You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘personal’ category.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Discussion and drama surrounding the routing of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line in the Twin Cities reminds me of the freeway that was proposed for Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Avenue in the 1960s, the increased resistance of the south side neighborhoods to the depressed ditch in which such a freeway would have been laid out and constructed, and the emergent support for a boulevard-and-LRT alternative.

Then, as now, experts, interest groups, and politicians at the city, county, state, and federal levels had studied, run their numbers, and shaped the terms of the debate for years. It was not a strong suit of these folks back then to hear and incorporate input from the people who would be impacted most by any construction. Nor did they exhibit any propensity to imagine or consider meaningful alternatives.

At a point in 1975, when most of the skids appeared to have been greased and the possibilities for alternatives seemed lost, the southern neighborhoods sent busloads of people to downtown Minneapolis late on a winter’s night to meet with Congressman Donald Fraser in a late effort to obtain any kind of intervention on behalf of city residents. The time and place for that meeting were the only ones that bureaucrats insisted could be found for a meeting with the congressman.

Eventually, the congressional appropriation for a freeway-only option on Hiawatha was stopped or ameliorated, and additional years of study and carrying on at all levels finally resulted in completion of a boulevard-and-LRT alternative when the Hiawatha LRT line opened in 2005. At 40 years, it was possibly the most-planned project in Minnesota history. For at least 25 of those years, we were warned repeatedly that the federal funds in support of any project along the Hiawatha corridor were going to go away. They possibly did, several times.

If we need to delay the Southwest LRT line by five-to-10 more years in order to get it right, the world will not end. Nor will federal funding disappear forever and all time.

The line should be routed and run where the people are, and not where we hope they might be someday. We should build the line south from downtown on Nicollet Mall/Avenue to Lake Street, then west to Uptown, and thence southwest to Eden Prairie.

Couple this construction with the forever-taking-proposals to rid the civic landscape of the K-Mart store at Nicollet and Lake that has closed off one of our major thoroughfares since the 1970s. That would allow for the future possibility of an LRT line that continued down Nicollet and across the Minnesota River to Burnsville and Lakeville.

Alternatively, route a Southwest LRT line south to Eden Prairie from somewhere on West Lake Street. Then, if the presently proposed streetcars prove to be all that hot-n-tot, they can be used to connect the Southwest line at West Lake to the downtown portions that run on the Hiawatha, Central, and (proposed) Bottineau corridors.

We really don’t need to screw up the ecosystem of the Minneapolis lakes along the presently proposed Kenilworth Corridor with either deep or shallow tunnels. Plus, the folks who live around those lakes pay some of the highest property taxes in town to Minneapolis and Hennepin County, and we need all of their money to run those units of government.

It took 40 years to change our collective group think and intellectual infrastructure about freeways and LRT. We have not devoted, and it will not take, anything near 40 years to think through the newer challenges posed by the Southwest LRT line and get them right.


Minneapolis, Minnesota


Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Such joy! It felt so good to see her again after our first meeting five years ago.

Her name is Claudia. She is beautiful, embodying and confirming hopes and dreams that everything is possible. 

Her first visit, December 6, 2008, had delighted as much as it had startled: Neither she nor any of her relatives had attended the previous gatherings, held for 29 consecutive years on the first Saturday of December in a tony neighborhood of Minneapolis. While not prepared for it, members of the clan took her appearance on the scene in stride, feeling a brimming excitement and joy that she had finally joined them.

She was taller and classier than some had imagined her to be, and her pouting mouth, long eyelashes, and long neck – moving with an easy grace – lent an air of affectionate assurance and captivating charisma. A temperature in the single digits, accompanied by wind gusts to 38 mph, turned her exhalations steamy.

Gary Peterson and Claudia Dromedarius

Gary Peterson and Claudia Dromedarius

Still, she stood on the front lawn for two hours in the new snow that night, greeting guests with a gentle familiarity that suggested all of them were old friends. Camera flashes accentuated the floodlit scene as she held court with anyone seeking a record of their encounter with her celebrity. An escort stood nearby to insure safety and propriety. Her daughter had sent regrets, having her own holiday party to attend.

Her family’s dynastic name, Camelus Dromedarius, placed her among the 90% of its members with a single hump on their backs, and distinguished them from their Camelus Bactrianus cousins who carry two.

