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Tales of the White Front


By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Fri, Jul 12th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Yvonne Nyenhus

I love to drive at dusk down the steep curving road into Lanesboro. The shapes of the houses and the church spires are veiled in shadows and the lights twinkle like scattered stars. The town is hidden away in a valley, bordered by the Root River, and encircled by high bluffs. It is a magical moment. I half expect the town to disappear before my eyes, like Brigadoon, not to appear again for 100 years.

Our love affair with Lanesboro began in the 60’s when Glenn’s brother Rod married Julie Preston. Her mom was formerly Dolly Redalen. A tradition was born, hunting in fall and staying with Julie’s uncle Merle, who was living on the family farm. Frequently Glenn’s brothers joined the party. The appeal of hunting is more than marksmanship, or stalking your prey. It has to do with the smell of the earth, the sounds in the woods, a brilliant blue sky and bracing cold mornings, sharing the experience and sitting around a table talking about it later.

Part of the Lanesboro experience was dinner at the White Front, which consisted of a huge steak that covered the plate, a baked potato and a salad for $3.95. Friday nights it was a good plan to eat early. The ranchers from the Sales Barn were given coupons underwriting part of the cost of their meals. We enjoyed seeing the ten-gallon hats. If the highs-school football team had a home game, there would be standing room only after the game. Cars were double parked on Parkway in front of the restaurant.

In the mid 80’s Glenn and I came to a cross road in our lives. His job was about to end and my days at Control Data were numbered. We stood facing each other in the kitchen. “Why would I do to make a living?” I suggested. Glenn looked mildly surprised. “What would I do to make a living?” he asked. “Maybe the White Front will be available,” I answered. He hesitated and looked down in the vicinity of his toes. “The trouble is that town hasn’t decided if it will live or die.” At that time many shops were closed, the streets were empty; it appeared at times to be a ghost town. “No matter what happens to the town, people have to eat,” I insisted.

It turned out Olive and Art Haugen were ready to retire. Olive had fallen on the ice and broken both her wrists. Art had been standing on crutches to cook. Glenn rode in “on his white horse” offering them much needed relief, incidentally learning about the business of running a restaurant.

In May 1987 we invited the town to an Open House in honor of Olive and Art’s 19 years of service to the community. It was also a celebration for their wedding anniversary. We served plates of spaghetti to our guests. Also that day, they moved out and we moved in. Family and friends provided the muscle.

Moving for us was fairly simple. Out only furniture was a massive desk Glenn brought from a former work place. We opened folding chairs we used for camping and arranged them in the living room. We blew up air mattresses for sleeping and hung our clothes in the closet. Home, sweet home!

Actually there was another dimension to our story. I still had my job at Control Data. We still had our home on Colfax Avenue in Minneapolis. And we still had our three sons living there. Gordon was in his first year of college. Eric was completing his senior year at Southwest High and Troy was a high-school junior. I worked second shift in the clean room and Control Data during the week. On weekends I drove to Lanesboro to be with Glenn and work in the restaurant. I never saw the boys. The Athletic Director had an altercation with Troy and called him into his office. He threatened to call his mother. Troy said, “I wish you would. If you get her on the phone, let me talk to her. I haven’t seen her in three months!” Glen and I avoided the “empty nest syndrome.” We were the ones who left home. It turned out the boys were the ones who felt abandoned!

Glenn and I didn’t feel the White Front was ours. We felt it belonged to the people in the town and that we were just caretakers, there to serve. The Lions met in our back room. Church groups held bible classes. We put on an annual banquet for the firemen. Also, a banquet for the NFO (National Farm Organization). Meetings for the Sales Barn took place in the back room. One day we served a convention of Police Officers. Black and white cars were parked up and down the street. Later, I realized that our regular customers stayed away. I suggested that the next time they came to lunch, they might park a block away or in the back of the restaurant!

Since I was in the restaurant “part-time,” customers were not sure where I fit in. One asked, “Are you Glenn’s wife?” I answered, “I am on weekends, I don’t know who does it during the week!”

Glenn and I operated the White Front for 13 years. We saw the railroad replaced with the bike trail. The daring initiative of “Live” Theatre, and Art Gallery, an explosion of Bed and Breakfasts and restaurants. In spite of many changes the spirit of volunteerism and good will has remained strong. Lanesboro is a haven in the tumultouus world.

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