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How we can save Liíl Wilkie (05/22/2011)
By John Edstrom

Back in 2009, after the city fathers/mothers had succeeded in eradicating the replica Steamer Wilkie from Winonaís river front, the then Downtown Revitalization Committee turned its sights on the miniature Wilkie standing across the lake at the other end of Huff Street, directing visitors to Winonaís downtown business district. At the time there seems to have been a fanatic zeal to make the world (or at least Winona) safe from replica steamboats, an irrational hatred for the craft much like the intense aversion to bats in some women, who would like to see them all wiped out. Fortunately, then City Manager Eric Sorensen was apparently satisfied to leave well enough alone, and suggested another committee be formed to mull the topic of the Little Wilkie at a later date.

Well, the grim subject has been brought forward again by City Councilor Deb White, who asked for it to be included on the agenda of the next council meeting. Present City Manager Larry Thompson remarked that today, the Little Wilkie does not reflect well on what we want to show people coming into the city. He suggested that perhaps a person or group could be found to champion the boat, some entity willing to supply a little tender loving care towards its refurbishment. Otherwise...

It reminds one of the painful decision to take the old cat, now grown incontinent, for that last trip to the vet. Unfortunately, Mr. Thompson makes an inescapable point. Liíl Wilkie was crude in its initial design and execution, and now has grown more than a bit tacky with age and wear. It certainly does not provide the visitor with a suitable welcome to Winona, home of the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, and other first class artistic and cultural attractions.

Nevertheless, Liíl Wilkie has grown beloved, (to some of us, at least), with use and the passage of time and I was pondering how it might be saved as I drove along Second Street the other day. Eureka! There in front of the Book Shelf was the answer, in the form of one of those brightly painted herons stationed variously around the town. Why not enlist the aid of Winonaís vibrant artistic community by sponsoring a competition for the design of a refurbished or even entirely new Liíl Wilkie? There would be no need for the City Council to set any limit on the febrile imagination of the arts community, other than the broad requirement of a riverboat theme. Furthermore, since the removal of the Liíl Wilkie (as recent history shows us) would generate far more expense than anyone might imagine, the equivalent amount could be awarded the winning design as a stipend or honorarium towards its realization.

Who will not be happy with this solution, which I humbly submit to the City Council, with no expectation of any reward or recognition for my contribution. Well, perhaps a small plaque...




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