Pair of transplants hailed in BP
They are not natives of the small, progressive southeastern Minnesota community of Blooming Prairie, but they say it feels like it.
Mike and Sandy Jones, two transplants from Leroy and Adams, will be recognized as the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce's Citizens of the Year for 2019.
A special evening for this married couple of 42 years is planned for Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Blooming Prairie Servicemen's Club. Social hour begins at 6 p.m. and dinner will be served at 7 p.m. RSVP at 507-583-4472.
Mike and Sandy moved to Blooming Prairie in 1986 where they raised four children as Awesome Blossoms.
Son Josh (Ellie) and grandson Owen live in Austin. Daughter Angie Carlson and step children Brody and Lila live in Blooming Prairie. Daughter Hilary, granddaughter MiKenna Boehnke, live in Blooming Prairie. Son Patrick and fiancé Hilary Bottema reside in Rochester.
Mike and Sandy have both been heavily active in their community over the years.
He is retiring as Blooming Prairie's city administrator after serving in that capacity for 18 years. He will be succeeded by Andrew Langholz, currently the city clerk at Starbuck, a tourism community 20 miles from Alexandria.
"We've had a blast living in this small town," admits Mike, 66. Mike was drawn to Blooming Prairie as an accountant.
Sandy has cultivated her creativity in art by being involved in the community and artist in residence programs in Blooming Prairie and other communities.
Both Mike and Sandy have been very active in the Blooming Prairie Chamber and in many other civic and church involvements.
"It's an honor to represent our community as citizens of the year," Sandy remarked. The Chamber first presented a top citizen award in 2006. Past BP Chamber President Greg Johnson will present the award.
Mike attended Leroy-Ostrander Schools, one of the first consolidated school districts in the state. Sandy attended school in Adams.
"I grew up on the south side of the railroad tracks," says Mike. "I lived as that neighbor some people complained about," Mike says. "We kids had the image of getting into trouble whether it was climbing the water tower or town elevator and jumping on a train and riding it to school."
Mike lived in town and raised a calf named Charlie Beefsteak. "We traded him for a horse," he laughs.
Mike spent much of his growing up days on his grandparents' farm.
"We had neighborhoods back then and played ball and hide and seek," Mike said. "There was always some kid at the screen door looking in," he confided.
Sandy grew up on a dairy farm near Adams as one of eight children. "We had plenty of work to do, milking cows, doing field work, gardening and taking care of siblings. But, mom and dad found time for fun with neighborhood softball games and visiting cousins."
Mike and Sandy met on the dance floor at the Rusty Rail in Taopi, a small community near the Iowa-Minnesota border. "We still love to dance," Sandy confesses.
Mike and Sandy married in the Bicentennial year of 1976. Their wedding reception was at the Rusty Rail.
Mike worked on Sandy's parents' farm for two years. Mike attended Austin Community College and hired on as a staff accountant at an Austin accounting firm. Sandy worked for the Cedar Branch Developmental Achievement Center, an agency dedicated to handicapped adults.
The Joneses bought a house in Rose Creek. Mike was then recruited by Wayne Carlson to work as an accountant in Blooming Prairie. "I didn't want to go to Blooming Prairie because I didn't know where it was," he says truthfully.
After three requests to join the firm in Blooming Prairie, Mike relented and commuted over six years from Rose Creek to Blooming Prairie. He later purchased the firm from Carlson and named the business, Mike Jones Accounting.
He was a self-employed accountant from 1986 to 2000. He then sold his practice to Tamzen Johnson after interviewing for an interim city administrator post in Blooming Prairie.
"Why not, I thought," Mike recalls about deciding to apply for the city job. As a city employee, Jones said he was thrilled to get a wage, holiday pay and sick pay. "I never thought it would last 18 years," he says.
Jones continued with an accounting practice in Adams and then moved his clients to Blooming Prairie. He still does about 200 tax returns a year.
