Mar 21

Last Novem­ber, I answered a call for essays from the daily news­pa­per of the metro area near­est us (Fargo, ND / Moor­head, MN). The topic was “What Makes Your Small Town Spe­cial.” The Forum writer at the helm of this ini­tia­tive is pick­ing her favorite essays and vis­it­ing the towns rep­re­sented, result­ing in a peri­odic series that gets read­ers (vir­tu­ally, any­way) out beyond Fargo-Moorhead to learn about some of the vital com­mu­ni­ties nearby.

Vital? Yes, vital! While some small towns appear to be dying, cer­tainly, oth­ers still have a lot to brag about and are younger in terms of median age than you might expect (Hen­drum, for exam­ple, has a median age of 37!). We were delighted by yesterday’s all-day visit by The Forum’s Car­rie Sny­der. She really went above and beyond in terms of her gen­er­ous gift of time and inter­est, many inter­views con­ducted, and more pho­tos taken than she’ll ever be able to share in print! The city lead­ers and res­i­dents thank her!

The Hen­drum story is slated for Mon­day, March 25; I’ll keep you posted. In the mean­time, here is my essay that gar­nered us such attention:

Above: Hen­drum City Post Office

What Makes My Small Town Spe­cial: Hen­drum, Minnesota

by Heidi Mann, sub­mit­ted Novem­ber 25, 2012

My hus­band Greg and I grew up in East Grand Forks and Moor­head, then lived in sim­i­lar cities through­out young adult­hood, never enter­tain­ing – or desir­ing – a small-town life. Until sum­mer 2002, when I was invited to inter­view for a posi­tion in Hen­drum, Minn., pop­u­la­tion then: 350… maybe.

We would learn a month later of the church’s deci­sion to call me as pas­tor, but the very evening of the inter­view, as we were escorted down the street – not the side­walk; the street! – to view the par­son­age, we were sold on this lit­tle town. “It’s so quiet!” we exclaimed, head­ing home to more heav­ily traf­ficked and pop­u­lated Fargo.

I served Hendrum’s Immanuel Church for seven years. In 2009, when my new free­lance busi­ness could have been set up any­where, and Greg could have worked in his employer’s Moor­head office as eas­ily as in Hen­drum, still, we stayed. We had fallen in love with a com­mu­nity where most peo­ple know most oth­ers, the small school sys­tem and the charms of small-town life.

Like the time shortly after mov­ing here, when some­one returned Greg’s cell phone before he knew it was miss­ing, hav­ing rec­og­nized it as his by just the first name on its screen. Or the time Greg had a col­lege exam in Moor­head but found our car had a flat; our next-door neigh­bor imme­di­ately offered a lift, and before I could call the local mechanic, I saw him in our dri­ve­way, exam­in­ing the tire. “How’d you know?” I asked. “Oh, Jim told me when he came for cof­fee” – Jim: another good neigh­bor who had noticed Greg’s dilemma. In a small town, word trav­els fast – usu­ally for the good!

We’ve also been charmed by local busi­ness­peo­ple who know our kids by name and look out for them. Nowa­days it’s price­less to feel secure let­ting a child walk alone a few blocks to the bank or hair salon. Sure, I call ahead – “He’s anx­ious to deposit his gift money, but I can’t get away; would you please show him how his pass­book works?” “He wants to walk alone. I’ll send a check along for the hair­cut; please call when he heads home” – but it allows our sons to branch out while stay­ing safe.

We love Nor­man County West School – small enough for teach­ers and staff, regard­less of posi­tion, to know all the kids, regard­less of grade; where one who doesn’t quite qual­ify for an IEP is still on the radar of con­cerned special-ed teach­ers; where senior cit­i­zens whose grand­chil­dren are grown still attend games, con­certs and plays to lend sup­port; where tech­nol­ogy is a pri­or­ity – Smart­Boards and iPads used in all class­rooms; and where aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment has earned NCW sev­eral des­ig­na­tions among Minnesota’s top schools.

I could tell of the quaint post office, the church, the police­man and vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers our kids know per­son­ally, towns­peo­ple turn­ing out to sand­bag together against floods. And of course it’s not per­fect; no town is. But we still call Hen­drum “home”… because, in short, we’re still in love.

Jan 10

What do Pulitzer Prize-winning play­wright Edward Albee, Olympic swim­ming medal­ist Greg Louga­nis, and I have in com­mon? We’ve all been inter­viewed by Bruce Con­verse on Rain­bow Radio, a weekly radio pro­gram that was awarded the Human Rights Campaign’s 2007 “Equal­ity Award.”

In turn, I wrote about Bruce and Rain­bow Radio for my Jan­u­ary fea­ture “Some­one You MUST Know” in “10,000 Same-Sex Cou­ples e-Magazine,” for which I write, copy­edit, and lend other edi­to­r­ial sup­port. My arti­cle begins as fol­lows: Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 3

Wanted to share my most recent arti­cle for “10,000 Same –Sex Cou­ples eMagazine”:

Some­one You MUST Know:

Min­nesotans United for All Fam­i­lies Com­mu­nity Orga­nizer Luke Ferguson

by Heidi Mann

Luke Fer­gu­son is one of dozens of com­mu­nity orga­niz­ers work­ing with Min­nesotans United for All Fam­i­lies to oppose a mea­sure on the Novem­ber 6 bal­lot that, if passed, will limit mar­riage to one man and one woman by state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. Cer­tainly each per­son employed by or vol­un­teer­ing with Min­nesotans United, or sim­i­lar orga­ni­za­tions in Maine, Wash­ing­ton, and Mary­land, where sim­i­lar mea­sures will be on the bal­lot, has their own unique story. Because I got to know Luke per­son­ally a few months ago (and – full dis­clo­sure – I am also a Min­nesota res­i­dent), I invited him to be this month’s “Some­one You MUST Know” as a way to rep­re­sent and honor all who are serv­ing in such capacities.

Luke Ferguson

I asked Luke what brought him to this work. His response, in a word: bul­ly­ing. But prob­a­bly not what you’re think­ing; not the type of bul­ly­ing so many of our read­ers (and sub­jects of our arti­cles, such as last month’s “Some­one You MUST Know,” Caleb Laieski) have endured as LGBT indi­vid­u­als. Rather, Luke’s expe­ri­ence demon­strates that bul­ly­ing can go both direc­tions. In his own words:

My house­hold was actu­ally very con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian. I was raised to believe that being gay was wrong. I attended a small pri­vate Chris­t­ian [grade] school that only served to rein­force the teach­ing I got at home about gay and les­bian peo­ple. In fact, before I went to high school, I was so shel­tered I didn’t real­ize that peo­ple thought dif­fer­ently than my fam­ily did.

Then I went to high school, a huge pub­lic high school in Min­neapo­lis. It was one of the most open and accept­ing places towards LGBT stu­dents you could imag­ine. But once I expressed my view that I didn’t think it was OK to be gay, I got bul­lied. I was called ‘bigot’ and ‘homo­phobe.’ I have vivid mem­o­ries of being really con­fused. I had never heard the term ‘homo­phobe’ before and I didn’t know what it meant. I was scared of gay peo­ple. My fam­ily and church just taught me that it was wrong. … Read full article.

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