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‘It should never have happened’

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Mother warned officials ex-husband was dangerous before he killed child and himself

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Mikayla Olson Tester might be a happy 21-year-old woman today if the family court system had listened to the warnings of her mother.
Instead, it’s been 15 years since she was murdered by her own father, and the weight of not being believed by the court system still weighs heavily on mother Leigh Ann Block (fomerly Olson). She has spent the last 15 years putting together the pieces of this tragedy, trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
“Fifteen years later I’m trying to protect women and children from going through what we did because I can’t save her,” said Block.
“It should never have happened.”

Calculated murder 2 weeks after he took daughter on
vacation

Mikayla Olson Tester would have been 21 on Nov. 29, 2019. Because of her spirit, her mother Leigh Ann Block is still fighting for other kids in abusive situations with an unhealthy and dangerous parent. She was her mother’s “sweetie-girl.” Her daycare provider called her Cinderella and brought her to Mattock’s Park to play. She called herself “Mika” when she was little because she couldn’t say “Mikayla.” She loved her family, music, Disney princesses – especially Ariel, dressing up, playing with stuffed “aminals,” and her cat Smokey. Her mother remembers going on walks with godmother Kris, and Mikayla’s blond hair flying in the wind. “Feel the breeze, Mikayla Nicole,” Block would say.

It was her father’s turn to have the five-year-old on Labor Day weekend 2004, right before she was going to start kindergarten at Randolph Heights School.
The Ramsey County court had given St. Paul resident John Tester, age 41, joint custody and over 50 percent parenting time, over the objections of Block.
Her ex-husband prevented Block from caring for Mikayla and threatened and intimidated them both. But the people she tried to get to protect her and Mikayla failed.
The police, a custody evaluator, mediator, attorneys, Referee Earl Beddow Jr., and Judge Michael F. Fetcsch didn’t pay attention to his threats, coercive control or post-separation abuse, and instead gave him the standard custody and parenting time schedule.
“I tried to do everything within my power to protect her but the law was not on my side,” said Block.
On that day 15 years ago, when Block answered the door of her home she shared with Mikayla, and saw two St. Paul police officers, she knew the news was bad.
It was the news a battered woman fears most.
“Mikayla is dead, isn’t she?”
Block knew without being told. She had received a strange call from her ex-husband earlier that day. He had instructed their only child to call Block and tell her they were going on a journey in a new car.
Tester then took his daughter to a rural Wisconsin road outside of Osceola on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004, shot her in the head, and then turned the gun on himself.
It was over three years since the couple had split up.
Tester’s sister-in-law, Gina, told the Star Tribune that Tester had done it to get back at Block.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Department called it a “cold and calculated murder” that took months to plan.
“I had warned the courts that Mikayla’s life was in danger,” said Block, a smart, capable and respondible woman.
But no one in the family court system believed her in time to save her daughter. The fact that no one in the justice system did anything to protect her daughter still haunts Block.
“Despite a well-documented history of threats to abuse me and my child, my ex-husband was allowed to have unsupervised visitation with our daughter,” said Block. “John’s abusive behavior did not affect the custody/parenting time decisions. It was clear to me that the domestic violence and threats to harm me and our daughter had no impact on the court.”
Mikayla’s funeral was held on the day she was supposed to start kindergarten.

Court wouldn’t let her protect daughter from father
Block’s attorney, Mark Anderson of Burnsville, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press shortly after Mikayla was murdered by her father that Block lived for her daughter. “She was a very, very dedicated mother; and she did everything she could to protect that little girl from people, but it was the one guy she could never do anything about because he had court-ordered visitation,” observed Anderson.
In their divorce decree, they shared joint legal custody. Tester was granted parenting time of 4.5 hours with Mikayla on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as from 9 a.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday on alternating weekends. “Even though I had sole physical custody, Mikayla’s father had over 50% of the parenting time and spent more quality time with our daughter. I ‘agreed’ to this arrangement because I had no choice,” said Block, after her first attorney, Martha Eaves (SMRLS), told her to “quit pushing John’s buttons.” Eaves also told Block that the courts would grant him 50% custody anyway.

Leigh Ann Block visits the bench in Mattock’s Park dedicated to her daughter, Mikayla Olson Tester, who was murdered by her father on Labor Day weekend 2004 at age 5. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Nightmare began after baby was born
Block graduated from Central High School in St. Paul in 1985, the same school her grandparents and mom had attended. She got a good job at Montgomery Ward, and met John Tester a year out of high school through mutual friends.
They dated off and on between 1986 and 1998, when they got married at Como Conservatory because they had a baby on the way.
Block remembers that Tester was competitive and compared himself to others constantly. He really enjoyed boating, and they had lots of fun on the weekends. But it wasn’t until she gave up her apartment and moved into “his house” on Palace St. (he never called it theirs even after they got married) to save money, that she felt trepidation about marrying him.
Things started gradually. Like many men, he didn’t really start showing his abusive side until their daughter was born when the focus was no longer on him, although Block can look back now and see some earlier red flags.
“It’s supposed to be the happiest time in your life when you have a baby,” observed Block, “but that’s basically when my nightmare began.”
From the time Mikayla was born, Block remembers that her ex-husband would get angry at the amount of care and attention Block gave her.
Sometimes he would pin her down on the bed and make her listen to their daughter’s screams in the next room.
They both agreed that Block would stop working when their daughter was born, and care for the baby, as well as manage the care for Block’s dad who was battling Stage 4 carcinoma cancer and lived with them. She was dependent upon her husband, and that was just how he wanted it.
She timed her trips out of the house to fall when Tester wasn’t home, and made sure she was back before he was. It wasn’t easy, though, as he called her regularly to make sure she was at home. He wanted to know exactly what she was doing when he wasn’t around and who she was with. He followed her from room to room to listen to her phone conversations. She started keeping journals to track what her husband was doing, and asked her best friend to hide them.
He started threatening to kill Block and their daughter on a weekly basis, sometimes while holding a large knife in his hand, and mimicking killing motions. Ten minutes later he would deny everything. The gaslighting became more regular.
“He was very smart,” said Block. “He never physically left marks.”
He told her she was fat and made fun of her crooked teeth. He told her that she’d never find anyone as great as himself if she left him. She remembers suffering from the cognitive dissonance of hearing him talk about how great he was and listening to the terrible things he said to her.
At night, when the baby was hungry and started to cry, he screamed at Block to “shut her up! Some of us have to work.”
Due to his rages and his frequent marijuana use, Block avoided leaving Mikayla home alone with him. “It’s a horrible thing to not want to leave your children with their father,” Block remarked.
At home, Block did all the childcare while Tester went boating or snowmobiling with his friends almost every weekend, but out in public Tester was a doting dad. In fact, five months before he murdered Mikayla, he took her to Disney World.
He tightly controlled their finances, and gave her a paltry $20 a week allowance. Friends and family helped Block buy diapers and other baby things.
She told herself that she was going to “stick it out” until Mikayla was in kindergarten.
Then came the day in March 2000, when she couldn’t stop herself from calling the police because she was so scared. It was a Saturday, and she had planned to buy tickets for “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Tester refused to let her leave the house, so she called her sister-in-law to tell her she couldn’t go. Angry, Tester ripped the cordless phone out of her hands. She ran to another room to use the old-fashioned wall phone, and told her friend that “things aren’t ok right now,” and returned upstairs. His behavior was so threatening that she grabbed the cordless phone again, ran out on the porch, and called 911. The phone went dead when he ripped the line out of the wall.
When the three squad cars arrived, Block asked herself, “What have I done? He’s going to kill me.”
She obtained her first order for protection (OFP), and he was banned from the house except to pick up Mikayla for visits. Angry that he’d been kicked out of “his house” due to an order for protection, Tester filed for divorce. Block had no money for another home, daycare, or an attorney.

