Although the fall weather filled the air with a chilly breeze, Kenyon Public Library’s Story Time in the Park attendees on Sept. 30 didn’t seem to mind, especially since there was a colorful parachute and several fun stories on the agenda.
The Library’s story time resumed outdoors Sept. 9 after being shut down for months due to the pandemic.
Whether young participants in one of the Library’s children programs had been to story time before, or just started attending in September, the smiles on their faces proved they were happy to be back exploring new ideas and spending time with new and/or old friends.
Parents of children at the Sept. 30 story time were equally as happy to be able to bring their children back to story time.
Zumbrota resident Chelsey Petermann just began attending the story time program after it resumed since her local library was only offering story time virtually. Petermann said she enjoys that her children can take part in the activity and socialization aspects of the program, especially for her son, who she describes as a “social kid.”
Local parent and frequent story time participant Erin Johnson said her kids were happy to be back, too, and enjoy seeing their friends each week and creating fun, new memories with them.
During the 30-45 minute program, children typically listen to two or three books that are read, sing songs, participate in activities and create a craft revolving around the weekly theme. Barb Bonde, Kenyon Public Library’s Children’s Librarian, hosts the story time adventures and always interacts with the children in some way through her tone, words and actions.
Although some items had to be crossed off the list due limitations in an outdoor setting, Bonde says she’s glad to again be able to offer some type of programming for children. The programs are designed to teach preschoolers creative expression, social skills, listening and comprehension skills and the basics of reading through number and letter recognition and aid in vocabulary building and cognitive development.
The Sept. 30 theme was parachutes. Before children were able to experiment with different types of parachute shapes and games, Bonde read two books to them about fall and different things that typically happen this time of year.
While reading the books to the children, Bonde asked them questions, putting an emphasis on certain words to make it engaging. As Bonde noticed some of the attendees getting a little cold and tired of sitting, she brought out the popular kid’s activity — the parachute. Each child held tightly onto one of the parachute’s handles and followed along with Bonde’s directions to make different types of parachutes like a mushroom shape and both small and large waves. Once they completed those tasks, it was time to bring in some different sized props to explore with — rubber balls and ping pong balls.
As children moved the larger and smaller balls around the parachute, they giggled with excitement. To ensure none of the balls were blown away in the wind, Bonde urged children to pick them up immediately after flinging them into the air. Using their shirts and pockets, they collected as many balls as they could in one trip.
To conclude the story time fun for the morning, Bonde led a goodbye song that had children touch their toes, put their hands up to the sky and finally, wave goodbye.
Although he didn’t walk into the VFW Post 141 looking for a job 17 years ago, when Kenyon native Don Skillestad walked out of the VFW that day, he gained five jobs. He later inherited the club manager’s role, and the rest, Skillestad says is history.
After ending his career at the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Jail, Skillestad wanted to fill his newfound time volunteering at the VFW. That’s when he asked VFW staff and members if they needed a hand. Now, after serving as the VFW Post’s quartermaster for 17 years and club manager for about 11, Skillestad officially retired from both roles on Oct. 1.
VFW Kitchen Manager Renee Mund will serve as interim club manager under Skillestad’s guidance until the VFW hires a new manager. He offered to answer any questions the new manager may have once the permanent position is filled. As for quartermaster, Skillestad will show VFW Commander Scott Quamme the ropes. Since it’s an organization he’s still involved in, Skillestad will help out when he can.
Of filling in as interim manager, Mund said, “It’ll be big shoes to fill, but I’ll hopefully just learn more about day to day learning … knowing when deliveries come and doing more of the ordering and inventory.”
Looking ahead to the next few months, Skillestad doesn’t exactly know how that will look and/or what he will do. He plans to make himself available to volunteer, whether it be in his church or any of the five veterans organizations he is involved in — Disabled Veterans, Goodhue County United Veterans, Conrad Ostum VFW Post #141, Joseph A Gates American Legion Post #78 and Kenyon Veterans Color Guard.
Skillestad says he also wants to help his kids in their careers where needed.
“With the fire department, I can help clean trucks because those guys are so busy,” said Skillestad, a retired fireman of 15-20 years. “My daughter, who works at HealthFinders in Faribault, also said they can always find things for him to do … Officially, I’ve worn a lot of hats over the years.”
One thing Skillestad looks forward to is being able to attend family events and not having to worry about missing them due to covering shifts, etc at the VFW.
Over the years, he’s enjoyed the camaraderie with those who stop by the VFW for different things.
“What’s really enjoyable is when you have people that aren’t local that have heard about it and have supper,” said Skillestad of the VFW’s popular Mixer Nights. “When you come here for supper, you get a meal.”
