Once upon a time, seventy-two years ago to be exact, a boy gnome named Richard was born in a beautiful river valley town called New Ulm. He went to school there and decided on a nearby river town college in Mankato to get a teaching degree. When he was about to graduate, Superintendent Gnome Bob Clay came to MSU and asked him to come to Gnometown and teach the young gnomes. Richard and his high school sweetheart wife, Lois, went to visit Gnometown. They thought it would be a lovely place to raise a family and moved, bringing their two week old son, Steve. It was a busy time, especially when the next year a daughter, Lisa, arrived and the following year, another daughter, Monica, was born. Teacher Richard was busy with gnomes from seventh to twelfth grade teaching speech, industrial arts, drama, declamation, and driver education. He produced many plays and worked on several musical productions with Gnome John Solie.
Gnome Richard was also busy in the church helping to set up a Diocesan Pastoral Council, becoming a lector and a Eucharistic minister and preparing the youngsters for confirmation.
A routine was being established when Mother Nature decided to upset things by sending so much snow in the winter of 1969 that school was in session only 11 days from December 18th to February 14th. All the snow had to melt, so the town was flooded. The local police asked Richard to be in charge. He organized the students and teachers to fill sandbags around the clock. Many of the local farmer gnomes came to town to help place sandbags and do other work during the flood. All the gnomes worked together to protect properties and people and clean up the mess afterward. Richard went on to become Lac qui Parle County Disaster Chair for many years.
One day when Richard was walking down the street, the policeman on duty asked him to help on an ambulance call. At that time there were only two policemen and they also ran the ambulance. Richard thought Dawson needed a separate ambulance service, so he conducted a fund drive and did an all day telethon to raise more money. The generous gnomes gave enough money to buy the first van ambulance and the equipment, plus train 18 volunteers as EMTs. The Dawson volunteer ambulance service eventually became part of Johnson Memorial Health Services and continues to be a vital quality service.
It seems the policemen were often choosing him for volunteer jobs and asked him to run for mayor of Gnometown Dawson. The very first big project was the Centennial celebration for the town. In June there was a two hour parade, lot of activities, and lots of volunteers, making it a truly fine celebration. During his 12 and ½ years of service as mayor, he worked with the City Manager and Council planning improvements and developments.
Plans were made to replace Main Street and the driving bridge, a walking path by the river, city apartment housing, a new library and a new fire department building. There were improvements in the City Park, the Prestholdt Softball Fields by Gnome Rudy and his sons and many softball players. Winterfest and Riverfest were started, and the tradition of honoring gnomes from the community was begun…but that is another story.
In the late 90s Gnome Richard retired from teaching full time, but still wanted to be in touch with the young gnomes that he so enjoyed. He did some long term substitute teaching and some “on call” subbing for a few years. All during his teaching career, he also had a bus driver’s license drove his own drama and declamation trips. He took a full-time bus route and has a few families that he taught the grandparents, the parents and now is driving the grandchildren to school. Between teaching and driving bus, Gnome Richard will reach 50 years of continuous service to the Dawson-Boyd School District in 2011.
Family, friends, faith, doing a good job and helping others by volunteering, have been the guidelines that Gnome Richard has tried to follow in Gnometown Dawson.
Glen Blomquist, Art Lee,
John C. Hanson & Bert Dahl
There came a time in Gnometown when the children who were out of school were not finding work and found it necessary to move on to other communities to exist. They wrote home on tear stained corn husks about how they missed their gnome parents and all the good people they used to help everyday. Every gnome living in Gnometown is concerned. Tonight is the big council meeting to discuss this problem; everyone is to bring ideas.
It is finally dark, and a fire has been started on this crisp fall day to warm the air. Council gnomes and town gnomes ambled somberly toward the gathering place, under the big willow tree on the riverbank. All eight of the elders of the council are present and Daws, the leader of the gnomes stands up to begin the meeting. The gnome crowd quiets, as Daws states the problem to be discussed. “Come forth with your ideas,” invites Daws.
