Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #119 . First published in the St. Cloud Times online June 3, 2017; in print June 4

Good things don’t just happen. They require the right people in the right place at the right time.

Two very different recent books about our area, both by local authors, illustrate this point.

I have been instructed, occasionally unnerved, and finally encouraged and inspired by Mark Sakry’s “Quarry Quest: The History of Stearns County Quarry Park and Nature Preserve,” published last year, and Hudda Ibrahim’s “From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis,” published last month. Disclosure: Both authors are friends of mine.

Both speak with authority because they know from the inside the stories they are telling. Sakry takes us into and through the intricacies of public policy. Ibrahim’s story links her refugee past and current civic leadership to the intricacies of cross-cultural encounter. Neither author has illusions that good things happen easily.

Path to a park

“Quarry Quest” begins: “Once a beautiful park like Quarry Park is ‘up and operating,’ the public might assume this regional treasure has always generated the same love and support it enjoys today.” The book demonstrates in detail and across decades: “That would be an erroneous assumption.”

Sakry, chair of the Stearns County Board of Commissioners in 1992 (he served on the Board from 1989 to 2010), was right person, right place, right time.

Public purchase of the Cold Spring Granite Quarry was resisted —“There is no money for this in our budget,” said the chairwoman of the Stearns County Board in 1991. Issues in government “move at a glacial pace,” Sakry notes, but public support began to emerge, visibly in a letter to the editor of the Times.

By the end of 1992, Sakry signed papers purchasing the first 219 acres — his “favorite project and most memorable moment.” Little did he know, he says, that his work “had only just begun.”

County and city did not see eye to eye. In 1998 retired Waite Park Mayor Al Ringsmuth wrote to Sakry: “I don’t believe the County should acquire any more of the City of Waite Park’s prime residential property for park purposes.” Indeed, he said “over my dead body.”


Times headlines trace the conflict: “Quarry Park expansion plans meet resistance” and “Waite Park wavers on park plan.”

But Sakry and Stearns County persisted. In 2010 a Times article, headlined “The Final Piece,” reported that “Quarry Park & Nature Preserve is finally complete”— at “683 acres, vastly larger than any other park in the St. Cloud area and rivaling many state parks.”

Connecting cultures

Cultural tension and divides are, of course, different in both kind and degree from friction between counties and cities, but there is a similar dynamic, requiring right people, right place, right time, and persistence to deepen and broaden the conversation.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Ibrahim is able to communicate across divides because in her years here she has found and made connection.

She writes not only from her own experience, but from extensive interviews with 34 local Somalis, of different ages, occupations and levels of education.

“Some of my interviewees were born in Africa. Most of those interviewed had been in the United States from two to fifteen years, some others more than twenty.” They don’t all tell the same story. Her book makes clear: statements that begin, without qualification, “Somalis (this)” or “Muslims (that)” are almost certainly wrong.

She reminds us that our history is filled with stories of tensions overcome — Germans, Scandinavians, Irish, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong.

Each of these immigrant groups wanted to become American without ceasing to be what they had been — just as Americans who have made their home in other countries want the same in reverse. The hurdle of language was encountered and surmounted, but it didn’t happen overnight. Each group embodied the strain between generations.

It is not easy to get here, as demonstrated by Ibrahim’s own experience: “The stringent screening process for our application meant it took more than five years for my family and me to reunite. … I know some families whose security-clearance process for the United States has taken a decade.”

Many of the refugees have spent years in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya after seeing their relatives slaughtered before their eyes in the Somali civil war.

“From Somalia to Snow” is rich with concrete and candid detail.

You learn how Somalis get their names; why some (but not all) are suspicious of Western medicine; how clan identity is both a blessing (clan members rally to each other’s aid) and a curse (“clannism”). You hear parental puzzlement about “the younger generation.” Indeed, worries about children are one of the clearest connections between Somalis and the majority.

Hudda Ibrahim says that for her and most Somalis, the American Dream is “safety, education, and equality for all.” She, like Mark Sakry, is the right person at this time in this place to help us get to a St. Cloud area that is truly GREATER>!