Leigh Ann Block (formerly Olson) pages through a photo album of her daughter, who was murdered by her father 15 years ago.

Post-separation abuse
unchecked
Fearing what Tester would do despite the OFP, Block put a baby monitor in the garage. Tester worked third shift, but one night she heard a noise in the garage and called the police. The cops found him inside with the hood of her vehicle up and a quart of oil sitting by the open gas tank. He told the cops he was just there to pick up some tools. He was arrested for violating the OFP.
The morning after Halloween, Block looked out the window of her new apartment, and her Blazer was missing again. She had changed the vehicle’s door key after an earlier suspicious incident, but not the ignition key. She reported it stolen, and three weeks later it was found wrapped around a tree in Rochester. It had been involved in a vehicular homicide when two kids took it on a joyride despite the passenger seat having been cut out.
Shortly after, Block flipped through the notebook she and Tester exchanged with their daughter, recording important details to share with the other parent. Inside, she found the ignition key to her Blazer.
Tester was letting her know he could get to her, despite the OFP and their divorce papers.
Before he murdered Mikayla, Tester quit his job in order to get his child support reduced, and then worked secretly for cash while receiving unemployment benefits.
Tester put Mikayla in the middle of Block and himself, because he couldn’t control Block any more as she started a new life with Mikayla. Mikayla started asking her mother distressing questions like, “why is Daddy mean?” One day Mikayla asked her mom if she was going to die. “No,” Block told her. “Why do you ask?” “Because Daddy said you were,” replied Mikayla. He told her that if mom starting dating that she wouldn’t love Mikayla anymore.
He stole and refused to return their daughter’s favorite stuffed animal, even though she had trouble sleeping without Hippity. He told their daughter she was fat.
Block was always on alert, waiting for the next thing to happen.
Tester continued to threaten Block and yell obscenities at her during exchanges of Mikayla. But when she told the officials involved in their case – the people she thought were supposed to help her – they didn’t give him any real consequences. After Tester tampered with Block’s vehicle, he had been instructed to see Mikayla at the Children’s Safety Center for supervised visitation. After a month or two, Tester wanted to take Mikayla to a family reunion, and Ramsey County custody evaluator Kelly Gerleman allowed it, despite Tester’s threats to take Mikayla away from Block and despite his threats to kill them both. Moreover, Gerleman removed Mikayla from the Safety Center indefinitely. Gerleman told Block, “John needs to be given the chance to demonstrate good behavior.”
Block was warned by officials that if she fled with her daughter, she would be arrested for kidnapping. And then, Tester killed Mikayla.
Block called each one of these professionals after Mikayla was murdered, but she never got an apology, nor did any suffer consequences in their jobs for their role in Mikayla’s death.
“They failed miserably,” said Block. “I didn’t get any help. Nobody listened to me. I was not some crazy ex-wife. I was a loving mother trying to protect my child. This is what parents are supposed to do – keep their children safe from harm. There’s something really wrong with the system and that’s an understatement.”
She added, “They were minimizing. I still feel like I’m being minimized because I didn’t have any bruises.”

Not hit, but still victims of abuse
Block is tired of hearing the common myth that “it takes two to tango.”
She’s tired of the stereotypes about the kind of woman who gets abused. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make or your status,” she observed. She doesn’t think people want to believe that someone with a few kids who lives in a nice house could be an abuser or a victim, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
She’s tired of hearing that women are vindictive and make up abuse to get back at their spouses. She’s ready for people to start believing women and children.
“Abuse survivors are constantly trying to prove themselves,” she observed. “There should be no question.” She supports a national resolution, H. Con.Res.72, “expressing the sense of Congress that child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and that state courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged” (115th Congress [2017-2018]). This resolution makes it standard to put the safety needs of children first rather than parental rights, and Block and friend Bonnie Roy are pushing for state legislation that will also support putting the safety of children first through the Minnesota Chapter of the Stop Abuse Campaign.
Block began recording her abuse in journals in the spring of 1999, and now it’s 2019. Kids are still not being protected, despite the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research on how much kids are affected by threats, intimidation and physical violence.
“I may not have been hit, but Mikayla was still a victim of domestic violence,” she said.
“There’s still no law that protects children in abusive situations.”
Minnesota has nine best interest factors, and only one is related to domestic violence. “The best interest is not putting your children with an abusive father,” said Block. She believes that if a parent is abusive, they should not have joint custody. They should not have access to their children.
“I want to be part of a positive change that will prioritize these kids’ lives,” said Block.
And so she keeps telling her story.
“We shouldn’t have to beg for these laws to protect our kids,” said Block.
“We need to start looking out for each other.”
She has devoted her time to promoting prevention, testifying at government hearings against 50/50 custody laws, and speaking out so that no more children die because of domestic violence.
According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, at least 728 children have been murdered by a divorcing or separating parent since 2011. Seventy-three percent of the perpetrators are fathers. Many of these children are killed in murder-suicides, as Mikayla was.
In the 30 years that Violence Free Minnesota (formerly the Minnesota Battered Women’s Coalition) has been tracking femicides, at least 685 people were killed due to relationship abuse. The youngest victim was just 22 weeks old; the oldest was 88.
“Mikayla was mentally and physically abused by her father, as was I. And we dealt with it basically from her birth in 1998,” said Block.
“I don’t want any other child to have to go through what Mikayla went through.”
Contact editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

 

Four murdered in Minneapolis

19 killed in intimate partner homicides in 2019

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Raven B. Gant’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her in front of her minor daughter in North Minneapolis. Later, over the holiday weekend, Kjersten Marie Schladetzky, and her two sons, William and Nelson were killed in a triple murder-suicide by their father and Kjersten’s ex-husband, David, in south Minneapolis.
Raven, Kjersten, William, and Nelson are Minnesota’s most recent confirmed intimate partner homicide victims. There have been 19 confirmed intimate partner homicide victims as of press time on Dec. 21.
On the morning of Dec. 1, David Schladetzky, 53, shot and killed his two sons, William, 11, and Nelson, 8, outside of their home at 2738 Oakland Ave. He then entered the house and shot and killed his ex-wife, Kjersten, 39, before killing himself. Police officers responded to calls of gunshots and found the two boys in the front yard. As officers arrived, they heard shots coming from inside the house. Kjersten and David’s bodies were later found inside the home. A divorce was finalized between the two in June 2019.
Randall Watkins, 41, faces a second-degree murder charge for the killing of 27-year-old Raven Gant, who was shot in the back. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says it will seek an enhanced sentence in this case due to the presence of the child.
Intimate partner homicides have a devastating impact on children. Children are injured and killed. Additionally, witnessing the murder of a parent due to intimate partner homicide can have long-term adverse effects on children. In the Violence Free Minnesota 30-year retrospective on intimate partner homicide in Minnesota, a child witnessed the homicide of their parent in 22% of the 685 cases from 1989-2018.
“The safety of our children is directly linked to intimate partner violence of their parents,” said Violence Free Minnesota Executive Director Liz Richards. “Protecting our children is an essential part of our work to end intimate partner violence. We must find the words – and the solutions – to say that these deaths are the fatal result of power and control; and we can take action as a community to end intimate partner violence.”
Raven Gant, and Kjersten, William, and Nelson Schladetzky’s lives will be honored at an intimate partner homicide memorial on Jan. 28, 2020, and included in the 2019 intimate partner homicide report to be released on Oct. 1, 2020.
If you are a victim experiencing abuse, contact Day One at 866-223-1111 to connect with services.
Information courtesy of Violence Free Minnesota, formerly the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

