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Large mural takes trip to history center
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A crew of several people guided a 6-foot-by-21-foot mural through a doorway and into the alley behind Jerry’s Supper Club on Wednesday morning.

In a matter of a few minutes, the boarded up mural was picked up by a forklift, placed on the back of a semitruck and stabilized between metal poles. The nearly 60-year-old iconic mural then made the mile-and-a-half journey to the Steele County Historical Society History Center — its new home.

Upon arrival, the mural was lowered off the truck’s bed and with the strength of volunteers and several employees from Owatonna contractor Rocon, was pushed into the history center.

“This is going to be a wonderful addition to the center,” said Kellen Hinrichsen, the history center’s executive director said.

It was only a few weeks ago that the mural donation idea came to fruition, requiring the history center to quickly organize the transition and community fundraiser to pay for the $18,000 project.

As of Wednesday, the fundraiser’s GoFundMe page sits at $12,865 in donations, although more checks have been sent directly to the center for the project.

While some of the funds have gone toward the safe removal and transport of the mural, the remaining funds will cover the cost to hang the mural, cleanup, lighting and installation of an interpretive sign at the center.

The mural had to be removed by the end of the month before the new owner of the Jerry’s building signed the paperwork. Determined to save the iconic mural, Owatonna Shoe owner Tom Brick, reached out to Greg Wencl, the current owner of Jerry’s, to develop a plan to get the mural out. After researching around for a prospective home, the history center was selected.

A crew of workers and guide the mural onto a semi truck. The mural was boarded up with plywood for protection during the journey to the Steele County History Center. (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

As a result of the mural being painted directly onto a load-bearing wall, a crew from Rocon had to brace the ceiling before cutting away at the wall. They had to later rebuild the wall’s studs, according to Brick.

“Just the list of the stuff (Rocon) did was enormous,” Brick said, continuously prasing the crew’s engineering skills, speed and craft.

Plywood was attached to both sides of the mural for stabilization and protection before the sheetrock on which the mural was painted was moved to the truck. A dozen or so people, using their strength, moved the mural outside to the alley before the forklift lifted it onto the truck.

After the semi arrived at the history center, the crew lowered the mural from the truck and using manpower, rolled it into the history center. Braces were attached to the protective plywood to help maintain its upright position as the painting waits to be hung above in the atrium.

Visitors are welcome to stop by during regular hours to see its scope and scale as it remains propped up on the center’s floor. Hinrichsen predicts the mural will be hung up early next week, although the timeline is still being hammered out.

“It’s rewarding to finally see it here,” he said. “Like this whole thing happened so quickly, but at the same time you look forward to seeing this come to fruition.”

The protected mural was held between metal poles on the back of of semi truck as it made its way to the Steele County History Center from Jerry’s in downtown Owatonna. Viracon was asked to help with the transport, they leased the semi and brought three employees to help with the move. (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

Now the giant mural is temporarily standing in the history center atrium, a perfect home for the mural, Hinrichsen suggests. He thanked everyone who donated and added that it’s great to see such support from the community.

Brick, Hinrichsen and Wencl will be looking forward to seeing the mural hung up in its new home. The mural in its new home will give Steele County residents a chance to reminisce about their own visits to iconic Jerry’s Supper Club.

“It was a real staple, especially back in the ‘60s … it was a fun place to be,” Wencl said.

The mural arrives at the history center with the help of a forklift, which brings it in as close as possible to the entry. Residents are welcome to stop by during regular hours to see the mural while it waits to be hung up. Other exhibits are closed. (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

Community Pathways embarks on capital campaign to expand facility, services

Over the last two decades, things have continued to evolve and change on the south side of town where Community Pathways of Steele County calls home.

Home of the Marketplace and Unique Finds, serving as Steele County’s food shelf and clothesline, Community Pathways has continued to serve Steele County throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with co-executive directors Nancy Ness and Maureen Schlobohm saying the need never went away.

“If there is one thing that has been highlighted during the pandemic, it is that our merger came at the perfect time,” said Schlobohm, who heads up Unique Finds. In the beginning of 2020, the two organizations merged to formalize a collaboration that in many ways was already in place. As COVID-19 ramped up in Minnesota, the organization decided to temporarily shut down Unique Finds in order to better serve the customers in need of help through the Marketplace.

“We ended up really relying so much on that space for help,” Schlobohm said. “Unique Finds basically became a warehouse for us.”

