Town 180: ‘We want you here!’

Diverse group makes final play for reality TV show to include Little Falls

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

A group of Little Falls residents gathered at the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau Thursday, to take part in a video showing their willingness to work together for the Town 180 project. Little Falls is in the top three for the reality television show and producers want to see a willingness to work together from community members. Pictured are (from left): Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder, Robin Hensel, Kenisha Schaffer, Cassie Baum, Jody Scott-Olson, Bob Reinitz, Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Gary Block, Steve VanSlooten, Kim Bzdok, Gabrielle Meyer, David Meyer, Ray Dodin, Council Member Jeremy Hanfler, Kathy Whittington, Kris VonBerge and Jill Moore.
A group of Little Falls residents gathered at the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau Thursday, to take part in a video showing their willingness to work together for the Town 180 project. Little Falls is in the top three for the reality television show and producers want to see a willingness to work together from community members. Pictured are (from left): Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder, Robin Hensel, Kenisha Schaffer, Cassie Baum, Jody Scott-Olson, Bob Reinitz, Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Gary Block, Steve VanSlooten, Kim Bzdok, Gabrielle Meyer, David Meyer, Ray Dodin, Council Member Jeremy Hanfler, Kathy Whittington, Kris VonBerge and Jill Moore.

When Kris VonBerge got a phone call from the Town 180 producer Wednesday, she quickly started making phone calls.

The producer’s request? To gather a diverse group of people from the community and videotape a round-robin discussion on how they would reinvent Little Falls, with the purpose to showcase the dynamics of the residents. Sixteen were invited, 16 accepted and 16 showed up.

VonBerge said the producer told her that the network NBC is the most likely pick up the show. In addition, instead of one city with two teams being portrayed, the focus would be on two cities — each with one team working toward goals.

The winning city wouldn’t get a community makeover and what was initially thought to be a $100,000 prize. However, the producer told VonBerge Wednesday the cash amount was much, much more, but wouldn’t say how much more.

Little Falls is in the top three — Thursday’s video, send to the producers Friday — could be the deciding factor.

Those invited included Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder, Council Member Jeremy Hanfler, Bob Reinitz, Steve VanSlooten, Gary Block, Cassie Baum, Kenisha Schaffer, Kathy Whittington, Robin Hensel, Jody Scott-Olson, Kim Bzdok, Jill Moore, Ray Dodin and Gabrielle and David Meyer.

While they didn’t all agree on how to reinvent Little Falls, they all had ideas.

VanRisseghem said the meeting was not about individuals’ agendas in life, but about how to make Little Falls better.

Reinitz, a proponent of the Camp Ripley State Veterans Trail (a bike and multi-modal trail that would come through Little Falls), said Little Falls didn’t exist to the Minnesota Legislature and exposure on Town 180 “is a way to get put on the map.”

VanSlooten, not a proponent of a bike trail said, “If NBC wants to reduce its audience to 10 people, let’s talk about a bike trail.”

As for a $100,000 prize, VanSlooten said, “We need serious cash if we want to revitalize more than my house.”

Attitudes in the city need revitalizing, David Meyer said, with Crowder adding pride in the community and its history were items to capitalize on.

Dodin came to the city in 2009 from Chicago. He felt the city had a great location on two highways — the need was to bring people to Little Falls.

Whether the city was unique enough to bring people in was a question Scott-Olson had. So too, she asked, once people were in the city, what was available for them to do. She felt the Mississippi, a natural resource of the city should be highlighted (canoes, paddle boats), as well as activities involving the agricultural community.

Reinitz suggested a coffee shop overlooking the river. Bzdok agreed outdoor seating was needed.

Schaffer said there was nothing for children to do in town during the winter, like a winter park. And in the summer, she remembers going to the city beach which featured a bathroom and concession stand.

Dodin, who said Little Falls is beautiful, said an indoor facility was needed for kids during the winter months, so residents didn’t have to drive to Brainerd or St. Cloud for activities.

