2020, the year that...
I’m positive everyone in our community has a colorful way to finish that statement. I myself have a few, however, I firmly believe 2020 is the year that we became #WadenaStrong.
Early reports of a virus coming out of China seemed so far away that our city surely would not be affected. Highway 10 reconstruction within the city limits, Tri-County Healthcare’s building
project, the remodeling of the former First National Bank to become the new location of the
Wadena City Library, and the census -- that’s what 2020 was going to be all about.
I think I was down in St. Paul for some legislative meetings in February when Covid 19 started to look like it was going to be trouble. Then came the shutdown of schools and many businesses. The words “essential business” and “essential worker” echoed through Wadena.
I thought, “What can we do to survive? We need to work together to save our town. We need to be tough.”
It was a Sunday in March when I went out in my shop, looking for some plywood and spray paint. I cut out a wooden heart, striped it with red, white and blue paint and finished it with #WadenaStrong spray painted across the front. That could be our rallying point. No matter what, we would remain “Wadena Strong.”
I took it to social media and the great people of Wadena and the surrounding community ran with it.
“Shop local” rang out everywhere. Restaurants were closed for dine in, but meals were picked up or delivered at an amazing rate. The theatre was unable to show movies but opened up its concession area, and I have never seen so many people walking to their vehicles with buckets of popcorn. Stimulus checks came from the federal government and people spent much of that money back in their community. Whatever we could do to try and keep our town’s businesses surviving, we did.
Now, the hospital project has been tabled for about a year, the library remodel was downsized and will hopefully begin this winter, the census has moved forward, and the Highway 10 project continues. Grants to help small businesses have come out, and city staff worked diligently to find programs that would help shore up our local businesses. The brewery created Wadenastrong beer and shared proceeds from the sales with the Wadena Development Authority to add dollars to the programs.
The graduates of 2020 experienced a senior year that I hope never has to happen again. And yet again the community pulled together to do what they could to bring some normalcy. Councilman Wade Miller spearheaded a project to put up banners on Main Street to honor each individual graduate. Area folks donated money for the banners and the City Electric Company put them up. The Wadena Airport was used for the graduation ceremony, and a parade of seniors passed through town as people lined the streets and cheered.
ZOOM meetings replaced face to face in almost every aspect of our lives. Pastors put online sermons or daily messages on Facebook for anyone who needed a spiritual uplift. Kids were taught by distance learning. Masks were worn as businesses reopened. Yet through all this, we bonded together. New businesses are opening, home sales are growing and Wadena is moving forward.
Representative Pete Stauber commented during a visit to Wadena that, while many towns in his district have struggled, our community was growing in spite of everything.
Did everyone have a boom year? No. Will all the businesses survive? I sure hope so.
For the last few months of dealing with the unknown, worldwide unrest and an upcoming election, this dot on the map at the intersection of three highways has served as a great example of what a town can do. With all of this and more, Wadena pushes forward. It is an honor and privilege to serve as your Mayor.
George Deiss is the mayor of Wadena.