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Isuroon: A portal to better health

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Executive Director Fartun Weli said, “There are things I’m not good at, but I am good at is busting down doors. There is power in keeping people dependent on the system. What I’m trying to do with Isuroon is make sure Somali women and girls are not becoming dependent.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Isuroon is a robust word in the Somali language.
According to Isuroon Executive Director Fartun Weli, it can be used as a verb, a noun, or an adjective. It is also the name of the organization she leads.
She said, “Somali words are conceptual. While the short translation of Isuroon is ‘a woman who cares for herself,’ the long translation is ‘a woman who has gotten everything she needs to be strong, healthy, independent, empowered, beautiful, vivacious, and confident.’ The mission of our organization is to be a space where every Somali woman can be all of those things.”
Isuroon was founded in 2010 to address the unmet health care needs of Somali women and girls in this community. Through group meetings, one-on-one counseling, and carefully designed teaching sessions, staff offer education on issues including self-care and social connectedness, healthy eating, pre-natal health, the impact of female genital cutting/mutilation, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, domestic and sexual violence, pregnancy prevention, child abuse, understanding HIV/AIDS, and navigating a complex health care system.
Weli and her 11 employees have a lot on their plates. Their resources are available to any Somali woman who wants to improve her health and wellness, and that of her family – to give her the tools so that she can thrive in Minnesota and beyond. Through education and coaching, women and girls learn to manage their health care preventatively, strengthen their economic self-sufficiency, and develop their innate leadership skills.
Isuroon serves a population that likely came to Minnesota from refugee camps. To be a stable presence rooted in the Somali community, they purchased a building at 1600 East Lake Street last year. Weli explained, “One of the ways we are different as an organization is that we don’t just operate within our 55407 zip code. Our women come from everywhere. Now we are easy to find.”
The barriers to health and wellness for immigrants and refugees are significant. Food insecurity can be a problem for Somali families, especially new arrivals. Weli explained why a disproportionate number of Somali families have female heads-of-household (54% nation-wide.) She said, “After 911, it got much harder for Muslim men to enter the US. While the typical Somali family consists of mom, dad, and children, it’s common for males 18+ to arrive 3-5 years after the rest of their family.”
These separations cause alot of stress. Weli believes the burden is made worse for Muslim women because of cultural stereotypes. She said, “Many Americans (especially white women) think that because we’re covered, we are insecure, oppressed, and in need of rescue. This is not true! We need to diffuse these stereotypes, which are also perpetuated by the media. Who are Muslim women in general, and Somali women in particular? We are intuitive, alert, and sociable; we didn’t grow up feeling inferior to anyone. We are unique.”
To address food insecurity, Isuroon opened a food shelf six years ago. Weli explained, “I didn’t think it was part of our mission, but our elders started asking for one. We went to Governor Dayton’s Office, and they tried to be helpful. They connected us with the big, established food distribution networks in the Twin Cities but, ultimately, it didn’t work. Understand that when you’ve lived in a refugee camp, you are given food handouts all the time. Then, when you finally come to this country and find out how hard it is to be self-sufficient, you are still given strange, unfamiliar food. It can be very demoralizing. We needed a new model for an ethnic food shelf, and we created one. ”
The Seward Co-op is an annual donor to the Isuroon Food Shelf through their SEED Project, where shoppers can round up to the nearest dollar in support of a different local non-profit organization each month. Isuroon typically receives $20,000 + from one month’s donations. Weli said, “The Seward Co-op is great. They don’t pressure us to buy foods that aren’t culturally appropriate. We were able to serve 1,100 families with their donations last year, and the size of an average Somali family is seven.”
Isuroon staff members are trained to interact with clients in a way that reflect the agency’s core values of trust, transparency, and empathy. Weli said, “We work relationally, which means that listening is at the heart of everything. What we are trying to do here is replicate what our moms did back home. In the Somali culture, we have our own definition of what makes someone strong. When I meet a Somali woman who can’t read or write, I worship her. Do you know how hard life is when you can’t read or write? We value women for the strengths that they have, rather than judge them for what they lack.”
As an organization, consider requesting an Isuroon speaker to help your group connect with the experiences of Somali women, or to obtain culturally competent consulting and training for health care providers, policymakers and other leaders. As an individual, consider attending a workshop to learn about the Somali community here in the Twin Cities. Weli said, “Our organization has so much to offer. What can we do for you? We’re here to engage communities. Connect with us!”
For more information, go to www.isuroon.org.

“We’re grateful and excited to announce that Isuroon has received a Community Innovation Grant of more than $200,000 from The Bush Foundation. The grant will empower our work to reduce disparities in reproductive health care for African immigrant women in Minnesota with female genital cutting. The voices and needs of women who have experienced female genital cutting will drive this grassroots effort,” said Fartun Weli, Executive Director. “We express gratitude on their behalf.”

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Bark Ranger Program starting soon

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

NPS staff creating new way for people and dogs to enjoy Coldwater Spring

The Bark Ranger trainings on Jan. 4 and 9 will be a great opportunity to engage with staff and volunteers, and to learn more about both the histories and the lay-out of Coldwater Spring. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Bark Ranger Program is a joint venture of the National Park Service (NPS) and their non-profit partner, the Mississippi Park Connection. In early January, a cadre of four-legged volunteers and their owners will be sworn in at Coldwater Spring. New recruits to this awareness campaign will pledge to leash their dogs while walking at Coldwater Spring, pick up dog waste, and respect wildlife and habitat restoration.
NPS land manager Neil Smarjesse, leads the habitat restoration crews at Coldwater Spring. He said, “We would like to create a different way for people and their dogs to experience this place. We’re adjacent to the Minnehaha Dog Park, but we are not an off-leash area. When dogs are kept leashed, grassland-nesting birds (like the newly returned clay colored sparrow) aren’t disturbed. We are welcoming back indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, fox, coyote, deer, and many other species.”
The 29-acre site was added to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 2010, with the goal of restoring the landscape to a prairie oak savannah. A major renovation, which included seeding 13 acres of prairie and wetlands, was completed in 2012. More than 1,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers have been planted on the property.

 

Coldwater Spring carries historical and cultural significance for some Dakota tribes, as well as being considered a sacred site by other Dakota tribes. Coldwater Spring is a part of the Fort Snelling Historic District, protected as both a National Historic Landmark and National Register listed property under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.

