If you were to write an instruction manual about how a community could come together in the face of a tragic or monumental occasion, you didn’t need to look any farther than the tiny town of Henning.
In just a matter of years the community lost a young child to cancer, two children were diagnosed with rare illnesses in the same class and a teenager was killed in a car accident on his way to school. Our boys basketball team became the Cinderella darlings on their way to a state championship (and likely a second one had COVID-19 occurred a few months later) and our volleyball and girls basketball teams advanced to their first-ever state tournaments.
Each time our community came together as one to show support for one another. It didn’t matter who you voted for as mayor or to the city council. It didn’t matter if you thought the city should make cuts to staffing, or whether you thought they should add more employees. We put aside our differences and came together for the betterment of our community.
After walking out of Monday’s special city council meeting in which the council accepted the resignation of public works employees Brenden Markuson and Travis Arndt, one couldn’t help but feel that the community togetherness we felt just a few years ago was nothing, but a distant memory.
The truth is we have always had differences in our thoughts, all communities do. The only change is that today neither side is willing to look past those differences to find common ground. It’s always “their fault” for what happened, or for a decision that was made. An argument ensues and nothing is ever accomplished besides more pain and suffering.
On the wall of Citizen’s Advocate are several front pages from important stories and moments over the past few years.
Two of the front pages that stick out the most are from the boys basketball team holding the state championship trophy at mid court of the Target Center in 2019 and the volleyball team a few months later celebrating the first time a Henning girls team advanced to state.
Both pictures featured a sea of orange behind them in a sign of community togetherness that few towns would be able to showcase. I remember visiting with some of the security guards at the state basketball tournament in 2019 who all shared the same notion—how can a town of just 800 people have just as many fans attend a game as many of the Class 4A schools?
I remember waiting in the skyway for an hour to get through the gate in 2019, and we were not even close to the first people from Henning who were in line.
How impressive was it to see a sea of orange on TV during the state tournament? Nobody cared if you sat next to someone you didn’t necessarily talk to on a daily basis? We were there to show our support for our community, not for individual goals. When the school tried to organize a charter bus we filled several, after the bank and a few businesses stepped up to the plate to fork out hundreds of dollars apiece to make sure anyone who wanted to go to the games would be able to do so without having to drive in Minneapolis.
In the background of a picture we have on our wall of the volleyball team advancing to state, there is a glow of orange shirts of fans cheering in unison for our volleyball team. Everyone was cheering regardless of their political beliefs, because we were all there to cheer on our tiny piece of paradise.
One thing I will never forget was the night Jacob Quam was killed in a car accident in 2017 was how a group of high schoolers came together to organize a candlelight prayer on the infield of the baseball field. There were tears and a few smiles from some of the memories that were shared from the teen who was lost too soon. At the end of the day, no one cared about past differences, we came together as a hurting community. It’s a memory of community togetherness that few of us will ever forget.
Earlier today I came across a Facebook post by Cora Wiirre. The post was made in response to a somewhat heated Facebook thread about the current state of the City of Henning. After the city council meeting on Monday night I asked if we could share part of her post in the newspaper as her words seem to summarize exactly the point I want to make—we have always had our differences and we always will, we just need to find common ground. I want to thank her for allowing me to share a portion of it with you.
“Some time ago, there was a little boy with cancer who lives in a small town,” she wrote on Facebook. “He and the family needed all the support they could get. Did everyone in this town always see eye to eye even at that time, no, but one of their own was very sick. All beefs were set aside and the townsfolk came together, all the focus was set on helping ‘fix’ the sick boy. It took a few years, but they all did it. Help even poured in from around the states and put that little boy and his hometown on the map.
It took time, but with God’s help and people, he was healed.”
Wiirre went on to say that it feels like Henning is “sick,” and in time, if we all work together like they did for that little boy in Henning, we can also be healed.
If we truly want to come together and heal as a community, we can do that as we have put aside our differences on a moment’s notice in the past. But it will take everyone putting aside their differences to truly work together. No one will get exactly their way, but if we work together we will thrive like we have so many times before and will accomplish great things as a community.