When our son Buckwheat returned for the 20th anniversary of his graduation class, all class members were asked to fill out a short summary commenting on the 20 years since their graduation. Buckwheat wrote “For the first 10 years I was trying to get as far away from Detroit Lakes as possible. For the last 10 years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back.”
He explained that he was living in a city without a soul. He never did get back except to visit.
Too bad. Detroit Lakes is a city with a soul. The city is 150 years old this year. We have lived here 60 years this month. We learned the city history when we arrived, and we’ve watched it develop ever since.
What is soul? How can you tell if a city has a soul? There is soul food and soul music, but no definition of soul. For food and music, there are no rules. It’s a matter of feeling. Appetite and taste for food and music and gut feeling, heart, for cities. If you’ve lived somewhere for 60 years and your gut gives you reason to believe your city has soul, it probably does. Let me give you some factors to consider.
In 1961, one glaring need was the need for jobs in manufacturing. There were workers, but few jobs. Workers had to go out of town to get work. Industrial development was needed.
The city responded and by 1971 a new industrial park was opened. Two more have been developed since then. Today there are over 3,000 people employed in manufacturing. We make houses in Detroit Lakes, snowmobile parts, machines and parts for many other purposes and print T-shirts for the entire country. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
When we arrived, our medical community consisted of a behind-the-times hospital and no more than about 10 doctors. Today there are two strong clinics, doctors of many specialties, a state-of-the-art hospital (with a helicopter pad), nursing homes with all levels of care, emergency medical services and an overall medical community of over 1,000 people.
The business community keeps coming up with new wrinkles, services, and products.
The city has expanded north, south, east, and west. The city is big enough for big stores but loyal enough for little guys to keep open and profitable with specialty shops keeping the shoppers coming. We have a progressive business community lead by an energetic chamber of commerce.
Whenever something was missing or needed to be done, somebody stepped up and did it.
A community college was built. A burned-out school was remodeled and expanded with a fitness center and theater rising from the ashes. A cluttered shoreline became a nearly mile-long free public beach. When the dance and event pavilion was buckling at the knees, it was restored.
When the Carnegie Library became outdated and too small, it was expanded and reorganized.
The city is a city of builders: newspaper headquarters, a new women’s shelter, hotels, motels, new county jail, new police station, new museum being built, new schools, new football field and sports complex, new businesses, new stores, new store fronts. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
Something is always going on in Detroit Lakes, especially in the summer: water carnival, Pine to Palm golf tournament, WE Fest music festival, county fair, Street Faire, summer band concerts, baseball tournaments, class reunions, outdoor church services and new biking trails.
But winter is fun too – ice castles, polar celebrations with plunges through the ice, downhill and cross-country skiing, ice sculpting. The city hums and if you pay attention, you can feel it vibrating.
Did I mention culture and creativity? Historical dramas at cemeteries, fabulous entertainment at the Historic Holmes Theater, creative artists who imagine and sculpt children reading, sunfish and sailboat models to mold and paint, a community sailboat statue. The sunfish and sailboats are all around us.
Young people know “D.L.” is not only a cool place to live but, for out-of-towners, a cool place to visit – have pizza, cruise the beach, eating at the new and old eating places, shopping for T-shirts and just cruising around before returning to their non-soul towns.
Visitors are impressed. People retire to move here. We’ve had guests here from England and California who have told us “You’re lucky you live here.” But we really aren’t lucky. We have come here deliberately, worked here, raised our children here, worshipped here, appreciated the progressive schools (schools that produce solid scholarships, state championship teams and professional athletes), dynamic churches and an atmosphere that nurtures our own souls. We’re pleased to be living in a city going places, a city where residents are proud and pulling for one another.
My gut tells me we’re living in a city with a soul, a city where it’s sons and daughters would love to return.