Few have made a mark on the Le Sueur community like Dianne Pinney. The head librarian of the Waseca-Le Sueur Regional Library System built up the Le Sueur location and inspired a love of reading in children and adults over her 40 years of service.
On Sept. 25, Pinney celebrated her last day at the library before retirement, allowing new head librarian Jessi Zimmerman to take the reins.
A new face
Zimmerman is just getting to know the Le Sueur community, but she’s been active as a librarian for a long time. Born and raised on a farm near New Ulm, Zimmerman said she first took an interest in libraries at a young age when she began reading and pulling books off the bookmobile at school.
In 2013, she began working in a library full time and decided to pursue a career as a librarian, graduating from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s online program in 2015.
Zimerman’s work experience has been primarily focused in academic research libraries, so heading a public library will be a new adventure. But Zimmerman said she is thrilled to learn more about the Le Sueur community.
“Now I’m excited really to work with more community-based library programs and working one-on-one with people who really are lovers of books and fiction and equipment and movies and everything that the library offers,” said Zimmerman.
Her favorite part of the job so far has been meeting and interacting with the Le Sueur Library’s regulars.
“Really meeting a lot of the community members that really embrace the library, so many that come in and say ‘You’ll see me around here a lot,’ ‘You’ll see my face here weekly,’” said Zimmerman. “Starting to put names to I guess half-faces with masks and getting to know names and what things people like to read.“
The community has been interested in meeting Zimmerman too. The new librarian said that the community has been welcoming and she’s had many people come into say hi, which is a reassuring feeling as she looks forward to bringing her own ideas for activities and leaving her own mark on the library.
“Coming in off of [Pinney’s] legacy and still being embraced by people has been very nice, very heartwarming,” said Zimmerman. “One of the reasons we love libraries is we love the community that we support. That’s been the best part so far and trying to figure out where can I put my stamp on it? What areas can I either improve or what areas can I put my mark on?”
Some of the first major activities Zimmerman is planning are “Make and Take’s” starting in November, programming that kids, teens and adults can take home and do to accommodate the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The library is also hosting the annual Kindred Kwilter’s Quilt Club October Show. Each member of the club was challenged to complete a quilt themed around something that relates to their initials. Information for those interested in joining the club will be available at the library.
When she’s not at the library, Zimmerman is often accompanied by her two cats Callie and Sassoon and her two dogs Laika and Petey. She also runs a homemade craft shop on the side where she makes decorative flowers with felt.
And, of course, Zimmerman is an avid reader, so much so that it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, though she fell in love with “The Boxcar Children” as a kid and is currently enjoying “Before the Ever After” by Jacqueline Woodson.
“I do a lot of reading and I will especially do a lot more reading now, because I am trying to become more familiar with genres that maybe I haven’t read before,” said Zimmerman. “But now that I am in a public position, I am trying to familiarize myself with some of these genres.”
A community says goodbye
The Friends of the Library couldn’t get Dianne Pinney the bronze statue they thought she deserved, but they did gift her a retirement celebration that Pinney won’t ever forget.
Members of the community gathered outside the library on Sept. 25 to celebrate the storied career of Pinney. Library staff members who spoke at the event recalled that Pinney has played many roles in her 40 years as Le Sueur librarian, from the literary critic who would give patrons recommendations on what to read, the tech enthusiast who kept up with new technologies as they came to the library, the graphic designer putting together brochures and flyers, the actor who lead children in storyhour and puppet shows, the musician who sang in karaoke and sing-a-longs and the game host who took charge of trivia nights and all sorts of activities.
Pinney’s tireless efforts to foster a library worth coming to every day has inspired her colleagues, patrons and the young children who attended storytime with Elephant and Piggie.
Emily Sullivan loved to participate in the activities at the library, and as a member of the Teen Advisory Board she had the chance to plan those activities with Pinney. At the retirement celebration, Sullivan said that reading books with the advisory board, developing activities and participating in activities was not only fun but gave her a chance to express her creativity.
“On behalf of the Teen Board I would like to say thank you Dianne for being such a big part of this, for allowing us to be ourselves and allowing us to express our creativity in these projects,” said Sullivan.
Brigid Tuck, a member of the Friends of the Library, has known Pinney since she was a kid in her storyhour. She was a quiet child, but Pinney embraced her and fostered a love of reading and as an adult, when she brought her two-year old to storyhour, Pinney sucked her back into the library all over again.
But Pinney really made a lasting impression on Tuck when as a girl she wanted to invite Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to invite him to her family farm. She marched up to Pinney asking for his address and surprisingly — or rather unsurprisingly if you know Pinney — she found the Soviet President’s address in a book and helped her write the letter.