Whittington, a resident for just four years, said she’s heard over and over, “You should have seen Little Falls long ago … it used to be alive.”

David and Gabrielle Meyer pointed to the problem of young people being encouraged to go to college and get out of town. They were the exceptions they said, since both are from Little Falls, are college graduates and have chosen to raise their family in the city. They are excited about Town 180.

David said Little Falls’ search for its identity must be a search for a positive identity.

Bzdok, who also grew up in Little Falls, said she never dreamed she’d come back to live — but loves the small school and the ability to get around without hassle.

VanSlooten brought the focus back to the river; Gabrielle Meyer said for the first time in history the city didn’t rely on the river — “But we should,” she said, citing it as a part of Little Falls’ history and a draw for visitors.

“Is that what we want? A tourist town?” asked Hanfler, who said the city needed more industry to generate jobs for the unemployed.

Diversity in cities to the Little Falls’ south and west needed to be tapped, Hensel said. She also suggested alternative purposes for Camp Ripley be sought and the need for answers for people losing their homes.

Whittington, who has lived in places all over the world, said she was impressed that so many people are doing so many things in Little Falls.

Moore at the Great River Arts Center pointed to the volunteers who have helped with the remodeling and the activity they’re working to revive.

Some very positive things were brought up, said Block. “We need to make it relevant for young people … need to build on that.”

“This group came together and listened to each other today, a huge goal,” said VonBerge. “They listened to each other’s ideas, had opinions, went back and forth on a dozen really great topics.”

While the videotaped session was to take 30 minutes, it lasted nearly an hour. The final consensus, “Town 180: We want you here!”

“And bring the money,” said VanSlooten.

The video was sent to the producers Friday. VonBerge said she has no idea when a decision will be made.


  • UpNorthBidLF

    Why was Robin Hensel invited? Hasn’t she cost the city $$$$$ that could be used to revitalize?

  • tmac

    Sounds like some great ideas.
    The best, at least in my opinion, is generating jobs and keeping this town relevant to young people.
    I think that with some good paying jobs,keeping young people here would be a lot easier.

  • Jody Scott Olson

    Aww, thank you! Community owned renewable energy would be a great way to create jobs. If you create jobs the businesses and night life will follow. It would be great for economic development, you sell energy back onto the grid, great for sustainability without having to drag in tons of tourists to choke our main streets, unless we decide we want that and great for the environment.

    • Chris Lange

      Yes we need a windmill like the VA in st cloud has. It never is spinning and yet there is a blinking light on top of it. Makes me wonder what powers the light?
      Also, we should spend approx $100,000 to build solar panels like Royalton did. They are saving $1900 a year. In about 50 years those things will have paid for themselves (if they last that long). Oh, but they got grants.
      Real profitable stuff.

      • Jody Scott Olson

        Never mind the investments in renewable energy taking place all over the US and the world which includes Excel Energy right here in Minnesota but I’m sure your observation of the windmill at the VA is sufficient data. Nevermind that aprox 240,000 people in Germany were employed in the renewable energy sector. I’m sure there’s no economic benefit or profitability tethered to the creation of good paying jobs, or selling energy back onto the grid, or avoiding the release of billions of tons of CO2.

        Combined federal, state and municipal subsidies pick up 60% or more
        of the cost of an on-site renewable power project.. .but
        we’ll just add you to the camp of forward thinker who are convinced Little Falls will be restored by new shopping opportunities on main street and more bike trails. Genius.

        • Chris Lange

          Yeah subsidies, that’s free money right? Tell me where that money comes from.
          The goverment has to subsidize this stuff because most of it is crap. The only ones benefiting from “renewable enery” are the companies selling this unproven technology. Talk to an honest employee at the power company, they will tell you how much our investment in green technology is costing every customer. Of course officially they have to play the game and say how great everything is.
          Show me some numbers, I know people want to believe there are easy answers to our countries problems, but there are not any.

