DAWSON - They've been part of the festivities at Dawson's Riverfest for more than 20 years. But the characters added to the legends of "Gnometown, Minn.," each year are more than lawn ornaments or symbols of fun. They represent the people who have helped make the community a better place, residents say.
Gnomes have been a theme at Riverfest since 1988. Each year, gnome statues and stories inspired by Dawson community members are unveiled for display at one of the city parks.
Gnome statues and stories have been made honoring doctors, teachers, clergy, firefighters and even the founders of the Dawson soybean plant.
Photo by Deb Gau
Sharilyn Bates stands by “Shar,” a gnome statue created in her honor for this summer’s Riverfest in Dawson. Three gnomes, representing Bates, Alta Roesch and Ruthie Solem, were unveiled this past weekend. The women started the city’s gnome tradition more than 20 years ago.
This year, the festival honored Alta Roesch, Ruthie Solem and Sharilyn Bates, the three women who helped start the tradition.
"I guess we started it all," Sharilyn Bates said, during a tea held for gnome honorees Saturday morning at the Dawson municipal building. She said Roesch and Solem, two sisters, first came up with the idea of the gnomes, and she was one of the first volunteers to help make it happen.
"It was something I just leaped on, and started working," Bates said. The statues are a unique way to remember community figures, she said.
Al Schacherer, the 2011 gnome honoree, said the tradition has recognized the things that make a community stronger, like leadership and community effort. He looked up to past honorees, who have included leaders in local education, business and health care.
"I feel I got more out of those people than I did out of being honored myself," Schacherer said. "They were my mentors."
Dick Pollei said being honored with a gnome in 2010 had a special meaning for him, because he wasn't originally from Dawson. Pollei and his wife Lois came there in 19
60 because of Dick's job as a teacher, "And we liked the community so well we decided to stay," he said. Pollei later went on to help organize Dawson's ambulance service and serve as mayor of the city for 12 years.
Part of what makes being honored with a gnome special, Pollei said, is "It's an acknowledgement from a large part of the community."
Honorees said it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep the gnome tradition going. Some of the work Bates has done for the gnome tradition has included writing several of the "legends" that accompany the gnome characters, including this year's trio.
"(The legends) make it fun," Bates said. Her writing process? "I just try to make it a story with a beginning, a middle and an end," she said.
One of her favorites over the years was the story honoring the Dawson Fire Department.
Being the inspiration for a gnome is a big honor for local residents and their families. Bates said some honorees' families have written the "legend" stories that accompany their gnome statues.
"It's very exciting," said Janiel Liebl and Jesi Martinson. The two women were attending the tea Saturday along with Solem, their aunt.
"Last night was the opening ceremonies (for Riverfest), and we had lots of family from all over," Liebl said.
Pollei and Schacherer said they'd like to see the gnome tradition - and the community service it honors - continue on to the next generation of Dawson citizens.
"I hope it will be around for a long time to come," Pollei said.