With degrees in history and political science, Mayor Dave Kleis has made his career educating people on the legacy of the land, while leading residents into a thriving future. For over ten years, Mayor Kleis has been hosting a 90-minute historic trolley tour of the city. Starting at City Hall, the tour winds through St. Cloud’s neighborhoods highlighting the early settlements, people, places, and history. Each tour is different, moving from the St. Cloud’s prison, to the quarries, trails, the historic Pantown neighborhood and downtown. “It’s important to learn, recall, and understand the history of a place,” says the Mayor. The mobile tour brings the past to the present in an engaging way for all.
In 1857, Mary Butler and her son arrived in Minnesota as slaves of Thomas Calhoun. Today, the site is a park named in their memory–Butler Park. The history of slavery in Minnesota is largely an untold one; partly because slaves brought by their owners into northern territories were not entitled to freedom until after 1858. “History is extremely important… for the community to understand, respect and embrace,” says Mayor Kleis. The park’s name, along with a monument and interpretive signage bring awareness about the African American experience in St Cloud. “Butler Park is a reminder that slavery touched everybody in this country,” reflects Pastor James Albert from Higher Ground Church of God in Christ. “People say why bring that up, why say anything about that at all? But until we can actually deal with it, we will never be able to heal from it.”
Larger housing units are needed to support different size families, including extended family. Instead of building more housing, the city sees potential in investing in what they have and making it work. “The answer has been that we need to really utilize our existing housing stock,” explains Matt Glaesman, Community Development Director. “We need to take advantage of everything, focusing [on] renovation and rehabilitation.” Recognizing that the ratio of square footage to household size was much smaller historically than it has been in recent years, St. Cloud is promoting a ‘use what you’ve got’ mentality by encouraging rehabilitation of the existing housing stock. Updating conditions, accessory structures, converting attics into bedrooms, or basements into extra living space all help accommodate larger families. Assistance programs help low-income households obtain these needed renovations.