Mund also enjoys the camaraderie between coworkers and listening to the local coffee guys’ conversations in the morning. She says they are fascinating and funny at the same time.
She describes Skillestad as someone who has always been easy to talk to, accessible and someone who can help with anything. Since he knows the VFW so well, he can offer many perspectives to help and refer her to someone else if more information is needed.
In a Facebook post, the VFW Post 141 thanked Skillestad for his many years of service, wished him well on his retirement and reminded him that now it’s his time to sit down for morning coffee.
A rocky road ahead
Skillestad worries about the VFW moving forward, as many veterans organizations across the nation have closed their doors. The Faribault VFW closed in 2014, and in the cities, Skillestad said, four VFWs consolidated with another VFW.
The Kenyon VFW is home to meetings for the Legion, VFW, VFW Auxiliary, Lions Club, Snowmobile Club, Fire Department and it also hosts a coffee group of guys six days a week. Skillestad says they also host weddings and class reunions, none of which were able to be held throughout the course of summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. While the VFW can hold about 200 people, 50% capacity guidelines would only allow 100, so Skillestad hasn’t scheduled anything for that reason to keep numbers down.
While the VFW was closed for several months due to COVID-19, there was no revenue, but the monthly utility, gas and air conditioning bills still had to be paid. There also weren’t funds coming in from gambling funds, so the VFW couldn’t donate anything to those in need, what Skillestad describes as a ripple effect.
Skillestad says the day to day business at the bar doesn’t really amount to much, but hosting weekly events such as Wing Nights, Burger Basket Nights and Mixer Nights get people inside the building. Wedding receptions are one of the more common events — along with Rose Fest, Veterans Day and Memorial Day — that bring revenue into the VFW.
“This place is really hurting,” said Skillestad of the recent changes.
The VFW, Skillestad says relies on volunteers and donations. He stresses the importance of the community coming into the VFW as a show of support, even if it is to purchase a can of pop.
Mund, who’s been kitchen manager at the VFW for eight years, said it’s slowly getting back into the routine of hosting meal nights, and she hopes it will become more active again.
Just recently, the VFW applied for Emergency COVID Relief Funding to offset expenses, as the VFW’s day to day expenses are paid by receipts generated by the kitchen and club operations. The club has used its savings, raised to pay for updates to the kitchen, to pay routine bills. The VFW not only provides a meeting facility, but it also loans medical equipment to those in need and provides financial support to schools and area nonprofits.
At a September Kenyon City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution that would credit 50% of 2021’s liquor license fee, up to $600 for local liquor establishments that had to close for several months. This includes the VFW, Kenyon Golf Course and Kenyon Bar and Grill.
Ryan Weingart, who was running for a seat on the Kenyon City Council, died Saturday at his home.
Weingart, 47, was disabled from ongoing cancer battles since 2009. Before that, he served as a subcontracted operations manager for two locations for New Jersey Transit’s ‘Access Link’ — its disabled and special needs transportation services.
Although Weingart hadn’t served the community in an elected position, in an interview last week he said he was truly hoping to have a chance to give back to the community that had been his home since 2010.
Kenyon City Administrator Mark Vahlsing said the ballots already have been printed and City Attorney Scott Riggs made sure there weren’t any legal actions the city needed to take in terms of postponing the election.
Based on Riggs’ findings, Vahlsing said from 73 days until election, if someone dies on the ballot for either city council/mayor, if that person wins the election, the council would declare a vacancy and advertise for the seat and have those interested send in letters. The council would then appoint someone to that two-year term, similar to when Mayor Mike Engel died last year.
In that case, City Council member Doug Henke stepped into the mayor seat, and Tom Gard temporarily filled Henke’s seat. Since Engel’s seat had less than two years remaining, the city didn’t hold a special election. Instead, they filled the position until December 2020.
Since Henke’s council term had more than two years remaining, the appointed councilor would serve until the next election, when the city would hold a special election for a two-year council term, in which Gard is running for.
The death of Adam Weeks, a Goodhue County farmer and third-party candidate running for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, will change the date of that election to Feb. 9 unless the DFL incumbent Angie Craig, prevails in a lawsuit seeking to keep the election on Nov. 3.
That race, which involves partisan candidates, is treated differently by state statute.
This weekend, community members can learn more about several Kenyon natives who contributed to the city.
Kenyon Area Historical Society’s event, Tales and Treats, runs from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Kenyon Cemetery, on the east end of town to the north on Slee Street. Masks and proper social distancing are requested.
