It was an eerie feeling, standing in Veterans Park right after the Memorial Day ceremony Monday and seeing several speakers and audience members choke up with emotion as they talked about the Verso paper-mill disaster and its aftermath.
The ceremony for former Verso employees immediately followed the annual Memorial Day ceremony that had just taken place in the same park. That ceremony, as always, was very moving and beautifully done.
What made the Verso ceremony so eerie (and moving) is that it was exactly a year ago the explosion and fire at Verso brought an end to so many things: an employee’s life, paper production, jobs, wages and taxes that hugely helped Sartell for more than 100 years. The disaster spelled the end of an amazing century of paper production, which was synonymous with Sartell’s growth and its ultimate success as a dynamic, thriving city.
It was eerie, during the ceremony, to gaze across the river and see that baby-blue Verso plant that now has a forlorn, forgotten and haunted look about it. The ceremony was very much like a funeral in which that mill was eulogized, almost as if it itself had been a human being, now deceased.
And the ceremony was also eerie because at last year’s Memorial Day event, in the same park, the morning was so beautiful and sunny. Several people there remarked about how impressive the paper mill across the river looked, with radiant-white condensation pluming up into the deep blue sky. Little did any of the Memorial Day participants have any idea in just an hour or so after the ceremony ended, the sky would begin to cloud up and a tragic explosion would cause the end of so many good things.
The pain and sorrow remain for so many people, but also what lingers long is a sense of sharing, of beginnings and endings that unite all those people. That sentiment was eloquently evoked at the ceremony by Nancy Koska, who had been Verso’s human-resources employee.
Many of the 175 employees who lost jobs with the loss of Verso have found new jobs. Some have re-trained for completely different kinds of jobs. Some have pulled up stakes and moved to other areas in search of work. And, no doubt, sadly, some former Verso employees and their families are still struggling, trying to find work and to make ends meet.
Our hearts go out to them. We wish them the very best and hope and pray they may soon find a happy and secure life once again.