My home in Madison, Wisconsin, is about a six-hour drive from Eden Prairie – seven hours if I run into commuter traffic on I-494.
Yet, Eden Prairie is near me.
When I took the job as community editor at the Eden Prairie Sun-Current 20 years ago – oh, heavens, where does the time go? – I thought it would be just a paycheck, to keep a roof over our heads while my husband, Jay Jerde, accepted the Hamline University School of Law’s offer of a full-tuition scholarship.
I had no idea I’d come to love this community as much as I did, or that I’d have so much fun chronicling its history-on-the-fly.
In 2007, my last year at the now-defunct Eden Prairie Sun edition, the community book club Eden Prairie Reads sponsored discussions and events centered on Tim O’Brien’s book about soldiers slogging through war-torn Vietnam. The book’s title: “The Things They Carried.”
So what are some of the things I carried from Eden Prairie, when Jay and I left the Twin Cities and settled in Madison?
Two of my Eden Prairie keepsakes are visible the minute anybody walks in our front door. They’re framed photos taken by my former Sun colleague and dear friend David Eyestone, each depicting a scene from life in Eden Prairie. One of the photos shows the construction of a West Hennepin Affordable Housing Land Trust (WHAHLT) house; the other is a close-up of a blond boy, about 8-ish, gritting his teeth in concentration as he goes to bat during Eden Prairie’s Fourth of July baseball game at Round Lake Park.
In those days, people could buy photos from the Sun Newspapers library, and I wanted, for our new house in Madison, images of Eden Prairie. I could have gone for pictures of landmarks like the Cummins-Grill House or the Jean Harris Gathering Bridge, but the photos I chose offered a more subtle and spiritual slice of life in the Prairie. To this day, they evoke feelings of a community that cares, and of a wholesome, happy place for a kid to grow up.
A kid like Tucker Zangs.
In 2006, when Tucker was 9, teenage vandals destroyed (accidentally, they claimed) the big hillside slide in Staring Lake Park. They started a fire on the slide’s reddish-orange fiberglass surface, leaving nothing but a molten red glob.
To raise money to rebuild the slide he loved, Tucker produced and sold, for $1 apiece, red wristbands emblazoned with “Save Our Slide.” If I recall correctly, Tucker raised $1,500, which city officials gladly accepted – and when the slide was rebuilt, Tucker was the first to use it. (The slide has since been taken down.)
I bought a “Save Our Slide” wristband. It’s on display in our dining room curio cabinet.
In the same cabinet are two other Eden Prairie artifacts.
One is a dark blue coffee mug, with the logo of the Eden Prairie Fire Department. When the fire department celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007. The mugs were for firefighters and chiefs, past and present, who gathered at the then-new Fire Station No. 4.
George Esbensen, then fire chief, insisted I take one. I have never put coffee, or any other beverage, in this mug. It’s sacred.
So is the other mug in my curio cabinet, a white cup with the logo that the City of Eden Prairie adopted in the early 2000s, and which it still displays – the bird in flight against a sun-streaked sky, above the words “Live, Work, Dream.”
The full-color version of that logo – a poster, printed in 2006, when Eden Prairie was first named a Top 10 city by Money magazine – is framed and displayed near the vaulted ceiling of our dining room. (Since then, of course, Eden Prairie has appeared consistently in Money’s top 10 cities, and has been ranked No. 1.)
No matter where I go in my Madison house, Eden Prairie is there.
In the home office, I display the black-framed Exceptional Person Salute certificate, dated Nov. 15, 2004, presented to me by the Eden Prairie School Board for my volunteer work on the committee for Eden Prairie Reads.
In my bedroom, there’s a multi-colored stuffed toy, a treasure I found at an Eden Prairie garage sale. It’s “Peef the Christmas Bear,” and the author who created the children’s book character, Tom Hegg, lives in Eden Prairie.
In my bedroom closet, there’s a red polo shirt with the embroidered logo of EPHS girls’ basketball; I think I got that at the same garage sale where I found Peef.
In our guest room, I display the enamel tack pin depicting the Smith-Douglas-More House, which Kathie Case gave me the last time I visited Eden Prairie – in November 2019.
And somewhere in the box canyon of storage containers in our basement, there are other Eden Prairie artifacts: a few back issues of the Sun-Current (I would have saved them all if I’d known the online versions of the articles I wrote from 2003 to 2007 would be purged when the Sun changed hands); the invitation to my husband’s Hamline University School of Law graduation party, held at Homeward Hills Park in Eden Prairie; and the hard copy of the photo taken of Jay and me at the 2006 Eden Prairie Foundation Ball.
Even hundreds of miles away, even across a state line, Eden Prairie remains a part of me.
That’s why it brings me joy to be part of EPLN, and return, in a small way, to bringing readers history-on-the-fly for this wonderful community.
From 2003 to 2007, Lyn Jerde was community editor for the Eden Prairie Sun-Current. Lyn is retired and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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