The First Colony in Anoka County

April 9, 2010

By Holly Broden

Sometimes it takes a while for a city to find its identity and that is true of many of the first settlements in Anoka County. The city of Andover was first named Round Lake Township in 1857, and three years later that name was changed to Grow Township and then later to Andover. Ham Lake, first settled in 1855, was originally named Glen Cary. Finding a name that sticks and lasts is one of the interesting aspects of each city’s history and it is true of the first colony in Anoka County.

Itaska (or Itasca) was the first colony in Anoka County having been settled the spring of 1850.  Later it was renamed to Watertown in 1857 and then changed to Dover, on Nov. 15, 1858. Again in the year of 1858 the name was changed and this time it stuck.  Any guesses on the name of the city? Here are a few more clues.

The first government wagon road, established in 1852, passed through Itaska coming from Point Douglas, St. Paul, St. Anthony, and Anoka before proceeding north to Fort Ripley. According to historical records from the Anoka County Historical Society, 300 Red River Ox Carts used this road to pass through this city on the way to St. Paul to deliver their cargo of furs and pemmican. In addition to the first government road, rivers were also available for travelling to this settlement.

“At this time there was no ferry across the Rum River everybody had to ford the river, those on foot has to wait for covered wagon if the log raft happened to be on the opposite shore. Sometimes the wagon would be too heavily loaded then the man who was carrying his family provisions, loaded them in or on top of the wagon and swam and waded across,” wrote Daisy Porter Bradley in a 1935 article* on this city.

However, it wasn’t the name of the river that gave this settlement its identity, but rather the appointment of a new territorial governor that began to shape this city’s future in the county. The name that stuck was that of Ramsey cementing the connection between the first Territorial Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey, and the first colony in Anoka County.

Prior to his appointment Ramsey has been involved in the nation’s capitol. “His experience in the nation’s capitol was especially helpful for a territorial executive required to consult Washington on all the major decisions of administration,” according to Minnesota Historical Society records. Additionally, his appointment to Minnesota brought with it substantial migration of Pennsylvanians to the Minnesota Territory.

Family members from the original colonist began arriving in June travelling on the steamboat Governor Ramsey on the Mississippi River. They arrived in a vastly unsettled territory and in colony unprepared for their migration. According to the book History of Anoka County, “One small log house proving rather inadequate for the shelter of eight men and six women to say nothing of the children, some of the colonists were obliged to sleep out of doors the first few nights.” Those few hardy folk endured the hardships of those first nights with many staying to ensure the success of the first settlement in Anoka County, and by doing so, contributed to the history of the city that is named Ramsey.

* The 1935 article written by Daisy Porter Bradley is called, “Ramsey, the Early Years.”

Anoka Scouts Celebrate 100 Years

April 2, 2010

By Holly Broden

Boy Scouting in America celebrated its 100th year and so did Anoka Troop 102. Although records from the Northern Star Council suggest a lapse in continuous charter, with only 979 months (81.5 years) of continuous membership, scouting came to America and to Anoka and it stuck. “It certainly is one of the oldest troops in the Northern Star Council,” said Marketing Director, Kent York. The shift came when Anoka Troop 102 came under the Kiwanis’ sponsorship umbrella and was renamed Anoka Troop No. 204.

According to historical documents and an article written by Arthur D. Caswell in the book Anoka County Minnesota: A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family History, the Boy Scouts of America movement reached Anoka with the formation of the Anoka Troop No. 102 in 1910. When the club first started in Anoka it gathered in the basement of the Methodist Church then located at the corner of Jackson Street and Third Avenue in Anoka.  The first scout master was Roy Hall.

“The basement room had rough wood floor with many slivers. This combined with wood columns in the playing area caused a number of bruises and wounds. The program usually consisted of signaling, both flag semaphore and telegraph key for the Morse code,” wrote Caswell. The article went on to say that boys studied the Scout Handbook, but very few merit badges were earned. “…in general the boys had a rollicking good time. Basketball, boxing and wrestling also prevailed.”

