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  Saturday January 31st, 2015    

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Fortune smiles on Winona (07/21/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

Do we ever realize how fortunate we are to live in the Winona area? How about this for an example: people I know are complaining that there is too much to do this summer, and they can’t do it all!

I agree that July, especially, is tremendously busy. My first love, the river, always beckons. When life gets overwhelming — or even if it doesn’t — there’s nothing like a paddle or a motor through the sloughs to remind me that I am not alone on this planet. It is teeming with life, with beauty, with the wonder of it all — not only in the instant, but in the past and in the future. I am but a speck in it all, like one of the bystanders in a “Where’s Waldo” book!

Family get-togethers are more fun in the summer, when traveling in Minnesota doesn’t present as many hazards as a trek to the South Pole, and there is so much to do outside for all ages. Kids are out of school and available and carefree. Adults are relaxed, not wondering if the pipes froze at home. Steamboat Days lures them home.

Then there are cultural events. Entertainment! Art! Theater! Music! Music and theater! There seems to be no end to it.

Judee Brone’s Fountain City Players are about to open “Hairspray.” Home and Community Options staged “Fiddler on the Roof” in June.

Professional theater at the Great River Shakespeare Festival offers us something not available within more than one hundred miles around us. It’s right here! (The Milwaukee Journal just ran reviews of this summer’s GRSF plays, and said, “Holiday presents shouldn’t be judged by their size or wrapping, any more than “Twelfth Night” is just another comedy. Come open the gift of this production for yourself and you’ll understand. It’s the complete package.”) The plays, which also include Henry V, run through August 4.

On Tuesday night, my friend Jeanine invited me to the Garrick Ohlsson piano concert. When we sat down, I remarked to her how beautiful the piano is just to look at, as it sat on the Somsen auditorium stage, a beautiful Steinway concert grand, shining like a million stars. When the Beethoven Festival director came out on stage to introduce the artist, he first introduced two men with him: Tom Schmitt, president of the venerable Schmitt Music Company of Minnesota, and Mike Sweeney, president of Steinway & Sons Worldwide Inc.

They were present because the very Steinway piano that we saw on stage was new, had been bought in Germany, and donated to the Festival by Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter. Such generosity is surely a gift in itself. Kierlin and Burrichter also sponsored the evening’s artist performance.

Ohlsson dazzled the audience with selections from Beethoven, Schubert, American composer Charles Griffes, and Chopin, my favorite. As is the custom in Winona, Ohlsson was given a standing ovation, but not just one. There was a standing “O” before intermission, after the regular performance, and one each following his two encore pieces, which ended with an energetic and flawlessly played Chopin piece that left the audience gasping. Ohlsson is a powerful musician with excellent and equal parts control and emotion. I would see the concert again and again if it were possible.

Burrichter and Kierlin deserve our overwhelming praise for their generosity to the community, and fortunately for us, they are not alone among those in the area whose generosity makes so much here possible. Our “too much to do” could easily be every other small town’s “nothing to do” without the continuing benevolence of those who have been fortunate in this world — plus the considerable gifts from those who give what they can because of their love for the community.

Wherever I go, I see evidence of love and generosity from people we all know and with whom we grew up. Next time you see them, just say “thanks!” for making our little part of the world so rich and beautiful. Now, get out there and take advantage of it before July is over. 


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