Editorial: Garrison, can you help the flour mill?

Published 9:08 am Friday, January 13, 2012


Paging Garrison Keillor …

The heart of Lake Wobegon — and especially a 100-year-plus business in the real town upon which you built much of your fictional empire — might welcome a little of your help.

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In case you didn’t know, just about 48 hours after our above-average children opened their Christmas presents, the landmark Swany White mill in Freeport saw its 114-year life end in a fiery nighttime blaze. It was a total loss, right down to the mill’s antique-but-still-used ledger, machinery dating back to 1897, and even the owner’s glasses and cellphone.

A few days later, Gary Thelen, whose family has owned the mill since 1903, said that even though it still was producing up to 750,000 pounds of flour annually, rebuilding the mill was not economically feasible.

While not rebuilding does make sense, Thelen also stressed Swany White still milled commercial and organic flours so in demand that customers called within days of the fire asking about the future of those products. Thelen told the Times he was looking into keeping the brand going.

That’s when we thought of you — and your more-than-fictional ties to this area.

You have let the world know your visits to Freeport in your younger days were the inspiration for Lake Wobegon and your “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show and movie — i.e., the real Charlie’s Cafe equates to the Chatterbox Cafe of Lake Wobegon.

Better yet, that fictional connection is appreciated and ongoing.

The state’s best bike trail — in the middle of which is Freeport — was named after Lake Wobegon. And you even jumped into the area’s restaurant scene when you were part of a group that purchased Fisher’s Club in Avon in 2005. Since then, you’ve visited and even performed your show in that town.

So why not make your next connection one involving Swany White flour out of Freeport?

The possibilities are endless. Turn those fictional Powder Milk Biscuits into a reality. “Has your family tried ’em? Heavens! They’re tasty — thanks to Swany White flour!” Use Swany White to bread Fisher’s walleye fillets, or in the crusts that hold Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie.

You get the idea. Find some way to help a rock-solid part of the real place behind your fictional masterpiece.

One more thing: Please know that we have not talked directly to Thelen or his family about this. Being the offspring of modest Norwegian farmers who were not bachelors, that’s not in our nature. (But if it helps, we are wearing Guy’s steel-toed shoes — so even if we strike out — ping! — we can walk away.)

Perhaps you can make that call.

— St. Cloud Times, Jan. 10.

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