To the Editor,
As former Grand Marshals and Flekkefest co-founders, we couldn’t have been more delighted to learn of the long-overdue recognition being given Gene Wenstrom this weekend. Gene has been a close friend since 1977, when we took over ownership of the Herald, and he remains-so today.
We first got to know Gene – and his late wife, LeeAnn – when he was so ably representing Grant County in the Minnesota Legislature. Always generous, the Wenstroms lent us space on their farm to grow sweet corn. Formerly adjacent to a hog barn, our space was guaranteed to produce more bushels than we could harvest. In fact the weeds grew even faster than the corn – making weeding impossible and overwhelming us at harvest-time. The result, however, was a freezer-full of yellow kernels that lasted us the entire winter.
Beyond our personal friendship, of course, was a professional one – spanning Gene’s time in the Legislature and his three campaigns for Congress. Maintaining a line between these relationships was tough. But, we tried hard to remain objective – as we did during our seven years of close coverage of elected officials and elections, including endorsements of roughly an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
The Herald’s article announcing Gene’s selection as this year’s Grand Marshal did a great job of covering his accomplishments. Just two additional things come quickly to mind.
First, Gene was a strong believer in the notion of “shopping local.” We were beneficiaries of that notion – given his decision to locate his Congressional campaign offices in Elbow Lake and to use his local printer – us – to provide thousands of dollars in printing services. Of course that pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in grants, low interest loans, and private investments he brought home to the City of Elbow Lake, start-up and relocating businesses and what is now Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services.
Second, Gene has been an amazing role model as a husband and father. During the busiest time in his life, he always put family first during the illness and ultimate death of his late wife, LeeAnn. How he kept all those balls in the air at the same time could only be explained by his strong character and, surely, divine intervention. Then, he set aside his political career to take up the heavy responsibilities of being a single dad. Fortunately, his second wife, Jackie, soon joined him – “with two kids of her own” – in a kind of small-town version of “The Brady Bunch.” The resulting successes of all four Springer-Wenstroms are testimony to the patience and skill that both Gene and Jackie brought to their roles as parents.
For all these reasons, and more, we look forward to cheering Gene on in this Saturday’s parade. Ditto to all his fans lining the sidewalks, as well!
Dana and Jon Schroeder