MPR News/ Allen Brisson-Smith
We had a very good turnout last night when about 160 Todd County residents showed up for our Ground Level forum at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School. People came from all corners of the 800-square-mile county, questioning, throwing out ideas and applauding at times during a conversation that started with the challenge of an aging demographic and ultimately wound up with a glimpse at the role of immigration in the county.
“If we follow Arizona’s model we will lose the Latino young generation,” one resident told the forum. “We may lose them if we treat them poorly.”
She was responding a comment by seven-year Todd County resident and Mexican immigrant Antonio Meza. He told the group through an interpreter that he had been treated well during his time in Todd County and that he and other immigrants want to contribute. Meza said he doesn’t want to return to Mexico and considers Todd County home for him and his family.
Immigrants are part of the equation for a community that is seeing the proportion of elderly increase because they tend to be younger than other residents and can bring a source of incomes and business. Long Prairie Mayor Don Rasmussen had the evening’s final word: “Getting to know people before you criticize them has to be a No. 1 issue. The majority of (immigrants) feel they’ve found their spot.”
The evening started with a video and audio presentation that you can get the gist of on our Todd County page by clicking through the four presentations near the top of the page.
Then host Kate Smith led three panelists — LaRhae Knatterud, a state Department of Human Services expert on aging; Ben Winchester, a University of Minnesota research fellow who specializes in rural dynamics; and John Halfen, medical director of Lakewood Health System in Staples — through a conversation about aging.
As was the case in our first Ground Level forum for residents of Baldwin Township, some of the best information came as a result of audience questions.
Sue Stine asked whether a new remote sensing device Lakewood is experimenting with could be used in assisted living or other group facilities so a number of residents could take part. Lakewood is considering the ideas of such “wellness centers,” one official said.
Other parts of the conversation delved into multi-generational housing, whether compassion and human care is more significant than new technologies, and the notion that some elderly people both need help and provide volunteer services to help others.
Winchester, noting that there is a movement of people in their 30s and 40s back to rural areas, worried that successful communities will figure out a way to involve those people in core groups in their new communities. Joining a bicycle club is not the same as pitching in with the Chamber of Commerce or senior center.
Knatterud made the point early in the forum that as the number of elderly doubles in the coming decades in Minnesota, one thing that is certain is change — we will demand different things, we will be more aware of health matters, we will want to stay in our communities longer.
It was an evening chock full of good conversation about an issue facing much of rural America; others could learn from folks in Todd County as they move ahead with organizing and setting priorities for taking action on aging under the Initiative Foundation’s Healthy Communities Partnership.
We expect to have audio of the evening on the Todd web page by next week. And MPR News is enlisting Todd County writer Nancy Leasman to keep the blog posted on all things Todd County. So we’re eager to let the conversation continue here. Please join in.