Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 March 31, 2003

You might be from a small town if . . .

Are you from a small town? You might be if:

· you can name everyone you graduated with.

· you know what 4-H is.

· you ever went to parties in a pasture, barn, or in the middle of a dirt road.

· you could never buy cigarettes because all the store clerks knew how old you were.

· you have ever gone home for homecoming.

· It was cool to date someone from the neighboring towns.

· you had senior skip day.

· the whole school went to the same party after graduation.

· you don't give directions by street names (turn by Nelsons' house, go two blocks past Andersons', and it's four houses left of the ball diamond.)

· you can't help but date a friend's ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend).

· you think kids that ride skateboards are weird.

· the town next to you is considered "trashy" or "snooty," but is actually just like your town.

· you refer to anyone with a house newer than 1980 as "the rich people."

· your letter jacket was worn after your 19th birthday.

· even the ugly people enter beauty pageants.

· you decide to walk somewhere for exercise and five people pull over and ask if you need a ride.

· the closest McDonald's is 45 miles away.


Many observers explain the success of Minnesota by the fact that Minnesota is made up of more small towns than other states.

Minnesota has been called "the land of 10,000 lakes and 100,000 small towns." In the Twin Cities, it seems most of the people you meet come from some small town or other.

In the Twin Cities, in fact, there are annual picnics in Minnehaha Park for reunions of people from the Minnesota small towns.

John ("Chuck") Gagnon told me one time that when he went to Mass at a large parish in Minneapolis, he saw some Borrells, a Zeller, and a Rogers all serving as ushers or readers. He felt right at home.

The qualities small town people bring to the Twin Cities and to the rest of the world are a lot of participation in civic affairs, friendliness, a practical sense of how to get things done, political skills, and a work ethic. People raised on farms are especially noted for being good at fixing things and working hard.

Minnesota leads the nation in its voter turnout, educational achievements at all levels, and generous welfare system, thanks to its small-town heritage. It's pretty hard to live in a small town and not be involved in school board politics, the city council, and the welfare of the neediest among you.

"The significance of small towns has remained strong because they promise to provide a sense of community, balanced between the isolation of the farm or hamlet and the frenzy of the big city, that many people want . . .

"The impact of the agricultural crisis of the 1980s was serious, but no more than other crises that towns had faced.

"The presumed demise of small towns had been a recurring theme since before the turn of the century, yet hundreds of Minnesota towns showed every sign of continued survival. Nostalgia for small towns was another recurring theme."

­ From "Minnesota in a Century of Change" by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000

Each Minnesota town had its own identity and considered itself better than the towns around it, although I can't remember real rivalries among the neighboring towns.

A lot of us in Waverly went to school in Howard Lake, and even more of us made money every summer in the Mealey family's berry patches. Many of us also made friends in Cokato when we worked either at the Minnesota Valley Canning Company or at the Green Giant Company.

Montrose, at three miles away, was within walking distance. One spring night, I remember, some guys from Montrose called the bowling alley in Waverly and challenged whoever was there to a basketball game.

"Zip" Zeller rounded us up and we walked down Highway 12 to Montrose. We lost the game in the Montrose gym and then walked home after a stop in Kelly's Market to buy some doughnuts.

I remember "Zip" telling me after the game that he saw me just standing around whistling on the basketball floor for all four quarters. I told him I was whistling for him to throw the ball to me, which would have been a very foolish move anyway.

Another time, when Highway 12 froze over, some of us skated all the way to Montrose and back. People don't believe me when I tell them this, so I hope I can find a reader out there who can verify my story.

I did skate all the way. I think I was in love with Gloria Drotz at the time.

In the "You're From a Small Town If . . . " section, it says, "You're from a small town if you can name all the people you graduated with."

Well, I can. I had 13 unforgettable people in my class of 1949.

There were 17 in the class of 1958, and they are now planning a 45th reunion.

The Ron Lachermeiers called me to see if I could tell them some addresses. I couldn't give them John Cosgrove's address, even though he came to my brother Myles' funeral June 25, 1994, and we promised to stay in touch.

(If anyone can help, call Ron or his wife in Buffalo at (763) 682-1420.)

Speaking of class reunions, the Minnesota writer Tim O'Brien has a new book out about a small town class reunion from the class of '69 called "July, July."

Here is a paragraph from it:

"'Hard to believe,' they kept saying about themselves . . . According to a reunion brochure, 62 percent of the class had settled in the Twin Cities area, Amy Robinson and Jan Huebner lived seven blocks apart in the nearby suburb of Eden Prairie.

Forty nine percent had paid at least one visit to divorce court; 67 percent were married; 58 percent described themselves as 'unlucky in love.'

"Almost 80 percent had selected 'romance and/or spiritual fulfillment' as the governing principle of their lives. There were six attorneys, 12 teachers, five physicians, one chemist, three accountants, 19 entrepreneurs, 14 full-time mothers, one chief executive officer, one actor, one minister, one Lutheran missionary, and one retired librarian."

There may not have been much hardball rivalry among our small towns, except on the baseball diamond, but the same was not true of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the so called Twin Cities, which are not identical twins, believe me.

I am saving this story for a future column, but for now, ponder this attack upon the St. Paul Dispatch by the Minneapolis Tribune dated March 3, 1882, sent to me by Patsy Johnson:

"The St. Paul Dispatch has ceased to be a newspaper, and is therefore a financial failure. Its publication would be suspended but for the pleasure its editor derives from throwing mud at Minneapolis people and interests. However, the latter are too high to be reached by the vile contents of the little squirt gun, and the Dispatch editor simply keeps himself under a backward falling shower of his own slop."

More slop next week!


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