Sitting in my seventh grade English classroom during the winter of 1964-65, I watched the snow pile up until the windows were completely covered. That winter was the snowiest on record in Minnesota. One February day after school, I recall running outside and watching a snow plow pushing snow off the roof of the school building. The constant barrage of snowflakes finally ended in late March, when blizzards turned into violent rainstorms. The sudden change in weather caused the snow to start melting at a rapid pace. Soon the small river that ran through the middle of town erupted over its banks, spilling over the railroad tracks and threatening the shops and businesses surrounding it.
There is an important question on our employee opinion survey that asks, “At work, my opinions seem to count.” As the water rose in my hometown, I learned a valuable lifelong lesson about opinions – particularly when to offer them and when to quietly go about my business. One evening while sitting around the supper table, my dad said to my brother and I, “Boys, the men in town are going to meet down by the electric plant and put sandbags around it.” With a somber expression on his face, he finished by saying, “The two of you will need to help, you’re big and you can fill bags and put them in place.” Knowing the seriousness of the situation, we offered no argument or alternatives.
There was an eerie sensation in the frigid, damp night when the three of us arrived at the edge of the flood waters. Dozens of men were working to stem the advance of the ice-filled waters. With gunnysacks and shovels in-hand, my brother and I began to emulate the others. Without saying anything other than, “Put that one right here,” the men worked with expressionless faces except for the fear in their eyes as the water continued its onslaught on the small town. Opinions were offered and most often accepted with only a shrug or a nod. Around midnight, the dam to the west of the power plant cracked and the water rose even higher, kissing the very tops of the sandbags.
Shortly after the dam failed, the rain that had been falling in a steady sideways spray for several days subsided and the evening fell silent. “Look,” yelled one soaked citizen, “The water is no longer rising.” As if on-queue at a Hollywood game show, everyone in unison shouted, “Hurray!”
As a young teenager enveloped in a battle versus nature, I will never forget the cooperation exhibited by those fighting the flood. If someone had a good idea, it was examined by all, and if the idea seemed good, all joined in, celebrating the success. When a suggestion wasn’t used, no one, not even the person suggesting the idea, bemoaned the fact that their idea was set aside. Everyone worked together as one.
Today, a large boulder sits next to the river holding a bronze plaque that commemorates the struggle that took place nearly 50 long years ago.