“I’m sure my stamp did not get into Russia, but the fact that you listened to a kid and you took her seriously. Seriously,” said Tuck. “Coming here I saw that reading isn’t nerdy; reading’s not dumb. It’s not only for geeky kids, but for someone to say reading is amazing, reading is a fun, there’s an adventure in every book and that is huge for a kid.”
The Friends of the Library didn’t just bring praise for Pinney, but also gifts. After bringing a teary-eyed Pinney to the library steps, the friends awarded her with a signed print from Mo Willems, the author of the Elephant and Piggie series.
Alice Retka, a member of the Friends of the Library, said she contacted an art gallery in New York where Willems’ pieces were hanging. A man who worked at the gallery knew how to get in contact with Willems and Retka asked if he ever responded to fan mail. The man replied that Willems normally didn’t due to his popularity, but then Retka told him all about Pinney.
“I told him all about Dianne’s life and we had quite a conversation over a couple phone calls,” said Retka. “And he ends up gingerly telling me, ‘You know, Mo lives in our community and he comes in sometimes and I’ll ask him if he’ll autograph it for your friend Dianne. A couple weeks later this package came in the mail.”
And that was just the tip of the honors Pinney received. The Friends of the Library also presented Pinney with a declaration from Gov. Tim Walz recognizing her years of service at the library. On top of that Pinney has been announced as the winner of the William G. Asp Distinguished Career Award from the Minnesota Library Association. The award recognizes those who have been innovative and active leaders in the development of their libraries.
To ensure that the Le Sueur Library continues to thrive after Pinney’s retirement, Friends of the Library also set up a $10,000 Le Sueur Library Children’s Fund in honor of Pinney. In just a month, the endowed fund received more than $7,000 in additional donations in honor of Pinney’s retirement. Annual receipts from the fund will be used to support children’s activities at the library.
Pinney’s words at the celebration were brief, but she left an extended message on Facebook thanking the community for their support and her colleagues picking up the slack and putting the library first.
“If you had told me, 40 years ago, that my job would become magical, I might have laughed a little. Or a lot,” said Pinney. “But this community of readers has astounded me at every corner. If I wanted to try something new, you were all in. If it didn’t fly, you came back to the next thing anyway. Willing to give another new thing a shot. Extraordinary. You have no idea how much I have appreciated this support. A good library is only a good library if people use it. Love it. Keep coming back to it.”
“Le Sueur, when you see me on the street, ask me what I’m reading. Well, unless you don’t have an hour to kill. Then you should just comment on the weather. It is, after all, Minnesota. See you on the other side of the desk.”
Bars and restaurants have been some of the most vulnerable businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has been no more kind to veterans service organizations, like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which often rely on food and drink service to fund their activities.
In Le Center, American Legion Post 108 has faced an uphill battle since the bar was closed until mid-June. Even though the club is now open, crowds have fallen off and those that do come aren’t staying as long. Club Chair Bob Lowe reported that revenue has dropped between 60-70%, while many expenditures, like insurance and property taxes, have remained steady.
“Those expenditures don’t go down, so you’re trying to pay the same amount of property taxes, insurance etc. as before with much less revenue,” said Lowe. “It’s been very hard.”
Those financial struggles are made more difficult by a lack of entertainment options. Ordinarily, the Legion would bring in live entertainment and music to bring in the crowds, but state restrictions under Gov. Tim Walz has made that impossible.
Smaller events are still possible like bingo, which is making its return to the Legion every Tuesday night starting in October. But making use of the space with other entertainment options is difficult while respecting social distancing.
The Legion has benefitted from a PPP loan from the federal government, but that loan can only be used to subsidize payroll costs. The Legion’s other efforts to pursue grants and relief loans have been unsuccessful.
Trying to make ends meet, the club recently turned to community fundraising, receiving $3,000 in donations to replace the kitchen’s air conditioning unit, which is broken beyond repair. The AC unit costs more than $6,500 to replace.
Some members of the Le Center community have shown their support unprompted, including a couple that donated $1,800 to the club, saying “that’s probably what we would’ve lost playing Bingo.” To keep the club up and running, Lowe said the Legion will need a lot of staff and volunteer support.
“Like most of the legions and service clubs in the state, we’re going to struggle,” said Lowe. “It’s going to take a lot of work ont he part of a lot of people including much needed volunteers to keep those clubs open and operating. We’re waiting patiently for things to get back to the new normal, but it’s going to be a very, very difficult road ahead for all of us.”
Not all veterans organizations have had to worry about their bar operations. The Le Sueur VFW does not own or operate a building, which has given the organization some flexibility in the pandemic. Even as major fundraisers, like the poppy distributions, have been delayed, the VFW still has enough funds to support its activities and scholarships.