For summer encampments, the “Coleman Cottage” property located two miles north of Anoka on the east bank of the Rum River was used.  “The scouts lived in canvas wall tents which at time of rain leaked and since no mosquito nets were available, the scout smeared their bare skin heavily with bacon grease,” wrote Caswell. In addition to camping other summer encampment activities included boating, canoeing, fishing, baseball, and swimming.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) grew rapidly from it introduction in the United States and became the largest youth organization across the country. The Boy Scouts of America program was inspired by and modeled after a similar program in England developed by General Baden Powell in 1908. According to the newly released Honor Bright: A Century of Scouting in Northern Star Council, a historical book chronicling different boy scout troops in the Midwest, the original goal for forming Scouting patrols and troops was “to rediscover the joys of outdoor life.”

“The Boy Scouts filled a void for many boys whose parents were just too busy to do some of the things the club offered,” said David Elvig, former Boy Scout District Chair of the Three Rivers District.  He also mentioned that as the Eagle Scout program developed it too provided a great labor pool for many special projects in the community.

The legend of Johnny Wasnick

March 26, 2010

By June Anderson

In going through my ever-growing historical file in search of material, I came upon a story that was so well told and so inspiring that I decided to share it with the readers of this column.

According to its long-ago author, Richard Meers, this account of St. Francis’s first track star was “adapted from a true story told to me by my brother, Warren, when I was twelve.”

You know how it is with a kid. He always wants to test himself, especially against someone with a “name.”

He thinks, Just by chance, maybe I could take him.

Johnny Wasnick had a dream like that. He was as fast as greased lightning.

No one around St. Francis could stay close to him in a foot race.

After reading articles in the Anoka Herald calling Bill Matheny of Anoka fastest in the state, Johnny was determined to try him in his chosen events, the hundred yard dash and the half mile.

On Monday, May 10, 1934, Johnny could no longer conceal his desire to pit himself against Matheny.

He told his basketball coach he wanted to run in the district tournament in Anoka on Saturday.

“But we don’t have a track team,” Coach Reischus said.

“Many schools don’t enter full teams,” Johnny replied.

“But we have only a few days to practice,” the coach protested.

“No problem. I’m ready,” Johnny grinned.

Reischus knew he couldn’t win against a determined kid like that, so he agreed to sign him up.

“What event will you run?” the coach asked

“The half mile and the hundred,” Johnny answered.

Reischus gulped. He had heard of Bill Matheny’s domination of those events.

Saturday dawned bright and clear after a rainy spell.

When he finished chores, Johnny reminded his father of his promise to drive him to Anoka.

“This is the first good day I’ve had to begin spring planting,” his father said. “I can’t take you to town.”

Johnny ran the two miles to St. Francis to look for his coach who was nowhere to be found.

Undaunted, he decided to run the 14 miles to Anoka.

“Get up, boy!”

Johnny’s eyes fluttered open at the command of Les Mason.

“Who are you?” Les asked.

“Johnny Wasnick,” Johnny replied as he jumped off the mat in the Anoka gymnasium. “I’m here to run in the district track meet.”

“Then get out there,” said Les. “It’s almost time to start. Where’s your uniform?”

“I’ve got it on,” said Johnny pointing to his pair of weathered tennis shoes.

The starting gun barked. Muscles strained and cinders flew.

Matheny took the lead in the hundred yard dash, but he had never been pushed like this before.

After narrowly winning the race, Matheny felt a surge of gratitude for the kid from St. Francis who had pushed him to the limit, enabling him to set a new record.

As contestants lined up for the half mile, Johnny and Bill studied each other.

For the first time in two years Bill Matheny was worried. Who was this kid with the piston-like arms and legs? he wondered.

Johnny’s face was a study in determination.

Matheny took the lead but he never felt such intense pressure.

He called on his strong young body to go faster as he felt his lead slipping.

Johnny’s heart pounded as he steadily closed the gap.

Now they were neck and neck at the three-quarter mark.

From here on it was a matter of heart. What else could explain why a kid who had run 16 miles just to get to the race, refuse to lose out in the stretch?

Johnny won the race by a stride. Great heart and tremendous desire scored a victory for St. Francis that day.

Sometimes within a man’s breast beats a heart so strong that his body can scarcely contain it.

Such was the case in the Legend of Johnny Wasnick… Richard Meers

For my next round of columns, we’re going to spend the month of June vacationing with the posh residents of Lake George, circa 1907.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. Her e-mail address is jranderson_73@msn.com.