 

Paula Swingley is the NPS volunteer coordinator. She said, “People love this place for many different reasons. The paths here aren’t straight-to-a-place paths; they meander. It’s a place to enjoy the prairie in all seasons. As part of the Bark Ranger training, there’s the added bonus of learning some of the non-visible history of this site. You can still see the Spring House and the ore bins, but there is so much more to learn.”
Bark Ranger trainings will be held on Jan. 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Jan. 9 from 9 a.m. to noon. The drop-in events will include a 30-minute walking tour of the site led by rangers. The address for Coldwater Spring is 5601 Minnehaha Park Drive South. GPS coordinates are: 44.901602, -93.198256. Registration isn’t required, but by going to  https://parkconnection.org/events  and signing up on Event Brite, you’ll be notified of weather-related changes or cancellations.
There is no cost to participate. There are four handicapped accessible parking spots on-site, and plenty of metered parking spots on the street. Canines participating in the BARK Ranger Program will receive a shiny collar tag. Sign up to be a Bark Ranger Ambassador (a volunteer who helps lead future trainings) and receive a stylish bandana. In either capacity, Swingley clarified, “Participants will absolutely not do any law enforcement. They are just there to demonstrate good practices.”
Americorps intern Claire Jaeger Mountain was instrumental in bringing the Bark Ranger Program to Coldwater Spring. She said, “The trainings will be a great opportunity to engage with staff and volunteers, and to hear stories unique to this historic and beautiful place.”

 

B – bag your dog waste,
A – always keep your dog on a leash,
R – respect wildlife and habitat restoration,
K – know where you can go.

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Re-using household fabrics for a new purpose

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Neighborhood Bag Project

Artists Laura Brown (left) and Lauren Callis Erickson (right), co-founded the Neighborhood Bag Project to promote community art-making and fabric recycling. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Laura Brown and Lauren Callis Erickson shared a stand at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on several Saturday mornings last summer. They had a couple of sewing machines set up, and were surrounded by piles of fabric.
Callis Erickson said, “We taught market-goers to sew simple drawstring bags. The bags were made from salvaged, thrifted, or previously used fabric squares, ribbon, and cord. We sewed a lot of bags with children. Most of the bags weren’t perfect, but they held produce anyhow.”
Everybody has to bring a shopping bag to a farmer’s market, so why not make your own?
Brown remembered that shoppers would often stop at their stand and say things like, “I have so much fabric at home; I just don’t know what to do with it.”
Brown explained, “We believe there is value in leading by example. It’s easy to make something beautiful and useful from what you already have. Change it, use it, or pass it along. That’s where the Neighborhood Bag Project is coming from.”
The two Minneapolis-based artists travelled between five different farmer’s markets last summer sewing drawstring bags.
Callis Erickson said, “We started the Neighborhood Bag Project to get outside our usual circles of connection. Many of the people we met at the Midtown Farmer’s Market were already on-board with repurposing. One woman shopped with a bag she had made from an old tent. Another used a mylar balloon – apparently mylar is pretty durable.”
Repurposing fabrics is an area of recycling that is getting a lot of attention lately, as people become aware that fabrics need to be dealt with responsibly, too. The fashion industry is believed to contribute 10% of the greenhouse gasses warming the earth.
If you can give fabrics a second, third or fourth life by repurposing, why not do it?

“Fiber has always been a community practice, whether based on the necessity of needing to make something or the simple need for fellowship. It’s largely been assigned to women, though not entirely. If you can remove yourself from thinking that what you make has to be perfect, then being creative is
a great experience.”
~ Lauren Callis Erickson

Callis Erickson is both an art therapist and an entrepreneur. She said, “I’m pleased to offer opportunities through the Curiosity Studio in the Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis for adults to explore art as it relates to their whole selves. We offer regular courses and workshops for creative exploration using non-traditional materials.”
Her other venture, called an Upcycled Closet, is in the same location. Callis Erickson provides secondhand items sourced to be functional, sustainable, and expressive. She said, “I’m a staunch believer in buying used, mending it, or making it yourself. I wrote my Master’s thesis on working with used and recycled materials in the art practice. I feel that, as a culture, we have really learned to distance ourselves from our trash – and that has had very negative consequences.”
Brown agreed, saying, “The more removed people are from their trash, the more they feel they can ignore it.” Her areas of specialty are letterpress and silk screen printing, both of which she teaches at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Brown’s studio, called CHEER!, is located in the Casket Arts Building in Northeast Minneapolis.
Also an avid sewer and quilter, Brown said, “I’ve been to so many estate sales where I’ve seen tons of fabric left behind by just one person. Even though I have a bad habit of collecting sewing machines, I don’t ever want to be that person with rooms full of unused fabric.”

Try it yourself
On Jan. 22, Callis Erickson will teach a Bag Making Class from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Seward Coop Franklin Store. All sewing skill levels welcome. On Jan. 25, she will teach a Visible Mending Class from 1-3 p.m. at Winsome Goods. This beginner course is for anyone interested in repairing their own clothes. Learn to use simple, visible stitches to rebuild clothes and make them last longer. Each participant will receive their own mending kit.
Brown concluded, saying, “We believe that the process of creating will bring anyone joy. People seem to have a huge appetite right now for getting out of the house, turning off their phones, and doing something creative. Remember that everything is an experiment, and nothing needs to be perfect.” Her upcoming classes at CHEER! are Learn to Use Your Sewing Machine on Jan. 18, and Block Printing on Fabric on Feb. 1, with other dates coming soon.
For further information, contact Laura Brown at www.laurabrownart.com and Lauren Callis Erickson at www.anupcycledcloset.com and www.curiositystudio.com.

 

 

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WHAT’S DEVELOPING ?

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Bergan’s update
Bergan’s Supervalu at Cedar and Minnehaha Parkway has been family owned and operated for 30 years, but it will be torn down and replaced with a new multi-use building that houses a Lunds and Byerlys. The longtime grocery store closed its doors for the last time the week before Christmas 2019.
The new Lunds & Byerlys at 4715 Cedar Ave. will be about 23,500 square feet. Above it will be four stories with 125 apartments. Units will include studio, alcove, one and two-bedrooms.
Under one section of the building will be 30 covered parking stalls, with access to a 35-stall lot in the northeast corner that accesses Longfellow Ave. Another lot off Cedar will have 44 stalls.
A second-level parking garage with 125 stalls will serve the residential units.
In addition to the unit terraces the exterior facades will feature projecting and recessed balconies on upper floors that will allow residents to take advantage of private outdoor space. On the fifth floor and top floor, the building includes an indoor gathering room and outdoor deck for residents to enjoy amenities and views of the parks and lakes adjacent to the site.