          • Jody Scott Olson

            “Government has to subsidize stuff because its crap.” Apparently you didn’t know that 56 percent of all tax subsidies go to 4 industries: financial, tele-com, oil, gas and pipeline and utilities.

            “Talk to an honest employee of a power company”: I’m pretty sure I was at the capital when Excel Energy and its fleet of lobbyist lobbyied for more dry cask storage at Prairie Island. Are their lobbyist’s considered “honest employees”?

            And yes, those are the spent nuclear fuel rods stored on the Mississippi. The place that is considered a prime terrorist target because flying a plane into that toxic mess would contaminate everything from here to the Gulf of Mexico…

            Kelp testing just started in CA to test the spread of radiation levels from Fukushima.

            Coal subsidies are harder to track because they are often not direct handouts, but
            packaged as tax credits, tax breaks, and other goodies too numerous to
            itemize. The U.S. coal industry mopped up subsidies of around $17
            billion between 2002 and 2008, tax breaks on coal royalties
            ($986 million), exploration, and development breaks ($342 million).

            Plus you have to factor in the $1.5 billion of the federal costs are associated with damages to miners’ health such as the notorious black lung disease.

            Did you need a briefing on what tax payers have coughed up on building nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain or do you have a pretty good idea already?

            How quaint to walk around believing that only renewable’s are subsidized.

  • robin hensel

    What was not printed and is VERY IMPORTANT IS THAT GREAT RIVER ARTS ASSOC was (according to jill moore admin for last 18 months ) an administrative hell and crumbling from within)….now why would that be? I want to know who was messin up? And why? Pay attention community to how many non profits have BIG ISSUES GOING FORWARD. There is a widespread county and city wide culture of CRONYISM AND CORRUPTION in this area. Any city/ area that has to ask its citizens to be kind and have a speaker inspire them to treat others nicely has REAL DEEP SEATED PROBLEMS! morrison county needs an “about face” and an “EMPATHY REVOLUTION!”

  • John Zylka

    The reason they want to see more of Hensel is because its a reality show, as in Duck Dynasty. Being able to make fun of nut jobs makes good ratings. Little Falls should not be made fun of. This is a bad idea!!

    • Jody Scott Olson

      Ha! When the largest paper in the county defines “diversity” as 3 liberals in a room full of conservatives, that brand of ignorance is the “Duck Dynasty” and punchline of this joke! Deservedly so. I’m sure there is nothing more frighting to the ruling class of this community than to have to look at themselves through a broader lens, or worse yet to have the rest of the world shining a spotlight on the bigoted, narrow-minded cultural underpinning that keeps the ruling class fat and everyone else living in abject poverty. Why should we be afraid of revitalizing our community? Because in order to do that this community will have to change. While locals take the liberty of bashing Robin Hensel, the rest of the United States can scratch their heads and wonder why people with brains would accept using cars as billboards! Why their newspaper editor is allowed to blame the Adam Lanza shooting on single parenthood which he refers to as a “broken family”.

      Taking stock of what is working and what isn’t is part of personal growth, part of any successful business AND part of any successful communities. That action in this community is long, long overdue. Leaders should open doors, not function as gatekeepers.

      “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
      – Sinclair Lewis

    • robin hensel

      John zylka brother of councilman GREG ZYLKA…st gabriels hospital needs to mail you a kindness card out there in Colorado or wherever you live. Folks like you are the REASON a speaker named VJ Smith was hired by the school district and Healthy Community Collaborative to teach kindness. In healthy communities residents don’t need instruction in order to BE kind…it just comes naturally. Such is not the case in this quaint little river town. Yes sir…we got trouble, right here in river city!

