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Holy Everything: Hours in Austin felt like coming home

September 17, 2018

Dear Austin, Minnesota,

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when you captured my heart. I was in town for the day to help out with a morning worship service in one congregation and an afternoon service in another. With a few midday hours unaccounted for, I found my way to Main Street. I’d been to see you before, but this visit felt particularly special. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and all around were signs of Minnesota at its best.

The first stop was the Spam Museum. Being a fan of both canned meats and history, I’d been to the museum a few times before. But I’d never before met Jim!

While I was exploring the historical exhibit, Jim stopped to say hello. He’s a Hormel retiree who now helps out at the museum. He greeted me and said, “I can share some more history if you’d like.” After a brief overview of the Hormel family tree, Jim’s eyes brightened with an idea, “Come and look at the information about the Hormel Foundation and the Hormel Institute.”

It was then that I learned about the 77-year history of the Hormel Institute as well as the pioneering cancer research of current Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong. Jim also highlighted some of the projects made possible through the Hormel Foundation, which has given more than $197 million to the Austin community since its founding in 1941.

After wrapping up my visit to the museum, it was time to head across the street to Sweet Reads Books. I was greeted by the bookstore’s owner, Lisa.

The first thing I noticed was the lovely display of books by local authors. People of Austin, you are so fortunate to have this gem in your midst! Locally owned bookstores are so rare these days.

While I explored the store and met a few other patrons, Lisa shared that she opened the shop just two years ago.

“I just knew,” she said about her decision to make her book store dream into reality. “It’s not only about the books. It’s about the relationships. The people.”

The walls of the back of the store are lined with bright, gorgeous portraits taken by Bill Taufic from his forthcoming book, “Our Austin, Our America.” The portraits reveal that your community is culturally diverse in a profoundly inspiring way.

With about 30 minutes left before it was time for me to lead worship for the afternoon service, I spent time driving around to get a more complete geographical lay of the land. I noticed the Buffy the Cow sculpture at the entrance of the Mower County Fairgrounds.

Unable to help myself from stopping for a picture, I got out and walked up to the red and white fiberglass cow, which is referenced online on Roadside America and TripAdvisor. Just as the digital reviews had mentioned, Buffy is udderly delightful.

When I got home that evening, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband all about you, Austin. With a population around 25,000, you’ve got the benefits of accessibility, access to goods, education and employment while also exuding a sense of small town connectedness and familiarity.

No community is perfect, and I know you’re not either. You’re changing, growing and learning all the time. As you continue to explore what it means to Austin today and into the future, know that you’re appreciated. Thank you for the gift that you are to southeastern Minnesota.

Rochester is an amazing place to be, and I’ll always be an Iowa girl at heart. but there was something about wandering around your downtown streets and neighborhoods that felt like coming home.

With gratitude and appreciation,

Emily

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