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.