Nourishing new roots on the Iron Range

People enjoy a block party at the new “pocket park” in downtown Chisholm in August 2017. (PHOTO: Antone Leustek via Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Project FB page)

I found myself pacing through an Iron Range cemetery the other day, looking for a particular stiff. On my grim patrol I realized that the graveyard was laid out according to national origin. Eastern Europeans and Italians, Swedes and Norwegians, Germans and Irish could all be found in separate sections, at least until the 1940s and ’50s when the dead — like the living — started mixing.

The story of the Mesabi Iron Range is how many people became one. You hear the word “roots” a lot. But just like a marriage, the question now becomes how one people find a way to grow together, or not at all. Will our roots nourish new limbs on this family tree?

I often mention the Iron Range young professionals group ReGen. It’s the kind of group I would have enjoyed when I was in my 20s. In my recent research of Iron Range history I learned that many of the most influential people in the early years of our local towns found the Mesabi to be an exciting place when they started their careers. Lifelong friendships and connections formed over hopes and dreams. Excitement and opportunity fuel young professionals’ decision about where to live and work. This isn’t new.

The University of Minnesota Extension office produces a podcast called Vital Connections. The most recent episode features three members of ReGen talking about their efforts to help people create and enhance their roots to the Iron Range in a modern context. Give it a listen:

Focusing on the future of this place rather than the past inspires people to take on projects that improve the Iron Range. Case in point, this Northern Community Radio interview with my colleague Jessalyn Sabin about the Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Project’s new “pocket park.”

It’s true, I’ve been working on a history project — looking back. But, for me, every minute I spend looking back provides lessons in how to look forward.

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