Rhoda Gilman: Haunted by Mystery of Time
By Stina Jacox
Rhoda R. Gilman, Minnesota historian and activist, is the author of the new book, Stand Up! reviewed in this issue of The Community Reporter. Ms. Gilman, former editor and Senior Research Fellow at the Minnesota Historical Society, was a central figure in that organization’s growth and development from 1958 until her retirement in 1992. Within the context of Minnesota history, Gilman notes, “my main specialties have been Indian and fur trade history, women’s history, and, of course, politics.” A resident of Lyngblomsten Superior Street Cottages in the West Seventh neighborhood since 1999, she has lived in St. Paul since the early ‘80s.
As a West Ender, Ms. Gilman closely follows the political and environmental health of the area. Most notably, she ran for Lt. Governor on the Green Party ticket in 2002. In 2005, she supported Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson in her bid for mayor. Ms. Gilman also worked with Dickinson and Clean Water Action in its campaign for NSP (now Xcel Energy) to convert from a coal fueled plant to gas. In the fall of 2011, Gilman participated in Jim Ivey’s campaign for city council, though she says, “my door bell ringing days are over!” Through friends like Dave Thune, niece Cass Welsh, and others, Ms. Gilman continues to keep abreast of neighborhood action and activities. Born in Seattle, Ms. Gilman is the only child of educators. Her father, Leonard O. Raasch, was one of the founders of the American Federation of Teachers.
While a student of law, accounting, and ultimately, labor economics, at the University of Washington, Gilman traveled by train to New York City, to participate in The Encampment for Citizenship. The year was 1946, and the event, supported by Eleanor Roosevelt, drew garment workers and farmer’s unions, college age youth, and future leaders. It was the naissance of the civil rights movement with members of the fledgling NAACP civil rights unit in attendance. On her return to Seattle, following the encampment, Ms. Gilman read the New Yorker article “Hiroshima” by John Hershey. “The entire magazine was devoted to the story of the bombing and its aftermath. It was a turning point for me,” Gilman states. “War was not the answer.”
Indeed, Ms. Gilman’s career as an historian of protest and human rights movements, and her spiritual and philosophic belief in pacifism, seem rooted in these early chapters in her life.
After graduation, she again headed east, this time to Boston and Radcliffe College, where she had been offered a graduate fellowship. Prior to this, while working in the central office of the National Friends Committee (The Quakers) in Philadelphia, she met Logan Gilman, a young conscientious objector and student. They married and Rhoda secured a graduate fellowship at Bryn Mawr College, just outside of Philadelphia.
After spending a year in Mexico as part of a Quaker work camp project, the couple moved to Minneapolis, where Logan was born and raised. His parents, Robbins and Catheryne Gilman founded North East Neighborhood House in Minneapolis and were active in social welfare activities and legislation. Rhoda and Logan Gilman have two daughters, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Special Projects Historian at the Missouri Historical Society and author of feminist fantasy and science fiction, and Betsy Raasch Gilman. Betsy lives in St. Paul and is an activist, writer, and teacher. She and her mother received the Honorary Vincent Hawkinson Award in 2008. Logan Gilman died in 1978.
When asked about the importance of preserving and understanding history in a contemporary world, Ms. Gilman replies, “The importance of history is not so much the story of what happened in the past, but how did we get here? How we try to understand ourselves and what we are doing in this world is of utmost importance.” In an essay published by The Quaker Universality Fellowship [universalistfriends.org/library/the-universality-of-unknowing] Ms. Gilman wrote, “I am a historian…by nature and by a lifetime of working in the field. The mystery of time has haunted me since childhood.” A devoted scholar of Minnesota history, Ms. Gilman continues to write and lecture.
Stina Jacox is a 17-year resident of the West Seventh neighborhood. She is a native of Rochester, NY and has also lived in Ohio, Michigan and Rhode Island. Her writing credits include a memoir chapter on Alzheimer’s and a variety of other freelance projects.
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On Time, On Budget: Now Let’s Start School
By Jerry Rothstein
Nova Classical Academy’s long-standing goal to unite its K-12 students on one campus has come to pass, with the opening of the Victoria Park campus for the new school year. With 840 students (ultimate capacity is 914) divided into the classical divisions — The School of Grammar (K-5, 434 students); School of Logic (6-8, 240 students) and the School of Rhetoric (9-12, 166 students, 50 of whom make up Nova’s first Senior class, graduating in 2013) are taught by 62 faculty members and more than 80 support staff.
Nova’s building provides a rich learning environment, with science labs, computer center and the library, and resources in each classroom. Natural light pours in from all sides, and the public spaces, including a full-size gym, are well-equipped and welcoming.
In its first year at the Victoria Park campus, Nova plans to make the community a major focus, offering a variety of activities, educational offerings and shared resources.
Photos: (Above) A mural of Rafael’s fresco “The School of Athens” has been installed in the main entrance hall. The original is in the Vatican. The work shows Plato and Aristotle as the central figures of classical philosophy. It represents the classical spirit of the High Renaissance of Rafael’s time, as well as Nova’s dedication to classical education in our time. (left) Executive Director Brian Bloomfield goes for higher education.
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Bearded Mermaid Finds Treasures
by Jerry Rothstein
There are three factors that help a commercial area attract people and keep them coming back — the quality and variety of goods and services and the number of places to visit and stay for more than a few minutes.
