Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #066. First published in the St. Cloud Times Jan. 22, 2013

This time last year, the judging panel was making decisions about items that had been submitted in response to my call for “10 Objects That Define Us,” things that tell the story of our area. (See accompanying list.)

A year later, I find myself thinking, not of another contest, but of events or occasions that define us. This gets me looking around and forward more than back (though there was nothing antiquarian about the “10 Objects” — they all resonate in the present). Four examples buoy my spirits as 2013 begins.

First, two weeks ago, I visited an exhibit of artwork by kids, done at Boys & Girls Club of Central Minnesota locations, including KIDSTOP sites. The drawings, paintings, prints, collages and mixed-media creations were displayed in Crossroads Center.

The bursts of imagination, the demonstrations of skill and craft, the fresh and illuminating ways of seeing the world were impressive and inspiring. And the ages of the artists — some as young as 5, the oldest 18 — almost defied belief (though I suspect adults who work with kids all the time, detecting their originality and supporting it, would chide me for my surprise). From near-photographic realism to near-Cubist abstraction, these budding Georgia O’Keeffes and Pablo Picassos reassure me the arts are in good hands in the 21st century.

The second defining effort is the United Way’s campaign, ongoing but currently highlighted, to engage volunteer readers, tutors and mentors toward the stated goal of increased literacy and quality out-of-school learning time. This project fits with the overall aim of the Partner for Student Success initiative, which calls on the entire community to take responsibility for the success of all kids. Still looking for a worthwhile resolution to make for this new year? You couldn’t do better than visit the United Way website and volunteer.

Third is the Greater St. Cloud Community Priorities Forum, sponsored by the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, the Initiative Foundation and the St. Cloud Times, from 7:30-10:00 a.m. Feb. 21 at River’s Edge Convention Center. The forum gives us all a chance to determine what defines us. Ten priorities were named in 2011; this year, additions will be made. If you can’t be at the forum in person, nominate your ideas at www.sctimes.com/communitysurvey by Monday.

Fourth is the 12th Annual Night of the Stars, set for Feb. 22-23 and sponsored by the Local Education & Activities Foundation (LEAF) at the Paramount Theater. LEAF, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, promotes and enhances school-based extracurricular activities and educational opportunities in the St. Cloud school district. The Night of the Stars variety show has become one of the defining cultural highlights of the year, showcasing the talents of students across a spectrum of forms of expression — music, comedy, drama.

From the art display at Crossroads to the energy and excitement on the Paramount stage, sustained by the dedication of the Boys & Girls Clubs, United Way, Partner for Student Success, LEAF, and with the engagement of us all in setting and advancing community priorities, we’re poised for a good definition in 2013.

Finally, the Jan. 13 Times Our View champions St. Cloud’s rebranding and invites suggestions. Times Writers Group columnists aren’t permitted to submit letters, so this is my only chance: “St. Cloud Region: Where past and future meet in a dynamic now.”

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A refresher list

“10 Objects That Define Us” area residents chose in 2012:

Two granite columns from Zapp Bank, built in 1915, that now stand beside the Stearns History Museum; an immigrant trunk; a stoneboat (a simple horse-drawn — later tractor-drawn — sled Central Minnesota farmers dragged through their fields each spring to haul away rocks); the sword presented by the citizens of St. Cloud to Lt. Col. Stephen Miller of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, the only St. Cloud resident so far to be elected Governor of Minnesota; a Benedictine Sister’s habit; a brick from the second St. Cloud Public Library; a still; the Jan. 20, 1967, telegram authorizing Minnesota Educational Radio (now MPR); a Crossroads Center sign; and a Creative Memories album.

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