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.

  • 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!!

    • tmac

      Why must you bring up the point of John Zylka being Greg’s brother?
      I am sure he did not have to consult with him before posting.
      I cannot understand why you are so vehemently against the talk that Mr.Smith gave.
      And I do not think that you show too much kindness when you call out people like you did in your response to John Zylka.

      • tmac

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

      • http://mcblowback.com/ 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.

    • 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…..do NOT WANT YOU ON A TV SHOW REPRESENTING ME AS A LIFE LONG RESIDENT OF LITTLE FALLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.christinamajaski.com/blog Christina Majaski

    I was wondering where the diversity was supposed to be.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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