The Randolph-West Seventh neighborhood has seen major investment over the last five years, and is approaching a point at which it will be a destination worthy of a long outing. With the Schmidt Brewery Artist’s Lofts bringing hundreds of new residents to the area, prospects for smart businesses are exciting.
In this context, Nick Soderstrom, a West Ender whose family has been here fore more than 50 years, has opened The Bearded Mermaid in the Graaf & Cummings Building on West Seventh at Daly and James. Craig Cohen, the building’s owner, has partnered with Nick to start this new enterprise.
Many West Enders know Nick from his work with The Final Bid, a service that he still operates out of the new store, which helps people buy and sell on E-Bay with none of the hassle.
After serving in the Marine Corps and being discharged in 2004, Nick had the idea for The Final Bid when he sold a pair of shoes on E-Bay. That led to his opening The Final Bid shop next door to Rudie’s Coffee Shop, but the firebombing of Rudie’s in January 2010 essentially made the shop unusable. He continued the business on-line while studying Child Development at St. Paul College — his goal is to teach Elementary math, where he feels he can make a difference through his understanding of the self-esteem issues that surround math for many students.
More recently, taking a break from school, he and Craig saw great potential in the building, and have opened up the space with wood floors, tin ceilings, grand display windows on the street and graphics high on the walls by Jeremy and Andy. It contains an eclectic mix of funky, retro furniture, art, clothing, décor items and collectables from the mid-to-late 20th century. At the moment, Nick has selected all the goods, but spaces are opening for others vendors who will be chosen only if they meet Nick’s standards. He is also interested in buying — call for an appointment.
To build a solid clientele, Nick is working toward maintaining his themes and increasing the variety of goods coming in. “Finding stock is like a treasure hunt,” he says, “and there is already excitement in the neighborhood and people coming back several times.” Nick also plans to use the space for author readings and artist displays — and is open to other ideas.
The Bearded Mermaid, 957 West Seventh. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 651-788-3645.
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Great River Passage Moving Forward
by Kent Petterson
Kudos to St. Paul Parks and Recreation (Parks) staff for their improvements to the restructured and revised Great River Park Master Plan (GRP) just released. The first six chapters that are proposed for adoption in the City Comprehensive Plan have been corrected, amended and slimmed down to a document worthy of inclusion in the long-range plans of the city. These changes will improve an award-winning park system and revitalize our historic river corridor connection with the city. With a little luck, hard work and a lot of money, the City will elevate the valley into an attraction not only for the citizens of St. Paul, but for people from around the world, while at the same time respecting the natural resource.
A plan of this scope and consequence is not without controversy. The comment period for the Parks Commission drew more than 300 comments and resulted in this rewrite of the plan. Parks staff has brought the plan to people across the city as a vision, but also indicated in their Key Points to Remember (May 23 Memo to Parks Commission) that the plan is more than vision because it “also includes specific recommendations for short, medium and long term implementation.”
Where does vision stop and action begin? Can one assume that where budget numbers are attached and specifics are given, staff intends on making those items reality? We are assured of this intent by the statement on page 169 of the Delivering the Vision Chapter. Staff of the new River Division and supporting entities including a fund raising arm and the GRP Action Committee want to “ensure that the Plan will have the fortitude to withstand changes in administration and governmental policies.”
For the entire plan, but only for items that a budget number has been attempted, the total private and public price tag is approximately $220 million dollars. The public spending is spread across budgets from Ramsey County to the Capitol Region Watershed District to Public Works to, of course, Parks itself. The biggest single price tag comes in for private investment at Island Station. It will be important for the City Council to weigh very carefully the proposed implementation structure to assure that normal accepted city approval process is not subverted by the huge financial investment that is involved or by staff vision that may not always match with public sentiment, for example, the recent dust up over Victoria Park. [Specific suggestions for Victoria Park have been removed entirely from the plan. Marginal references indicate Parks staff may have itself a new kind of thinking about the future of this fabulous new park in the West End. An advisory process for the specific details of use and programming for Victoria Park begins in September.]
In Chapter 7, the plan clearly recognizes that the General Fund of the City budget will carry the short-term load of operations and maintenance until fund raising is up to speed. That will probably be the case for the long term as well. It is clear that most of that public and private fund raising will focus on covering the bill for the park development over many years. Donors do not usually fund operations and maintenance. The budget numbers offered both for revenue and expenses don’t seem to add up.
It is ironic that parking revenues are mentioned as a source of funding for a plan that is biased against adding any parking of significance in the valley. The primary emphasis of improved access to the river valley is through improved biking and walking trails. These improvements are definitely wise public policy, but there also is an issue of equity of access for all people who might want to visit the river. Locals should probably have the highest priority for improved access and the high priority of changing the character of Shepard Road is correctly a keystone of the entire plan.
The plan does not go far enough in its examination of transit and parking and an area circulator that would equalize access for the elderly, very young, disabled, and visitors and travelers from a distance who might require public transit or a personal vehicle. To be fair, the plan was not intended to examine public and private transit as a whole; nevertheless, the plan should do more to offer direction for the future.
A glimpse of what is needed in the GRP plan can be found on page 136, where a budget is mentioned to “study the impact and corrective mitigating actions” for parking needed at Harriet Island. This same kind of study is needed for the entire valley. Impact might be heavy in the West End, but it is important to figure out where there will be impact and plan before the welcoming tone becomes resentful of all the visitors who come to visit the river with no place to park.
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