Friendship Academy expands
Friendship Academy of the Arts plans to create an upper campus in the existing building at 3320 41st St. E., about three blocks southwest of the 38th St. lightrail station.
The 1.53-acre lot currently has a 28,000-square-foot building that will be rehabilitated to accommodate office and classroom spaces, gymnasium, and cafeteria spaces, and a 2,400-square-foot vestibule will be added. The current one-story millwork building was constructed in 1945.
The existing loading docks adjacent to Dight Ave. will be demolished. A new 24-stall paved parking area and playground will be built north of the building, and a wraparound driveway added along the property’s north and west sides. The project will also include a new sidewalk along Dight Ave. in an area without a current sidewalk on either side of the street.
Once complete, the new campus will serve 350 students in grades second to eighth grade, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.
The proposed redevelopment will include predominantly interior renovations with a small addition to accommodate classroom space. The redevelopment will also include 24-vehicle parking stalls, 46-bicycle parking, increased green space, internal circulation for drop off areas to accommodate traffic flow, and landscaping to screen the proposed parking lot and beautify the parcel.
Friendship Academy of the Arts is a National Blue Ribbon, tuition-free, public charter school located (2600 E. 38th St.) just a few blocks away from the proposed development. The proposed second school location will serve the upper grades of Friendship Academy of the Arts. Founded in 2001 and authorized by Pillsbury United Communities, Friendship Academy of the Arts has a strong track record of addressing the dire opportunity gap for African-American students in Minnesota through its high-quality education and arts program, according to Executive Director Dr. B. Charvez Russell.
Due to family and community demand, FAA is planning to expand from a K-7 program with one section per grade to a PK-8 program with two sections per grade, and is need of additional school facility space. It currently has about 170 students in grades K-7. Students wear uniforms to fosters an equitable and respectful school climate.
Transportation is provided within Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and certain communities on the borderline of these communities. The school expects about 85% of students to come via bus and 10% via car.

Tierra Encantada under
construction on Minnehaha
A new building with the popular incandescent panels found on the University of Minnesota Children’s hospital is under construction along Minnehaha Ave.
The new Tierra Encantada Spanish Immersion Daycare and Preschool (4012 and 4016 Minnehaha Ave.) will open in spring 2020, and is the first site built specifically for the company.
One single-family home was demolished to make room for this new 12,000-square-foot, three-story building. The Hiawatha location will be licensed for approximately 260 children with four infant classrooms, four toddler classrooms, three young preschool classrooms, three inter preschool classrooms, and three pre-k classrooms
A 3,300-square-foot, fenced playground will be constructed in the backyard on a poured rubber surfacing material, and there will be two large indoor gyms.
There will be just four parking spots off the rear of the building. Drop-off for children will occur along Minnehaha Ave.
When full, the center will employ approximately 50 full-time staff, who will all receive medical and dental insurance, paid time off, paid holidays, paid training, and discounted child care.

 

28th bridge, street won’t
reopen until June
Bogged down by record rainfall, an unexpected watermain break, extra coordination with utilities and the early onset of freezing weather, the 28th bridge project over Minnehaha Creek is behind schedule.
It was supposed to be done in 2019, but residents can expect 28th St. to remain closed through June 2020.
The bridge foundations and outside framework have been completed. However, the site has been shut down now through spring when temperatures are warm enough to ensure the concrete decking sets at the appropriate strength to safely support vehicle traffic.
Over winter, crews will install a temporary sidewalk over the creek and will ensure that pedestrian and bike access are maintained across 28th Ave. Additionally, temporary lights, winter maintenance activities and traffic control will be in place during the winter season.
“This delay means a significant impact to nearby residents and continued inconvenience for the whole community,” observed Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson. “I also believe that if Public Works could do anything more to speed up the timeline or restore greater access through the winter, they would. They are doing what they can to make the best of a bad situation. Thank you for understanding and for your continued patience.”

 

 

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‘No one will believe you’

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Abused for years by her dad and a troubled system, Renee and mom are finally free

Renee and mother Nadine fought for some normalcy during her childhood despite her father’s abuse. Today, they are happy to say they are survivors. (Photo submitted)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
To the outside world, Fred* was a model citizen who worked at the top of the Hennepin County Social Service department as comptroller.
To his family, he was a dictator who was abusive and impossible to please.
His moods were up and down, he was controlling, manipulative, critical, blaming, cruel, rageful, isolating, hateful, belittling and unethical, recalls his daughter, Renee, now age 57.
She and her mother, Nadine, now 77, finally escaped into hiding in 2007 and go by alias identities.

He was careful to never leave visible marks
As comptroller, Fred was in charge of finances for the Social Services Department and Crisis Management.
“He knew the ins and outs of how to work the system,” said Renee.
He’d throw things at his wife and daughter, pulled his wife’s hair, and whipped Renee with a belt, but he was careful to never leave any visible marks.
Diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), anxiety, and depression, Renee doesn’t remember much about her childhood. She’s blocked out most of the memories.
“But I do remember the feelings they provoked, and how the abuse has affected me,” she said.

‘No one will ever believe you’
“Imagine being in an environment so abusive and stressful that as an infant in the womb I did not even want to come out!” Renee said. She was a month overdue, and wasn’t born until her mother had been induced.
At three, she was so stressed and nervous that she had failed to thrive. She was underweight and her hair came out in hand fulls.
She was fearful all the time, didn’t get her needs met, and rarely talked.
“My father controlled everything from when we slept and when, what and if we ate,” recalled Renee. She remembers a house full of yelling, name calling, swearing and threats. Plus, her dad threw things and broke them.
“We walked on eggshells constantly in our home never knowing what would send him into a rage,” said Renee. One day something might be fine, but the next day the same thing would be a major offense. “His rules were always changing, throwing us off on knowing how to behave to prevent one of his explosions. Everything was always our fault (never his), and we were the cause of everything wrong for him.
“We were stupid, lazy, worthless, oversensitive, crazy, emotional cripples and weak. We were told no one would ever hire us, want us or believe us.”
She worked hard to stuff her feelings and emotions so that they weren’t used against her.
“Sometimes my feelings became so intense because of not being allowed to express them that I had to find a way to release them,” she remembered. “I started burning myself when feelings became more than I could possibly hold inside.
“I felt like a teapot about to explode and the burning of flesh felt like letting off steam.”
She didn’t start talking in school until junior high. Her grade school teachers were always telling her mother, “She doesn’t talk.” Her mom wanted to know what she could do. Now they both know that’s a symptom of abuse.
Renee remembers that kids at school thought she was stuck up, but she was just afraid to have friends. She didn’t want others to know what happened in her home, and felt ashamed and embarrassed. She didn’t want to subject any one to her father’s abuse.
She had made that mistake before. She had invited friends over, and Fred accused them unjustly of stealing from him. He caused such a stink in the neighborhood that after that no one was allowed to play with her.
Renee didn’t get to do the usual after-school activities that other kids did, and she wasn’t allowed to work outside of the house. It was another way to control her and keep her dependent financially upon him.
“He was great at finding a person’s weaknesses and using it against them,” observed Renee.
If Renee or her mother enjoyed anything, they paid dearly for it. “I never was sure if it was because dad was jealous or if he just really enjoyed making us miserable,” remarked Renee.
He anticipated any question of leaving by telling them that no one would believe their story. After all, he was a successful comptroller in the social services department. If they couldn’t go there for help, where could they go?

Still paying dearly as an adult
As an adult, the abuse continued although it looked different. When Renee called home to talk to her mom, he would lie and say she wasn’t there. He’d threaten Renee that she couldn’t have anything to do with her mom if she didn’t do what Ed wanted.
When Renee’s husband died, she was left to raise her two stepsons, who were initially treated much better than she was because they were males. At first, Fred spent time and money on them, recalled Renee, but eventually he started to use them for his personal gain and the abuse began for them, too.
“He would often make me chose between my stepsons or my parents and extended family,” said Renee. “I would end up paying dearly for trying to be a good mom to the boys.”
Finally, one day her youngest stepson and the most laid back of the two, did what everyone dreamed about but never had the guts. He punched Fred and left.

