As a Twin Citian of longstanding, I still often think of myself as the small-town guy from Madelia, a south central Minnesota community of 2,252 located at the intersection of highways 60 and 15, about 20 miles south of Mankato. The town, founded in 1857, is going all out this year by hosting a once-in-a-decade all-school reunion where the population will likely more than double during the second week of July.
Not withstanding many “off agenda” gatherings, our class of 1965 will have its 45th reunion at a restaurant called by the fancy name of Goodfellaz, formerly known as Etters. We’ll have to have our brunch and reminiscing completed early on Saturday as the big parade down main street starts at 1:30 p.m.
There will be a reunion of the “M” Club athletes, golfing, historical tours and even a bridge tournament. People will be able to visit all three schools and then hop a bus to a re-enactment of the 1876 capture of the Younger brothers band of outlaws taking place about eight miles west of town along the banks of the Watonwan River.
I hope to find time to visit the site of Fort Slocum, one of the pioneer family safe houses built during the 1862-63 Sioux uprising on land owned by my family.
At 5:30 p.m., the major attraction called the Grand Buffet Turkey Dinner at the VFW/Legion will, for $12.50, feed many hundreds of MHS alums and onlookers from all over the country. Doubtless, together we will recollect, exaggerate and otherwise celebrate a precious, shared heritage. A Sunday afternoon alumni meeting pretty much wraps up the planned activity.
Even after living for decades elsewhere, what makes a hometown so special to so many of us?
When I grew up in the 1950s, wealth was sought after but not much coveted; the few people we identified as rich were neither envied nor parodied; the same with the working poor who were in turn neither pitied nor condemned. The middle class, which included just about everybody, was the ideal. There was an egalitarianism that came out of an equality of opportunity rather than an enforced result.
Economic backbone: the family farmer
The economic backbone of my home town was the family farmer as every dollar earned circulated locally eight times; folks shopped at home, backed the Blackhawk school sports teams, built a swimming pool and supported 4H, Scouts and Little League.
We had “religious release” on Thursday mornings, and there was easy symmetry between Catholics who went to the largest church and a nearly dozen or so smaller Protestant churches, at least three or four of them some brand of Lutheran.
Church and state did not mix things up much in Madelia. We expected our local government to be well run, but to be kept small. Taxes, as my banker father taught me, were “the price we pay for democracy,” and people did so without too much complaint.
I can say that my upbringing in Madelia taught me about ethics and integrity-based relationships, discretion, the notion of shared risk and shared reward and the value of high standards of citizenship. Each of these has been a part of my own operating practices since our company was founded 20 years ago.
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a Minnetonka based management-consulting firm. He plans to join in the July 8-11 Madelia All School Reunion Celebration.