125 years of memories

COTTONWOOD – It’s a milestone year for the city of Cottonwood, and the celebrations this weekend were fitting. Current and past Cottonwood residents gathered in town for three days of activities, food and fun. But another big component to Cottonwood’s 125th anniversary was sharing memories.

“I used to live here. That’s the old Kolhei house,” Loreen Gibson said, pointing to the beige Main Street home behind her. Gibson said she had come back to Cottonwood to attend the celebrations, including an all-school reunion on Thursday. On Saturday, she set up a chair to watch the quasquicentennial parade from her old front lawn.

Cottonwood celebrated its quasquicentennial with three days’ worth of activities, from street dances and an antique car show, to favorites like the kids’ splash dance and fireworks over Cottonwood Lake.

“The fireworks were beautiful,” said Cottonwood resident Kathy Martin.

“We always have a ball,” resident Darleen Cole said of the town’s festival.

The celebrations throughout the weekend included plenty of ties to Cottonwood’s past. One of the floats in the grand parade paid tribute to the Popcorn Stand, a snack stand and local hangout that operated from the 1930s to the 1990s.

“That was the place to be,” Shannon Geihl said, thinking back to her high school days. She said she was excited to learn that the stand’s signature “lollipops” – scoops of chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick – were being sold again for the 125th anniversary. “I had to go get some for my kids.”

Past residents coming back to visit Cottonwood were another big part of the celebrations. On Thursday, a big crowd gathered for Cottonwood’s all-school reunion, and several graduating classes had their own reunions, too. Gibson and Dick Kroger said that was one reason they came to town from their current homes, in Thief River Falls and Worland, Wyo., respectively.

Kroger said the Lakeview school building, where the reunion was held, was different from the school building he remembered from the late 1950s. But he said he was impressed with the educational opportunities Lakeview students have.

“The superintendent, Mr. Fenske, did a great job of presenting that,” Kroger said.

Les and Kelly Prairie said they had come back to Cottonwood from Florida to attend the Prairie family reunion.

“We haven’t been here since 2002,” so coming back to visit was special. Kelly Prairie said. “We love being able to come back here.”

There have been many changes in Cottonwood in recent years, residents said.

“One of the biggest things is probably the new school,” Cottonwood resident Dane Meyer said. Lakeview School, which serves both Cottonwood and Wood Lake, has played a big part in both communities. Meyer said there’s been a lot of housing development in town too, especially along the north shore of Cottonwood Lake. Businesses have come and gone, but there are still several strong local employers that are vital assets to the community.

“North Star (Mutual Insurance) keeps growing, the co-op keeps growing, and the elevator,” Meyer said. “Instead of Cottonwood being a bedroom community, it keeps people employed.”

Martin said she thought the reason Cottonwood has survived for 125 years had to do with having plenty of “movers and shakers” giving back to the town.

“People volunteer. That means a lot to a community,” Martin said.