It was a topsy-turvy week for Visit Greater St. Cloud, the central Minnesota tourism promotion agency.
The agency pulled the listing for a popular local bar and restaurant from Explore Minnesota, the state’s official tourism site, after receiving community complaints over the bar’s displays of Confederate paraphernalia.
After a review, the agency said nothing in the listing was against its policies, and it returned Rollie’s Rednecks and Longnecks in Sauk Rapids to the site.
Community members, led by the social justice group #UniteCloud, objected again. This time, the tourism agency delisted Rollie’s once again from the state website — and from its own, too.
“We hear you. We understand. And we’re committed to doing better,” Visit Greater St. Cloud said in a statement. “As an organization that promotes travel, tourism and events in a diverse community, we understand the importance of addressing and eliminating hate, prejudice and racism wherever it may occur.
“Now more than ever, Visit Greater St. Cloud is focused on promoting all of the good, positive things to do in our area, and we strive to keep Greater St. Cloud a fun, easy, safe place to visit. We will continue to learn, adapt and grow, and we hope you can join us on that journey.”
Rollie’s touts itself as “Minnesota’s No. 1 honkytonk.” Photos on the bar’s website show a variety of Confederate memorabilia on display, including flags, signs, posters and items related to “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a popular 1980s TV show.
The bar is owned by Roland Hogrefe, who did not return a phone call and a text seeking comment. Hogrefe was convicted of a felony in 2011 after he ran down a black man with his truck on a St. Cloud street. According to Benton County court records, Hogrefe was sentenced to a year and a day in state prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an injury accident. His prison sentence was stayed, and he was ordered to serve 90 days in the county jail.
Media reports at the time said Hogrefe drove by a group of African-American men and exchanged insults. He turned his vehicle around and drove back at the men, striking and injuring one, then drove away. He was arrested after police identified his distinctive truck.
Among the first to object to Rollie’s Confederate display was Christopher Lehman, a professor at St. Cloud State University.
“As a taxpaying resident of Minnesota, I do not want my tax dollars to go towards promoting a business that glorifies the Confederacy, whose army fought against and killed thousands of Minnesotans,” Lehman wrote. “As a taxpaying resident of Minnesota and a descendant of slaves, I do not want my tax dollars to go towards promoting a business that glorifies people who seceded from the United States to defend slavery.
“If, in this post-George Floyd climate, the former Confederate state of Virginia can remove its statue of Robert E. Lee, then the Union state of Minnesota, where Floyd was killed, can stop promoting a restaurant glorifying an army that killed thousands of Minnesotans in the name of defending slavery.”
In an interview, Lehman said he wasn’t trying to shut down the business.
“All I wanted to do was get the government out of the way,” he said. “What goes on in different businesses that are privately owned, they are free to do whatever they want. That’s their freedom of speech. I’m not looking for anyone to get shut down or lose their business.
“Since there’s some government involvement … with something that has to do with promoting Confederate imagery during this time we’re living in right now, I was greatly opposed to that.”