NEBA's medallion hunt helps families escape COVID-19 doldrums


Finding a medallion is something Roosevelt High School graduate Melissa Gross has always wanted to do.
On Friday, Dec. 11, she crossed it off her bucket list.
Gross discovered the Nokomis East Business Association Treasures Medallion at the community garden shed at Saint James on-the-Parkway Church (3225 E Minnehaha Pkwy.).
She pulled up to the church with another treasure seeker that she had met earlier in the week right behind her. They both jumped out of their cars. Laura Cox went left and Gross went right, checking along the church. They met at the raised beds and both knew it was part of the clue. They scanned the bricks. Cox reached the garden shed first, glanced around and kept moving.
“We were both trying to look as fast as possible,” recalled Gross. “I know from past hunts you don’t move on until you clear the area. I was moving fast but being pretty thorough. If I was going to lose I wanted it to be because she got there first not that I missed it. I stopped at the shed and checked behind it first; saw nothing. I turned to look at the front of the shed and my face was right next to the medallion. The medallion was so beautiful. I saw the ‘Nokomis’ engraved on the front. I turned it over and saw the ‘Congrats’ and I am pretty sure this moment I will remember forever. I knew it just had to be it when I flipped it over to make sure. It took me a minute to form words and to get the medallion in my hand. I couldn’t believe I had it.
“I screamed. I yelled, ‘I have it The woman I was looking with told me I can’t believe I looked right at it! I feel like I had an advantage because I have hunted before. I was filled with emotion knowing I was going to cross my #1 bucket item off my list. It’s an incredible feeling to think you have to now dream new dreams!”
Gross has been hunting medallions since she was a child growing up at 42nd and Dight in Longellow. Her dad brought Gross and her sister hunting for the St. Paul Winter Carnival when they were kids, and she’s been hooked ever since. She continued the tradition with her children. Over the last 30 years, she has watched the medallion be found by others, but was never was the winner.
“I always wondered what it would be like when you pull it out and find it,” said Gross, who noted that even finding the wrong dummy medallion is exciting. “I put my hands in some sketchy places looking for it. Like in the cobwebs under the bridge rails. I am pretty sure I screamed before I could form words. I wanted to tell her ‘I found it!’ But pretty sure looking back I just screamed first – then I said, ‘I have it.’ There was also jumping involved. I felt lots of emotion. It was very exciting.”
The next thing Gross did was drive straight to her dad’s house to show him.
“I think it is so cool to finally find one – and the first one in the neighborhood I was raised in,” said Gross. She feels a tie to the church where she found it, as well. Her oldest friends got married there 20 years ago.
Gross has lived in Powderhorn for the past 13 years, but she continues to shop in Nokomis, supporting local stores like Oxendale’s, as she went to high school with owner Neil Oxendale. Gross is a familiar face to many herself as she’s a longtime bartender and waitress with her sister at Cedar Inn.
“2020 has been a hard year and this was something positive we could focus on,” remarked Gross. “This was so fun and I truly enjoyed the whole experience. Thanks for all the effort it takes to put this on. Volunteers are great!”

‘What kid doesn’t dream of finding treasure?’
Gross was serious about the hunt, but she wasn’t the only one. She and a handful of others could be found in central locations throughout Nokomis, waiting for the clue to be released at 9 a.m. each day. They also searched at other times, turning over rocks, looking under mats, and browsing through shops to see if they’d chance upon the medallion.
Keewaydin resident Laura Cox, along with her husband Matt and three kids, started the hunt with the idea that it was a family event they would do if they had time. “But it grew on us with each clue, because what kid doesn’t dream of finding treasure? It was also a good motivation to take a break and get outside again,” said Cox. “We’ve all been feeling cabin fever as the days have gotten shorter and colder.”
They went out hunting depending on their schedules and who was up for it.
“It was a great break from the doldrums of schooling and working from home right now. School starts at 9:30 a.m. and the clues were posted at 9 a.m., so there were multiple mornings where we got in the car just before the clue was posted and quickly went out to try to find it before school,” said Cox. “A couple times we even went out over lunch or after school to check out some places where we thought it could possibly be hidden that weren’t clue locations yet.”
The morning the last clue was released, the kids deemed it too cold, so Cox headed out by herself. “It was fun being there to see Melissa find it as we had met at a previous clue location, and she had shared her story about doing the Winter Carnival Medallion Hunt for many years,” said Cox.
Despite not finding the medallion themselves, the Cox family enjoyed the hunt and finding the fake treasures left scattered throughout Nokomis East.
“It was fun seeing the neighborhood all decorated for the holidays and interacting (at a safe distance) with a few other treasure hunters,” said Cox. “At the canoe racks one morning another treasure hunter was kind enough to suggest my kids search again after he found a fake one they had missed. We explored a few new places, like making our first-ever visit to Morris Park – we had no clue there was a skate park there!”
She encourages other hunters to not give up, think outside the box, and phone a friend if you need a little help thinking through it.
“Thank you NEBA for organizing something to help rally the neighborhood spirits,” said Cox. “We hope this becomes a much-loved neighborhood tradition!”

‘Joy was infectious’
The morning the last clue was released, NEBA Co-President Heidi Van Heel stepped outside her house with her cup of coffee to watch the two women arrive at 9:03 a.m. She’d wondered if one of her own neighbors would start asking what she was doing at the garden plot in December and find the medallion early. She and fellow planners had initially intended to hide the medallion at the Shoreview Triangle, but when they got there they realized there was no place to hide a white medallion. So they switched gears and found a new location.
Van Heel was part of the volunteer committee that organized the medallion hunt. She got into the spirit, too, browsing through the #ShopNokomis hashtags and getting to know the hunters over the 14-day event that started Nov. 28.
“I’ve gotten so many messages from people who said this is exactly what we needed. It’s so great being outside,” said Van Neel. She’s delighted that the weather was unseasonably warm, which made it even more appealing to be outdoors. “It was infectious. I didn’t expect to get that excited.”
The goal for planners was to promote local businesses in a way that didn’t drive shoppers to the stores all at the same time, given the COVID-19 pandemic. So they decided to spread the event out and the idea for a medallion hunt was born.
Real estate agent Bob Albrecht wrote all the clues, Van Neel made the dummies, and Jenny Tang the Potter from The Workshop fashioned the medallion. She will be selling replicas as ornaments, as well.
“Nokomis is such a special community,” said Van Heel. “Everybody seems to love it where we live and seems to value the sense of community.”
They intended to do a smaller event for just the residents at Nokomis Square, but that was put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. In March, they’re planning to do a Pot of Gold event for St. Patrick’s Day. Stay tuned for more details.
Folks could win by finding the medallion, correctly identifying all the locations, or using the hashtag #ShopNokomis.
“I think that people have really needed something to break things up,” observed Van Heel, a self-employed content strategist and writer. “I don’t think any of us expected to see quite the response that we did. It feels like everything came together perfectly and brought people so much joy.”
Yes, they’re planning to repeat the medallion hunt next year, although the time frame will likely be shorter.

‘You gotta try it!’
“These treasure hunts are meant to get you outside in the winter and exploring new places,” said Gross. “I bought gifts and gift cards at places I hadn’t taken the time to visit before. I went inside and talked to owners and met wonderful people in our community. I learned about the food trucks that come to the Triangle. I met fellow treasure hunters while out looking and saw the excitement on the kids faces when they found the fake medallion at the lake.
“It’s a fun way to get together as a family, get some exercise and try new places. It’s a great tradition – you gotta try it!”


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