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The spark for a wildfire

Muriel Krusemark (right) helps at Main Street Galleria in Hoffman, where Michele Fernholz (left) and 30 other small businesses sell their products, anything from quilts to name-brand clothing. (Photo by Caroline Roers)1 / 2
Motel 1 in downtown Hoffman is a one-room motel that can be rented for $39 a night. "At first people laughed at the idea of a one-room motel," said Muriel Krusemark. "But it's been relatively successful."2 / 2

"You really need a passion to do what we do. It's almost an obsession to improve," noted Muriel Krusemark of Hoffman.

But passion was what was needed to wake up the sleepy town of Hoffman.

In the past five years, because of efforts by Krusemark and the community, Hoffman now boasts numerous new businesses, including a health care clinic, hardware store and an improved softball field.

Other attractions include a senior center, Elk Lake Heritage Preserve, Elk Lake Beach and Campgrounds and Red Rock Golf Course.

Though not completely reflecting its former glory, Hoffman has progressed in the past five years thanks to the plethora of volunteers, willing companies, and Krusemark's passion for change.

"You kind of adjust to the times. It will never be the way it was before and we still have a long way to go, but we've come a long way, too," she said.

ACCEPTING A CHALLENGE

After moving to the Cities for 15 years, Krusemark decided to retire to her childhood town of Hoffman six years ago.

"The town looked so sad when I returned," she recalled, thinking back to when she was growing up and owned a business downtown, alongside three grocery stores, a drug store and three restaurants. "When I left, the town had already started to go downhill, and by the time I returned there were several empty store fronts."

In hopes of bringing the town back to life, Krusemark decided to accept the job as economic developer that was offered to her.

"I decided to say yes because it was a challenge and I saw things that could be improved in order to make this a great place to live," she recalled. "You don't really comprehend everything you have done until you put it all together and you realize, 'we really have done this'."

THE HORIZONS PROGRAM

Starting off wasn't easy. However, soon after accepting the job, Krusemark got word of a program for communities with a 10 percent or higher poverty level. She applied and Hoffman was accepted.

The Horizons program is part of the University of Minnesota that provides seminars and jumpstarts ideas to improve small communities.

Through the program, Krusemark was able to send a handful of volunteers to a leadership seminar and organize meetings to hear what people wanted in the community.

"This really is how the projects started. It was great because once one person had a good idea, they just kept coming," she noted.

Like wildfire, the town started waking up and looking for ways to improve.

But in addition to buildings and recreation, the Horizons program also seeks to improve poverty in the area.

So a food shelf was started as well as a clothing drop, where those in need could pick up free clothes that people from the community donated.

"It's great to see poor children trying on clothes and walking away with bags full," Krusemark said.

FILLING THE STORE FRONTS

"My goal is to have every store front filled," noted Krusemark. "When I first came back there were many vacant store fronts downtown and now most of them are filled."

To fill one of the buildings, she had the idea to create a mall that sold crafts from numerous small businesses. She began by asking people around Hoffman if they would be willing to sell their crafts there.

"Eventually TJ and Theresa Calvin decided to buy the building and they really took off with the idea, turning it into Main Street Galleria," she said. "I am so thankful for what they have done."

The galleria is now home to more than 30 small businesses, including clothes, antiques, wood carvings, quilts and piano lessons.

Next to the galleria there were two other empty buildings that were falling down.

With the help of a grant from Alexandria's Prime West and the volunteer efforts of Broadway Medical in Alexandria, Krusemark was able to turn this rundown building into a new healthcare mall, now home to Prairie Ridge Medical.

Other stores that found their way downtown in the past five years are a computer sale and repair shop, a thrift store, and Motel 1 - a one-room motel.

GROWING ON THE FAMILY FRONT

Aside from the town growing on the business front, families are also starting to find their way to Hoffman.

In the past five years, 20 vacant houses have become five, and the two operational daycares grew to five.

"This means that families are starting to move in," Krusemark said. "I think when families move into the community they see the playground and the baseball field and see what a positive environment and close-knit community this is."

Adding to this community feel is a farmers market, which takes place once a week at Hoffman City Park. People sell their homegrown food while a nonprofit from the town serves a meal.

"This really is a time for families to sit and socialize. It makes us a community," Krusemark said. "Everything we do to help and bring the community closer together is very grass roots stuff. It's all simple."

BECOMING A COMMUNITY

Hoffman has become more than just a flurry of business activity, it has become a community. People in the town are not only ready, but willing to do their part and help out.

"Volunteers have been a big part of this. There really isn't much money, so all the change has been volunteers," Krusemark said.

The local Lion's Club has also helped by donating anything from picnic tables to the raised beds in the garden.

Though Krusemark was the igniter for the wildfire, she notes that without the plethora of volunteers and dedicated board, which has made every goal it set each year, none of this would have been possible.

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