That she has joined the Camel Party festivities in person feels perfectly natural. After all, her family has provided the organizing iconography of the clan’s convenings from the beginning. From two original tapestries, the founders’s collection of items camelus grew to include photos, postcards, drawings, and statues small and large. In addition, there is the annual cake, sculpted in the form of a dromedary in repose, covered in colorful icing, and measuring up to three feet long.

Several days after Claudia’s 2008 visit, I received a call from the daughter of a decades-long attendee of The Camel Party. This daughter’s son had written a paper about Festivus Camelus for school. His teacher, who had never attended the party (“That’s really sad!” I heard the son say in the background), had expressed skepticism and asked him to revise and re-submit the paper. The purpose of the call was to do some fact-checking about the origins of The Camel Song and whether the party had been named after the song. (Not!) The young man already had done some original research while attending that year’s camel experience, and I suggested to his mother that he cite this blog in his references. That young man is now 16 years old. We can hold out hope for his former teacher, about whom Jesus might have said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

The robust rendition of The Camel Song, composed sometime around year nine, opens the last third of songs on the caroling list, while a life-sized camel puppet wends its way through the throng. New verses have been added over the years to mark milestones and reflect the changing zeitgeist. The 35th year introduced new lyrics that reflect The Camel Party’s celebration of the change within continuity and the continuity within change:

Yes the air is chill year 35, And from Claudia’s nostrils steam does rise. But indoors it’s hot and folks gyrate, Til for babes and all the floor does shake. Here’s to all loved ones at Cameltide, Both here and on the other side! *

What started in 1979 as a non-sectarian holiday gathering of relatives and friends has evolved into an experience, a production, and a “happening” (a term for those alive in the late 1960s) that has hosted thousands of souls in ways beguiling, bemusing, and sometimes outrageous.


Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Colored lights. Wreaths. Garlands. Poinsettias. Potluck foodstuffs. Piles of shoes. Dancing socks. Rock ‘n roll. Blues. Rhythm and blues. Chicken dances. Instrumental ensembles of piano, accordion, trombone, oboe, flute, guitar, violin. Carols, naughty and sacred. Desserts for days. Wine, water, and soda. Crowds and conversations of hundreds. Welcome and inclusion. Fashions new and old. Santa, Rasta Santa, and elves – Santa and Rasta remain the same, but the elves have grown up and started replacing themselves.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and these annual trysts are guaranteed to none. For attendees constant and episodic, Festivus Camelus has noted and incorporated transitions of education, career, conception, birth, health, and death. It has forever marked its participants who have returned from all corners of the globe: Minnesota, Madison, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, New York, Washington, Canada, France, Germany, and China.

Along with everything,

It warms the cockles, cockles, cockles of our fiery pagan hearts,

In the cold of icy December,

Wild revelries remember,

The heat of the golden sun! *

* From The Camel Song, © 2013, Davies/Schiller


Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Friday, Dec. 6, Star Tribune newspaper reported about the sentencing in Scott County District Court of one Rudolph Poppe, 71, a resident of Shakopee, Minnesota. Poppe was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with credit for 24 days served already, plus five years probation and a $500 fine.

Poppe pleaded guilty in October to one count of animal cruelty. A neighbor was reported to have seen Poppe hit his 13-year-old golden retriever over the head with a sledgehammer – allegedly 15 times – earlier this year, in order to put the aged animal out of its misery. I read the article while my own dog slept next to the radiator at my feet.

The man is barred from owning another animal for five years.

You think?!

At 5:40pm on Friday, I was walking on Third Avenue South from the Minneapolis Convention Center to my house, a few blocks away. The temperature was 4ºF with a windchill index in the mid-20s degrees below zero.

At East 16th Street and Third Avenue, on the northwest corner of the Sharon Sayles Belton Bridge spanning Interstate 94, I came upon a 71-year-old man who was conscious and sitting on the curb.

The man wore neither hat nor gloves. He was attired in a thin, gray hoodie sweat shirt with a plaid-patterned shirt-type jacket over it. His light green pants were thin for summer. His hands were white with cold. He was freezing.

I had not seen if he had fallen, and I could not raise him up. He was marginally coherent.

