It was a poem that brought them together.
And when Ronda and Jim Redmond finally realized their love for one another, it was like poetry in motion. They shared their passions; they supported each other; they raised a family.
And then, in the middle of the night, without warning, Jim died.
After 22 years of marriage, Ronda, 50, woke up and found her husband dead at his desk. The emotions of that moment, and the grief, the anger, and the journey to acceptance in the months following are all summarized in a poetry manuscript called “The Widow Takes Her Name.”
As Ronda seeks a publisher for the full manuscript, she has self-published a subset of the work in a chapbook called “Said the Old Widow to the New.” From 7-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, she will present readings from the chapbook at the Arts Center of Saint Peter parking lot.
“People who have experienced loss, or know someone who has experienced loss, or whatever it might be, I hope they can read something I wrote, and it helps them to empathize and sympathize,” Ronda said. “Most of us have experienced loss, and yet no one knows what to say, and there is nothing perfect to say, but the people around you that care about you still want to understand. I think that’s what I offer with this book; the ability to understand what it can be like.”
Ronda and Jim both grew up in the Mankato area, though Jim in a more rural, blue collar setting. The two met at Minnesota State University, Mankato and became fast friends.
“He was this big, quiet guy who said these insightful things about writing and life,” Ronda said of Jim. “Maybe the best writer I’ve ever known. And funny. Hilarious.”
From the outside, though, the two didn’t appear a perfect match.
“They were about as opposite as two people can get personality wise,” said Brad Brothen, a friend of the couple since college.
The two started working on the campus literary magazine, “The Muse,” together as co-editors. But Ronda had a serious boyfriend at the time and Ronda and Jim started having creative differences, and after months of close friendship, they suddenly stopped talking — for a year and a half.
Each on a different writing track, the two didn’t cross paths again until the end of the next year when they both took a poetry workshop. Ronda had long since left her previous boyfriend, and she was finding herself thinking about Jim. So, naturally, she wrote a poem about it.
“It’s about driving down Hwy. 169 in the morning, and looking at the river and thinking about Jim and about trains, which he always loved,” Ronda said of the poem. “It was things that were in my mind thinking about him and questions about ‘What do you think about this and that?,’ and it ended with sadness, never knowing the answers to those questions, because he wasn’t in my life.”
A couple days after reading the poem and realizing it was about him, Jim called Ronda up and asked if she wanted to go fishing. They knew within a month that they were going to get married. They did just that in 1998, four years after they first met. Then they had their first of two sons in 1999.
They found a home in St. Peter, and while each took jobs outside of creative writing and literature, it was always that passion that tied them.
“In terms of being writers, it was a perfect marriage of two people that understood each other’s style, understood the time and energy it took to produce writing, and encouraged one another to do the best they could,” said Jennifer Wartman, another long-time friend who met the couple in college. “Yeah, they leaned on each other. It’s having another writer that you can sit down with and hash out a story idea, or the really cool thing, somebody who can look at your work and say ‘This is what needs to be better’ and push them to do that.”
Brothen, who also remained friends with the couple since college, saw the same.
“There are certain couples that just seem to bounce off each other. There was such an admiration they had for each other. Jim was talented beyond belief and just a brilliant person. Everyone liked him, so it was natural that Ronda would like Jim,” Brothen said. “But poets have a natural way of looking at life to live in the moment. That’s what they built on each other. He never had a negative word to say about her; in his eyes, she was perfect.”
Jim had untreated sleep apnea most of his life, and in the last 10 years, he had more and more trouble sleeping, along with the health issues that come with that. Neither he or Ronda realized just how bad it was until it was too late. Jim experienced a cardiac event in April 2019 and died instantly.
“It was very jarring, very surreal,” Ronda said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about how things can change very quickly and about time; how could he be here one moment and, just hours later, he’s not?”
Ronda was thrown headfirst into the stages of grief, experiencing “blinding confusion, blinding rage, sucker punches and acceptance.” She described a sucker punch as something like being in a grocery store and suddenly finding yourself bawling, because you just saw the ice cream that he used to bring home.
“There is nowhere you can go where you can’t get a sucker punch, because your normal world had everything to do with this person,” Ronda said.
