The little town that could 2018: A year in review

By : 
Jordan Gerard

“I think I can.”

This is what the little engine said when it was pulling a heavy-laden train up a large mountain. The residents of Spring Grove also say, “I think I can,” and collectively it becomes, “We think we can.”

2018 was a good year for Spring Grove, with grant programs, new businesses, city park changes, school grants and remodels and much more.

As an editor, I am constantly surprised when I hear about a new grant or program Spring Grove receives to better our little town. It excites me to know I have a full edition each week.

We are a little town, but maybe we’re more like a little big town. We’ve got 1,330 people, yet we have amenities found in large cities and some big ideas. 

Like the country artists, “Little Big Town,” Spring Grovers shouldn’t feel any shame and should be proud of where they were born and raised (or transplanted).

Here’s just a few reasons why our town keeps chugging along, with satisfied residents all aboard.

City changes

Revving up the entrepreneurial culture in Spring Grove is the Rural Entrepreneurial Ventures (REV) program from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). The program kicked off in March. Spring Grove was one of six cities to be chosen.

It is designed to identify and develop sustainable systems for growing the entrepreneurial culture in Spring Grove.

So far, it’s connected beginning entrepreneurs to each other and to already established business owners.

“Spring Grove is fortunate to have so many successful stories of entrepreneurship, and we want to do more for these existing businesses as well as future entrepreneurs,” Courtney Bergey, Spring Grove EDA co-director said previously. “We are excited to use this program to learn about what’s working, what can be improved, and what new resources we need to create.”

Those in the program and outside of the program say they can feel it working, as the business environment feels more open to individuals who want to start businesses in Spring Grove.

Several ideas have come out of the program’s first year, including the need to create a chamber of commerce and attracting businesses to the EDA land east of town.

What has really helped move things along in the city is the re-creation of a city administrator position. That position went to Annemarie Selness.

While helping the city focus on long-term goals such as addressing the need for lodging and tourism, Selness has written grants for the city. One of those is a feasibility study for a fat-tire bike trail around town. If granted, the city will work with UW-L students to plan the trail and define how much it would cost.

Selness’s position also relieves workload from City Clerk/Treasurer Erin Konkel and CEDA associate Courtney Bergey.

The Corner Store was a topic of many council meetings, and for good reason. The municipal liquor store received a good audit for 2017, and profits totaled more than $100,000 in its fund.

“We’re very consistent, and customers like consistent staff and hours,” manager Joe Kessler said. “People have favorites (bars), but they come in here because we’re open.”

Because of that, the city is able to purchase items that provide a benefit to city departments. 

The fire department was able to purchase a cutter, spreader, ram and stabilization kit. The city gifted $25,000 from the funds.

Trollskogen Park received $8,000 from the liquor store funds in order to help pay for new playground equipment. New slides, swings, zipline, brick pathway, parking lot and sidewalks are in the process of being installed.

The baseball field remodel project received funds to cover the new concession stand, bathrooms and crow’s nest.

Roverud Park saw clean up with a $5,000 grant from the Feed-A-Bee project, a national effort to provide pollinator habitats for bees and butterflies. Shooting Star Native Seeds provided the in-kind match for the grant and the seeds.

Noxious and suffocating weeds were burned off by the fire department. Planted in their place and in the waterway of the park are native seeds and oats. 

Species and varieties like milkweed, asters, switchgrass, wild rye, yellow coneflower and more will bloom within three years.

School changes

Spring Grove Public School District received a Makerspace grant in the amount of $10,000 through SMIF in 2017. 

From that class, students learned hands-on skills, such as robotics, veterinary science, small engines, woodworking and more.

Now in 2018, they finish that program with the design of a Habitat for Humanity home that will be built in Spring Grove.

Aptly named the Heritage House, local architectural designer Miranda Moen is helping students through the designing process. So far, they’ve created a home that’s energy efficient and space saving.

Once the students have decided on the final design, it goes to Habitat’s architects to check out any design flaws or adjustments as needed. 

Then, four committees do the work of gathering volunteers, finding a willing partner family, fundraising for $75,000 and local subcontractors to partner. Look for more information about this story in 2019’s editions.

The school was also awarded a $150,000 Bush Foundation grant for personalized learning and school redesign.

This has led to several new developments at school, the biggest of which is the changing of the main entrance, district office relocation and the creation of the Math Learning Center (MLC).