      • John Zylka

        Yes Robin I am Gregs brother but I have my OWN opinions and I express them freely which I am not sure if they are close to his!! You keep bringing up all these quotations of people that have nothing to do with Little Falls…but that’s what you do is ramble and cause trouble. The hippie days are over! If you have agenda why don’t you run for office at the national level…oh that’s right no one on a local level wants you to represent them just like I and I say I not Greg… NOT WANT YOU ON A TV SHOW REPRESENTING ME AS A LIFE LONG RESIDENT OF LITTLE FALLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jody Scott Olson

      I posted this earlier but thought it was worth repeating: The executive producer of Town 180 is the same person who produced
      Extreme Makeover Home Edition and Survivor. Neither program had the
      “Jerry Springer” kind of factor. Extreme Makeover was very much the
      opposite, they brought community members together for a common good. I
      assume Town 180 is a much larger scale of the same type of program.

  • Christina Majaski

    I was wondering where the diversity was supposed to be.

  • robin hensel

    Chris lange…criticize royalton all u want but they are waaaay ahead of little falls…much more forward thinkers and have used SIGNS TO FURTHER THEIR COMMUNITY, not shut out free speech..not violated our constitution and have no lawsuit due to ignorance/arrogance. Green energy is the way forward.

  • robin hensel

    Why not mention fact that john zylka is councilman greg zylkas brother? Why not question when this quaint little river town has to hire a motivational speaker to promote his book and encourage “kindness”? It is also important for voters to know that john zylka warned darwin j allord on june 11,2013 to be “careful darwin, i am sure you are kidding but dont be surprised if she has you charged with making threats against her life. Just saying!” After darwin j allord posted on same morrison county record commentary thread “why not just pull a “gordie” and shoot her. It worked last time!” I wonder when councilman greg zylka will announce his candidacy for mayor? I also wonder if mayor cathy vanrisseghem will run for office again. I also wonder who else may run for mayor. Dont u tmac? Why do u not use your real name? What are u afraid of? I have a hunch you are former or current military or local business person. Lots more questions will need answering in the future.

    • tmac

      People like you are the reason I use tmac.
      I do not need my family brought into my discussions.

  • robin hensel

    So tell me tmac….just exactly what do you mean by “people like me?” Healthy civil dialogue is an essential component of a free nation. I did not say anything negative about john zylka or greg zylka. I share information that may be of interest to others. One thing for SURE is…..healthy differing viewpoint discussion has been sorely lacking in this community. My signs/idea speech have been a catalyst for change. That was my intention from the beginning. As one of my early signs said….”nothin changes til somethin changes.”

    • tmac

      My response, I think was quite clear.
      You are the only person bringing poster’s families into this discussion, ergo people like you.

  • robin hensel

    Tmac…..are you one of the 60 people that attended the vj smith book promotion/kindness pep talk on Martin Luther King day? The live longer live better non profit and healthy community collaboratives paid smith around $750.00 so that amounts to about $12.50 per person. The school districts share of his fees was almost $3,000.00. Thats alot of money to promote his book, line his pockets and help instill people to be “nice to others”. If you attended, perhaps you would share what you learned?

  • Erik Warner

    While Little Falls getting its 15 minutes of fame may be an exciting prospect, it is my hope that those who are advancing this are also considering any possible negative implications of our community’s participation.

    Sure it might put LF on the map, but for what? My fear is that this will be just another “reality” show rooted in the presentation, and exaggeration, of conflict. That’s what sells and drives ratings. Through the magic of editing, minor conflicts between reasonable people can be made to appear as major battles between extremists. What I fear will be lost in the presentation is what Rep. Tim Penny used to call “the sensible center.” I hope I am wrong.

    So, those involved, proceed…but, please, do so thoughtfully and with caution.

    • Erik Warner

      Well….all this assumes LF is chosen for the program.

    • robin hensel

      It seems like the glare of the “sunlight” may be getting too bright for some. Little Falls will be seen by the general public with or without Town 180, as the community it really is. Positive or negative, eventually the reality will be clear to many. I am curious, why you are suggesting caution? What is there to hide?

      • Erik Warner

        It seems logical to me to think things through before acting on something like this, that’s all.

