The. Rain. Just. Would. Not. Stop.
Ten years ago, flash flooding of historic proportions swept across the southeastern boot of Minnesota. It killed seven, displaced hundreds and washed away roads, railroad tracks and homes.
Over the course of the event, all or portions of 28 counties received at least 4 inches of rain. Six-inch totals were common across the region, and parts of southeastern Minnesota reported astounding rainfall amounts ranging from 8 to 20 inches. The heaviest rainfall reports came from Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties, where 36-hour totals exceeded 14 inches.
The flash flood that followed left parts of Rushford under water for days and damaged much of its public infrastructure.
Amid it all, one place remained dry: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Mill Street. Montini Hall adjacent to the church, usually a venue for wedding receptions and church socials, became a clearinghouse for the hungry and the wet.
As word spread and the people kept coming, the hall became the city’s official relief center. Over the next three months, an estimated 80,000 meals were handed out.
It also became a brick-and-mortar symbol of what would become the plucky little city’s motto: Never, ever, give up.
On Sunday, less as a celebration and more of a commemoration, “Montini Cafe” is scheduled to be opened again for just one day. Music and speakers are planned. Hot turkey sandwiches, coleslaw, chips and brownies will be served until they are gone.
“We just kind of started feeding people; residents who were out of their homes and volunteers. Donations just kept coming in,” recalled Bonnie Prinsen, an 18-year Rushford resident and one of the organizers of Sunday’s event.
“A lot of people have kind of mixed emotions about the flood. It’s not really a positive memory. But most people have positive memories of Montini Hall because that’s where they came to get information and that’s where they could talk to other people.”
It’s being called an event of thanks and gratitude: to the hundreds of volunteers who came from all over the country to help during the worst of times, and to the resiliency of the city.
“We’re just thankful that Rushford is where it is today, 10 years later,” Prinsen said.
It took weeks for the power to be restored and for the damage to be cleared. Through it all, Montini Hall remained available.
Dave Uren, who was the parish administrator at the time, calls Sunday’s event “a sort of celebration of survival.”
He was part of a group of parishioners and others who, for weeks, were at the hall from 6 o’clock in the morning until well after 8 or 9 at night.
“You remember things in relation to this — was it before it or after it?” he said. “If I ever had a life-changing event, that probably was it. It seemed like day after day I was a witness to some of the most generous and most kind acts in my life.”
Much of Rushford is now new. The city has spent around $40 million on such things as a new water treatment plant, replacement of city equipment, repairs to the community center and the city’s levee system, even rebuilding the municipal liquor store.
For Uren, who came to Rushford in 1995 as the superintendent of schools, the changes have all been an impressive sign of resiliency. But he admits that sense of stability can be challenged very quickly.
“When we get a bunch of rain all at once it really brings things back to when it changed forever,” he said.
Mark Brunswick 612-673-4434