“Perhaps, we should all move on, maybe to the big city where they are building cars and tractors,” says one of the gnomes in the back row.
“No,” replies Daws, “living in the city is a hard life, it’s all cement and hardly any grassy area for us to live, and the people tend not to believe in us so there is no gnome honor there. Why, they don’t even know who their neighbors are or help each other. We would get lost and be no more.”
“There are canneries, in southern Minnesota, who beg for help when they can peas, corn and lima beans. Let’s move there,” pipes another gnome.
Elder Del gets up from his place on the root, and said, “There is work there, but it is seasonal. In a very short time we’d be out of work. And the smell…if the crop isn’t perfect it is left in the fields and the stench is awful. There must be something else to do.”
Elder Blomquist, known as Glen, to all the gnomes, rises confidently and moves to the center near the fire. “I and three other council gnomes have traveled to other farm areas and have an idea. Come up and stand by me so everyone knows who you are. Gnome Art Lee, stand to my right, Gnome John C. Hanson, stand on my left and Gnome Bert Dahl, you stand here, pointing to his right. We have seen machinery which crushes corn for cattle feed; we have seen oats made into cereal and flax into paper. We have this,” holding up a large orb. The gnomes are puzzled over the importance of a soy bean. They see them all the time in the fields, pick those which fall out of the bins and roast them in ovens for winter food.
“There is oil in this ball of bean,” says Art Lee. “Oil which can be used for many things. The closest plant which takes the oil out of them is far away.”
“We are proposing a plant for our Gnometown to squeeze the oil out of them and maybe even make pancake flour from them,” adds Bert Dahl.
At that point, John Hanson leans down, takes a stick and draws a triangle in the dirt by the fire. “We think we should call it Tri-County Soybean Association. The triangle represents the three counties we can get beans from and the green color would signify the growers.”
“Other communities have gone together and made big plants. I know we can too,” Gnome Blomquist adds with enthusiasm, “but it’s going to take a bunch of money and a lot of hard work.”
Gnome Harris Ronning rises quickly and volunteers to help draw up plans and do the construction. He also thinks Gnome Gerry would be a big help with designing the machinery.
“Gnomes Morris Benson and Joe Givens can canvas the three counties and raise money,” said Daws. “And I appoint Gnome Harland and Gnome Rudy to take care of marketing the products. And you, Governor Ted, go to St. Paul and get any Senators and Representatives to help make this possible.”
A loud cheer roars up from the gnomes on the bank, their faces beam from the light of the fire and the grins on their faces. This is a great plan, instead of moving, they would create jobs here in Gnometown, and their children could come home.
And so it was, a huge plant was built. They shortened the name to Dawson Mills, and then they shortened it again to AGP. I doubt they can shorten it any more and still make sense.
The Dawson Fire Department
The summer of 1908 brought very dry land and parched fields. Grass fires flared up here and then over there. The little people were rushing to and fro with their walnut halves, carrying them full of water, taken from almost dry sloughs and streams. One evening, as the Gnome leaders gathered in a circle under the great elm tree by the river, they discussed the possibility of a huge grass fire which could consume their homes under the logs and trees. They sought an innovative answer. They needed to get more water to the fires much faster. They called for ideas.
“Maybe we could use reeds from the slough. By pitting them together, we could reach quite a distance,” suggested gnome Phil. “No, that won’t work. How will we get the water to glow uphill?” Jean chimed in.
“Maybe we could get the gophers to carry the walnuts. They’re really fast!” suggested gnome Harland.
“But you just can’t trust a gopher. They change their mind right in the middle of the road. That won’t work either,” argued gnome Del.
Daws, the leader quietly got up and pulling his pipe out of his mouth said, “There are 29 pelicans living down at the big north slough. Let’s ask them for help. They could scoop up water from the river in their large bills, fly to the bigger fires and pour it on them and quickly fly back for more. Hills won’t be a problem, and they can keep the small fires from spreading.”