Finally, they went into hiding but he used system against them
As he aged, Fred didn’t get any better. Instead, he escalated to threatening them with knives and loaded guns. He manipulated or “bought” friends to carry out some of his dirty work, as well.
Finally, Renee helped her mom leave Hennepin County and they went into hiding together in a new county.
They decided to leave at a time inbetween his rages because they thought he wouldn’t be watching them as closely. To their dismay, they discovered that their local police didn’t understand that line of reasoning. “I think the victim knows the situation best and when to leave,” remarked Renee.
To retaliate, Fred started hiding and getting rid of their assets, along with the things he knew Nadine and Renee cared most about.
“The legal battle in the divorce was a joke,” stated Renee. “My dad blatantly lied through the court hearings and was in contempt of nearly every court order. He was rarely held accountable or punished for refusing to obey court orders.”
He used the court system to harass them by filing false accusations, wasting their time and money to defend themselves. “Nothing was done to stop him from doing this,” said Renee, who is still shocked by how things played out in the court system. “When finally threatened by the courts for jail time, he moved out state so he wouldn’t be arrested.”
Both Renee and Nadine filed for orders of protection, but Fred appealed them. Renee’s remained but her mom’s was removed by Hennepin County Judge Bruce Peterson. This was despite Fred pointing a loaded gun at them both during a rage. “Apparently, leaving a threatening message on my voicemail, confronting us, screaming, and pointing a loaded gun at us was not reason to give my mom the OFP because my dad didn’t say he was going to kill us (that time),” stated Renee. “Apparently, perpetrators have to tell you they are going to kill you before they pull the trigger.”
She was also frustrated by the family court insistence that her mother attend mediation with her abuser in the same room. “How is this going to be productive when the abuser is abusive and controlling?” she asked.
Her parent’s divorce was messy, ugly and complicated, Renee observed, and is now studied by law students.
“We found that the legal/judicial system we always believed in is not just. Victims keep getting re-victimized by the system,” said Renee. “How do we fix a broken system?”
She advocates, “Get involved, have a voice, educate and contact your representatives!”

Shouldn’t be ‘Why doesn’t she leave’ but ‘Why does he do that?’
Renee is working to help people understand the dynamics of abusive households and to recognize what’s happening.
“I feel most people do not understand abuse or people would not ask why doesn’t she leave him? Why not, ‘Why does he mistreat someone who loves him’ or ‘Why is this acceptable in society?’”
She added, “Most people think the abuser is mentally ill because certainly no one in their right mind would behave as the abuser does. But actually, domestic violence is a learned behavior.”
Renee has found support and help at the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (now Violence Free Minnesota), the Alexander House in Anoka, Home Free Community Program, the Domestic Abuse Project, and DomesticShelter.org. She’s also grateful for the various domestic abuse support groups she has been a part of, therapists she’s worked with, doctors and some educated priests. She and her mom benefited from the local food shelf and community action groups.
She recommends that others check out the free app InsightTimer for its meditations, and Lisa A. Romano’s talks.
Today, Renee knows that she is still affected by the abuse she’s lived through. It is part of how she lives and her relationships with others. She’s found it difficult to trust in herself or others. Her self-confidence is low, she has trouble expressing emotions, she replays memories, and doesn’t always want to be touched, and can be jumpy, nervous, and easy to frighten. She suffers from a chronic illness.
But she’s a survivor. One who is working to transcend the wounds of the past, to learn to love herself, and to be comfortable in her own life. She’s got a future filled with hope, laughter and freedom. She believes her future is a gift from God.
* Name changed for protection.
Contact editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

Click here to read her mom’s story.

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Celebrate Minnesota as the Peacebuilding power state for all

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Peacebuilding Leadership Institute opens first office in Nokomis

Community members and leaders had two reasons to celebrate with Donna Minter, her staff, board, and volunteers last month. The organization Minter started 10 years ago recently won a U.S. Peacebuilding Award for Excellence from the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a Washington D.C.-based international organization. And, after many years of operating out of a storage closet, Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute finally has a brick and mortar office space. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute (Peacebuilding) received the 2019 Melanie Greenberg U.S. Peacebuilding Award for Excellence from the Alliance for Peacebuilding. Donna Minter, PhD, founder and executive director of Peacebuilding, travelled to Washington DC to receive the award last month.
A local award celebration was held on Nov. 1, 2019, at the new Peacebuilding office (their first), located at 5200 47th Ave.S. In her comments, Minter said, “Isn’t it only appropriate that an organization whose name is ‘Peacebuilding’ should finally have a building?
“We are known for being an institute without walls, one that delivers most of its trainings out in the community – but it’s great to finally have some walls!”
Tonja Honsey, Peacebuilding board member, incarceration survivor, and member of the Anishinaabe people, opened the celebration with a ceremonial sage smudging. Minter explained that the office space had been a storehouse for ammunition before Peacebuilding moved in, and she welcomed it being cleansed and blessed.
Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley included some sobering statistics among her personal comments. “Hennepin County,” she said, “has between 25,000-30,000 people involved in the criminal justice system, the seventh highest number in the country. The work that you’re doing at Peacebuilding should be embedded in the Hennepin County workplace.”
Since 2010, Peacebuilding has trained 3,000+ Minnesotans to be more resilient, trauma-informed, and focused on restorative justice. The goal of the signature Peacebuilding training, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience – the STAR Training, is to learn how to transform psychological trauma into non-violent power.
Minneapolis community organizer Tommy McBrayer completed the one-day version (called the STAR-Lite Training) earlier this year. He said, “The training helped me learn to identify different types of trauma. Now I’m passing some of what I learned on to the people I serve in my job in the Central neighborhood. It helps them to develop resiliency, and gives them some options other than revenge.”
St. Paul City Council member Mitra Jalali Nelson talked about moving to the Twin Cities after working for years as a middle school teacher in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. She said, “I started asking right away, who was doing healing circles in this community? Who was doing work with peacebuilding? I found Donna and her organization quite quickly. We need to be investing in programs like this one.”

Donna Minter, founder and executive director of the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, addressed guests at the Grand Open House. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The STAR Training was created at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Virginia. A New York City non-profit requested the training in the aftermath of 911, and provided a $2,000,000 grant to support its development. Minter, who is a neuropsychologist and forensic psychologist, took the STAR Training to add to her skill set. She was so impressed that she decided to bring the five-day training back to Minnesota to share with her community here, and it’s still going strong.
In addition to STAR and STAR-Lite Trainings, Peacebuilding offers a free, monthly film series, two free, monthly healing circles called “Coming to the Table,” Restorative Justice Training, and Resilience and Self-Care Training. Visit www.mnpeace.org to check the schedule for upcoming trainings and events.
Peacebuilding has also sponsored Luna Fest for the past six years, a traveling film festival of award-winning short films by, for, and about women. Luna Fest raises money to support Peacebuilding’s racial and economic equity trainee scholarships: to ensure that all who want to attend Peacebuilding’s trainings are able to do so regardless of financial limitations. Luna Fest 2020 is scheduled for Wednesday, April 29 at the Riverview Theatre.

