From the sky to the heart

By Carol Walker

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While many were looking to the sky on Monday, I saw that much used word on a beauty shop sign in a small town in northern Minnesota, the town where my husband grew up. The beauty shop was called, “Eclips.” I wondered if they had a grand promotional campaign going for Monday, but that is typically a day beauty shops are closed, so probably not. The Eclips is one of the few businesses that remain in the community, along with a grocery store, drug store and bowling alley. The school is gone, as is the hardware store, a bakery, a flower shop and others that once were a part of the downtown area.

This was a town totally built by the taconite mine in the 1950s, with four different styles of houses from which new residents could choose. Young families came from all over to find employment and a new life in the north country and the town was bursting with children and activity.

Decades later the mine closed, the economy collapsed and many families moved away. In the past decade a different kind of mining company has attempted to overcome environmental hurdles and move into the vacuum that has existed for a long time. Signs in the windows say, “We support mining,” and the residents are hoping for revival of the town.

Meanwhile, though things are bleak, the town continues to have the annual water carnival, the garden club beautifies many corners of the community, the library and senior center have active programs, the VFW is hanging on and the doors of the churches are still open. Volunteers, many of them retired, are making things happen, keeping the spirit of the town alive.

As I walked around the town, my mind wandered back to Hill City and all the recent activity, much of which happened because of the spirit of volunteers.

Candy Hughes at the senior center led a fleet of men and women who cooked and served hundreds of bikers during the Rally, as did Jay Hendrickson and the Lions Club members at Three Forks. Nearby was Pete Stach, donating hours of time to organize and carry out the bike wash with the help of many young women, all to benefit kids in our town.

There’s Rich and LeAnn Jensen, who annually lead a team of enthusistic people involved in the Tucker Day Rodeo, and Bob Stanfiel and the Masons and others who work hard to bring in crowds for the Wine, Brew and BBQ.

Mike Welu took on a huge fundraising effort, encouraging many area residents and businesses to donate to the construction of an all-weather track that is now a reality. Abby Haapanene, new Young Life director in Hill City, is leading the way to put on an annual archery tournament, also funded and sponsored by many area businesses and residents.

Businesses are the key to the ongoing vitality of a town such as ours, but volunteers are the heart and spirit of a community. Those who give time and energy to keep that spirit alive in a northern Minnesota town that is struggling deserve praise, as do the volunteers in Hill City. Theirs could be called the “Heart of the Northland,” and Hill City is living up to it’s name as the “Heart of the Hills.”

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