Reaching for my cell phone, I dialed 911. “You have reached Minneapolis 911,” the recording said, “we will answer your call as soon as we can.”

I could not believe it – I have called 911 many times over the years, mostly to report open air drug trafficking, an occasional car wreck, and random sounds of gunfire – and this was the first time I was put on hold.

After a pause, the message repeated once or twice more before a live man’s voice asked “Do you have an emergency or can I put you on hold?”

Something about the call set me off and I shouted, “By all means, please put me on hold!”

He had the presence of mind to then ask “How can I help you?”

“I am a pedestrian,” I said, “and have come upon this man sitting on the curb in this cold.”

“That’s an emergency,” the 911 guy said.

I described what the man looked like and what he was wearing, and agreed to stay with him until help arrived.

A firehouse was located two blocks away, on the back side of the Convention Center, and a truck with four men pulled up within two minutes. Within four minutes, an ambulance from Hennepin County Medical Center also arrived on the scene.

As I continued walking the final three blocks to my house, I began to cry – and then to sob uncontrollably until after I was running water on my own cold hands inside my toasty warm house.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

NBC’s delayed broadcast in the United States of Friday’s opening ceremonies from the 2012 Olympic Games omitted an elegiac tribute to the victims of a terrorist bombing in London, July 7, 2005, the day after the city was designated the site for the 2012 Games.

Time constraints were not at issue. The network consciously deleted “Abide With Me,” featuring a vocalized hymn and interpretive dance, and substituted an inane interview with Michael Phelps, a U.S. swimming athlete.

“Our program is tailored for the U.S. television audience,” said NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes.

One can only speculate, then, about what aspect(s) of the six minute segment NBC thought viewers would not like or appreciate:

1. The performance of modern dance that was not part of an insipid, televised contest?

2. A choreographer bearing a name like Akram Khan?

3. A woman of color with blonde hair, Scotland’s Emeli Sandé, singing the hymn “Abide With Me”?

4. Memorialized victims numbering only 52 and most, if not all, not being U.S. citizens?

Yet, many observers continue to opine about why record numbers of consumers no longer trust the biases and decision-making of media that insist on telling them what is important, what is news, and what to think.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ten years ago today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an extra edition in the afternoon. The last time that had happened was Nov. 22, 1963. Disruptions in the space-time continuum of our national psyche provided the grist for the journalistic mill on those occasions.

However, for all the details reported 10 years ago and in the days since, it is not the journalism that echoes and haunts my memory. Rather, it is the real words and re-created imagery from a made-for-television-movie:

Honor Elizabeth Wainio

A young woman, Elizabeth Wainio, 27, a passenger on United Flight 93, phoned her stepmother, Esther Heymann, in Baltimore.  

“Mom, we’re being hijacked. I just called to say good bye,” she said.

“Elizabeth, we don’t know how this is going to turn out. I’ve got my arms around you,” Heymann said.

Wainio told her stepmother she could feel them.

“Let’s look out at that beautiful blue sky. Let’s be here in the moment,” Heymann told her. “Let’s do some deep breathing together.”

They passed a few quiet moments.

“It hurts me that it’s going to be so much harder for you all than it is for me,” Wainio said. Honor Wainio was still on the line with her stepmother.

“I need to go,” she said. “They’re getting ready to break into the cockpit. I love you. Goodbye.”

Minneapolis, Minnesota

I here offer my deepest apologies and sincerest regrets to my fellow citizens for failing to properly shoulder the burden of maintaining our faltering economy. I offer no excuses other than my unwillingness to manage the paperwork.

This is about those endless offers from credit card companies that fill our mailboxes and keep the post office from going completely broke. In the 12 weeks since June 5, I received 24  of those suckers from outfits that promised in large print to guarantee freedom and simplicity in my life, plus another six mailings containing “convenience checks” for my existing credit card accounts.

I just spent 90 minutes tearing all of them into tiny pieces that fill a brown paper grocery sack.

However, with Michele and her fellow travelers running their mouths so much lately about all of our disappearing freedoms, I feel guilty, and really should do something with these offers besides shred them. In addition to gaining copious amounts of new credit that adds consumption capacity to the economy, I could transfer outstanding balances on existing cards for a low-percentage fee, pay no interest on transferred balances for generous lengths of time, and thereafter pay APRs ranging from 3.99% to 18.99% (the average for my 12 weeks of offers was 11.99%).