“Good idea.” “Let’s vote on it,” sounded Gerry and Rudy.
“Ok, if you are in favor of this plan, point the top of your hat toward the north slough,” Daws said. So all of the gnomes gathered there bent the points of their hats in the direction of the north.
“Doc Bill and I are going fishing today at the north slough. We’ll talk to the Pelicans and convince them to help us,” said Elder.
“I think we should call ourselves the Gnometown Fire Department,” suggested Bert, “and the 29 pelicans which will be helping us could be called The P29 Bomber Division. Together, we will keep our Gnometown safe from fires!”
Harris and Eloise Ronning
A long, long time ago two little gnomes were born into the Ellefson and Ronning families in Gnometown. Right away the parents knew these were going to be very precious gnomes. Harris was marked on his thumb with what looked like a tiny carpenter’s nail, and Eloise had one green thumb and one white thumb.
As they grew, the gnomes began to notice each other, too. They married, and Harris built a sturdy house for them on the bank of the river flowing through Gnometown. He filled it with furniture that he made from the woods that grew there, and Eloise made their house a home by adding her paintings, crafts, and flowers from her garden. She kept it neat and sparkling clean and held it all together with a special beeswax polish. Soon the house was filled with the happy sounds of their family and friends.
Harris and Eloise made many friends along the river. Eloise was a gracious hostess. She always had homemade cookies and snacks for the little gnomes in the neighborhood. And, she was a good cook, too. The kettle on the stove was always filled with something tasty. So, the little house on the river became a gathering place for friends from near and far. Often, you could hear their voices and laughter will into the night as they shared stories of their days and their adventures. Even the birds and animals in the woods knew they were welcome, because Harris made them homes nearby and always had food for them through the long winters.
Harris became quite a good builder. He cut logs from the woods along the river and made homes and cabinets, farm buildings and business places for many for the gnomes in the area. As Gnometown grew, there was a need for more and more houses. Harris thought about how he might fill that need and before long he had an idea. On the edge of town, in an open field, he platted a new neighborhood. Then he started to work. When he had finished, there was a curvy little road, new trees planted, and homes for the families of a growing community. It had been hard work, but he was pleased with all he had accomplished. Harris and Eloise enjoyed their little town and the gnomes that lived there. Together, the two of them volunteered to work for the church, the school, and many of the organizations that helped make Gnometown a wonderful place to raise their family. Like so many other gnomes, they contributed to their community in any way they could.
Children, friends, husband and wife, parents and grandparents; that’s what legends are made from in Gnometown!
Long ago in the hills of southeastern Minnesota a baby gnome, who was to be called Bob, was born. Little did anyone know this little one would grow to be such a knowledgeable and wise gnome. Though weakened through childhood illness, this gnome’s courageous heart would inspire strength, love, and confidence in others. Never would those who knew him consider him weak. In fact, in later years his heart became even more vibrant and those close to him claimed to be able to hear the neat of hat caring and compassionate heart.
As with many young gnomes, this boy tried several times to serve his country joining the Air Force, but the Big Ones always said he was too weak. Little did they know….So he decided to go to college. After attending Hamline University and Winona State College and obtaining his teaching degree, he graduated from the University of Minnesota with his Master’s in educational administration. His first teaching position was in Pine City and then he went to his hometown Lewiston where he also coached.
From Lewiston, carrying his books under his arms and his knowledge under his cap, he journeyed west, but only as far as Gnometown, for when he arrived there he knew he had found his new home. There was just something about the people there, something about how they made him feel, something that told him – these are good people. The Gnometown school board hired him to teach science at their school. He took his books from under his am, his knowledge from under his red cap, and with his heart o his sleeve, began imparting his knowledge and encouragement to the children of Gnometown. Son he was appointed principal and then superintendent. What an honor?! During this time an addition was built onto the school and a separate elementary school was constructed. Soon the children would be so happy to have new school mates from the neighboring community of Boyd. At school, Gnome Bob could be seen quietly moving about the building, conversing with the teachers and other staff about the challenges and successes of the day, encouraging students, and complimenting coaches on a job well done.