Sandy relied on her artistic talents to join three other partners, Leanne Hanson, Laura Kirby and June Trom to found the business, A Touch of Charm, 30 years ago.
Sandy also worked a short time as Mike's secretary but honestly told Mike he needed to find a different secretary because she chose to work on more creative projects. She taught Arts in the Parks for children and also taught adult education art classes. In addition, she worked at B to Z Hardware.
Sandy continues to volunteer her time and talent on various projects around Blooming Prairie. Sandy was asked to take on the Artists in Residence program at the Blooming Prairie Elementary School 10 years ago and continues to teach there today.
She also taught the artist in residence program in Waseca, at Austin Pacelli Elementary School and she is employed one day a week teaching art at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Adams. She teaches there every Monday and stays overnight with her 93-year-old mother on Sunday nights.
In addition to her arts projects, Sandy has worked with Chamber executive director Becky Noble on many Chamber projects, including the Holiday Dazzle promotion at Christmas time. She also is a member of the American Legion and VFW auxiliaries and most recently has served the past four years on the Blooming Prairie Veterans Memorial Committee. She is an active member of St. Columbanus Catholic Church and has been on the Fourth of July committee for more than 20 years.
Mike logged 22 years with the Blooming Prairie Fire Department. He was past president of the Blooming Prairie Jaycees, served three years on the BP Servicemen's Club board of directors (1 1/2 years as president), was a BP Golf Club board member and represented Steele County on the Cedar River Watershed Board as treasurer.
He also served 17 years as a board member of the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) and served 20 years with the National Guard.
"We've become Blossoms and have watched our kids come through the Blooming Prairie school system," Mike says proudly. "This involvement gets you tight with the community," he added.
"People have to make a commitment to be involved in their communities," Sandy says. "There are lots of unsung heroes out there in small-town USA," chimes in Mike.
The Jones family first lived on Main Street in former teacher/coach Jim Poole's house across from the park.
"We had no idea that we were on the Fourth of July parade route," beams Sandy. She said more than 100 friends and family members often landed on their front yard on the Fourth. "Our kids grew up with that experience," Mike interjected.
When Mike and Sandy moved to 7th Street in 2008, a move the kids did not initially embrace, leaving their best seat in town on the Fourth.
Mike has been a careful conservative in helping manage city affairs. "I try to watch the pennies," he affirms. He has even appeared before the Minnesota Legislature's Finance Committee. "My ice breaker while testifying has been that I'm from the home of the Awesome Blossoms."
During his tenure, Mike said he has seen the city remain fiscally sound. He also says he has been pleased to see city equipment replaced as it aged.
Some interesting times are coming for Blooming Prairie with Second Street improvement in the near future. It could cost over $3.1 million.
The city, Mike said, has seen some impressive housing developments without raising taxes much. He also praised the manufacturing texture in the city.
Mike says Blooming Prairie is somewhat of a destination community, as many people are driving into the city as leaving the city for work. He says 82 percent of the homes in Blooming Prairie are owned.
Looking to the future, Mike says he sees slow, steady growth. "The community needs more elderly housing," he believes.
"We've never had turmoil in city government here," Mike relates. He tips his hat to Mayor H. Peterson who he says has been the city's best ambassador. "I only remember a couple of no votes by the council during my 18 years here," Mike says.
Mike has relied on trust from the community during his tenure as city administrator.
When not taking their city business seriously, Mike and Sandy say they "are silly and game" to have fun and are not adverse to embarrassing themselves. Both like to dress up for Halloween.
In their spare time, Mike and Sandy like to go to estate sales. Mike likes to fish and loves golf.
"We love to spend precious time with our children and grandchildren, vacationing, camping and just being together, which is such a blessing," Sandy said.
Even though Mike is entering retirement, it is doubtful that he and Sandy won't be active in their community.
"Blooming Prairie is a community that steps forward to help others," concludes Sandy. "She's right," Mike winks.