Memory lane: end of the road

March 19, 2010

By June Anderson

We continue the last leg of our trip down Memory Lane (Old Highway 10) with our narrator/guide, long time Coon Rapids resident, Beverly Wells Anderson.

Along Hanson Boulevard lived many of the old residents who had settled there before 1937.

The Ed Swanson family, for one, owned a farm where Faith Lutheran Church is now located.

The Whitehead farm, now the site of Epiphany Catholic Church, was another, along with the Emman’s farm.

At the bend of Hanson Road where it joins the present Highway 10, was Joyce Chapel Church where Beverly Anderson went to Sunday school, was confirmed and married.

Later the church building became Coon Rapids Village Town Hall, then the home of the First Baptist Church.

Later on it was used as a real estate office by Dick Lang Realty, and later yet housed a music store.

Then, succumbing to the wear and tear of years of usefulness, the building was torn town.

Next to the church site is a small, lovely graveyard where many of the older residents of Coon Rapids permanently reside, as will Beverly when the time comes.

Further down, the road became the Al Bombarger farm. Al became the first police chief in Coon Rapids in 1956.

Beverly worked for him at the police department for seven years and also worked for the next two chiefs, Gerald Nelson and Patrick Nelson.

Later, the Bombarger farm became the site of Coon Rapids Junior High School and at the other bend, entering Guy Robinson Drive Coon Rapids Senior High School was built.

The Poor Farm occupied the land across from the senior high site, where the football field is now located.

Nearer to Crooked Lake Boulevard was the Fred Carlson farm and further down Hanson, the Oswald Larson farm and further, still, the Zawistowski farm.

Off 121st to the right was the Ted Tronson farm which is still there today.

Ibis Street, which was formerly a dirt road turning right about half way down towards the tracks, led to the farm of Paul Paris, right next to the BNSF railroad tracks.

Mr. Paris, who worked as a butcher in a St. Paul meat market, did butchering in his basement for the local farmers.

Located between East River Road and Old Highway 10 was a home built by Oscar Westlund.

At the intersection of the two roads, you could reach the bar and restaurant of Jack Casey by taking East River Road up to the top of the hill and turning left.

There was a house behind them by the railroad track where the Lindberg family lived. Mr. Lindberg worked for the railroad.

Next to Casey’s was a residence housing the Lincoln family.

Past Foley Boulevard were the Gibelyou, Personius, and Petrangelo families and further down East River Road, Dingman’s Ranch.

At that same intersection, by taking Old Highway 10 between the railroad viaducts, you would find a home housing the Rounsville family and by going past both viaducts, you would come upon the home of the Swanson family.

Wiberg’s Garage and Gas Station was on the corner of Foley Boulevard and Old Highway 10.

From there onto Foley Boulevard you would come to the Neslund Turkey Farm which later became Pine Cone Nursery, and is now Showplace Theater and shopping area.

Throughout all the growth of Coon Rapids, Al Flynn played a large part.

He was a carpenter who built a local laundromat/dry cleaning establishment on Coon Rapids Boulevard.

He also purchased and moved old homes around, fixing them up and reselling them.

Not surprisingly, he became the first building inspector for the city of Coon Rapids.

Harold Bartholow, another longtime resident, became the first fire chief.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society.

Remembering Old Highway 10

March 12, 2010

By June Anderson

We continue the last leg of our trip down Memory Lane (Old Highway 10) with our narrator/guide, long time Coon Rapids resident, Beverly Wells Anderson.

Along Hanson Boulevard lived many of the old residents who had settled there before 1937.

The Ed Swanson family, for one, owned a farm where Faith Lutheran Church is now located.

The Whitehead farm, now the site of Epiphany Catholic Church, was another, along with the Emman’s farm.

At the bend of Hanson Road where it joins the present Highway 10, was Joyce Chapel Church where Beverly Anderson went to Sunday school, was confirmed and married.

Later the church building became Coon Rapids Village Town Hall, then the home of the First Baptist Church.

Later on it was used as a real estate office by Dick Lang Realty, and later yet housed a music store.

Then, succumbing to the wear and tear of years of usefulness, the building was torn town.

Next to the church site is a small, lovely graveyard where many of the older residents of Coon Rapids permanently reside, as will Beverly when the time comes.