Gnome Bob knew that a variety of educational programming was important so each student could excel in his or her own way. Wanting to attend all the school sports, music and speech events, he decided it would be great help to have a gnome mobile for transportation. A blue ’57 Chevy would be just the ticket. That gnome mobile could be seen, not only at school and school events but also at he homes of friends and at businesses in town, at the church where Bon was an elder for many years, traveling the country roads to time the bus routes, and heading all directions out of town in the winter snow to see of it was sage for the children to come to school. It took Bob to community meetings (Park Board, Library Board, and Hospital Committee), to joyful events like Soybean Days, and to help out in hard times too such s to fill sandbags at flood time.
One of the first places people saw the ’57 was at the hospital, where Gnome Bob was picking up his wife, Majorie, and their 4th newborn child, Richard, to drive them home to the big house on Chestnut Street where they would join their daughters, Beverly and Ann and their son, Ross. The Clay gnomes lived in that house where the elms hung down over the street for many years. They shared their home with friends and welcomed extended family members to live with them when the need arose. Inviting all the teachers over before school began each year was always fun.
Gnome Bob worked hard. When vacation time came he enjoyed traveling with his family back to southeastern Minnesota, camping out West, and going to a special lake which he had learned of from other gnomes, the Maestro John and his wife Mary. There he spent time with them, with his extended family, and with some of his other Gnometown friends; Ken and Dot, Dick and Lois, and Joe and Mary. Back in Gnometown he could be found tending to his flower gardens, hunting with his boys and dog Gypsy, or just spending time with his family sharing with them his love, his knowledge and his advice.
Gnome Bob believed that family, friends, teachers, and other community members are all essential in raising and educating children, so they too can inspire others to be their best. It is said a true measure of a person’s legacy is not how long he lives but how he lives. Through his quiet, unassuming way, and with his knowledge, wisdom, strength and compassion Bob Clay left a legacy of love and courage that lives on in those who knew him.
Reverend G.S. Froiland
Gunnar, a little gnome who would grow up to be a Gnometown Reverend, was born amid the mountains and fjords of Norway. However, his earliest memories and fondest thoughts were of the prairie. In 1873, his family arrived by oxcart – among the first settlers in Dakota Territory, across the border from Canby, not far from Gnometown, which, like Gunnar, was still young. The first school and the church he would serve in Gnometown were not yet built.
Getting an education was a problem Gunnar had in common with other young gnomes at the time; especially those who wanted to become pastors. But by the time that Gunnar was out of country school, Augustana, a boarding high school and college, was opened about 70 miles away. He walked back and forth between sessions. Later, he attended the Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul. To earn money the ambitious young gnome worked for a number of summers during the harvest on farms in the Milan area. He would walk from South Dakota, sleeping in barns along the way. A favorite stopping place was in Providence with the Ness gnomes. Mrs. Ness is said to have remarked, “That young man is too lively to be a minister!”
After he finished at the seminary in 1893, he was called to Kviteseid in Milan and spent the next years on the outskirts of Gnomeland. In the meantime, in Gnometown, the school and Trinity Lutheran Church had been built and many new businesses established. It was a bustling community when Gunnar and his wife Alma were called to the two-point parish of Trinity and Our Saviour’s of Baxter in 1913. They bought a 40 acre farm at the west edge of Dawson on Pine Street and began a dairy with a milk delivery route. Providing some of their own income was common in those days for ministers. Salaries were often small and families were often big! This family grew to twelve children. In 1914 a hospital was built on Pine Street. The Reverend was on of the incorporators and served as board president for many years. The next year, the Carnegie Library opened, and Gunnar, who dearly loved books, served on that board as well. Like other Reverend gnomes, G.S., as he came to be called, helped to begin or contributed to many community undertakings.