From four of the offers, I could obtain 30,000 free bonus miles each, 120,000 in total, to use on American Airlines, a company that serves Minnesota minimally and with which I have done only minor amounts of business over the years. Still, that’s four times around the world.

I am pretty adept with a spreadsheet, and with a bit of concentration I could probably play this shell game for years without paying out any real money on either my principal or interest.

Hell, if I was half as smart as my ego would have it, I would take these offers, cash them out to the max, quit working, and use the remaining years on my passport and my life to remain free and simple outside the country. Makes sense. If Rick Perry and Texas can secede from the Union, why can’t individuals separate themselves from the hard work of living and embrace the slick and easy promises of freedom and simplicity?

These proferred possibilities spell “freedom” with a capital “F” and “simplicity” with a capital “S.” For sure!

Then, as these importunings are so rich for folks like me, one can only imagine how important they must be for the credit card companies themselves and for the compensation of their shareholders and corporate leaders.

By now, all of us should know – from the mouths of Boehner, Cantor, Mitchell, and our GOP brethren in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and elsewhere – what that kind of financial good fortune means to our economy, for these people, the shareholders and corporate leaders, are our job creators. They are the very lifeblood and hope for our nation’s financial salvation. They count on people like me, and you, to choose freedom.

Thus, I take seriously my shirking of responsibility for insuring freedom and simplicity in this particular realm for myself and my fellows. Simply put, however, I choose to believe that life is too short for the paperwork, and even shorter for the rhetoric of the empty promises.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Early evening, 83º, clear skies, perfectly pleasant.… I cannot recall circling this lake during the past 18 months. In many ways, it feels as though those months never happened, but they certainly did. Many relationships changed in those months, some not for the better; but for the first time in my life, I am OK with that.… The lake’s water level appears to be higher than it was two and three years ago.… A handful of large trees on the northwest side have toppled, roots and all, probably from Thursday’s storm. Two more on the east side, including one that still blocks the bicycle path at the 32d Street Beach.

Gabriel “Gabe” Archangelus, July 4, 2009

Assimilation continues: a number of Somali women retain the long head scarves but show a fair amount of leg.… Not a duck or goose in sight anywhere – nor bald eagle(s).… The weed-cutter that rotates among the city’s lakes is stationed in Calhoun right now. With acres of weeds breaking the surface, that machine has a full schedule next week.… A west-side bench provided a restful spot for a woman to surf the web on her phone.… Volleyball games in progress. Frisbees flying. Even a football sailing around.… Halfway round I recalled plans to attend vespers this evening, before realizing it is summer in Minnesota and vespers are on vacation.… I will never understand the logic of wearing saggy pants. If the object is to show off one’s butt, just wear your underwear. It’s summer in Minnesota and one can get away with that.… Thomas Beach full of swimmers and picnicking, extended families, tables decked in red, white, and blue.… The perfect setting reminded of summer tailgating parties at the old Met Stadium before Minnesota Kicks soccer games.

I do not agree with John Winters, the Minneapolis retiree who wants to change the name of Lake Calhoun. John C. Calhoun was a loud and effective proponent of slavery from South Carolina who served in the United States Senate and as vice president to two U.S. presidents. Calhoun also was Secretary of War when Fort Snelling was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in 1823. First, I never think about Calhoun’s politics and career when enjoying our lake. Second, we allowed South Carolina back into the Union following the Civil War (although, one might wonder at times why we did so) and, with malice toward none, as Lincoln suggested, we might choose to set some things aside. Third, if we start down this path of renaming things for reasons of political correctness, where to stop? Fourth, slavery and the war that ended it are painful parts of our history – but they are past. We still have unfinished business with racial relations in the present day. Let’s tackle that. For starters, one need look no further than the rainbow of people enjoying together Lake Calhoun’s environs on a perfect summer evening.

