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Column: Worthington's diversity is by no means new

WORTHINGTON — Minnesota’s health chief, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, was at Worthington 10 days ago. The doctor said Nobles County — the Worthington area — is Minnesota’s epicenter for cultural diversity.

He said what?

Well, he said in Minnesota, Worthington is the center for people from all around the world living together. In peace.

I thought of John Schaap’s story from Leota. John remembered Saturdays when men brought their wives to Leota to shop and buy groceries. Swedes would come together at one corner, John said. Dutch would gather at another corner. Norwegians at another corner. They couldn’t even understand each other’s languages. Eventually, they forgot national differences. They were sharing the same American experiences, and they came together to talk about this.

There is a reflection of Leota in Worthington today. They aren’t usually on street corners but one group gathers here, another gathers there.

Some of Worthington’s best-remembered immigrants came in small numbers, but they prepared us for life today.

Charlie Won. China man. Charlie ran a successful laundry on Worthington’s Ninth Street through many decades. Charlie’s laundry sign is preserved at Pioneer Village.

Charlie Won never mastered the English language, but he made himself understood. He had a circle of Worthington friends who came together on evenings to play poker in a back room. Charlie had an excellent understanding of full house and two pair and three of a kind.

The most prominent immigrant group after the days of settlement were the Italians, the extended families of Casaretos and Lonzaretos and Ponterios. Nic Casareto was the most prominent among them. Nic founded and successfully operated a fruit and ice cream store on 10th Street in the new Hotel Thompson building.

It seemed everyone in Worthington had a favorite Nic Casareto story. One was about the fruit at Casaretos in the time before fruit was found generally in grocery stores. Nic said (it is said), “We have a two kinds of apples — we have a the apples and we have a pineapples.” Such stories were told not in mockery but with affection. The Ponterios called their little brother Buddy, and so did everyone else.

Martin Uranto was a man often seen, always walking. He never owned a car. Martin was a Filipino who went to work on the Panama Canal and found a wife with a Worthington root. Martin had expertise as a cook — well, say chef. He sometimes prepared Chamber of Commerce meals for annual meetings and special events in the Community Room at Worthington’s city hall.

Oh, and The Dane. There were sons and daughters of Norwegians and sons and daughters of Swedes along nearly every street, and there were sons and daughters of Danes. But when someone at Worthington said The Dane the focus was on Einar Hansen, direct from Denmark, who operated a notably-successful dairy farm on Worthington’s north edge. Einar knew Broken English and when he told a story, it sounded nearly as though he was crying as he unfolded his tale.

Einar’s second interest after dairy cows (maybe his first interest) was raising and training beautiful, giant teams of Belgian horses. Einar’s Belgians went to Minnesota state fairs, shown often by one of the Hansen daughters. Worthington shared Einar’s pride when the great Belgians came home with first place trophies.

Herman Greve — we have talked of him before — Herman Greve was not only German, but he fought in the German army in World War I. Herman fought the Doughboys. He came to Nobles County after the war and began farming. He did not marry. America was plunged into World War II and, in the passing of months, Herman Greve was drafted to serve in the American army. Armies took soldiers wherever they could find them.

J.C. Boote with the Dutch root — Jack Boote created Boote Hatchery & Produce, one of Worthington’s most noteworthy enterprises.

Sibi Abadou from Ghana came to work at the Daily Globe one summer. We worried about this a bit – would Worthington people sit down with Sibi for interviews? It was needless worry. Even though he was scarcely humble Sibi was welcomed not only to interviews but to appearances as a speaker at local club meetings.

Immigrants are not alien to the experiences of local residents.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.