Further down, the road became the Al Bombarger farm. Al became the first police chief in Coon Rapids in 1956.

Beverly worked for him at the police department for seven years and also worked for the next two chiefs, Gerald Nelson and Patrick Nelson.

Later, the Bombarger farm became the site of Coon Rapids Junior High School and at the other bend, entering Guy Robinson Drive Coon Rapids Senior High School was built.

The Poor Farm occupied the land across from the senior high site, where the football field is now located.

Nearer to Crooked Lake Boulevard was the Fred Carlson farm and further down Hanson, the Oswald Larson farm and further, still, the Zawistowski farm.

Off 121st to the right was the Ted Tronson farm which is still there today.

Ibis Street, which was formerly a dirt road turning right about half way down towards the tracks, led to the farm of Paul Paris, right next to the BNSF railroad tracks.

Mr. Paris, who worked as a butcher in a St. Paul meat market, did butchering in his basement for the local farmers.

Located between East River Road and Old Highway 10 was a home built by Oscar Westlund.

At the intersection of the two roads, you could reach the bar and restaurant of Jack Casey by taking East River Road up to the top of the hill and turning left.

There was a house behind them by the railroad track where the Lindberg family lived. Mr. Lindberg worked for the railroad.

Next to Casey’s was a residence housing the Lincoln family.

Past Foley Boulevard were the Gibelyou, Personius, and Petrangelo families and further down East River Road, Dingman’s Ranch.

At that same intersection, by taking Old Highway 10 between the railroad viaducts, you would find a home housing the Rounsville family and by going past both viaducts, you would come upon the home of the Swanson family.

Wiberg’s Garage and Gas Station was on the corner of Foley Boulevard and Old Highway 10.

From there onto Foley Boulevard you would come to the Neslund Turkey Farm which later became Pine Cone Nursery, and is now Showplace Theater and shopping area.

Throughout all the growth of Coon Rapids, Al Flynn played a large part.

He was a carpenter who built a local laundromat/dry cleaning establishment on Coon Rapids Boulevard.

He also purchased and moved old homes around, fixing them up and reselling them.

Not surprisingly, he became the first building inspector for the city of Coon Rapids.

Harold Bartholow, another longtime resident, became the first fire chief.

Coon Rapids Boulevard memories

March 5, 2010

By June Anderson

For the 50th birthday observance of Coon Rapids, Beverly J. Wells Anderson takes us on a trip down memory lane — a tour of the old Anoka Township along Coon Rapids Boulevard, formerly known as Old Highway 10, where we will meet the people who were of importance to her throughout the 67-plus years she lived in Coon Rapids.

She quotes one of them, Joe Prause, who worked in the cities but lived with his family in the Park on Hanson Boulevard, as often saying, “Coon Rapids Boulevard is the Lake Street of our city.”

Beverly was born in Anoka. When she was seven she went to live with her grandparents in a home her grandfather, Elmer Charlesworth, had built on Old Highway 10 and Route 3, Anoka, which later became known as Coon Rapids Boulevard and Jay Street.

Beverly’s grandfather was an entrepreneur. His greatest venture was a small carnival which traveled all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota.

During the off-season, his equipment was stored on his home property.

When Beverly was 17, her husband-to-be purchased land and later built a home back behind her grandparents’ house where she still lives.

The field next to the Charlesworth property was purchased by Erick Hedford who built a home on top of the hill and was planning to develop it.

Instead, he planted a large field of pine trees where Beverly’s kids played for years.

Later the city approved putting in an apartment complex. They removed the hill and downed most of the trees.

A small grocery/gas station owned by Estensons was located across Coon Rapids Boulevard at Jay Street.

Behind it was a development built during World War II named Wooddale Park.

The Fred Peterson family lived at the end of Wooddale Park near the river.

At the Ibis Street entrance, directly across from L.O. Jacob School, lived Max Goar, who sold insurance in downtown Minneapolis. When his wife died he married his secretary, Esther Tribelcock who lived on East River Road..

Next to the Hedford property, going towards Anoka, was Yungner Brothers Hardware, which today is a funeral chapel.

An old house right across from the Charles Barney home is now used by Warneke Tax Service.

Two Janiak families lived side by side, and at the corner of 105th (then called the bumpy dirt road) was Elmer Pierce.

