by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Early in the morning on July 26, 1951, Kent Stever eagerly anticipated the arrival of “The Greatest Show on Earth” as he waited in a crowd on Second Street to hear rumbling trains bring the circus to town. He then walked with performers and animals to the site of the circus in Goodview. This local author’s newest book about the Hiawatha Valley combines his own anecdotes about the area with historical happenings to paint a picture of Winona’s past, from the visiting circus of the ‘50s to semipro baseball and the Lakers.
Stever was born in Winona and has been drawn to the beauty and the people of the river valley ever since. He said he gained small-town values that have helped him throughout his life, and he feels he is giving back to the community with his stories.
Stever stated that he appreciates his tale of Princess Wenonah that marks the beginning of his most recent book, “Historic Tales of the Hiawatha Valley.” “It is a tale often described, but never read, so I created my own version,” Stever said.
Other stories in the book, like “Crossing the Monkey Bars” and “Popeye’s Legacy,” are fun reads that speak to the lifestyle in the times they cover and personalize facts and dates, he explained.
Stever researches his books by analyzing Winona newspapers going back to the 1860s through the Winona Newspaper Project at Winona State University. His own Winona history books and city directories provide verification of facts, he said. “Researched histories included are complete in all [my] books, along with personal stories,” Stever said. “I do a lot of juggling and juxtaposition to arrive at a meaningful history that is inclusive of personal perspective.”
Stever shared that he chose to utilize the phrase Hiawatha Valley in his latest book. “In the current book, I wanted to present and resurrect the use of ‘Hiawatha Valley’ to describe the area — for past remembrance and for those new to the area,” Stever stated. “It was a well-known, common term of my childhood and youthful days.”
Stever said he received encouragement from teachers, friends and even paper-route customers growing up in Winona, where he enjoyed hiking and biking the Lake Winona trail.
Stever’s mother passed away when he and his siblings were children. His father, who worked in construction, raised them.
Stever said he earned his BS, MS and PhD with support from others and “the knowledge that I could achieve anything I chose to do” with “nothing to hold me back except my own volition.”
The Stever siblings earned 10 college degrees total, and two of the Stever brothers each completed 20 years of service with the United States Air Force. “We were free to achieve,” Stever said. “All we had to do was put one foot in front of another and keep on moving.”
Stever shared that he feels great opportunity still exists, and strong leaders, teachers and neighbors are simply needed to help people realize possibilities.
Stever was a math teacher before he served for 30 years as a high school principal. After retiring, he was a part-time lecturer for seven years at the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Education. He noted that he has enjoyed being a substitute teacher for all subjects at the senior high school and the junior high schools in Lakeville, Minn., over the past couple years. “Students are excellent — as good today as they were 50 years ago,” Stever said. “They just need and want effective guidance” from mentors such as parents, teachers and principals.
In addition to being the author of “Historic Tales of the Hiawatha Valley,” Stever also wrote the books “Growing Up on the Mississippi,” “Kinder Gentler Ways” and “Tomatoes Free for the Asking.” All are available at the Historical Society, Paperbacks and Pieces of Winona and Lark Toys, and the most recent is featured at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Target, he stated.
Stever explained that several Winona Post employees provided encouragement with having his first stories and histories published in the paper. He said he later published other pieces of his work elsewhere, including the Red Wing Journal and Minnesota Moments Magazine. He shared that more stories and books will be coming from him in the future, and a number of them are finished and on his computer.
Stever said his creative work outside writing includes taking photographs, carving items such as fish and palm crosses, painting, and restoring and refinishing pieces from toys to tools. Some of his photos are included in “Historic Tales of the Hiawatha Valley,” and one of his carvings is shown in the book.
Stever said he feels his newest book presents a hopeful outlook for the Hiawatha Valley. “We need to refocus and move ahead with strength and ‘grit’ — an old word needing resurrection,” Stever noted. “We simply need to individually and separately step out and take our rightful place in making the valley and the world a better place to be.”