“The STAR Training helps
people develop resiliency,
and gives them options
other than revenge.”
~ Tommy McBreyer, STAR-Lite graduate

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Longfellow climate activist walks the walk every day

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Standing in front of her electric Chevy Bolt, Jean Buckley said, “I use my buying power to make an environmental statement. I believe in making educated, responsible choices.”(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Longtime Longfellow resident Jean Buckley believes each of us can make a difference in the current climate crisis.
She said, “I’ve always been a strong environmentalist. I believe every human being has a responsibility to protect earth’s finite natural resources. Some people choose to be what are called ‘first adopters,’ which means taking on higher costs when technologies or products are new. First adopters are willing to bear those initial costs, with relative certainty that the costs will come down when the technologies or products become more main stream.”
Buckley was a first adopter of residential solar energy, among many other things. Ten years ago, she had solar panels installed on her garage roof. That first set of solar panels produced enough energy to power her house until she bought an electric car last year. She is now adding more solar panels to the roof of her home to produce the extra energy she needs.
Over the next 10 years she will receive rebates from Xcel Energy as part of their Solar Rewards Program, and she won’t ever have to pay for electricity or gasoline again. Visit www.xcelenergy.com to learn more about their Solar Rewards Program.
When the Volkswagen Jetta TDI came on the market, it was the greenest car available. Buckley bought one early on, and was able to sell it back to VW after their emissions scandal broke. With the money from the resale, she purchased an electric Chevy Bolt. This car qualified for a $7,500 federal tax credit. She frequently travels to Duluth to visit her grandchildren. Money from the VW settlement is helping build infrastructure for electric vehicles; this includes more charging stations along highly traveled corridors like 35W.
Buckley has made most of her home improvement decisions from the standpoint of what’s best for the environment. She said, “Many of these choices have higher costs up-front, but I believe they are cost-effective over time. The metal roof I chose for my house cost about 20% more than asphalt shingles. It will last at least 100 years though; I’ll never need to replace it. I’ve lived in my house for 25 years and as someone who hopes to age in place, the metal roof made sense both environmentally and economically.”
On Earth Day 2019, Buckley retired from her job with Ramsey County as an Environmental Health Educator. Prior to that job, she worked for the city of Bloomington. Her areas of expertise included renewable energy, building efficiency, water quality, and recycling. She said, “I had a long career as an educator. I’m still finding ways to encourage people to make positive changes for the environment.”
Buckley is involved in her neighborhood as a Block Club Coordinator. Block Clubs are a function of the city of Minneapolis (visit www.minneapolimn.gov to learn more.) The focus of Block Clubs is often on crime prevention, but can include other things depending on neighborhood interests. On Buckley’s block, she has organized a list of neighbors willing to share tools and skills, or barter for professional services.
She said, “We think our network is even better than Next Door, because it’s neighbor to neighbor on our own block.”
Since retiring last spring, Buckley has literally put on a new hat. She proudly wears a cap that identifies her as a River Educator with the Mississippi Park Connections Program: the nonprofit partner of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (the 72-mile section of the Mississippi River that flows through the Twin Cities). The program gives kids the opportunity to get out on the river, and have a national park experience right here in the Twin Cities.
In addition, she volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350.org on various climate issues such as pension divestment from fossil fuels, and investment in clean energy.
When asked what drives her seemingly endless supply of energy for environmental causes, the matter-of-fact Jean Buckley gave a surprisingly sentimental answer. She said, “It’s the Starfish Story.” So here, in closing, is the Starfish Story (author unknown.)
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy throwing something into the ocean. He asked, “What are you doing?” and the boy answered, “I’m throwing starfish into the sea. The tide is going out and if I don’t put them back, they’ll die.” The man said, “Don’t you see that there are miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” The boy picked up another starfish and gently put it back in the water. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “Well, I made a difference for that one.”

From Jean Buckley
Did you know that every 4th grader in the U.S. can obtain a free pass for themselves and their families to visit more than 2,000 federal lands and waterways for a whole year? The hope is that this “Every
Kid in a Park” will help to
build the next generation of passionate and informed
environmental stewards.
Visit www.everykidinapark.gov to learn more.

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What’s happening in the neighborhood?

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

END OF YEAR DEVELOPMENT UPDATE

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

3801 Hiawatha Ave.
The southeast corner of Hiawatha and 38th may not be empty much longer.
Base Camp Development and DJR Architecture have proposed a four-story, mixed-use multi-family building for the site. It would have 102 units and 2,300 square feet of retail space in the 36,865 square foot structure set on 0.85 acres.
The Longfellow Station residential building next door is five stories tall.
The commercial space will be located at the Hiawatha/38th St. corner with a 52-spot parking garage taking up the bulk of the remaining first floor.
A highlight of the plan is a spacious second-story plaza overlooking Hiawatha Ave. Units available will be a range of studio, alcove, and one-bedroom ranging from 375 to 695 square feet. The c-shaped building will also offer six walk-out units right off Hiawatha.
There will be just over 50 parking stalls compared to 102 units because it’s in a transit oriented development (TOD) district and the building will be accessed using the drive lane currently used by the Longfellow Station apartments off of 38th, pointed out Longfellow Community Council (LCC) Program Manager Justin Gaarder.
A public hearing hasn’t been set yet, but will be shared by the LCC when it is.

Portico at the Falls
The plan for Portico at the Falls, a 37,000-square-foot, four-story building on the former Greg’s Auto Site at Nawadaha and Minnehaha Parkway (4737 Minnehaha), has been approved by the city.
The building project by The Lander Group, Assembly MN and Martha Dayton Design will offer 26 condos with 10 flexible floor plans. Prices will range from low $300s to mid $900s for the one bedroom plus den, two bedroom, and three-bedroom units.
In response to residents’ concerns, Assembly submitted a revised plan that converted the original two-story townhome-style units along Minnehaha Ave. into one-story flats. The first floor will still have a front entry stoop and landscaped approach from Minnehaha.
The individual at-grade parking garages off of the alley were replaced with two condos with at grade patios. All parking will now be below grade and there will not be a drive lane along that side of the building.
The building will still have 26 units and 27 underground parking spaces plus a car lift system that provides the ability to have owners park a second car over their first car. Assembly anticipates a total of approximately 37 cars in the parking garage using this lift system.
The building remains a four-story building, with the fourth floor set back on Minnehaha as previously shown. General building materials and massing are similar to that shown at prior community meetings with modifications as necessary to accommodate the townhomes.
Low limestone walls, concrete walks, and high-quality landscaping (including pollinator-friendly approaches) will provide a setting for the building that complements its aesthetic and creates a connection to the park. Bike parking will also be provided both outdoors and within the building.

Time for stage 3 at Minnehaha Crossing
The third stage of the Minnehaha Crossing project is underway at the former Rainbow site at Minnehaha Ave. and Lake St. Midtown Corner is the next project in Wellington Management’s multi-phase redevelopment there.
The new, six-story Midtown Corner project will include 189 apartments, of which 38 affordable apartments will be available to households earning 60% or less of area median income. Studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units will be available for rent starting early 2020.
The project also includes 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space. An additional 3,500-square-foot retail building, located in the southwest corner of the site, will be constructed in 2022.
Building construction began in October. Prior to that, the existing parking lot in front of the Aldi grocery store was improved.