As you came out Fifth Avenue from Anoka, East River Road joined Old Highway 10, at a junction referred to as “suicide lane,” maybe for good reason considering there was a bar/restaurant/dance hall there called White Rock.

Or maybe drivers were just confused as to who should be driving in the middle lane of that three-lane highway.

Fortunately, for the unlucky driver, George Pierce Auto Parts was right across the road and a small airport behind it.

Further down the road, on Round Lake Boulevard, was Ghostley’s Chicken Farm and a mile or so beyond that, the famous. WCCO Tower.

Guy Robinson’s property and the L.O. Jacob property were near the corner of Crooked Lake and Coon Rapids boulevards.

L.O. Jacob later moved to Mississippi Boulevard and built on the river, near where the college is now. Dr. Dick also lived on Mississippi Boulevard, as did the Graber family.

The Rudy Beckenback family farm was located on the other side of the street from him. Further down was the Ralph, Paul, and later the Buster Talbot Farm, the Land O Lakes Farm Test Farm, and the Omdahl Family Farm.

A small home built prior to the market addition was inhabited by the Sorenson family. Ernie Leakas owned a market there; and the Ostlund’s, a gas station.

Next week we will continue our journey down Old Highway 10’s Memory Lane.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. E-mail: // <![CDATA[// <![CDATA[
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The First Baby Born in Mercy Hospital

February 26, 2010

By June Anderson

Judy Melton Schuler gives us the Mom’s perspective of a historic event “The First Baby Born at Mercy Hospital,” in her contribution to “50 Stories for the 50th

“It was Thursday, March 17, 1965, and the snow was falling ever so steadily. My son, Scott, was playing at the neighbors a block away from home and this mom was pregnant and home alone. My police officer husband, Butch, was working second shift so I decided at 3:00 pm to visit my next door neighbor, Kay. Her husband worked until 9:00 pm so we girls played cards until seven. Then it was time to head for home. Kiddingly, I told Kay, ‘I could now go home and start labor.’

“It was hard to get Kay’s screen door open because there was three feet of snow against both front and back doors. The snow was already up to the top of my clothes poles and the walk home was difficult.   My son would stay at the neighbor’s, as planned. A couple of hours later my labor started.

“A number of friends had asked if I would be going to the new Mercy Hospital and I had told them, ‘No, they wouldn’t be organized enough and besides, they weren’t open yet.’ My plans were to join my cousin at Glenwood Hills Hospital where she had delivered her baby two days earlier. But, with the snow, my plans changed. Sometime around 11:00 pm the police were summoned to help me get to Mercy Hospital where a small crew was on duty just in case there was an emergency.

“My husband had not been able to drive our car to work because the previous snows had our front road snowed in, so a fellow patrolman had picked him up for the last two days. And now, we had a problem—how to get me to the hospital. One officer tried driving down our street, only to get stuck. He looked like a snowman when he came to the door. Another officer was stuck at the pump getting gas. So, what to do?

“Hutch, or Officer Hutchinson, had bought a 1940 Dodge pickup truck from us sometime back. He was able to drive to within four doors of my house and made it the rest of the way on foot. Then the three of us pushed through the snow to get to back to the pickup to, hopefully, make it to the hospital. By this time the snow was falling so fast the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with it. Hutch drove with his arm out the window, brushing the snow away.

“After finally arriving at the hospital and being made comfortable in the delivery room, Nurse Johnson came in to tell my husband and me that they  (the staff) had a name picked out for our baby, ‘Merci Patricia;’ Mercy for the hospital; Patricia for St. Patrick’s Day. Our daughter was born the next day, March 18th, on my father’s birthday, and we named her Merci Jeannine.

“By Monday, March 21, there were six new babies and moms. Mercy Hospital officially opened that night.”

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. E-mail: jranderson_73@msn.com.

A Tale of Two Churches

February 19, 2010

By June Anderson

As the City of Coon Rapids began to coalesce into a community, members of the religious community were feeling the need for their own church. The beginnings of two large parishes—different denominations, located almost side by side on Hanson Boulevard—has been documented by the Coon Rapids History Project.