Unlike in my Stevens Square neighborhood this weekend, not a single firecracker sounds on the entire lakefront.… The sunset is an orange magenta.… Very few canines out tonight. Gabriel (“Gabe”) Archangelus used to make these rounds with me. In 2004, we walked the lake together 3-4 mornings a week. However, he was six then and 13 now. His spirit remains willing but his flesh is weak.… Five eastern white pine trees were planted along the eastern shore this year. At six feet tall, each cost $217.50, according to their tags. Give them seven years and they will be soaring.… There seem to be more sailboats at anchor than in the past. In addition to the north side, moorings orient more to the east side this year.… The dispensary at the pavilion has long lines. However, the pricing of food and beverages at Calhoun – and at Lake Harriet two weeks ago – does not appear to my eye as being very family friendly. On the other hand, I would not purchase 10 pieces of shrimp for $12.95 anyway.… The canoe racks near North Beach show four vacancies. One wonders how many canoes are stolen each season with the snip of a chain in the dark of night.

Happy Independence Day.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For 18 months, I have been present for at least part of most days in the Seven Corners district of Minneapolis. With the conclusion of my employment by the Southern Theater, a district mainstay since 1910, my future visits will be infrequent.

As an amateur historian with an exaggerated sentimentality, I have allowed the historical Seven Corners to occupy a personal mindshare out of proportion to its present reduced circumstances. The ghosts who inhabit the area insist on being noticed and remembered.

For sure, the anomalous distinctions that gave rise to its name have been bulldozed and paved-over. To a casual eye, Seven Corners remains nothing more than an innocuous intersection that serves as the illogical meeting point of Washington Avenue, 15th Avenue South, 19th Avenue South, and Cedar Avenue.

For decades, Seven Corners served as a crossroads for the Swedish and other immigrants who flooded Minneapolis in the late 19th century and the early 20th. It provided single room housing for single men, who worked as laborers in construction and the nearby flour mills, and for single women who worked as domestics. While no original churches remain, many structures that housed saloons in the neighborhood still stand, and many still dispense a variety of spirits to ease the pursuit of social intercourse or of psychological survival.

During Seven Corners’ history, it became one of two Minneapolis residential neighborhoods to which Jewish and African-American citizens were restricted through the use of land covenants, and in which the poorest of all citizens could find affordable housing. The other neighborhood was that of the near North Side, along 6th Avenue North, in which my paternal grandparents lived.

When the Southern Theater opened in 1910 at 1420 Washington Avenue South, it had been built primarily by the Swedish immigrant community, and named after its sister venue, the Southern Theater located in Stockholm, Sweden. Next door, at 1430, stood Gluek’s saloon. Then, as now, Gluek’s incorporated the six-pointed Star of David into its logo. Gluek’s remains a mainstay of Minneapolis’ Warehouse District on 6th Street, just north of Hennepin Avenue.

Today, the Town Hall Brewery occupies the former Gluek’s building. The building is owned by Dudley Riggs, founding impresario of the long-running Brave New Workshop comedy venue in Minneapolis.

If not friends, I have become “business acquaintances” with most of Town Hall’s personnel. I will dearly miss Matt, Andy, Mithab, Chris, Steve, Rachel, Marty, and others, along with their customers. The establishment insures that Seven Corners remains a crossroads for those who enjoy original, local brews.

One block away, construction is under way to build a new light rail line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. The train station, a block away, will carry the name “West Bank Station.” Matt and I have pursued a campaign – so far fruitless – to convince the powers-that-be to name the station “Seven Corners/West Bank” for the simple reason that “before West Bank, Seven Corners was.”

The bureaucrats of the Metropolitan Council, with their soulless, fancy-dancy notions of modern usage and lack of appreciation for historical perspective, have had none of it so far. Nonetheless, we planted the seed, and our hope springs eternal.

I will miss Seven Corners, its buildings, its people, its ghosts, and their stories. They will live in my heart as long as it beats.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the summer of 1954, our family was the second to move into one of the newly-constructed houses on our block on Second Street N.E. in the panhandle of Fridley, Minnesota. The purchase price was $9,900.

I was two years old, my sister, Deb, a few months.

Located in Anoka County, Fridley is a first-tier suburb on the northeast border of Minneapolis. It was incorporated as a village in 1949 and became a city in 1957. In the “Fridley tornados” of May 6, 1965, a quarter of the city’s homes were damaged or destroyed.

In short order in 1954 and 1955, other young families took up residence in the remaining abodes, most of them with one or two youngsters in-hand. No one of a certain age required clairvoyance to know what transpired in the bedrooms of young parents throughout the neighborhood. In no time at all, additional younglings arrived to provide playmates for each age cohort.

