It's Our Turn: My, what strange times we live in

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The streets of downtown Alexandria are eerily quiet these days as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic lingers. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

News editor’s note: This is the final column from Echo Press Editor Ross Evavold. After 35 years in the newspaper industry, he decided to make a career change and is leaving the area.

Paul Heidelberger celebrated 40 years as a barber on April 1. It was a makeshift celebration, since his Alexandria business on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Hawthorne, Down on the Corner, has been temporarily closed like so many others.

My, what strange times we live in.

They say if you live long enough you’ll see everything, and that seems truer now than ever before. The havoc the coronavirus is reeking on the entire world remains difficult to fully comprehend.

High school seniors who may not see their classmates en masse ever again, or participate in a graduation ceremony. Traditional events that are the foundation of every community, that draw everyone together, are falling by the wayside. Fundraisers that are the lifeblood of organizations have been canceled. So many people were suddenly thrown out of work or have had their pay cut. And that’s just for starters.


Everyone is dealing with it in their own way. As Al Edenloff explained in his column last Friday, we’ve mostly joined the brigade of employees who are still working but sequestered at home. As a stubborn holdout, it’s been difficult getting used to a newsroom without reporters. Today there’s only one other colleague in the Echo Press building to hear me bang out this column.

However, working remotely isn’t an option for plenty of others, including Heidelberger. He understands how some businesses are considered more essential,and while we will stand to have a lot of shaggy people if this drags on, that’s not on a par with a dentist being able to relieve the pain of a patient.

“I’m not bitter or anything. Time will tell, but until we had a better handle on it, it was absolutely the right decision,” he said of the state closing things down. “I’m feeling a lot more sorry for people who are in far tougher shape.” He cited waitresses who rely on tips, and new businesses and younger workers who haven’t had time to build any sort of cushion.

Arts are suffering

For our big Impact magazine last November, we spoke with many people about what attracted them to Douglas County and what keeps them here. Among the most passionate voices were those speaking on behalf of our thriving arts scene.

A study commissioned by a few local arts organizations found that collectively, arts and entertainment accounts for an economic impact of more than $2 million, said Sandy Susag of Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra. “The arts are an economic boon to the community, not just an afterthought.”

Another often-overlooked benefit: Kids who participate in fine arts do better in school, she said. “The unleashing of that creativity is the important part. It’s a very integral part of what we as individuals are.”

Most arts groups are nonprofits that rely on the ticket-buying public and the generosity of contributions. Susag said all are scrambling to meet payrolls and line up their season of shows. “If they do not continue to be supported, they will go away. It’s kind of a case of ‘you don’t miss it until it’s gone.’”

With so many others currently in trouble, her worries are greater than how the arts groups can sustain themselves. “How do we go to these people who are hurting, their businesses have been closed down, and how can we go with our hand out and say help us?”


Big change coming

Alan Zeithamer found himself yesterday on Valley View Country Club in Sisseton, South Dakota – not for pleasure, but on a job. It was cold and windy and generally miserable conditions to be working in, but he was thankful to still be working.

He works for Exterior Design, a company his son, Josh, started while in college. “My wife is the office manager and my son is the boss, so my leash is pretty short,” he joked.

Zeithamer, who is a mainstay on the Alexandria School Board, reflected on how much everything had changed in the span of one month. On March 9, he left the Budget and Finance Committee meeting feeling terrific.

“The good news kept on coming that night. I went home and slept the best I’ve slept in three months,” he said. Within two days the coronavirus spiral kicked in, “and I haven’t slept very good since. Imagine in 31 days how the world has dramatically changed. All we can hope is that we can start finding our way back to some sort of normalcy.”

This is by far the longest Heidelberger has been away from his chair. His last customer was Don Klimek, who snuck in under the wire just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18. He misses his routine and conversations with customers.

“I guess it’s not a job when you enjoy what you’re doing,” Heidelberger said, thinking of all the men he has met through his work. “It’s been quite educational. Some are just incredibly knowledgeable and they’re willing to share their knowledge. I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do just from visiting with people. I’ve found it very beneficial.”

Heidelberger, 57, has treated his time off as a practice run for retirement. He had always wondered if he could keep himself busy, and the verdict seems to be positive. There’s been spring cleaning and projects at his Farwell home, cutting firewood, and getting fishing gear and golf clubs ready.

“It reminds me a little of when I was growing up. We didn’t have money to do all these things. We stayed at home, ate at home, we did a lot of things together at home,” he said. “If there’s a positive spin, maybe we were meant to slow down and look at things from a little different angle.”


His thoughts went back to his ancestors who lived through the Great Depression, making sacrifices we can’t fathom.

“A wise old man once told me something and it stuck with me all these years. He said, ‘It’s never so bad that it couldn’t be worse.’ When something goes wrong those words ring in my ear,” he said. “It’s tough, but we’ve had a pretty good life and we’ll get through it.”

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