Traveling between congregations was a problem. Gunnar made the trip to Baxter in the country by buggy in good weather and wagon or sleigh in bad. The coming of the automobile was one of many changed he welcomed! Like many of his fellow Gnometowners he was an immigrant and took enormous pleasure in witnessing such progress. The transition of European immigrants to citizens of Gnometown, USA, involved many challenges as well, not the least of which was learning to get along in English. The call to Dawson and Baxter required “fluency in English,” and gnome Gunnar was pleased and proud that he could say he was. Almost all pastors of the community needed to be able to minister to people in a European language and at the same time make rapid progress in the transition of church life into English. In little more that a decade, Sunday school and confirmation classes were in English, and church services in an old world language became special events.
G.S. was always interested and active in civic matters, not just in the community, but in the wider world as well. He kept up with the news and worked to support and improve government and the administration of public affairs. In 1942, he was a candidate for the State Legislature, with regulation of liquor sales one of the important issues in his campaign. He was narrowly defeated, one of only a few times he failed to achieve a goal he had strived for. In 1944, Gunnar retired from an active call, but he remained in Gnometown and continued to serve as needed for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Sunday church services, as well as to fill other positions. As the president of the Gnometown school board, he handed diplomas to any gnomes he had baptized, confirmed, and would eventually marry, as he had their parents.
As the years passed, the Reverend Gnome, like others, became concerned that the elderly gnomes in Gnometown who needed housing or help had to move away from their homes and friends. When the Normal School in Madison closed, G.S. was instrumental in seeing it converted to a Home for Old Gnomes. He was a good fund raiser as he was not shy about asking for contributions to a worthy cause. In 1953, the Reverend Gnome preached a farewell sermon marking the 60th anniversary of his ordination. He died shortly after.
Many Gnomelanders and Gnometowners still remember him or remember stories told by him or about him. Among his family’s treasured memories are anecdotes that recall his deep love of nature. For example, almost everywhere he went Grandpa Gnome noticed the birds along the way, and upon his arrival would write down both the kinds and numbers he had seen in a little notebook he kept in his picket for that purpose. This is the kind of story that reminds us of how much he appreciated and took interest in all facets of Gnomeland, the prairie and its creatures, the people and the fruits of their labor. And never in his long life did he cease praising the Creator of it all.
A little gnome, named Delbert, was born in Appleton, a village not too far from Gnometown. His father ran the town’s grocery store during the depressed times in Gnomeland. He grew up to be a very charming young man, and attracted many young gnomettes. There was one special one from the village of Louisburg, not too far from Appleton that caught Del’s eye. They enjoyed each other’s company for a short time in high school.
Then, one day while Del was still in high school, darkness fell over all of Gnometown. Many large pumpkins had fallen from the sky and landed on the islands in the Gnome Sea. The pumpkins had fallen on several of the large boats in the harbor and killed many of the sailors. Del and many of the gnomes his age immediately decided that they should go and help defend Gnomeland from the invaders. Del signed up for the Boat Brigade, and set out in a large boat to sail after the invaders across the Gnome Sea.
One day while Del was walking on the deck of the boat, he noticed an older gnome who didn’t appear to be working like the rest of the sailors. The older gnome was walking around and was pointing a black box at other sailors as they worked. Sometime the box would give off a flash of light. Del wondered what on earth that fellow was doing, so he approached the fellow. Del said, “Hello, sir. What is your name?” The older fellow answered, “My name if Kodak, nice to meet you young fellow.” Del the asked Kodak what he was doing with that black box and the flashing lights. Kodak said that he was a gnometographer, and that the Sea Brigade had hired him to record the activities on the gnome boat. He said that if you held the black box up and pushed a special button, the black box somehow captured whatever he pointed the box at and put the image on a piece of magical paper.
Del was really impressed and asked Kodak if he would teach hi how to use the black box to make the magical images. Kodak told him that he couldn’t teach him, but that Del could go to magic school after he was done and the Boat Brigade, and learn how to use the magical black box.