Starbucks at 42nd?
The planning commission said no again to a proposed Starbucks drive-through at 42nd and Hiawatha.
Property owner Nick Boosalis of Wash Me Corporation proposed two buildings at the 0.57-acre site (4159 Hiawatha Ave.) to replace the car wash. One is the Starbucks single-story drive-through at the interior of the lot. The second would house a restaurant and office space that would surround the drive-thru building and would have frontage on E. 42nd St. and Hiawatha Ave. A 17-stall surface parking lot was proposed along the east side of the property. The submitted materials indicated that the buildings would be engineered to accommodate up to nine additional stories in the future for residential expansion.
The applicant received a conditional use permit and site plan review from the city planning commission on June 11, 2018 to construct a new four-story building with a coffee shop drive-thru and 43 dwelling units. The approved building had a very similar footprint as the most recent one. Those approvals expire two years from the date of approval on June 11, 2020. According to the city staff report, the applicant has indicated they prefer to construct the first floor at this time without the upper residential floors which requires a new application to the planning commission.
The city of Minneapolis recently adopted a regulation that prohibits new drive-thru facilities city-wide, but will allow anything that went through prior to Aug. 8, 2019.
Residents have expressed concern about adding traffic at that intersections.
“This intersection is already overloaded during rush hours. If it’s use is even close to the drive through at Cedar and the parkway our neighborhood and it’s habitants will suffer,” said local resident Eric Johannessen in a written statement given to the planning commission.
Fellow neighborhood resident Joanna Olson wrote, “The thought of a drive‐thru on that corner is terrifying to me as a bicyclist and pedestrian using that intersection at least twice daily.”
The proposal was denied by the planning commission on Oct. 21 due to traffic safety concerns. The developer appealed that denial to the Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee and it will be back before the committee on Dec. 5.

28th Bridge
The completion of the 28th bridge at Minnehaha Creek has been delayed due to weather and issues with utilities. Public works staff is working out options with the contractor to determine the new timeline.

Look for more updates in the next edition of the Messenger.

Contact the editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

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Informal networks promote community building at Becketwood

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Members of the Cat Consortium around 19-year-old Tally the Cat include: (left to right) Linda Kusserow, Bonnie Porte, and owner Clare Fossum, who relied on the other women during a recent time away. (Photo by Terry Faust)

by Iric Nathanson
Earlier this year, when Clare Fossum had to spend time recovering from a medical procedure, she knew she could rely on her neighbors at Becketwood Cooperative to look after her elderly companion while she was away from home recuperating at a local rehab center.
Fossum’s companion happened to be her 19-year-old cat, Tally, who had made friends with two neighbors, Bonnie Porte and Linda Kusserow. Porte lived down the hall and Kusserow was two floors away. They each took turns feeding Tally, bringing her fresh water and spending time with her while Fossum was in rehab.
“It was a great relief for me to know that Linda and Bonnie were there every day looking after Tally,” Fossum said. “She knew them and they knew her. It was not as if some strangers were always coming and going in the apartment. That would only have upset her.”
Fossum, Porte and Kusserow had been part of an informal network of cat owners at Becketwood who looked after each other’s pets when they were away. The neighbors at the “55 plus” senior co-op bonded over their common connections to their feline friends and formed their own friendship circle within the broader Becketwood community.
The network has evolved into a more formally structured Cat Consortium with two teams, one for each wing of the building. Cat owners email their team members when they need a neighbor to care for their pet.
“It is all very well organized,” Porte explained. “We even have a form that people fill out indicating their kitty’s food preferences, their medication needs, and the contact information for their vets.”

Comfort Singers
While their small feline friends brought members of the Cat Consortium together, other neighbors at Becketwood have bonded over their love of singing. They are known as the Becketwood Comfort Singers. They bring their music to people at Becketwood or in a care facility who may be house-bound or seriously ill or facing end-of-life issues. Their leader, Ruth Gaylord, patterned the Comfort Singers after a similar group she had formed at the Basilica of St. Mary.
Gaylord, a former high school choral director, lives with ovarian cancer. She said that she has thought about being surrounded by beautiful choral music when she is dying. “I would like a small ensemble to sing beautiful music to me as I approach the end of this life. So I looked for men and women from Becketwood who had experience as choral singers who would want to be part of a small ensemble to offer that gift to others.”
She added, “We offer our singing to those who request it, and then only when we have checked with them or their families in advance to find out what kind of music they would like to hear. Some people don’t want to be sung to when they’re going through a difficult time. We understand that.”

Member activities

Enjoying an excursion to Urban Growler are, left to right, (starting in the front) Carol Bechtel, Mickey Monsen, Gerhard Johnson, Loren Flicker, David Liddle, Lorene Liddle, and Howard Bergstrom. (Photo by Terry Faust)

The Comfort Singers may be a select group with limited membership, but that is not the case with more than a dozen special interest clusters at Becketwood known as the Member Activities Committees. The individual committees are coordinated by an umbrella organization, the Members Activities Council (MAC).
“They may be called committees, but they are activities for people who may not like to go to committee meetings,” says Bob Kirk, a former MAC chair. ‘We have a craft committee for people who like to paint, knit or quilt, a workshop group for people who like to do woodwork and a pantry committee for folks who want to help run our little convenience store. If you are having fun at Becketwood, you are probably involved in a MAC committee.”
Kirk, himself, has had fun organizing a series of pub crawls sponsored by Becketwood’s Excursion Committee. “When all the brew pubs started opening up, I thought people here might want to see what they were all about. They all liked that first excursion so we started doing more of them,” Kirk said.
“Now, when we do a pub crawl, some of us come for the beer, but others come for the camaraderie even if they are not beer drinkers. If you are sitting next to someone who has just moved into Becketwood, it is a good way for you to get to know the newcomer or the newcomer to get to know you.”
Newcomers also get to know their neighbors in Becketwood’s workshop which hosts a coffee gathering every weekday morning starting at 10 a.m. “Morning coffee used to be all men, but women have started showing up and they always welcome,“ said Joel Mortensen, who co-chairs the Workshop Committee with Todd Gulliver.
Ray Mikkelson, a coffee drinking regular, admits that he comes down to the workshop for some male bonding. Mikkelson remembers taking a tour of Becketwood while he and his wife, Helen, were still on the waiting list.
“I kept wondering where the men were; I didn’t see any on the tour,” said Mikkelson. “Then somebody told me that I should go to the workshop in the basement. When I got there and opened the door, I saw a group of men drinking coffee and having a good time. They took me in right away and I felt at home. This is where I want to live, I told myself, and it made our move to Becketwood much easier for me.”

Community building
Wayne Tellekson, another workshop regular, also serves as a tour guide for people who are thinking about moving to Becketwood. “When I talk to prospective members about our community I tell them about the experience that my wife, Sindy, and I had when we first arrived here. We had moved from Mendota Heights where we didn’t have much contact with the people who lived nearby. On the second day we were here, two of our new Becketwood neighbors came up to us,introduced themselves, told that they were having a picnic in the courtyard, and invited us to join them. I looked at Sindy and said, ‘We are home!’”
Tellekson added, “I tend to think that we have this strong community because the people who are looking for a sense of community are the people who come here. They are not just looking for a place to live. The Twin Cities have lots of options for seniors if that is all you are looking for. They have heard that Becketwood is a welcoming place. And so when they come here, they help to build on that sense of community.”
* Editor’s note: Writer Iric Nathanson is a member of the Becketwood Cooperative.

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