Storage space – or the lack thereof – was another element amplified and highlighted by the pandemic for the organization. Due to the growing need within the community, Community Pathways publicly announced this week the kickoff of their capital campaign to expand the facility. Once complete, the space will not only be doubled but will also offer more services and improve the already existing resources for the community.

“The pandemic emphasized it, but at the same time it doesn’t have anything to do with the need,” Schlobohm said. “We outgrew this space a long time ago and have been juggling for years with an ongoing effort to improvise more and more.”

“This is a really important step for a lot of reasons,” Ness said, adding that the organization had originally planned to kick off the campaign last spring but held off due to the pandemic. “We continue to try to do the best we can with the space we have, but it’s proven to be difficult.”

The capital campaign – titled Building New Pathways – has a goal of $2.6 million, which includes the $1.6 million construction costs to purchase the current building and the lot next to it in order to double the size of the facility. The remaining funds will help aid with the organization’s annual operations costs. While the additional storage space will allow for more donations to be accepted, something they have had to continually turn away during the pandemic, the facility will also include space for two other local nonprofits: Let’s Smile Inc. and Steele County Transitional Housing.

“This collaboration has been a vision for a long time,” Ness said. “It just makes sense to bring the three of us together under one roof.”

Let’s Smile provides dental health care services at no charge for children in need up to age 19. The nonprofit – which has been in Steele County since 2013 – has been operating out of Community Pathway’s 100-square-foot kitchenette. With the expansion to the facility, Let’s Smile would be provided two separate rooms for dental treatment as well as an office area.

Transitional Housing is an interfaith nonprofit organization that responds to people with housing needs in Steele County. The organization helps individuals and families locate affordable housing, assist in rental needs and continue to support clients for up to 18 months on their journey to self-sufficiency. Transitional Housing is currently located on the second floor of the Merrill Building on the West Hills campus, which is not currently handicap accessible. By moving into the new Community Pathways building, Transitional Housing will be provided three offices and a separate entrance for their customers to ensure confidentiality.

Ness said looking at the plans for the new facility, she feels it will help promote their overall mission and belief – that a healthy community is a vibrant community.

“We want people to be able to come in and think, ‘This place really cares about me,’” Ness said. “This will give everyone throughout Steele County a place they can come and feel the community impact we have with this new building.”

Andi Arnold, the new outreach and grant director for Community Pathways, said the new facility is going to further assist in the ripple effect anticipated by the pandemic as people try to get back to a new normal.

“This is going to provide an important sense of community as the needs will increase years from now,” Arnold said. “We need that healing and time to get back to where we need to be, and I think this will help us collectively try to move forward to that place.”

On March 5, the community will be invited to a public event launching the community phase of the campaign and announcing the lead gift total to date. It will be a virtual livestream event with music, an auction and raffle prizes.

The campaign is anticipated to last until December 2023.

Smokin’ in Steele first major community event to cancel in 2021

Though people are feeling optimistic about a possible end to the COVID-19 pandemic now that the vaccines are becoming more available, event organizers are still erring on the side of caution.

Smokin’ in Steele BBQ and Blues Festival organizers announced earlier this week that they will once again be holding off on hosting their annual event. John Hammer, the entertainment director for the festival and member of Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame, said in a press release Tuesday that the decision is in direct relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and that the group felt there was not a way to properly present the festival.

“We proudly produce Smokin’ in Steele in the spirit of giving back to our community in order to help make it a better place to live for all,” Hammer said. “We feel that, although it is a heartbreaking choice, it is the only responsible and right thing to do for our community as well as Smokin’ in Steele.”

Produced by the Knight of Columbus Council 945 in Owatonna, Smokin’ in Steele donates the money raised at the annual event to a variety of charitable groups. The state championship barbecue contest – as proclaimed by then Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011 – takes place on the Steele County Fairgrounds and features vendors, competitions for all ages, an antique tractor parade and show, family bike rides, an annual 5K and live blues music. The annual event began in 2008.

Hammer said the event will return in June 2022.

“We firmly believe we are on a path to recovery and have already been making plans to present Smokin’ in Steele 2022 even bigger and better,” Hammer said. “Wishing everyone patience, safety and health.”

Though Smokin’ in Steele is the first major community event to cancel in 2021, the iconic Corky’s Early Bird Men’s Softball Classic that is typical held the first full weekend in May announced last week they will be moving the 2021 tournament to the weekend of July 29. The charitable event is considered the fifth largest softball tournament in the world.