Before Jim died, he had encouraged Ronda to join a class with poet Danez Smith, a renowned writer from the Twin Cities. She did it at Jim’s behest and started in January 2019. She was working on a young adult collection when Jim died three months later in April, and by June, she had switched to writing about her dead husband and her grief.
And the words came out scolding.
“I saw Ronda all of a sudden pour that book out. Those poems were coming out of her faster than she could write,” Wartman said. “Here was this really traumatic thing that happened, but out of it, she birthed this book out of soul sucking, oppressive grief. There were piles of poems coming out perfect. There was barely any rewriting to do. And her voice was different than the one I had known so long; it was fierce and it was angry.”
Wartman continued, “And I truly believe Jim was a guiding force to get that book out. That was a project that Jim guided. And what a beautiful thing.”
Suddenly a poet’s widow, but still a poet herself, Ronda was ready to share her grief.
“She is an incredibly strong person,” Brothen said. “When we went to his funeral, it was very evident how she was going to deal with this, because, as they say, funerals are for the living. She made such a celebration of his life and his writing and her own writing, and you could see that’s where she was going to find her solace.”
The collection of poems in Ronda’s chapbook are “heart wrenching,” according to Brothen, but they are not just sad. They are honest, unapologetic experiences of grief.
“When I read it, it was just so personal. I knew Jim, I knew the jokes, so of course it was sad for me in that way. But what I think it will do for people is show her vulnerability so people can relate to that,” Brothen said. “And not just navigating death or the trials of marriage, but it’s the idea that death is universal and when you’ve had your foundation ripped out, you have to find new ways to support the walls.”
For Wartman, who has helped edit Ronda’s works for years, there was a new voice on the page, and it was stronger than ever before.
“I can’t imagine not being touched by those poems,” Wartman said. “This is something for anyone who has lost someone, who knows somebody who lost someone. She doesn’t hold back. She said ‘Take it or not; this is grief.’”
Ronda said she hopes readers find a connection and a way to relate to grief in her poems. She also hopes they find a connection to poetry, in general, knowing that, for some, it can be intimidating.
Regardless of what others might find in her works, Ronda has already found what she needed from them.
“I feel like life is way more about possibilities than it is about sadness,” she said. “And I feel like I move forward in my life with everything that Jim was to me. I don’t ever have to give that up.”
One of the country’s largest silica mining companies filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this summer. Now, as the case winds its way through bankruptcy court, a local environmental group is worried that it will leave the future of a southern Minnesota prairie in limbo.
Save the Kasota Prairie, which has co-managed the 240 acres in Le Sueur County with Covia Corp., is concerned about who will be responsible — financially and physically — for the 240 acres of restored prairie land that the Ohio-based company has agreed to help maintain.
Covia operates a mine in Kasota, just across the Minnesota River from St. Peter, that has been idle since November, with no restart date yet planned. It produces silica sand, which is used in the process for hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — which uses high-pressure liquid to extract gas from rock.
Covia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of June, claiming $1 billion in debts and $250 million in assets. Company spokesperson Matthew Schlarb said the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the “weak market conditions” that had forced the November mine idling. When operations halted last fall, more than 60 employees were laid off and, according to the company, the staff that remains is focused on maintenance and security.
But the impacts of the idled mine on southern Minnesota go beyond the loss of jobs.
For decades, Covia — and before that, its predecessor, Unimin — has been responsible for preserving and maintaining a nearby plot of restored prairie land, the result of a series of legal battles in the 1980s with a local environmental group, Save the Kasota Prairie.
Now, the group — which partners with the company in managing the land — is concerned that the corporation’s financial woes will signal an uncertain future for the prairie.
Jason Miller, president of the Save the Kasota Prairie group, said that right now it’s “a waiting game.”
“We just have to see what’s going to happen with their situation before we can even be proactive about what we can do with it,” Miller said.
While the company works its way through bankruptcy, Schlarb said, it’s committed to maintaining its agreement to protect those prairie lands.
“Covia plans to continue as the landowner and manager of the Covia Kasota Prairie and to continue our longstanding and positive relationship with Save the Kasota Prairie Inc.,” he said.
