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Going Forward, Hanley Falls Offers a Model for What Makes a Small Town Survive

September 20, 2010 By David Pichaske
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By David Pichaske
Special to Minnesota 2020




Click here to read part one.  Click here to read part two.
 
Editor's Note: Consolidating railroads makes Hanley Falls, Minnesota, less important than it once was. Highways bypass the town. And consolidating, larger farms make the community less important as a farm service center.

Never mind, say Hanley Falls residents. Clever, eclectic people still make this small town of 300 a stable community by making Hanley Falls a place where people want to live.

In this, the final of a three-part series on Hanley Falls, Professor David Pichaske looks at contemporary residents of this southwestern Minnesota town who are giving the community a reason to endure change and hardships in the decades ahead. The series is excerpted from a chapter in the book, Southwest Minnesota: A Place of Many Places, written by Southwest Minnesota State University colleagues Joseph Amato, a Minnesota 2020 Senior Fellow, and Pichaske. It was published in December ($20) by Crossings Press, P.O. Box 6, Granite Falls, Minn. 56241.) - Lee Egerstrom, Minnesota 2020 Fellow       

 
Fish Fries, Caring Neighbors Define Homeland Security

The little events in Hanley life preserve community.  Like Wild Game Feed at the Bressons. This is the hope for the future.
 
Del Bresson, once the town policeman, once its mayor, many years a city council member, teaches "collision technology" at Minnesota West-Granite Falls Campus. He fishes and hunts (alone, with his son Brian, and with friends), and has made himself a portable ice fishing house that sleeps four. Del was once a cabinetmaker, and he himself (with friends) built the porch on the home he himself had once previously extended, and erected both the garage and the pole building that house his street rods and the Model T Ford he restored for his father-in-law, Charlie Michell. At the moment, Del is busy converting two inside door panels from a salvaged Toyota truck into door panels for a new street rod he's working on.
 
Del is also a very good cook, and in the winter, when things look their worst and the ice fishing is just about done, he throws a wild game feed for friends, neighbors, and members of the Car Club. He prepares several species of fish in several different recipes, and maybe duck, goose, deer - even wild turkey.
 
In the shop, Del and Barb set up six or eight folding tables and chairs borrowed from the Fire Department-the shop looks like the church basement at Strawberry Festival time. Along the front door they set another two tables, which, as friends arrive with their contributions, fill with six, eight, a dozen crock pots and dishes full of crushed duck, pheasant stroganoff, beer batter northern, deep fried walleye, venison stew, marinated goose kebobs, pheasant fingers, Del's mushroom goose, stir-fry pheasant, sauerkraut duck, goose gizzards in a crock pot, sea bass deep-fried in shore lunch batter, smoked pheasant, walleye chowder, walnut walleye, Amundsen's barbeque duck, breast of goose Cajun style, butterfly cut venison sandwiches, potato chip deep-fried walleye, fish pinwheels, and pickled northern.
 
Around the perimeter of the room sit a welder, the Model T, Del's traffic signal, a lathe, circular saw, drill press, air compressor, tool chest, L.P. furnace, Dr. Pepper cooler, bench, shelves, TV set, refrigerator. On the walls, son Brian's #71 football jersey, Del's "Bresson's Body Shop Hanley Falls" jacket, and a wealth of Dale Jarrett #88 NASCAR racing memorabilia.
 
Beer, wine, and soft drinks for the kids. Del, Barb, Brian, John and Jenny. Maleceks from Montevideo, Torkes from across the street. Tom and Terry Locher. Andersons, and Chuck and Karen Fischer from Wood Lake. Rita and Earl Christianson from Granite Falls. Barb's mom. Wayne Oftedahl and his daughter, a stock car driver who still races the car she once drove to prom, climbing out of the driver's window to be escorted down the reception line. Car Club members and City Councilmen and Liquor Store patrons drop by. They eat some food, drink a few beers, laugh a little, observe, suspect, hint, tell the world:   
 
"Well, I'd do it, but I'm not gonna go out and run for it, for gosh's sake."  
 
"The dogs I all knew by their first name, and the cows too."
 
"I didn't think much of his dad when he was president."
 
"Seen you had a deer out your place."  
 
"Couple of 'em. They got nicked by the cars and I hauled 'em off. They get caught in the hay bine."
 
"She's married to a Blue. They're probably getting along pretty good."
 
"Sharkey had a 17-foot well out there, but when the county put in that new ditch, he had to go down another 15 feet. The ditch was 25-foot deep."
 
"Married a Harkey girl out of Wood Lake, back in '92. Or was it '91?"
 
"He'd signed himself up for delivering 6,800 bushels of corn. Only signature on any of the receipts was his.  6,800 bushels turned out to be just about the elevator's shortage."
     
"Once you feel important, you never get over it. I was raised that way."
 
It may not be much, and it's the kind of small-town trivia Sinclair Lewis satirized in Main Street, but when you think things over, it's everything you need.
 
The more you hang out and the more you listen, the more you realize how far from home most of America has drifted these days. The more you realize that what America-especially America's youth-really needs is about 300,000 towns just like Hanley Falls. You want homeland security? Forget the bombs abroad and the bugs at home-Hanley's safe.
 
I was not three minutes with my camera in Hanley before a guy in a town truck drove up to check me out.  Subsidize a caf,, reclaim some of that production capacity you exported to Mexico and Asia, and you'd find all kinds of people to live and work in a town with safe streets and a 2000 median housing value of $29,600.  
 
Next thing you know, you might even have a store. Or a school. Or a Dairy Queen.


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