A Call to Stewardship: Restoring the Legacy of the Fergus Falls RTC

Michele Anderson is a Fergus Falls resident and program director for the Lakes Region Springboard for the Arts. She shared her Letter to the Editor with us, and we’d like to share it with you. 

In any community, every challenge and problem, no matter how desperate it seems, presents potential for creating something more distinct for itself and strengthening relationships.

Fergus Falls faces many challenges at the moment, but it would be hard not to argue that the Kirkbride building is the biggest, longest and most symbolic challenge that has potential to define Fergus Falls to the rest of the world….but more importantly, to ourselves as a community.

As a young, newer resident that hopes to make a life here, I have been saddened to see that the last decade has been spent on telling a negative story from both sides of the fight – the city treating the building and the passion of preservationists as a burden, preservationists treating the council and its processes as a burden, and the council treating potential developers as a burden. There has been very little mentioned about what I find most compelling – the fact that in the late 1800s, the town worked together to rally support to make Fergus Falls the RTC’s home in the first place. Bricks and mortar aside, we are all stewards of an important community legacy.

So what kind of story is possible here? Is it the continuation of a story of a community coming together and imagining new possibilities? Or is it just another story that makes people yawn – the story of a town who couldn’t imagine its own possibilities, and went on about everyday life as usual?

It seems ironic that this month is both National Preservation Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, and on Monday we might be listening to a decision to erase a huge part of our town’s history, while the rest of the country spends their time bringing awareness to both of these issues.  In addition, how can Fergus Falls celebrate Summerfest on the Kirkbride grounds, bringing in folks from out of town, only to start demolition months later?

Right now, Fergus Falls needs two things: time and strong leadership. The time is within reach – we all know that the city can request an extension at no loss to the taxpayers. The leadership we need right now does not come from potential developers, or the Friends of the Kirkbride. It needs to come from the City Council, and that leadership, which is a great responsibility, should be used in a way to validate and empower people to live to their potential. This means creating a culture that makes space for diverse perspectives to work together and find common ground, which there was little room for in recent RFP processes. It’s not just about the building anymore, or even about money, it’s about the health and self esteem of our wonderful community.


Michele Lee Anderson

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