by Dennis Dalman
When the bad news was delivered Aug. 2, Steve Hennes was sitting right next to several Verso workers and their family members at Sartell City Hall.
Hennes, a Sartell City Council member, said he was holding his breath, holding out hope that Verso might rebuild.
Then a Verso official, without any fancy introduction, announced the blunt statement that the mill would close for good. Instantly, Hennes mulled over in his mind how those workers and their families would make ends meet. What about their home mortgages?, he wondered. What about everything else in their lives?, he pondered.
“It was a shock to hear,” Hennes said. “But in one way it wasn’t a total surprise, either. We’d had a couple months to prepare for it. Still, all through those months, I held out hope. We all did.”
Like others, Hennes said the first priority is to do anything possible to help the dislocated workers find new jobs. A simultaneous priority is to search around for something that can be located at the Verso site — hopefully an industry that could provide good jobs.
“Wendy (Hennes’s wife) and I have lived in Sartell for 40 years,” Hennes said. “That paper mill has always been a big part of our lives and the lives of people we’ve known for so many years. I even have trees in my yard I got from the paper mill.”
Years ago, to promote tree-replanting, the paper mill would deliver free seedlings for Sartell residents to plant. Hennes, who loves trees, planted the seedlings. Now he has magnificent trees flourishing in his yard because of those free seedlings. He has a pine, a river birch and some magnificent maples.
“Verso’s closing is a loss to the city and to the whole area,” Hennes said.