Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cannon Falls prepares for President Obama’s town hall meeting August 14, 2011

Two tents were set up at the entry to Hannah's Bend Park early Sunday afternoon.

I DIDN’T EXPECT TO GET SO CLOSE, to park in the parking lot next to the Cannon Falls Community Pool, stroll across the street and walk down the hill into Hannah’s Bend Park where President Barack Obama will participate Monday morning in a town hall meeting.

But my husband and I walked right into the thick of preparations Sunday afternoon with no questions asked, just like the locals and others who’d arrived by foot, vehicles and on bike to check out the hubbub.

An overview of the south end of Hannah's Bend Park, where President Barack Obama will appear.

One of the many families visiting the park to view the pre-Presidential preparations.

Bikers came to the park to check out the town hall meeting site.

Workers had already set up, or were setting up, picnic tables, tables and chairs, bleachers, fencing, amplifiers, tents and more. They were simply doing what they were told, they said, while pointing out the Secret Service guys in khakis and shades standing along the bank of the Cannon River. Nice guys, they said.

Among the workers were Tom Leonard and his sons, 14-year-old Isaac and 13-year-old Caleb, from Festival Production Services of Lonsdale. As subcontractors for the event, they had erected the press risers and were, when I approached them, finishing up the 8 x 12-foot Presidential stage.

Tom and Isaac Leonard work on the Presidential stage.

Tom Leonard was matter-of-fact about his efforts. “For me, it’s just another gig,” he said. “It’s like anything. It’s work.”

Caleb, however, seemed a bit more impressed with putting together a stage for the President. “It makes me feel kind of important,” he said as he swung a hammer.

Perhaps Tom Leonard’s laid-back attitude comes from having done many Presidential gigs, including an inaugural ball for George W. Bush. Sunday marked just another day on a job that includes rigging up staging for rock-n-roll bands and other customers.

Marilyn and Jeryld Carstensen were in town from St. James and scored two tickets to Monday’s Presidential appearance after getting in line at 4 a.m. Sunday. Their 22-year-old daughter, Regan Carstensen, has been reporting on the Presidential visit for The Red Wing Republican Eagle, so the couple has gotten caught up in the excitement.

Media, including Twin Cities-based Eyewitness News, were in town on Sunday.

Media were already converging on Cannon Falls Sunday afternoon. At Amy’s Savvy Seconds in the downtown business district, Amy Savvy had already done several television interviews and was preparing for another when I came across her cleaning her shop windows.

Amy Savvy cleans the windows at her secondhand shop. She planned to write a message welcoming Obama.

When I returned later, a television crew was inside Amy's Savvy Seconds.

“It’s a historic thing,” Amy said of the President’s Cannon Falls stop. She appreciated the extra business in town and had opened her second-hand store Sunday, and planned to be open again on Monday, days she’s typically closed. She was also working around her grandma’s funeral set for Monday, but figured her grandma would want her to take advantage of the extra traffic downtown.

A few doors down, Warren Schaffer was tending Schaffer’s Antiques, wishing the President would stop in and buy something. I looked around, spotted an eagle and suggested it as a possible Presidential purchase. Warren promptly informed me I was looking at a whiskey bottle.

Calling himself a “middle-of-the-road” guy when it comes to politics, Warren none-the-less shares in the community’s excitement over the Presidential visit. “He’s the President. This is a little town. This is a big deal.”

A street corner in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls.

Downtown Cannon Falls, population, 3,795, had seen a lot of traffic for a Sunday, Warren observed. He expects even more on Monday; his shop will be open on a day when it’s usually shuttered.

Through-out the downtown, most businesses have displayed American flags in storefront windows or outside. At the Cannon River Winery, a sign hangs out front welcoming the President.

A sign welcoming the President hangs on the front of the Cannon River Winery.

American flags, large and small, hang in most storefront windows.

The excitement in Cannon Falls Sunday afternoon was palpable. At Hannah’s Bend Park, my first stop in town, clusters of folks gathered, pointing out the brush that had been cut days earlier from the hillside, pointing toward the area where workers labored to get everything in place for the town hall meeting…

Tom Leonard was still hard at work, jumping up and down on the bleachers, apparently testing their stability. He’ll be back on Monday, taking everything down, moving on to another day, another gig.

Tom Leonard, along with sons Isaac and Caleb, checks the stability of the bleachers.

Speakers awaiting installation at the town hall meeting site.

CHECK BACK for a second blog post featuring photos of American flags displayed in Cannon Falls for the President’s visit.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling