An October like no other
It is every sweet-tooth’s dream to have an ice cream shop in the family. For me that dream was born the year I was. I had no time to conceptualize how lucky my brothers and I were until it was simply reality. But for my aunt, her dream came while working at her previous career. It was then that she saw a for sale sign on the corner of Dale and Maryland in St. Paul, outside the building adorning its giant rooftop ice cream cone. Back then it was simply called “Creamy Cone” until the day she purchased it. At that point my sweet-tooth dream was fulfilled because I was related to someone with the determination and grit to make it happen.
Conny has owned the Creamy Cone for 25 years, and in each of those years it closed for winter in late October, only to reopen in March. But this October was different, because it’s the last October Conny is in charge of closing the shop. Starting March 2021, Conny’s Creamy Cone will be under new ownership, though its name, menu, and virtually everything else will remain the same. From a customer’s perspective not much will change. But to me, as Conny’s nephew and decade-long employee, it feels like the end of an era. And at the end of an era there are lessons learned, memories to ponder, and lastly, a path to move forward.
Over the years many people would suggest to Conny, myself included, grandiose ideas of expansion. We told her, “You should open a second location.” “You should add ___ to the menu.” “You should do ___”. What I didn’t realize until much later, is that the only suggestions Conny listened to were those that stayed consistent with her original vision of the Creamy Cone. When she bought it 25 years ago, her vision was not to become rich, or to become a corporate franchise. Her vision was to provide joy to her community from a friendly face, at an affordable price. For 10 years I saw the pure excitement in children’s eyes as they waited in line to order ice cream, and at the next window, witnessed that excitement turn to delight. I experienced the gratitude shown by their parents who were able to treat them without breaking the bank. I knew firsthand what it was like to work for someone who cares about their employees, and who understands their lives and various schedules. There was never a need to ask off on our birthdays; they were already marked off because Conny knew when they were.
As one gets older, it’s easier to realize there’s more to life than making money, than having nice material things. There comes a point where you wonder, “what am I doing to make an impact on my community, my neighbors, my city?” When I ask myself that question, I have to think of Conny and the work she’s done in the community both she and I grew up in. I love Saint Paul, and I’ve never felt more connected to it than while serving customers at Creamy Cone and following the example of my aunt. For as long as I can remember Conny has said, “I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the ride.” And what a ride it’s been.
Thomas McCullough, St. Paul
Lessons from my mother’s generation
While working on a family history project, I recently went through some old photos that belonged to my mother. She died 11 years ago. She grew up on the Mesabi Iron Range in Virginia, Minnesota. Both of her parents were European immigrants. Her mother came from Finland and her father from Sweden. He worked as a blacksmith in the mines while my grandmother took care of their home.
At one point in the early 20th century, immigrants made up more than half of the Iron Range population. In the mines, they formed 85 percent of the workforce. Forty-three different nationality groups populated the Iron Range. The earliest immigrants were Finnish, Swedish, Slovenian, Canadian, Norwegian, Cornish or German. After 1900, the origins of the population expanded, with Italian, Croatian, Polish, Montenegrin, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, and Greek immigrants filling mining jobs. A sizable Jewish population started main street businesses. Chinese immigrants ran restaurants and laundries.
Life on the on the Iron Range was not easy. Many laborers worked long hours for low pay. Mining was a dangerous occupation. The fact that many immigrants were Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Jewish caused anxiety in Iron Range communities. Local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan developed during the 1920s in opposition to Catholic and Jewish immigrants.
Despite all that, the newly arrived immigrants were largely happy to be Americans. This was made clear to me when I looked at the back of a photo of one of my mother’s Italian-American friends. Her first name was America. I was very touched to realize that her parents, who had left Italy for the New World, named their daughter after their new homeland.
My mother and her friend America were part of The Greatest Generation that endured the Great Depression and won WW II. I think today we could do worse than match their accomplishments by addressing the great issues of our times: the pandemic, global warming, racism, fair voting laws, intolerance, reducing violence in our society, providing adequate healthcare for all, building a new and better economy, closing the wealth gap between rich and poor. That would be the best way to make America great again.
M.L. Kluznik, Mendota Heights
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