So, that is what Del did. After he left the Boat Brigade he went to magic school in Chicago. There he learned how to use that black box to make his own magical images. He finished magic school, married that little gnomettes that had caught his eye in high school and moved to Gnometown. He wanted to build a business making magical images for all of Gnometown. To get the business going he knew that he must have a building that was easy to find. So, he built his studio a block off of Main Street and painted it a bold green color with bright red trim. He also placed a large sign on the front of the building that said, “Del’s Gnometown Studio”. Del’s studio business prospered, and he continued to make magical images for the gnomes in Gnometown and the surrounding area, for over 500 years.
Delbert Thielke was born in Appleton, Minnesota. His father ran the town’s grocery store. After high school, Del enlisted in the U.S. Navy and sailed on an aircraft carrier during World War II. When he returned from the Navy, he went to photography school in Chicago.
He then married Myra Iverson, his high school sweetheart; moved to Dawson an opened is photography studio. They raised three children: Paul, Jane and Scott. Del’s wife, Myra, passed away in December of 1978.
Del married Anna Mae Thoreson, who had also lost her spouse in June of 1984. Anna Mae has eight children: Bob, Mary, Don, Margaret, Tom, Jim, Margie and Marie.
Del retired from the photography business after over 50 years in the business. Even though Del and Anna Mae are retired, they continue to be vary active members of the community, helping other in any way that they can.
Joe and Mary Givens
The buildings stood there, towering over Gnometown like stalagmites in the gnomes’ caverns of long ago; massive, beautiful, empty and still. A sign loomed over the entrance: Tri-County Cooperative Soybean Association. The words rang silent, but there was a feeling that their meaning would unfold over time; how much time, the gnomes knew not.
It was 1951 and two gnomes were making their way across the prairie from the east, over rivers, through ravines, across fields blooming with a short, leafy, green plant sporting strange white nodules with little black spots on them. Their destination was clear: Gnometown. As the tow, Joe and Mary, made their way across the perilous land, they discussed their plans, once Gnometown was reached. Joe resolved to find a way to convert the short leafy green plant into products for gnome and beast; and Mary reflected that she would master the wooden box with white and black keys, called a piano. They arrived in Gnometown, overwhelmed by the greeting they received from the local gnomes. They made their home under a resplendent canopy of leaves and twigs, near the school for young gnomes, and the church for Lutheran gnomes. Every day Joe walked to the Tri-County Cooperative Soybean Association, where machines gradually started whirring, with the help of many of the town’s gnomes with names like Bob, Doug, Esther, Bernice, Dave and Mike. A strange smell soon emanated from the site: roasty, toasty, earthy. It was the smell of soybeans being converted first into oil, flakes, grits, and then into products like Tuffy’s dog food, Crisco oil, and more. In the meantime, Mary played the piano with such speed and conviction that some of the Gnometown natives were alarmed; but Mary said, “Don’t worry; my Bach is worse than my bite.” Mary and Joe raised three daughters; Mary taught piano to the town’s young gnomes, and directed the choir and played the organ at the church for Presbyterian gnomes. They prospered, added on to their home under the leaves, and traveled frequently to visit gnomes in other lands, always happy to return home to the paradise know to them as Gnometown.
Joe Givens was born in Chatfield, Minnesota; Mary, in LaCrosse Wisconsin. They first met while attending Carleton College in Northfield, Mn. Mary invited Joe to a dance one evening. Joe, although learned in all things having to do with chemical engineering, did not immediately recognize the chemistry generated by the evening. Five years later, Joe finally asked the young Mary out on a date, the two married in 1949, and raised three daughters; Beth, Claire and Ann. Joe retired in 1981 from Dawson Mills as its General Manager, and he and Mary lived half of the year in Edina, Mn and the other half in Naples, Florida. The two, seemingly not knowing the meaning of the word “retirement,” kept busy singing in two choirs, playing bridge, savoring sunsets on the beaches, playing golf every spare second, enjoying their wonderful group of friends and often reminiscing on their 30 years in Gnometown.