In 1960 the population of Coon Rapids was 14,931 and growing rapidly. Coon Rapids residents who were going to St. Timothy’s in Blaine and St. Stephen’s in Anoka wanted their own parish. In April, 1964, Archbishop Leo Binz asked Father Bernard Reiser to form the first Catholic parish in Coon Rapids. On May 15, 1964, Father Reiser was officially appointed the first pastor of Epiphany.

Before the church was built, the small residential house where Father lived on 111th Avenue served as the rectory. The chapel was in the basement. There, Father Reiser said daily Mass, heard confessions, and baptized babies. On Sunday mornings, Mass was held in the Coon Rapids Senior High School auditorium. After three years a committee was created to plan for a church/school complex. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on April 24, 1966 and the parish began holding their services in the new building July, 1967.

As Coon Rapids grew, so did the church and an addition was built in 1970. By 1981 a task force was created to address the needs for even more space, and construction of a new church complex was planned. The parish moved into the new church on January 8, 1984.

Today, Epiphany Parish is one of the largest in the Twin City area with the sanctuary seating 1600 people. Although Father Reiser is no longer the pastor and is semi-retired, he will always be remembered as the one who made Epiphany the wonderful place to worship that it is today.

Five years earlier, in March of 1955, Pastor Harold Tollefson took a survey. He went door-to-door asking residents if they felt the need for a Lutheran church in Coon Rapids. Their answer was “yes!” On March 13, 1955 the very first documented Lutheran service was held, led by Pastor Tollefson in the Coon Rapids Store, later known as the Sportsman’s Bar. Ten families came together for the first service that Sunday morning, but as more families began to gather at the store, they moved to L.O. Jacob School. Soon the people decided that they needed a church of their own.

Between the years of 1955-1960 Faith Lutheran Church had many firsts. One of the most important was the dedication of the first unit– the church and the Sunday school wing. On January 27, 1957, the church had its first Annual Congregational meeting. When members were asked, “What are the most important things you want the people to remember this church for?” their answers were simple: 1) that the church always preach the truth; 2) that the youth will always be important; 3) to always keep the faith. And maybe that’s how the church got its name. One man started this church. He had a vision of Lutherans gathering together. He made the first step. The people of faith took the rest.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. E-mail: jranderson_73@msn.com.

Chuck Austin: A Civic Pioneer

February 12, 2010

By June Anderson

What makes a community truly a community and not just a collection of houses are civic minded individuals who are willing to devote their time and energy to organizing and developing a quality of life that makes it a “good” place to live. Chuck Austin, about whom I wrote last week, was one of those key people. During the nine years he lived in Coon Rapids, from 1960 to 1969, this energetic man along with his family, pioneered on behalf of Coon Rapids. Below is an account of his many civic contributions taken from his narrative written for the “50 Stories for the 50th.”

After spearheading the organization of the first Snowflake Days, Chuck Austin turned his attention to establishing the Coon Rapids Gavel Club wherein leaders of all the community organizations could meet, discuss and coordinate their activities; and from this evolved a Chamber of Commerce where Chuck served as Public Affairs Director.

Turning their attention to family friendly events, Chuck and his wife, Marie, started a teen center at the junior high with Friday night dances, staged Battles of the Bands using local talent, and hosted outdoor concerts on the parking lot of the new Red Owl Family Center. They pioneered other works such as the “On to Olympics’ fundraiser where Chuck sold himself as “Slave for a Day” to raise money to send two local wrestlers to Olympic Wrestling Camp; and along with a group of fathers, he helped establish the Coon Rapids Athletic Association and began a junior football program as well as  Little League baseball, hockey, and soccer. In support of his efforts, Mayor Craig appointed him City Commissioner of Youth Activities.

Not to be outdone by her husband, Marie formed the Coon Rapids Community Chorus which sang at the dedication of the Veterans’ section of the cemetery when the first CR Vietnam casualty was buried there. Marie also helped organize a volleyball league at the junior high, and opened a snack bar at Riverwind Country Club so kids could swim during the day and have adult supervision.

After Coon Rapids High School was built, Chuck and Marie became both founding fathers and charter members of the Coon Rapids Civic Theatre; their first production being “You Can’t Take It With You.”  Chuck also designed the city emblem, “Ricky Raccoon” for which he received a copyright from the Library of Congress. Frank Ogren hung the original framed sketch in City Hall and the design was later painted on the water tower.

