Sister Kathleen Spencer  [IMAGE]

By Stina Jacox

Sister Kathleen Spencer, a devoted friend and advocate of the cultural and economically diverse citizens of St. Paul, has deep roots in the community. Born in 1938 to Theresa and Edward C. Spencer, she is the great-granddaughter of William Austin Spencer, appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be Clerk of the U.S. District Court in St. Paul in 1863, and great-niece of Charles Langford Spencer, founder of the Wilder Clinic and Health Center.

The Spencer Family settled in Irvine Park, high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. The early history of the young city of St. Paul is illuminated by this singular neighborhood. In the decades Kathleen and her family lived in the Park, the heyday of her ancestors was but an echo; her immediate family hit hard by the depression, her father often having to travel to find work as a surveyor.

Photo: As a child, Sister Kathleen’s home was in the far background in Irvine Park.
She and her friends used to sled on the hill behind where she stands in this photo.

Kathleen, a spirited daughter of the Park, led a gang of childhood friends in fearless exploration and amusement. A born organizer, she established herself as the go-to gal for hijinks. When not occupied with sandlot baseball games between the Levee Rats and the Irvine Park Skunks, or on a door bell ringing escapade, she rallied her band of followers for other adventures. On an occasion or two, the Furness sisters, granddaughters of Governor Alexander Ramsey, and residents of Ramsey House, were recipients of the latter. Kathleen and her “cousins” (kids identified as such!) would ring the bell at the Furness House, and looking “parched,” would be invited in for water, cookies, and an informal tour. Many of Kathleen’s gang lived in the River Flats, known as Little Italy; befriended through Assumption, her Parish church and school.

It was at Assumption that Kathleen found context for what would become a life-long journey. Then 12 year old Kathleen, prone to behavior that caused her parents some dismay, discovered a passion through a favorite teacher, Sister Giovanni. Even as an adolescent, Kathleen believed she would follow in the Sister’s footsteps. She would be a teacher, perhaps a nun.

For Kathleen, the days of hopping aboard slow moving railroad trains in the rail-yard beneath the Park, or spying on “Zoot Suiters” through cloudy windows at the Murray-Lanpher House, were limited by the degree of understanding her parents could offer. She left St. Paul, and lived and studied at Good Counsel Academy, in Mankato. Upon graduation in 1956, Kathleen entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

In 1959, Sister Kathleen began her teaching ministry in Silver Lake, MN. From there she went to Worthington and St. Paul, and then spent ten years in Coon Rapids before assuming an administrative role in the New Ulm Diocese. It was in this position that she would oversee four migrant centers and become intimately aware of the conditions and prejudices faces by the seasonal workers who came to pick the soy bean crops. Sister Kathleen believed that “ministry should come from the people,” that people shape a future in which they see hope and change. Her challenges and experiences led her to explore liberation theology, a view of faith in which Christianity is understood through the eyes of the poor; people are at the center. Faith is known through suffering, struggle and hope. She went on to earn a Master’s in Theology, and Justice and Peace from Maryknoll School of Theology in Ossining, NY.

In 1984 Sister Kathleen returned to St. Paul. She stayed at St. Stan’s convent, firmly believing that the work she was meant to do would be revealed. “I wanted to be invited in somewhere. I started walking West Seventh, going to Dorothy Day, listening to people.”
“I met Patty Dease, the founder of Listening House and was invited in! I became part of Listening House for a year. While there, I was asked to apply for a Pastoral Ministry position at McDonough Public Housing.”

This would become the opportunity that defined the next chapter of Sister Kathleen’s life. Next month, Part Two: McDonough and more.

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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Greening the Avenue Enhances Community  [IMAGE]

By Jerry Rothstein

Greening the Avenue (GTA) began with a small STAR grant in 2009, with the goal of encouraging projects that bring year-round aesthetic and environmental improvements to commercial areas (privately owned) of Ward Two. Council member Dave Thune has been supportive, and the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation agreed to serve as the fiscal agent for the project.

Greening the Avenue offers grant of $5,000 or less, generally preferring that applicants provide matching funds. The money can be used for materials and supplies and professional services needed for the design, startup and installation of the project. (The value of in-kind services does not count as matching funds.) Applicants that employ local contractors — landscapers, artists, tradespeople — are given preference. Once a project is completed, ongoing maintenance is the recipient’s responsibility.

Photo: Two of the projects that Greening the Avenue has worked on.

Applications are received by Project Director Jon Kerr and the GTA board, which is composed of local resource people. The board offers help to anyone interested in planning and submitting a grant proposal, and may also take the initiative and create a proposal itself.

[IMAGE]The project has evolved slowly. An early success with Yarusso’s on the East Side was followed by some disappointments, when applicants backed out of projects that had been approved.