With no grass at the beginning, nor trees to climb, and no fenced yards, there was no end of open-range play areas. Also, there was “The Field,” an expanse of sand and weeds across Main Street that stretched a mile north and south along Main, and a quarter mile west from the street to the massive railroad switching yard.

We learned to ride bicycles on the dirt alleys – which caused fewer injuries than did falls on paved roads, few as those were. (It was a big deal when curbs, gutters, and asphalt eventually replaced tar and crushed rock for street surfaces.)

As grass and a few trees were planted, fences were installed that restricted our range of free movement. Play then came to center on a few front and back yards, including ours. We knew everyone, and everyone knew us.

The Hansens, next door, attended the Methodist church. The Willmans, across the alley, were the token Catholics. Next to them, the Sepples attended First Lutheran Church, which was somehow more conservative than our church, St. Timothy’s English Evangelical Lutheran, affiliated with the United Lutheran Church in America. Mainly – owing something to my parents’ evangelism – if you were Lutheran in our neighborhood, you joined or attended St. Tim’s.

My family were charter members of St. Tim’s, organized on Palm Sunday, 1959. My brother, born in April that year, was named after the church. At its peak, 10 years later, the church counted a membership of 1,200, operating on 10 acres of land on the shores of Sullivan Lake.

In those days, most of our mothers did not work outside the home. Also in those days, no 24/7 news cycles convinced our parents that we needed to be kept under lock-and-key or chaperoned. We could roam all day and most of the evening, and got in trouble only if we failed to show up for supper.

Friendships formed, all of them meaningful and some of them lasting.

One of the lasting ties was that between my brother and David William Wicklund. Dave was born in November 1958 and lived across Second street.

Dave died of natural causes on June 2, last week.

Over the years, many of the Second Street parent neighbors have died – Don and Elaine Archer, Harold and Audrey Sepple, Arvid and Fern Hansen, Tom and Tess Thompson, Gene Wicklund – while others have moved away.

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up my mother at her home in Monticello and drove to Dave’s visitation and memorial service at St. Tim’s. We were way early, so we spent time driving around the old ‘hood.

The landscape had an alien feel, what with trees 50+ years old. Our old house has a basketball hoop on the garage. (We never had a garage.) Many of the houses sport bay windows, brickwork, decks, and other affectations.

It was mid-afternoon and no one was extant in yards or on the street.

We arrived at St. Tim’s at the stroke of 3pm. Dave had been confirmed in his Christian faith there on May 5, 1974. The photo of his confirmation class is displayed permanently in the lobby, as are those of all of us who passed through from 1959 to the present.

Dave’s mother greeted us at the entry and welcomed a long and silent embrace. There are no words that can comfort a grieving mother. Dave was the second son she had lost to natural causes.

It was a blessing to see Harvey and Sylvia at the church, along with their children, Neil, Donna, and Debra. I babysat those children after their parents moved from South Dakota.

Daniel Lloyd held court at the organ and piano keyboards, as he has done since he was a teenager in the 1960s.

Dave’s younger sister, Susan, recalled her brother as a man who viewed life as a glass half-full, one who cultivated an encyclopedic and rabid knowledge of the Minnesota Twins baseball team (and, to a lesser extent, of the Minnesota Vikings and the old North Stars).

Friend Randy, who met Dave at Columbia Heights High School in 1975, recalled an intelligent and loyal friend who lived each moment in color.

Randy’s sister and Dave’s love, Renae, described a man who provided the color to her life and knew how to work an entire room at every high school reunion.

We listened to readings from the Book of Revelation (“the old world has passed away”), Psalm 91 (expressing confidence in God), and the Gospel of John (Jesus taking leave “to prepare a place”).

We sang “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Amazing Grace.”

We adjourned to the church basement for fellowship and a light meal that, in Lutheran fashion, was anything but light.

As she has for more than 50 years, Eva, 88, continued her ministry and constant presence at the food table, assisting in the provision of nourishment to the nuanced ties that bind.

In the fullness of time, all boundaries of time and space pass away and collapse upon themselves. This was expressed best in the handwritten message that accompanied the bouquet placed in the worship chancel by Dave’s mother:

“I will love you forever.”