All are encouraged to spend some time in the cemetery enjoying the short presentations at all nine grave sites, asking questions and possibly developing an appreciation for those who founded Kenyon and contributed to its growth and prosperity.
Attendees will be asked to come to the starting point on the south end of the cemetery at the speaker’s stand to receive a “postcard,” put their name on it and begin visiting the sites. At each stone, their postcards will be stamped or punched before going to the next site. At the end, or when attendees finish, they will bring their postcard back to the starting point, receive a treat bag and leave their postcard with the person there. The returned postcards will entitle each attendee to a free tour of the Gunderson House at a later date.
Each person honored at the grave sites was important in either the settling of Kenyon, town property and/or history of the Gunderson House. Relatives, associates and friends of the deceased are being asked to be at the grave site to give a 3- to 5-minute talk about the person, their connection to Kenyon and the contributions they brought to Kenyon.
Kenyon Area Historical Society Board member Kevin Anderson said approximately 20-30 of the people buried in the cemetery who have connections to Kenyon. Although they aren’t always the movers and shakers, Anderson said they are good citizens and everyday people others may know.
Stories about the following people will be presented at the cemetery walk:
• Frank and Beulah Callister — Frank started working at The Kenyon Leader in 1927, eventually moving to a reporter, columnist and owner. Beulah came to Kenyon as a teacher and was the junior high principal. They were big promoters of everything related to Kenyon.
• Wayne Flaten — Wayne was an outstanding Kenyon High School athlete. One of his most notable achievements was being the first Kenyon American Legion baseball coach.
• Ora Goodfellow — Ora was a long-time postmaster in Kenyon.
• The M.T. Gunderson family — M.T. Gunderson was an entrepreneur and the owner of the Gunderson House on the west end of Kenyon. His daughter, Hattie, lived in the house until 1975. After her passing, the Gunderson family bequeathed the house to the city of Kenyon.
• Fred Harapat — Fred was a teacher and served the Kenyon school district as superintendent from 1944 until the late 1960s.
• Milo Peterson — Milo was a Kenyon business man who first owned a service station and sold used cars in Kenyon. Later he purchased the Ford dealership in town and built it into the Milo Peterson Ford Co. Today the dealership is owned by his grandson.
• L.G. Picha — L.G. was a teacher and athletic coach at Kenyon High School for more than 40 years.
• Harold Severson — Harold was a newspaperman and book author. He wrote the 1976 book “We Give You Kenyon” and was also a columnist for the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
• Graydon “Soup” Stromme — Graydon was a renowned athlete at Kenyon High School and St. Olaf College. He taught and coached at Duluth Morgan Park High School.
Preserve the past
KAHS Board Member Cora Lee Monroe said the society’s board members are always looking for ways to promote interest in the Gunderson House and Gunderson families. After receiving a recommendation from someone to hold a cemetery walk for a fall activity, the idea flourished with an array of ideas and combined it with Halloween treats and future Gunderson House tours.
“Cemeteries are not scary, they are full of information, history, connections, peace, solitude and growth,” said Monroe of Saturday’s event. “There is no cost but donations to the Gunderson House are always welcome for its maintenance and other projects.”
Anderson adds that members try to get out and promote the Historical Society and host some events free of charge when they are able.
“We have so many new people in town … maybe we can make connections with them and make them feel a part of their community if they can connect with these names,” Anderson said.
The Historical Society is open to any members who are interested in joining, no matter where their roots are from. Anderson said a large number of the current group consists of members who are non-natives that have moved to town.
“We’re all people who are interested in the history, and want to preserve things in the community,” Anderson said.
Jane Nystuen, who is presenting information on her parents, Frank and Beulah Callister, said through growing up in a small town, she can now look back and appreciate the sacrifices and choices the generation before her made to create a happy and stable environment to grow up in.
“As the daughter of the editor of The Kenyon Leader, I grew up seeing my dad, Frank Callister, along with many others in the community attend meetings, plan celebrations, bring new businesses into Kenyon, and welcome anyone, regardless of their heritage, religion or political views,” said Nystuen of her recollection of memories. “There are too many to mention, but names like Picha, Bergh, Reko, Neilson, Boles, Harapat and Warsler come to mind.”
Nystuen says Kenyon’s Historical Society continues to remind community members of the care their ancestors took in building up their small and inviting town.
“By hosting events such as the ‘Cemetery Walk’ on Oct. 10, these dedicated members help us call to mind those who worked hard to establish Kenyon, where businesses could provide the needs of our community and those of us living here could experience a safe and inviting environment,” said Nystuen. “I applaud the members of our historical society for realizing the value of the pioneers of our past and how they have shaped the people who have grown up here and also those who have joined our community.”