The board also encourages partnerships on specific projects. The now-familiar “silver bicycle” bike rack project along West Seventh was a collaboration of GTA, St. Paul Smart Rides and St. Paul Public Works, which funded half the costs.

Another component of a project is its value as a demonstration of what can be done with some imagination. The new Cooper’s Foods painting and mural project is a good example. GTA approached Cooper’s and the Liquor Barrel with the idea of doing a makeover for their important corner at St. Clair and West Seventh. Sara Cooper responded with enthusiasm and agreed to matching funds. The mural was designed by West End artist Nance Derby Davidson of Acme Scenic Arts. The completed project will include planter boxes and handing plants around Cooper’s front entry.

Greening as also provided matching funds to Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association for a new sign for Pleasant Park designed and built by local architect and artisan John Yust.

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[IMAGE]Business: Animal Lover Offers Pet Care Services

by Jerry Rothstein

Nate Howard loves animals, and has started Pleasant Dog Walking and Sitting as a way to provide a range of services for dogs and other pets. He has a holistic view of people’s life with their pets, and knows that owners are concerned when they can’t give their pets enough time, or when they have to leave them in a strange environment when they go on vacation.

So Nate offers to cover the field. He’ll walk, feed, groom and exercise the pet at home, even giving medications if necessary. Owners can have Nate transport the pet to and from the vet when needed, and he’ll provide reports about the animal’s behaviour and any problems. For vacation coverage, he’ll make sure that the pet has enough contact time along with meeting all their specific needs, and will event take care of basic household tasks like mail collection or trash removal while owners are away. The pets get to stay safely in their familiar, home environment.

When Nate was laid off from a retail management position, he thought about going to nursing school. He wanted to aim for a career in helping people. In the meantime, he moved home and found that he bonded with his mother’s bulldog, who cheered him up. When he met the owner of Baffin, a British Lab whose owner wanted him to be trained as a therapy dog, Nate took the eight-week class as Baffin’s handler. Baffin had already had special training at a very young age (through Can Do Canines) to be a service dog for his owner (mobility assistance is his main role).

Now, as a registered therapy dog handler, Nate is able to work with Baffin on loan from his owner. He may do a workshop to introduce students to working dogs and the possibilities of careers involving work with animals.

The distinction between service and therapy dogs is important. Service dogs are intensively trained to work with a given person and family, with specific needs in mind. The world of service dogs has expanded in amazing ways from the time when the seeing-eye or guide dog’s role was predominant. Now, dogs are trained to support and assist a range of people’s needs.

Therapy dogs are trained to more general roles, perhaps as visitors to hospitals, care homes or people confined to their own homes. Can Do Canines provides training and advocacy and does some breeding of future assistance animals.

While building his business, Nate also has some creative goals. He’d like to take Baffin out for motivation and reward sessions for kids in especially challenging situations, like receiving therapy for injuries or illnesses, or other rehabilitation processes.

He’s also excited about taking a dog through all levels of obedience training, up to and including therapy dog instruction. The obedience training levels are actually prerequisites for a dog to go into therapy dog training. Nate Howard: 612-558-2027 or

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Spaghetti Dinner Much More Than Fundraiser [IMAGE]

By Greg Wandersee, Executive Director

Thanks to everyone who made the Annual West 7th Community Center Spaghetti Dinner & Silent Auction on October 11 a very successful event again this year! We served meals to just over 400 people and made approximately $4,300. The event, though, is more than a fundraiser; it is also about building and supporting community.

A special thanks to Board Members Laurel Severson and Darren Wolfson for preparing the food, St. Stanislaus Church for allowing us to do the pasta and sauce prep work in the parish kitchen, Lois Tschida and Laurel Severson for securing the many community volunteers, Jennifer McClellan our Vista staff member, for arranging for the 22 University of Saint Thomas volunteers, Marilee Blake and Fran Zamb for coordinating the silent auction, and to all the individuals and businesses who donated goods to both the dinner and the auction and of course, the West 7th staff and volunteers for all they do to support this event each year.

A very special recognition and thanks to staff member Marilee Blake, board member Laurel Severson and community volunteer extraordinaire Lois Tschida for their coordination, preparation and dedication that truly make the event a successful community gathering.

[IMAGE]People were saying as they left the event that “it was the best Spaghetti Dinner ever!” I am sure that has been said many times before, but it is always nice to hear. Lisa Hage, the West 7th Librarian, said “it’s like going to a community reunion.” The dinner that began as a fundraiser more than 25 years ago has become an important and anticipated annual fall community gathering of friends, neighbors, former neighbors, volunteers, staff and supporters of West 7th Community Center. Such generosity, loyalty and communal spirit truly make a difference. We are grateful for the support of friends like you — partners who help us continue our programs here in the West Seventh neighborhood.

The gym was full or neighbors full of spaghetti for three hours straight. Volunteer servers were most generous!

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