School administration, staff, students and board members met with architects from Fielding-Nair International, who helped identify needs and wants such as more natural lighting, flexible learning furniture and front entrance redesign.

Those new to Spring Grove had trouble finding the main entrance to the school. In 2019, visitors to the school will enter through the first door, now more easily identified, into the district office. It also makes the school safer, as it forces visitors to check in at the office before going through to students. The new office is expected be open in January.

In the district’s office old location is the new MLC, shared by teachers Kelsey Morken and Chris Strinmoen. So far, students love the new space with tall tables, writing on the walls (special whiteboard paint), a breakout space and large TV screen, allowing all to see lessons.

New businesses

Spring Grove and Houston County saw new businesses and changes in existing businesses.

First for Spring Grove is Black Hammer Stables, owned by James and Samantha Cunningham.

Cunningham is able to teach riding lessons on all levels, and skills like dressage, jumping and hunter.

Lessons will start again in the spring and so will trail rides and birthday parties. Cunningham’s goal in teaching students is to create a natural partnership with the horse.

“Natural horsemanship is as a big response as you get with little pressure,” she said. “It’s a ‘how little can we ask of a horse and how high will they jump’ proposition.”

Call Cunningham at 507-450-6775 for information about riding lessons, trail rides and birthday parties at Black Hammer Stables.

Houston County saw a change in a familiar business at Camp Winnebago, as it changed over to Winnebago Springs.

Dustin Meyer and his brother Darin purchased the property as a new adventure and something different from farming.

It is now a wedding venue and vacation destination with the remodel of cabins and creation of an air chapel. An air chapel allows outdoor weddings to happen without the worry of bad weather.

“This is Houston County’s hidden gem. I think it’s very important for people to enjoy it,” Dustin Meyer said.

The venue looks forward to many weddings and vacationers.

Spring Grove Communications saw a change in leadership after 40 year-General Manager/CEO Craig Otterness was escorted from his office in Oct. 2017, for reasons the company could not disclose.

In his place came Jill Fishbaugher of Harmony, who worked as the company’s accountant for the last 10 years.

“I think the focus of Spring Grove Communications is moving forward as a premier technology company,” she said. “I want to help the board and employees develop plans to bring that plan to fruition.”

SGC announced plans to create MiBroadband with Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company, Harmony Telephone Company and MiEnergy Cooperative. The new initiative will bring broadband and high-speed internet to rural areas.


Spring Grove saw its first large music concert with the inaugural Musikk Fest during Syttende Mai.

Headliners were Spring Grove High School student Abby Towne, area musicians The Avey/Grouws Band and country music star Joe Diffie.

The weekend exceeded expectations in every way from attendance to quality of music entertainment. 

“It went better than I would have dreamed for the first year,” Syttende Mai Committee President Patrick Longmire said. “There wasn’t ever a time when something went majorly wrong. No fires to put out.”

For 2019, the committee has acquired country music stars Tyler Farr, Mark Chesnutt and Kimberly Dunn. Buy advance tickets now online at and reserve May 17-19 for Syttende Mai 2019. Look for more event details in the 2019 editions.

Classic Spring Grove event Ye Olde Opera House (YOOH) summer musicals celebrated 40 years in 2018, with “Annie.”

The musicals began in 1978 with “Annie, Get Your Gun.” At first, it didn’t seem as though the musical would happen because there was no stage, no directors, no pianist and a very short time frame.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and of course, Spring Grove finds a way.

Jane Wold and Alice Spenser went to Jennings Bank and “the movers and the shakers in town” to get seed money, and thus, the show would go on.

After a successful show, YOOH has delighted audiences with musicals held at the Ye Olde Gray Barn east of town, along with dinner and a show.

Favorites tend to be classics like “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man” and “Annie,” while more modern and newer musicals have surprised audiences, such as “Urinetown,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Chicago.”

2019’s musical is “Godspell,” a series of parables primarily based in the Gospel of Matthew. Look for more details in 2019 editions.

Thank you to our readers

If I kept writing about all of the good things that happened in Spring Grove in 2018, I’d just have to attach all 52 weekly editions together.

We are the little town that just keeps chugging along with our many ideas and ventures. We know that no matter where our residents go, they keep their heart and soul in Spring Grove.

We’d like thank our loyal readers for continuing to subscribe and support the Spring Grove Herald, and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy putting it together each week.