Getting to know your neighbors

FAIRMONT – For the past 10 years, the residents of Water Street and the adjoining Holden Place cul de sac have gathered for food and conversation. In the process, they have grown into a tight-knit neighborhood that looks out for each other.

“It is my wish that everyone in Fairmont could be a part of a block party,” said Darla Mae Grefe, a long-time resident. “It’s a wonderful way to meet your neighbors and to get to know them better.”

Sherwood and Carol Sagedahl came up with the idea, said Larry Totzke. He and wife Pat, along with Jennelle and Bruce Cunning, organized the first one.

“That first year, they said ‘Is everybody interested in doing it next year?’ Everybody said yes,” recalled Lois Grandgenett, who lives on the street with her husband Don. “Now, it’s automatic. We know it’s going to be.”

The gatherings are completely informal. The Sagedahls, Totzkes and Cunnings provide a main dish and the other 18 families bring side dishes and desserts. They visit while enjoying the food, and afterwards comes a time to share what’s happened in each family in the past 12 months. Retirements are noted, grandchildren’s births and children’s accomplishments are celebrated – even new roofs and garages make the list.

Residents who’ve left are remembered and new residents are welcomed.

Greg Linse, wife Terri, and their five kids moved in four years ago, just a week before the annual party.

“We thought it was for us,” Linse joked.

He’s come to really appreciate the family atmosphere, saying it’s a relief as a parent to know everyone up and down the street.

“You can knock on the door and call them by name,” Linse said.

He likes having a whole bunch of people looking out for his kids and in turn, his family invites an older neighbor to the kids’ activities.

“We like it right here,” Linse said. “This is what we’re looking for.”

While Linse’s family is new to the neighborhood, Grefe goes back to Water Street’s beginning.

“Years ago, this was a farm yard,” Grefe said. “Later, when lots were for sale, my husband, Herman, and I bought one in the fall of 1955. We had our contractor start building our new home, and we were able to move into it in the spring of 1956. Ours was the third house to go up on these two blocks of East Water Street. Soon, there were many more new homes being built until all the lots were filled by the fall of 1957.

“It has changed considerably,” Grefe said, but one thing has not: “It’s a real nice neighborhood.”

“A group that gets on well together, very comfortable,” Grandgenett said.

When people hear about the annual block party, she said, they always think it’s a nice idea and wish their neighborhood had one.

“It takes somebody to start it,” Grandgenett said.

“I think everybody should do it,” Totzke said. “We’ve sure had a good time.”