Save the Kasota Prairie was formed in 1979, when a group of local residents demanded that the company running the Kasota silica mine — at the time, it was Unimin Corp. — be required to do an environmental assessment after it announced plans to rezone a prairie just southwest of the city for strip mining.
Prairie ecosystems are among the most vulnerable in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state had 18 million acres of prairie at the time of the Public Land Survey conducted between 1847 and 1908. Now, the state says, a little over 1 percent of native prairie remains.
That’s why the Kasota Prairie group fought hard to protect the land. The yearslong battle led to an agreement between the group and the mining company: If Save the Kasota Prairie stopped its appeal, Unimin would agree to set aside some land to be restored back to its native state, and the corporation would be financially responsible for maintaining it.
Since then, the nonprofit and the company have had a longstanding relationship in protecting the prairie land. Board member Eric Steinmetz said that in the past, the organization would put on events to help fund some projects, from adding a parking lot entrance to the preserve to adding more land over the years.
Maintenance includes working to curb the invasive species that threaten the grasslands and planting seeds to promote the regrowth of native plants. The collaboration has also focused on restoring sections of the prairie where cattle used to graze and conducting controlled burns to keep the ecosystem healthy.
But with Covia’s recent bankruptcy, board members are concerned about the future of some of the projects they’ve been hoping for. Steinmetz said the group would like to eventually turn its attention to broad swaths of the land that have become mud flats, overgrown by weeds.
“[There’s] probably no tremendous damage within a year or two,” Steinmetz said. “So, we’re not panicking or anything, but we need to have an income stream and we need to have expert management in order to maintain the prairie in the excellent condition that we’ve done to it so far.”
Mark Halverson, the nonprofit’s treasurer, has been involved with the group since it established its partnership with the mining company. He said that, so far, he hasn’t heard whether Covia’s reorganization plans will have an impact on the restoration. The next round of filings is expected in September.
So the group is looking ahead. They are now weighing whether to take on additional partners in maintaining the restored land. In the past, the group had approached local colleges to take possession of their prairie acres, but so far haven’t found an interested partner.
“ I think that it would behoove us to seriously start shopping around for a third party to take possession of this land that’s in our original contract,” said Bob Idso, a member of the group. “We don’t really know who that might be. … I think in the next year or two, we have to find a third party that can take possession of this land and then continue to manage it as a prairie.”
Small businesses in Nicollet County impacted by COVID-19 can apply to receive financial assistance to help with expenses incurred during the pandemic.
Grant awards will be provided to businesses that experienced interruption, closure or significant revenue loss as a result of the public health emergency. Grant awards will be up to $10,000 based on eligibility. Businesses with no employees, besides the owner(s), are eligible for grants up to $5,000.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27. This over $2 trillion economic relief package was established to provide economic and public health assistance to the American people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the CARES Act provided $150 billion of financial assistance for state, local and tribal governments who are navigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicollet County has received over $4.1 million dollars available through the federal CARES Act. Part of that funding is being allocated to assist small businesses.
Businesses, including nonprofit organizations, located within Nicollet County with at least one, but no more than 20, full-time equivalent employees and that were in operation prior to March 1, 2020 are eligible to apply.
Business owners need to apply online. The application and program criteria is located at co.nicollet.mn.us/800/Nicollet-County-CARES. Online webinars reviewing the application and program criteria will be available during the application period. The application period will be open Sept. 14 to Oct. 2.
Questions on the grant program or the application may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nicollet County Board of Commissioners discussed with staff, at a few different meetings, what the business assistance program might look like. The county’s plan ultimately left $1 million ofits $4.1 million in CARES Act relief dollars for small business and organization grants.
The board ininitially discussed a $5,000 maximum grant, but that has been lifted to $10,000.
Staff and the commissioners agreed to limit the grants to businesses of 20 employees or less, in order to reserve the assistance for smaller operations, so the grants can make a greater impact. There was a debate on the rule of the businesses needing to have at least one employee, besides the owner, and ultimately the group found a compromise: a $5,000 maximum for businesses with no employees, while businesses with at least one employee can get the $10,000 maximum.
The businesses and/or organizations applying will have to demonstrate adverse impact from the pandemic. Krosch indicated he would like to see some kind of documentation from the businesses applying, but he’d also like to keep the process simple and easy to utilize.