Steve and Irene Ruzich
If you put your head to the ground in Gnometown, you may hear many strange sounds of little gnomes, playing and working. If you are still long enough, you may be fortunate enough to actually watch these happy little people and realize how industrious they are, and how compassionate they can be to each other and even to us, who are larger.
It was under these circumstances that I saw the story of Steve and Irene unfold. I noticed a new gnome one day. This gnome was not as small as the others. He was tall, almost 5-1/2 inches. Most gnomes get to be no taller than the height of a juicy red apple. Unfortunately, the young among the gnomes thought him to be very strange and teased him until he finally withdrew to sit dejectedly, under a fallen box elder tree. “Too tall,” he thought, “too tall to hide under the dandelion leaves, my legs are too long to scrunch into walnut shells the others use to slide down the hills in the snow, and too tall to work in the tuber mines, always bumping my head on some root or other. Whatever will become of me, I don’t fit in and I’m not good at anything.” Tiny tears dripped down his face, and he scooted back a little farther in the shadows when he heard a bunch of little happy voices coming.
“Everybody stop here for a minute and look at this flower,” the beloved teacher Irene beckoned. “This is a Sunflower. It is a very tall and beautiful flower which can be planted to produce food for humans and birds to eat and the oil extracted for cooking and the stems used for roofs on our gnome gazebos in the summer.” Trying to observe other plantings and rocks, she turned to notice the tall, weepy gnome in the shadows and cautiously moved closer. “You look so sad, what is your name?”
“Slim,” he very softly whimpered.
“What is wrong and how can I help you?” she said caringly.
“I’m too tall, way too tall, and they tease me. I don’t fit in and I’m not good at doing anything,” Slim answered in absolute dejection.
“Oh, my dear, that is not true, you are like this tall sunflower,” Irene counseled trying to lift his spirits. “You are very handsome and I know you will someday be able to do something many others cannot do as well as you. Let me dry your tears and you come with us. My husband, Steve, who works in tuber mines, may have an idea.” So off they walked, across town to the fertile carrot fields. The carrot crop was thriving and Steve was on feeding detail that day, which sent him deep in the mine to feed each carrot the sweet nectar which the ladybugs brought from the honeysuckle trees. Dirty and sweaty, he met Irene at the gopher hole entrance near the north end of the filed. “Steve, see that young, tall gnome over there. His name is Slim. He feels like he doesn’t fit in and isn’t good at anything,” stated Irene urgently. “Can you help him?”
“I’m glad to meet you, Slim. My, you are tall! You must be 2 acorns taller than I.” observed Steve. “I’m done with work, cone on, let’s go down by the river and play some Berryball with the others.”
Reluctantly, the tall, young gnome followed but soon was involved in a game of Berryball, which was rolling a berry into a coke bottle, lying on its side, with one team trying to keep the other team from getting it in the neck of the bottle. “This is boring,” said a player in disappointment, “It’s too easy to score and the bottle fills up so fast.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” coached Steve with a wink. “Let’s tip the bottle up on end and you’ll have to throw it up and try to get it in the bottle. It will be hard, because it is so high but it could be fun! Let’s try it!”
So they did. It was more challenging and more fun. They played vigorously and made up new rules, like dribbling and fouling and free throws, as they went along. Slim found he had a huge advantage, being so tall; he could get the berry in easier and more often that anyone else. Everybody wanted him on their team. Soon they were having regular tournaments and Teacher Irene and her class came to cheer them on when they played and kept score. From then on, Steve was known as “Coach Steve” for thinking of this great new game of Berryball and he kept watch on the players so they followed the rules and didn’t get hurt.
Thanks to the concern of Irene and inventiveness of Steve, Slim finally felt a sense of belonging to his team and among all the gnomes. He finally found something for which he could be recognized. Now the young gnomes, who had teased him, carried him off on their shoulders in a victory parade. Slim, finally, fit in.