      • Erik Warner

        Robin – One point of caution is this….it should come as no surprise to you that there are people in this community who are not your supporters. I am not going to take sides in that debate, just pointing out that there IS contention in our little hamlet. One of the possible pitfalls I see is that something like this has the potential of dividing members of the community even further, thereby making coming together to resolve our problems all the more difficult.

        I agree with you that we have problems. In fact I am often sympathetic to your views; views on minimum wage, clean/renewable energy, etc. I am a proud liberal. In fact I can sometimes be so liberal that I irritate liberals. Though I agree with some of your ideologies, I think we have different approaches to problem solving and conflict resolution.

        • robin hensel

          Erik….what would your better approach be in making the “about face” complete 180 that our community needs as well as our nation/world?

          • Erik Warner

            First, we need an operational definition of what a complete 180 is. I guess I’d like some more ideas of what it is that you think needs to change at the local level before I can give any answers as to how I would approach things. In general, my style is non-confrontational and rooted in seeking common ground and consensus building.

            Take the garden at the food shelf, for instance. When I conceived of that, I approached parties that I thought would have an interest in it and that might be open to it. They were so we moved ahead and started it. No city council meetings, no argument, no fighting; just volunteers tilling up some soil and planting food. A pretty simple act with the goal of addressing food insecurity and hunger.

          • Jody Scott Olson

            I don’t follow the comparison you’re making. You started the community garden partially as a college project and your community investment whereas Robin has been defending her constitutional rights. Its not really the same thing, your rights weren’t being violated. Your post also seems to imply that she’s always confrontational and you never are, where I’m fairly confident there are no absolutes on either side.

            I was in the room last week when Robin suggested to the mayor that the city add a Human Rights Commission, which many city’s have like any other board. They typically educate and advise in an effort to provide information to community members, business and gov’t. They attempt to assist in resolving issues before they rise to the level of litigation and use the state dept of Human Resources for info when needed. The mayor scoffed . Robin pointed out her case against the city (which will be appealed the only pending question is by which firm), the case I filed against the school district and the most recent case against the Sheriff’s Dept, even in light of numerous and expensive ongoing battles on the very subject a Human Rights Commission didn’t get a second glance. No confrontation

            I guess I’m concerned that your view of Robin is only keyhole glimpse of a much larger picture.

          • robin hensel

            Erik warner….i would like to invite you to join a group of individuals that are now beginning a “new conversation” to include formation of a local human rights commission. We will have our first organizational meeting in the near future. I will be inviting the public in an announcement in the morrison county record. I hope you will take part in the formation of this essential organization. Since the city council refused to be part of this, I am calling for all interested persons to organize apart from the city. With hope…robin

    • Jody Scott Olson

      The executive producer of Town 180 is the same person who produced Extreme Makeover Home Edition and Survivor. Neither program had the “Jerry Springer” kind of factor. Extreme Makeover was very much the opposite, they brought community members together for a common good. I assume Town 180 is a much larger scale of the same type of program.

  • robin hensel

    I only represent myself john……in any circumstance, i only speak for me.

  • Jody Scott Olson

    I think maybe Hensel brought up the point of John and Greg’s relationship because it’s relevant.

    As far as Smith’s story about Marty, I agree that Marty was a dear, kind man
    but the subtext and implications reach well beyond this man’s kindness. On a
    day honoring MLK Smith presented students with a man who did his job
    honorably and in return he earned slave wages. Oh, the irony…

    King won a Nobel Peace Prize for his fight AGAINST INEQUITY. Wal-mart
    is the universal icon of social injustice and inequity not only in the US but in third
    world countries. While I’m a firm believer in gratitude, I also find the subtext
    objectionable and contrary to all King stood for and believed. King represented
    peaceful protest and civil disobedience against inequity and injustice. He held protests and organized marches…maybe he had a bunch of signs and banners in in his yard.

    Marty represents cheerful conformity and acceptance of inequity and injustice

    If we were all intended to march to the same beat, we’d all hear the same rhythm.