CORN COBS AND WATER TOWERS: A Cornucopia of Heartland Values

Over the past few years, it has been my privilege to travel frequently to Rochester, Minnesota.  I’ve come to love the noble, good-hearted people I meet there, people who help me in my work and keep me in their prayers. 

 And the tunnels!  I have wandered the downtown skyways and tunnels which link the parking garage to the shopping center to the Mayo Clinic to the restaurants and the hotels and the chapel—enabling those hearty Minnesotans to navigate harsh, snowy winter mornings and steamy summer afternoons without ever setting foot on the street. 

 And the corn!  For miles along I-63, the main north-south artery from Rochester to Minneapolis/St. Paul, fields of corn top rolling hills on both the right and the left.  In August, when the corn is ready for harvest, millions of cornstalks release moisture into the air through their broad leaves and I retreat to my hotel room, abhorring the humidity. 

 My meeting this week is at the Rochester International Event Center—the city’s newest banquet facility, strategically situated between the Rochester International Airport and, well… uh… and a cornfield.  In a town that embraces the homey kitsch of Flamingo Bingo and the gleaming technology of the Mayo Clinic, the irony of that geographic serendipity goes unnoticed.

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 The landmark that best symbolizes the rich heartland values of this small town on the South Fork of the Zumbro River is the Rochester Water Tower.  Rising 151 feet from the fertile fields, it stands:  a giant yellow ear of metal corn—waiting, perhaps, for Paul Bunyan to grab its buttery stalk and take a bite.  The 50,000 gallon storage tank stands over the Seneca Foods canning factory.  It was built in 1931, and it is genetically accurate—that is, it represents a true ear of corn, with the “correct” number or rows of kernels (whatever “correct” is in the world of corncobs).

 To me, the Rochester Water Tower is a suitable icon, representing the hardworking men and women, farmers and their wives, who make this fertile land their home.  Drivers along I-63 see that ponderous vegetable scratching the sky, and they are reminded of the bountiful harvest—not just of corn, but of beans and tomatoes, too, fragrant gifts from the land, presented with love at dinner tables across America. 

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 Across America, there are other such monoliths, water towers which reflect the passion and the produce of the local community:  a giant peach in Gaffney, South Carolina; a strawberry in Plant City, Florida; a pumpkin in Circleville, Ohio; a pineapple in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

 Rochester, though, is consistently listed among Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live”—in fact, scoring three times at Number One in the 1990s.

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