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Southern Theater will move into the 2011/12 performance season with a renewed board of directors and reaffirmation of its mission, a sustainable business plan that reduces costs and increases access to performers, and a full-time staff of one.

The Southern’s 15-member board has taken urgent steps to stabilize the organization amidst its immediate financial crisis and adopted a “Plan for a Sustainable Southern” that projects 40-weeks of performance activity, a first-year budget of $165,600, and a revenue ratio of 2-to-1 earned-to-contributed income.

Since 2008, the theater had presented 28 to 47 annual engagements, with an annual budget of approximately $1.1 million.

“The plan will preserve the historic, 101-year-old theater as a unique venue for artists and the community while laying the groundwork for a viable business model,” said Anne Baker, chair of the board of directors.

“For at least seven years, the theater has shouldered too much of the financial risk of presenting and producing performances of dance, music, theater, and film, and has not effectively made the case to enough individuals, foundations, and corporations that donations, sponsorships, and underwriting will produce sufficient added value to merit full support,” said Baker.

“This plan allows us to stabilize and to focus on the chronic issue of negative cash flows caused by organizational, strategic, managerial, and operational problems,” she added.

Key elements of the plan may be summarized as (a) reducing annual expenses to a minimum in order to make the space accessible to more artists at a cost that is as low as possible, (b) “keeping it simple” by establishing a reliable platform of earned income on which to strategically build future programs, (c) adding fully underwritten programming when feasible, and (d) staffing by a knowledgeable professional who is accountable to an engaged and energized board.

The board of directors has named Damon Runnals to the new position of general manager. Runnals, 32, has served as the theater’s production and operations manager since September 2008. He received a BA degree in Theater Arts from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

Runnals will assume his duties on June 10, when the position of executive director, held by Gary Peterson since January 2010, will be eliminated. Peterson has been elected to the Southern’s board of directors. Over the past six weeks, the theater has eliminated eight other positions due to adverse financial circumstances.

“On behalf of our board,” Baker added, “I want to offer our sincere gratitude to all of the Southern staff members whose commitment to the performing arts attracted critical acclaim to the theater and inspired us all.”

On April 21, the Southern announced that it needed to raise $400,000 by April 30 in order to provide one year’s working capital, pay vendors, and present a full season of curated work in 2011/12. That plan would have preserved the employed expertise of several people and a range of marketing, front of house, and back of house services for artists and audiences.

On May 3, the theater reported that it had raised $50,000 from its annual gala, held April 30, and an additional $45,000 from online gifts by nearly 300 donors.

Members of the board returned to the drawing board and considered various, alternative business scenarios before settling on the new “Plan for a Sustainable Southern” and its provision for a single employee.

The primary goals of the plan are to keep the theater open and available to artists and audiences, and to protect the basic presentation model supported by rental agreements. However, the Southern and the community will have the capacity to supplement the model further through underwriting opportunities for mission-aligned program activity. The Southern also will have office space available for rent to nonprofit organizations.

Since April 9, in response to its crisis of operational and financial distress, the Southern’s board of directors has taken ownership of past mistakes with an eagerness to restore institutional integrity; examined the financial behavior that led to the crisis and established the policies and procedures necessary to match the theater’s cash position and down-sized requirements; set in motion a process of forensic financial review by an outside party; and renewed efforts to enhance the composition of its membership.

With the Southern’s immediate crisis now under control, the board will re-double its efforts to turn its attention to pay creditors, raise operating and underwriting capital, and find additional ways to take advantage of the many offers of assistance that the theater has received from artists and others.

“As the arts ecosystem and climate continue to change, this plan gives us hope and vision for what the Southern can yet become for artists and audiences, and that it is worthy of support,” said Baker. “We hope to schedule one or more benefit concerts. We also will move forward with our online auction during August and, of course, we will continue to accept donations online” [].

As a 501(c)(3) organization, all financial gifts to the Southern are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave., S., Minneapolis, MN 55454.

Southern Theater mission

The Southern Theater, a 210-seat theater in Minneapolis, cultivates artistic exploration by providing a vibrant home for performance, fostering a multiplicity of voices, and catalyzing connections among artists and audiences.

Twitter Updates


Add to Technorati Favorites