Chuck and Marie continued in the Jaycees where he served in many different offices, one of them being that of External Vice President in 1965. That year the CR Jaycees ran 164 projects in the community for which effort they were named the Number One Chapter in the State. In recognition of his service to the Coon Rapids community, in1967 Chuck was presented the Coon Rapids Distinguished Service Award, was honored as Minnesota’s Outstanding Citizen, received the Minnesota Jaycee Sparkplug of the Year Award, and was named one of Minnesota’s Ten Outstanding Young Men.

After nine years of serving the community he loved, Chuck Austin and his family moved to Portland Oregon, November, 1969. Before leaving, the Coon Rapids community honored them with an “Austin Appreciation Night” where they received mementos, gifts, letters, and thanks from organizations, friends, and neighbors, including Governor Harold LeVander and Senator Hubert Humphrey.

Although he’s left these parts, Chuck Austin’s legacy to Coon Rapids endures.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. E-mail: jranderson_73@msn.com.

The First Snowflake Days

February 5, 2010

By June Anderson

On June 12th 2009, the City of Coon Rapids celebrated its 50th birthday. In anticipation of this event, the Coon Rapids Historical Commission asked old-time residents to contribute stories to their project, “50 Stories for the 50th.” With their permission I have been sharing excerpts from some of their stories in the History column of this paper during the year-long celebration. Today’s story is about the first Snowflake Days Celebration.

In her narrative about moving to Coon Rapids, Jackie Dingley reminisces about community and celebration. “Being community-minded, a number of people in our neighborhood joined the Jaycees, as we did as well. In fact, we were the group who founded Snowflake Days, the celebration that was mainly the idea of Chuck Austin. He lived on our block and recruited many of us to get involved.”

According to Phyllis Erickson, “Coon Rapids Snowflake Days was originated in 1964 as a project of the Coon Rapids Jaycees. Held during the month of February, it was conceived as a civic celebration in which everyone in the city could participate in some way. Chuck Austin was primarily responsible for the idea. He brought his ideas to a Jaycee meeting, and it took off from there.”

In his own narrative Chuck Austin shares his thoughts about the genesis of the project in which he played such a major role. “As we met our neighbors and other residents, I began to realize that Coon Rapids was the hometown of hardly anyone. People were always going back home on vacations, holidays, and for special events. Since it seemed like the Jaycees were the most active group in the city, my wife, Marie, and I joined them. When I served as Jaycee Week Chairman in 1964, it became apparent to me while traveling around the community that we were scattered and had no cohesiveness as a city.

“There was discussion about changing the name of the city because “Coon Rapids” was a ‘backwoodsy’ name. I wrote a long letter to the Coon Rapids Herald reasoning that instead of changing the name, we needed to get busy, pull together, and change our image from that of a third tier suburb of Minneapolis to becoming our own home town.

“It seemed to me that a community wide activity could be the crucible for the stirring of success in this endeavor, thus the idea for ‘Snowflake Days,’ a city wide celebration, came to me. Many people were gone in the summer but we were all here in the winter after Christmas. I saw the opportunity to use the Jaycee Chapter as a springboard to launch the “Snowflake Days” activities.

“The first year was hard as we had limited resources but some great ideas. We used canvas topped pop-up campers for our headquarters on Crooked Lake. My wife, Marie, and our kids popped and bagged twelve pounds of popcorn in little paper bags and stacked them in Holsum Bread Company cartons which we hauled out to the lake to sell along with urns of hot chocolate. We held races, snow sculpture contests, and other winter events. The second year we added a Queens’ contest chaired by Jan Ruis with husband Mark escorting the Snowmobile Parade of Queen Candidates around the community. The winner competed in the Miss Minnesota Pageant in Austin, Minnesota.”

“Chuck was honored as being the first Snowflake Marquis in 1969. Over the years Snowflake Days has grown to become a major winter celebration in this area. The hope was and is that every civic organization will schedule some activity to take place during Snowflake Days. It is truly a midwinter festival that the citizens of Coon Rapids can be proud of”…Phyllis Erickson.

Editor’s note: An Andover resident, June Anderson serves on the Coon Rapids 50th Anniversary Committee and is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. E-mail: jranderson_73@msn.com.


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