Steve and Irene met as young gnomes in the very beginning of their arrival in Gnometown, on the steps of the school when Steve, a very polite and honorable gnome, opened the door for a new, pretty teacher, who was loaded with books and papers for her first day of teaching. After a few years, Irene was called by the gnomes in Pipestone to teach, but Steve missed her terribly and asked her to marry him. So they were married and lived near the river under the roots of a strong, shady elm tree. Irene taught many little gnomes what they needed to know when they were young and Steve would teach them about the rest of the world when they were older and taught them how to play Berryball. And, of course, he remained “Coach Steve”, who always remembered the special things about each and every one of them.
Gnomes are most often born in Gnometown, but this legend begins in the hamlet of Boyd where Vernon was born to Large Ones, Ralph and Gertie Stevens. Life on the farm with brother, Marvin, and sister, Ardis, also included uncles, Harry and Eddie Gilbertson, plus Grandpa John and Grandma Ida. It was there that Vern gained his appreciation for farm animals, wildlife, nature and the benefits of hard work. Sunday mornings, you could find the whole family at Trinity Lutheran Church in the third pew from the back on the north side. Vernon’s faith grew through Sunday school, choir and fellowship gatherings, where coffee, a Gnome magic potion, was served to Gnomes and Large Ones alike.
Vern decided that youth education was his destiny so he continued life at Saint Cloud State University and became a teacher. The Gnometown Collective was struggling with school funding and the idea of an “area school” was being considered. While teaching in Boyd, Vern began to realize his passion for the preservation of the strong Dawson-Boyd communities and worked diligently to unite the school systems. Vernon knew he would need to make Gnometown his home to further his heart’s vision. So, in 1977, he made the move to Gnometown and settled south of the river.
Leadership of the Gnomettes at school gave Vern the opportunity to wear his heart on his sleeve and demonstrate the importance of each individual Gnomette. He always encouraged them to excel through rewards like popcorn parties, personal attention, new pencils and colorful handprints on the walls. He often found new ways to expand the Gnomette’s world by bringing nature, wildlife, and arts to their school. The Rapture Center and the Minnesota Zoo were exciting visitors. Chickens, ducks and turkeys hatched in incubators in the school office and artists came to live in Gnometown while they taught.
Vern cheerfully kept giving and knew the source of his big heart was God’s love. Nurturing continued for him from Trinity Lutheran and he shared his musical talents through choir directing, playing the organ and singing. All this musical energy ignited others to expand and share their talents. While at home, he enjoyed serving plenty of coffee and home cooked delights. At Christmas, when the family gathered he would read pieces of the Christmas story, light candles, and sing carols. The outside lights of his home had a welcoming glow with his extensive decorations.
Although he liked his first home, his dream was to design and build a new home in the country. Here, he could live close to town, and have chickens and dogs. April, his dog, blessed him with several litters of puppies. Over 100 exotic chickens lived in his special coop with the cupola from the barn of the old farm. The new house accommodated large groups and held lots of special meetings. His long-held dream of a performing arts center came about here. Vernon knew that importance of having our larger community experience the arts and though eh worked hard to make it happen, e could only be there in spirit when the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performed in Gnometown.
While he made a fuss over the accomplishments of others, he was very humble about the awards given to him for his outstanding promotion of the arts and skillful ways in which he helped to meld prairie culture to the world at large. His efforts to help the arts and artists in SW Minnesota earned him the “Prairie Disciple Award”. He received the School Administrator Award and because of a letter writing campaign to the troops, he received an “Outstanding Americanism Award” from the American Legion and as a charter member of the Lion’s Club was frequently recognized for his talents there.
Eventually, Vernon’s heart became so big and so full that he could not carry it anymore. He decided to set his heart free to do the things big hearts do, like adding beautiful colors to sunsets, inspire Gnomes to move forward with a performing arts center, increase sparkle in the snow and encourage young, college-bound Gnomes to discover their own hearts.