“We can still continue on with skipping it, and that’s the thing with having a post home; we don’t have the bills that the other ones have,” said VFW Commander Shannon Frost. “Whether it’s rent or utilities or salary, we don’t have any of that to worry about, so we’ll be alright.”
Not having a building has had some drawbacks though. Whenever the VFW wants to host a meeting, a property owner has to be able to accommodate them. And in the fall season, it is too cold for outdoor meetings. Due to these factors and the aging membership, the VFW has held off on meetings during the pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the organization from serving veterans, said Frost.
“Our main purpose is taking care of veterans and that’s happening virus or not,” she said.
The St. Peter Legion decided to remain closed, for the time being, to remodel the club room and hallways with a fresh coat of paint and sheetrocking. Post 37 Commander Shawn Schloesser explained that the St. Peter Legion decided to take on these projects in spring, due to the uncertainty of when the establishment would be able to reopen. As the Legion is on the verge of finishing its remodeling, Schloesser said he wants to ensure that it will be safe for the community before welcoming them back.
“Those that frequented our establishment, they’re ready for us to open our doors, but we’re willing to make sure because we recognize that the majority of our community — both in staffing and in membership — meet that high risk criteria,” said Schloesser. “We want to make sure that when we open, we do so in a safe and responsible manner and make sure that everyone is healthy.”
To meet that safety criteria, Schloesser said that the Legion will make some changes upon reopening. The bar will remain closed while the Legion’s social space will be used as a bar instead. Leaders are also working with the Small Business Development Center to build an alternative business plan that will be less susceptible to a pandemic-induced closure.
While the building has been closed, it hasn’t stopped the St. Peter Legion from carrying out other activities. In addition to it’s veteran programming, the St. Peter Legion has hosted a number of curbside events, including a Fourth of July barbecue drive-thru.
For Halloween, the Legion is currently working with the city of St. Peter to see if a trick or treat event would be possible. Last year, the Legion hosted a Halloween for children with special sensory needs, like autism.
More space will soon be available to potential high-flying businesses after a recent land purchase by the city of Le Sueur.
In April, the City Council agreed to purchase 1.84 acres of land to the east of the Le Sueur Airport to allow for the development of future hangars. Later in September, the United States Department of Transportation said Le Sueur’s land acquisition was one of 16 Minnesota airport infrastructure projects to be funded through the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Le Sueur airport was the recipient of $226,000 in grant monies out of a total $27.6 million allocated to the state of Minnesota. Nationwide, the FAA delivered grants to 405 airports, totaling $1.2 billion.
“This $1.2 billion federal investment will improve our nation’s airport infrastructure, enhance safety, and strengthen growth in local communities, which is especially important as the economy recovers from COVID-19,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
In Le Sueur, that money will go toward expanding the Le Sueur airport to host private aircrafts and businesses. Starting in 2022, individuals and businesses will be able to rent portions of the land, allowing for the construction of 18 hangars to house private aircraft.
The hangars would not be built by the city, but instead by private companies and could have a variety of uses. Public Services Director Rich Kucera said that the space may be used by aviation-based companies like Scott’s Helicopter Services in Le Sueur, which owns and operates helicopters for transportation, aerial photography and survey, aerial lifts and manages an FAA repair station.
The city has also received requests from drop-in pilots interested in P-hangers to store their plane while in town.
“We’re trying to work with the EDA to find ways to bring businesses in and that involves like Scott’s Helicopters are already out there,” said Kucera. “More areas and building facilities are needed for something like that.”
To accommodate the new space, the Le Sueur Airport would have a revised layout. A new entrance road is planned to run just to the north of newly acquired lot and pavement along the existing entryway would be removed.
New roadway would be constructed off a taxiway, which would branch off into two paths with four hangars on each side of one path and five hangars on each side of the other.
The city sees future airport infrastructure as a way to boost economic activity in the city and surrounding area. A 2019 report from the Minnesota Department of Transportation details that the Le Sueur Airport employs 53 people and generates $5.3 million in economic activity between payroll and spending.
The FAA grant covers most of the total estimated project cost of $227,000. The land itself was purchased for $145,000, with another $50,000 owed to Bolton and Menk for land acquisition services, $19,000 to demolish the property on the parcel and $13,000 for city administrative costs.
Local costs will be paid for through the capital improvement fund for a taxiway extension on the airport. The extension was delayed by the Airport Commission so that the city could move forward on the land purchase.
“If we get an employer in there or an airplane restoration business, that could definitely bring jobs into the airport directly and the city, too,” said Kucera. “It will help the community and the city grow.”