by Frances Edstrom, columnist
I wonder if there is a better place to be than Winona right now. A drive around downtown is exciting, seeing all the construction and imagining what a great effect the final projects will have on rejuvenating what used to be a hopping place.
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the movers and shakers in Winona thought that the right thing to do was to tear down old buildings, even though they were full of retail shops, restaurants, business offices and apartments. Unfortunately, the buildings that they managed to slowly replace them with were distinctly less imposing and attractive; businesses moved out to the “new” highway and the downtown began a long, slow slide.
Now, almost 60 years later, we have begun to embrace Winona’s real charm — its rivertown architecture, its riverfront, its lake — in short, its beauty and outdoor amenities.
We are most fortunate to have business leaders, many of them homegrown, who not only have built companies that provide good jobs to many people, but who want to make Winona a great place to work and live. The renewed interest in rebuilding and repurposing the downtown is due to local philanthropists.
On Saturday night I attended the Morrie Miller Athletic Foundation dinner, which raises thousands of dollars for area youth sports. Former NFL star Joe Montana spoke, and for those of you, like me, who are lukewarm sports fans, you’ll be glad to know he is still pretty handsome.
A speaker like Montana doesn’t come cheap, and ticket sales don’t begin to cover the cost and still serve people a steak dinner and give money to youth sports. It takes a philanthropist to make it happen.
The same goes for the Beethoven and Shakespeare festivals, as well as the other music festivals in town. In a town like Winona, festivals cannot charge enough for tickets to pay for the professional musicians and actors who come to Winona each summer. These festivals also design their programs to afford accessibility to not just the well heeled, but the entire community.
Down on the waterfront we have a world-class art museum. Admission is only $7 for adults, and there are free activities, as well. This is because of local philanthropists.
We have two universities who rely heavily on the generosity of local donors, and have benefited greatly from alumni who decide to settle down and work in Winona.
We have beautiful golf courses, a skating rink, an aquatic center, and myriad opportunities to enjoy our environment.
Luckily, at the same time that these local philanthropists are pouring money and energy into making life better for all of us, we have a city government that is putting energy into making sure that we have access to the joys of the river with the new Levee Park, the lake with its bandshell and municipal band, a great bike path, skating rink and watercraft rentals, and the hills with hiking trails and cross-country ski trails. (Thanks, St. Mary’s University.)
I don’t think there has been this level of interest among business leaders in making Winona a better place since the early days of the city, when people wanted things like a college, a philharmonic orchestra, a dance hall, a bandshell, and John Latsch was giving land to the public for recreation.
I feel very lucky to be living in Winona now, and want to heartily thank the donors, both major and minor, for making my life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren, full and interesting.
I’m sure readers will think of many things and people I have forgotten to mention. But that just makes it better, doesn’t it?