Feelings about the recent decision to close the Verso Paper Co. in Sartell are similar to those felt after the loss of a grandparent. A grandfather is the patriarch of a family, its oldest member and in a lot of ways can be a walking, talking reflection of one’s history. When they are lost, it’s like a piece of who are you are is missing.
The Sartell company is an industrial plant. While it can’t physically talk, if the walls of the business could, it would tell numerous stories of how the city it has called home for decades has transformed over time. It would also note that it is the oldest member of Sartell’s family.
The paper mill has been a part of Sartell’s family for more than 100 years. Like the loss of a loved one, its unexpected exit will linger in the memory of the community for the next 100 years.
The decision not to reopen the mill comes less than two months after an explosion at the company on Memorial Day. The explosion took the life of one employee and injured four others.
Countless new stories have been written, and local media will continue to follow the occurrence. As we read about the fear that the more than 250 employees dreaded would materialize, let us not forget the historical significance of the decision of officials not to reopen the business. Let us also think of the effect it has on the people that now have to look for work and determine how to take care of themselves and their families. They have to regroup, revamp and re-plan their futures. Remember them as the days pass and the dust settles from the shock of the decision.
This is the kind of blow that rocks not only these employees—who now join the millions out of work—but an entire community beyond these displaced workers. Though it was only one aspect of the community, it was a large part of the city’s identity. It is a historical landmark and feature of Sartell that will be hard to replace. In fact, it can’t. I think it will be hard for the thousands of people who live in Sartell to drive down Riverside Avenue and not get a little emotional, or at least pause for reflection, as they think about the change their town is going through.
I think anyone who drives near the mill or even lives close by will have some type of reaction when passing by the paper mill. It just won’t feel the same, just as life is no longer the same when we lose a family member or friends. Mourning is a continuous process.
The vibe will be off as the traffic coming in and out of the mill’s parking lot won’t be bustling with activity from shift changes as usual. And yet, we must move on. Pardon the cliché, but this is so much easier said than done. Frankly, I don’t even think it’s easy to say, considering what this means to a city—like most area cities—that prides itself on its history and continuous evolution over the years.
As officials determine the next possible use for the facility, all are still digesting the magnitude of this loss and its after-effects. As the news permeates the lives of Sartell residents and community members, let us remember that it was more than a mere employer, local business or landmark for those new to the area. It was an iconic member of Sartell’s family.