When Barbara Stout-Henggeler founded the Minnehaha Neighborhood Council, she had no political agenda. She was just looking for the dump.
“Hillyard handed out postcards about dump days,” she said. “When I called about it, they said, ‘Well, you’re not in our neighborhood.’”
Stout-Henggeler called the city to find out where she could go for her own dump day. They told her she wasn’t part of any organized neighborhood.
They told me, ‘Form your own neighborhood,’” she said. “So I did.”
Stout-Henggeler formed the council, now in its 13th year, by knocking on doors.
Lauri Liptac lives across the street from Stout-Henggeler. “Barb handed out flyers and tried to get everybody to a meeting,” Liptac said. “She (told everybody), ‘Hey, we’re not a neighborhood.’”
That first meeting was, in effect, Minnehaha’s constitutional convention. “It involved stuff from the ground up,” Liptac said. “From holding meetings, to ‘How does this work?’ to bylaws, and all that.”
The council, as you might expect, has waste disposal down to a fine art. Each year they hold two dumpster events in the Minnehaha Covenant Church parking lot, one in the spring and one in fall, and coordinate curbside furniture and appliance pickup with the city. They also issue dump passes, so neighborhood residents can dispose of those stubborn leaves that won’t come down in time to catch the last dumpster out of town.
“It’s always a guessing game in the fall, with the leaves,” Liptac said, “so we try to have our date as late as we can.”
The past two years, Stout-Henggeler – at Councilman Mike Fagan’s suggestion – brought in work parties from Geiger Corrections Center to help with the heavy lifting during dumpster events.
“We buy them doughnuts and pizza … and they work very hard,” Stout-Henggeler said. “It’s a great partnership.”
The council holds a Night Out Against Crime event every year on the second Tuesday in August in Minnehaha Park.
“Once a year we get together for a few hours … to get to know our neighbors,” Liptac said. “We do games, we do barbecues … one time we did kid I.D. with the local police department.”
Beacon Hill, the Centennial Trail, Minnehaha Park and the climbing rocks along Upriver Drive are all within walking distance, so foot traffic concerns get a lot of attention.
Among the council’s successful projects are a crosswalk at Myrtle Street and Frederick Avenue, a sidewalk near the Greene Street Bridge on Upriver Drive, and flashing lights at the intersections surrounding Cooper Elementary School.
Liptac said the crosswalk helps with foot traffic coming and going from Minnehaha Park, while the Upriver Drive sidewalk pulls pedestrian traffic up and away from a winding street full of blind corners.
“It’s a safer route to get from Upriver up to Greene Street,” she said. “A lot of people use it to get to SCC or to catch the bus.”
The council recently gained approval to install flashing lights at the tri-cornered, spaghetti-noodle mess of intersections surrounding Cooper Elementary.
“(We need) to slow traffic down around the school,” Liptac said. “The kids are coming from every direction.”
The council’s thorniest challenge is the north-south freeway project. It will reach the Minnehaha neighborhood in about four years. Two issues come up the most.
First, noise from the elevated roadway is a big concern. “We’re worried about the mountains, how the sound bouncing off will affect our neighborhood,” Liptac said.
The biggest issue, though, is access. Because of the Hillyard Railroad, access to Minnehaha is already limited. According to Liptac, when construction closes Wellesley Avenue, there will be just a single, temporary access to and from the west end of the neighborhood. There will be no other western access between Francis and Carlisle avenues, a distance of 2 1/2 miles.
“That’s a huge piece of the planning for us, being able to get in and out of our neighborhood,” Liptac said.
“It’s a little frightening,” Stout-Henggeler said. “The fire department – any emergency … with (the roads) closed, it’s going to take more time to get to where they need to go.”
The council wants to get out ahead of the project, before plans are set in stone.
“It’s really important that the people in the neighborhood start coming to our meetings to have a voice,” Stout-Henggeler said.
Like most councils, Minnehaha is looking for more volunteers. “We have committees in the city that we’re not represented in,” Liptac said. “It would be our ideal to have somebody involved in every committee.”
The council maintains a social media presence, but they keep traditional channels open as well.
“We use Facebook and Nextdoor,” Stout-Henggeler said. “But it seems like people listen more when they get postcards in the mail.”
Stout-Henggeler and Liptac aren’t alone at the council meetings. Willi Plesak chairs the code enforcement committee, and Barnetta Bindewald is the council’s community assembly representative.
Stout-Henggeler has been shopping at Mauros Grocery and Market, on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Thor Street, since she moved into the neighborhood 35 years ago.
“Two brothers owned the store, Ralph and Silvio Mauro. I loved going … to get homemade Italian sausages,” she said
“They took their Italian culture and brought it to our community, creating an environment that seemed to feel like home,” she said. “It’s one of the things that sets our community apart.”
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