by Paul Brosnahan, injury lawyer
Winona was abuzz last month to learn that award winning actress Winona Ryder would star in a Super Bowl commercial shot on location here in the city of her birth. The subject and scope of the project were closely guarded, and only a trickle of information found its way into several teaser news articles. Hollywood was going to help put us on the map, we were told. Members of the community would appear in the commercial, but they had signed non-disclosure agreements and couldn’t discuss the details of the project. How exciting that our home town would be prominently featured in a Super Bowl commercial!
On January 9 several streets were closed downtown. Boom trucks with flood lights were set up, and our local police redirected traffic away from the set so that the commercial could be filmed. Once edited, the Winona depicted in the commercial is nothing like the Winona I know.
The commercial opens with the lovely Ms. Rider lounging in a rural, roadside snowbank working on her laptop. A patrolman stops his squad car to find out what she is doing sitting in a snowbank on the side of the road. (The patrolman is condescendingly portrayed as a simpleton with a Fargoesque accent. He acts like Gomer Pyle — nothing like the dedicated officers I know.) When told that Ms. Ryder is building a website — one with pictures no less — the patrolman muses that he too likes pictures. Satisfied that she’s in no danger, the officer leaves Ms. Ryder in the snowbank and the commercial ends.
Anyone who watches this commercial and doesn’t know anything about Winona will still know nothing about Winona. I am not upset with Ms. Ryder. She likely didn’t write or produce the commercial. She merely read her lines. But if the writers and producer had done any homework at all they would have discovered there is far more to Winona than they ever imagined:
Nestled between the banks of the Mississippi River and 500-foot forested bluffs, Winona is beautiful. It boasts architecturally significant banks, churches, and Victorian mansions, two lakes and tree-lined streets and The Avenue.
Winona is also a cultural mecca.
• Each year the Great River Shakespeare Festival produces several plays drawing actors and audiences from around the country.
• Winona’s Beethoven Festival sponsored by Hugh and Vera Miller has for over 15 years brought world-renowned performers such as Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and major orchestras and quartets to Winona. A free community concert by the Minnesota Orchestra fills Lake Park each year.
• Winona is home to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum conceived and built through the vision and generosity of Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter. It displays one of the finest collections of art in the country. There are very few collections that rival the museum’s collection of masterworks by Renoir, Matisse, Piccaso, Monet, Van Gogh, and many others.
Winona State University, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Minnesota State University S.E. Technical College educate thousands of students each year. They offer cutting-edge programs in the liberal arts, medicine, education, business, and composite engineering. Winona likely has more PhDs per capita than 90 percent of the rest of the country.
Is it any wonder then, that Winona is also a world-class business community? Winona companies with national and international reach include Watkins Products — distributing spices around the world for 150 years; Peerless Chain Company — North America’s largest chain manufacturer; Hal Leonard Music — America’s largest sheet music publisher; Wincraft — manufactures and distributes licensed sports products for the NFL, MLB, NBA, Nascar, and NCAA; Wenonah Canoe — makes world-class handcrafted canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards; RTP Company — is a global compounder of custom engineered thermoplastics; Cytec/Fiberite — develops plastic resins so diverse that they were used in the first graphite golf shafts, tennis rackets, and the Apollo reentry heat shields; Knitcraft — knits luxurious fabrics and fashion sold coast to coast; Watlow Controls and Benchmark Electronics — both produce technologically sophisticated electronics used in everything from computers to incubators and pacemakers; and Fastenal — is one of the country’s largest suppliers of industrial supplies and fasteners.
Winona is also home to a vibrant medical community including Winona Health — designated one of the nation’s Top 100 Community Hospitals in each of the last three years.
With its many accomplishments, Winona has cultivated a spirit of unmatched philanthropy. Generations of philanthropic families have supported Winona’s cultural, educational, and religious institutions. The Latsch, King, Lucas, Bambenek, Miller, Kierlin, Slaggie, Gostomski, Knight, Papenfuss, Arnold, Rukavina, Pope, Brenner, Kolter, Oberton, and many other families have quietly led by example, modeling a spirit of generosity for successive generations.
It’s a shame the commercial’s producer and writers chose to portray Winona as a backwater in fly-over country. Perhaps they think that is what their East and West Coast audiences expect. But with just a bit of research they would have discovered what a beautiful, innovative, and exciting community they chose for their commercial. Hopefully, when Hollywood returns they will have done their homework and will capture the real Winona.
Paul Brosnahan is an injury lawyer who, like Winona Ryder, was also born in Winona.