporation papers from the State of Minnesota, at that time only 11 years old itself. A small group of imaginative investors and local landowners had pulled off their big, almost crazy idea to plant a new village in the rich soil of the Root River valley. Soon the railroad was delivering scores of curious tourists and eager new residents, many from as far away as Ireland, Germany and Norway.

The idea became a boomtown. Farmers thrived, mills powered by the sturdy new dam on the Root River were grinding away, a five-star hotel held its grand opening, and local shops were bursting with fancy merchandise. (Buffalo Bill even stopped by for a visit). At a point in history when more people lived in Fillmore County than in Hennepin County, Lanesboro was the place to be.

The town rode an economic roller-coaster over the next century. Ag troubles, the Great Depression, and the end of rail traffic were low points. Then came revival ignited by artists who, along with other projects, started the Commonweal Theater; the opening of an eventual 60-mile ribbon of paved bike trail; and an influx of creative entrepreneurs who put Lanesboro on the map as the official Rhubarb and B & B Capitals of Minnesota. No wonder there’s so much to celebrate!

Birthdays are for people. Lanesboro’s sesquicentennial cake will have candles for all of them. We’ll light them for pioneers and founders with names like Scanlon, Habberstad, Brayton, Nelson and Greer. There will be candles, too, for thousands of other people whose names have faded, hard-working, community-minded people who built and sustained this bluff country town, who raised families here, who dealt with life’s ups-and-downs.

So many candles for so many special people. First among them: men and women from Lanesboro who went off to serve, fight, and in a few cases even die, in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Their candles will never go out. For teachers (like Rose Bell) who invested in the children, for farm families who labored in sunbaked fields, for doctors, nurses, car mechanics, cooks, pastors, postal workers, photographers, barbers, grocers, shoe makers and shop keepers. All deserve candles on this big cake.

Let's light some to honor the town’s longest-running businesses. The Schwichtenbergs started S & A Petroleum in 1978; today that family still runs the BP in the same location. Kudos to the Nelsons, successfully running the Lanesboro Sales Commission since 1994 (maintaining a business that began in 1947). Preble Farmers’ Mutual Fire Insurance was incorporated way back in 1880, and moved to Lanesboro in 1951. The Krage family has managed the business since 1970 that currently serves 1,400 families across nine counties. Rolland and Irene Vis started Vis Plumbing and Heating in 1965, an operation now overseen by their family, Jon, Barb, Michael and Laura. (The Wilford family also operates Emil Farqart's, a popular downtown gift shop). Preston Specialties, Inc., run by the Brehm family, has produced unique cardboard packaging and pallets since 1976. The Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce will publish podcasts of these business owners’ stories and more on the 150th website, so be sure to listen in to hear about their ingenuity and longevity throughout the year.

We can’t overlook our amazing “newcomers,” either, so many wonderful people who have discovered Lanesboro more recently, bringing their own unique experience, energy, vision, and creativity. Their candles on the cake brighten Lanesboro’s future.

Yes, there’s good reason for a party in Lanesboro in 2019. Come join the fun!

Steve Harris is the author, of “Lanesboro, Minnesota.” Throughout 2019, Lanesboro has been celebrating its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary. Celebrations culminate over the weekend of July 4 to 7. Visit https://150.lanesboro.com or https://150.lanesboro.com/sesquicentennial-events for all the details and schedule.