Local flavor becomes a livelihood

Dawn and Bob Hansen of Spring Grove Soda Pop.

Dawn and Bob Hansen of Spring Grove Soda Pop.

Story by Jordan Gerard

Lemon Sour. Creamy orange. Root Beer. Strawberry. Cream Soda. These are just some notable flavors of Spring Grove Soda Pop, an iconic craft soda company known to Spring Grovers, Minnesotans, and people around the country.

G.G. Ristey, a Spring Grove resident, started the company in 1895. The pop was a hit with locals and the company has been in business ever since. After 122 years, it would be hard to imagine the town of Spring Grove without its local flavor. 

Current owners Bob and Dawn Hansen said they’ve kept close to the “secret recipe” since they took over in 2003. Bob and Dawn moved to Spring Grove as a young couple and first tasted the pop at the grocery store in town. “It was quite a treat,” Dawn said.

The desire to own a business propelled the Hansens to buy the pop factory from the previous owners, Roger and Eric Morken. Despite moments of hesitation from both Bob and Dawn, they made a deal and the Morkens handed over the keys on Dec. 3, 2003.

They bottled 15,000 cases in their first year. The business has grown significantly since then--they now bottle about 65,000 cases a year. “It’s our livelihood,” Bob said. 

Spring Grove Soda Pop is one of the oldest businesses in Minnesota still in production today. It has never been shut down since its inception, Bob said.

Spring Grove Soda Pop is currently working with the Spring Grove Economic Development Authority to continue growing their business, and just opened a new downtown store, The Sugar Shack, to showcase their soda and merchandise.

To learn more about the fascinating history of Spring Grove Soda Pop, visit their website (www.springgrovesoda.com) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sgsoda). 

Trapshooting with the Spring Grove Lions


Story by Angie Halverson

Do you know the fastest growing sport in Minnesota high schools? The answer may surprise you...it’s trapshooting! In 2016, Spring Grove High School jumped on board with this extracurricular trend and formed a team of 13 students. Among them is Brandon Anderson, who is currently in 8th grade and looking forward to the upcoming season.

“It’s so cool to see that powder fly,” Brandon said. He’s referring to the moment when his shot meets its intended target: a four-inch clay disk launched from a single “trap house” or trap machine into the air.

His mother Erica noted the emphasis on safety, noting, “Kids are required to have their firearm safety certificate to be able to participate.” The trapshooting team is also taught how to hold and handle their guns and ammunition.

The team gathers at the local gun range twice a week and usually competes weekly. Scores are submitted online and compared to other teams in the same conference. Spring Grove’s team has grown significantly since its inaugural year, from 13 to 20. Both boys and girls participate and parents are encouraged to join them at shooting practice. Brandon said there was a time when he outshot his dad. “He wasn’t very happy about that,” Brandon added with a smile. 

In June, the team will travel to Alexandria to compete against more than 250 Minnesota schools for the 2017 Trap Shooting Championship, which is the qualifying team competition for the State Tournament. 

To learn more about the unique opportunities available to students in Spring Grove, visit www.springgrove.k12.mn.us

Long Live the Meatball King!

Story by Tyler Omoth

It’s Wednesday evening. When you walk into Red’s IGA in Spring Grove, you’re immediately greeted with the aromas of a freshly cooked meal. But it’s not just any meal, and any resident of Spring Grove could identify that scent. 

“Red’s meatballs!”

It’s a meatball supper right in the grocery store. Locals can come in and buy a meal to take home and a portion of the proceeds go directly to benefit a local organization. It’s just one of the ways Pat “Red” Longmire Sr. gives back to the community.

In 1989, Pat was in business with his brother, but was looking for an opportunity to branch out and do his own thing. The local grocery store in Spring Grove was for sale, so Pat, or “Red” as he is frequently called, moved his family to the small town to start their new adventure.

“Even way back in 1989, we were impressed with Spring Grove and all it had to offer,” he says.

Eventually, Pat was able to build a new, larger store on the edge of town. Red’s IGA is a full-service grocery store, but he is known for his secret-recipe meatball mix. A radio ad campaign that has run for years promotes his store and proudly proclaims, “Long live the Meatball King!”

As Pat’s business has grown and prospered, so has his affection for the local community. “In Spring Grove, I think it starts with the school. It’s a great school. We also have a state-of-the-art swimming pool, a theater, and a great bird trail. We have a lot that most smaller towns just don’t have.” 

Pat is active in helping Spring Grove continue grow. His meatball suppers raise money for local organizations. Many churches in the area look forward to their own meatball suppers each year. He tries to help Spring Grove organizations, because they help keep his town and his business booming.

When the radio ads cheer, “Long live the Meatball King!” you’ll hear Pat’s voice break in and say, “Don’t cheer for me, cheer for the Spring Grove Lions basketball team. Way to go!” The next time it may be the library or the pool that gets the shout out. 

Pat has shown that business can survive and even thrive in a small town, but the key might be to put a little back into the town that’s made it possible.

Cheers to Emerging Local Spirits

“Can you spot the fence jumper?”

A Facebook video post shows the sheep at Christian Myrah’s farm eating away at the trough when suddenly the camera zeroes in on a large horse. Reminiscent of the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.”

That’s life on the farm. Caring for animals (even fence-jumpers) and working the fields. For Christian Myrah, the farm life offers another great opportunity – the opportunity to open up a whiskey distillery.

“We have all the natural resources here in southeast Minnesota to make good whiskey. We have limestone filtered water, same as in Kentucky, but we’re upstream, so it may even be better. We have the grains that lend themselves to whiskeys. And some of the best white oak for whiskey barrels grows right around here,” he says.

True to his word, Christian has started Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove. A small, craft distillery that will focus on whiskeys using only organic products, Rockfilter hopes to be serving in its cocktail lounge in Spring Grove by Homecoming 2017.

Why Spring Grove?

“I think I’d be the fourth generation of my family to farm here,” Christian says. “It doesn’t seem to be like other communities where Main Street is empty. We have Ye Olde Opera House, a local art gallery, the heritage center, and Spring Grove Communications is a forward-thinking company. We have high-speed fiber optic cable that people in the Twin Cities may not have.”

Right now, the whiskey is aging in barrels and Christian is sorting out the red-tape that comes with opening up an artisan distillery in Minnesota. “We’re not just using corn and rye,” Christian says, “we’re experimenting with different grains that we grow right here.”

Located in the old creamery building, Rockfilter Distillery will bring something different to Spring Grove, including new cocktails featuring Spring Grove Soda Pop.

By Homecoming 2017, locals will be able to hold a glass high and toast the newest business venture in the big-little town of Spring Grove.

Story by Tyler Omoth

Why Not Me - Todd Oakes

Todd Oakes was at home on the baseball field. Even as a 7th grader, he made the varsity baseball team. He was a kid playing with near adults and holding his own. Regardless of the odds, Todd always believed, “Why not me?’

Todd spent his time as a kid running around town, playing sports, and helping out at his dad’s gas station. He went to Sunday school and sipped on Spring Grove Soda Pop.

As he grew, he dominated the Spring Grove sports scene. He was a 3-time male athlete of the year, 2-time football MVP, 3-time basketball MVP, and 3-time baseball MVP. While he excelled at all sports, baseball was his passion.

Todd went on to pitch at the University of Nebraska and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round of the 1983 MLB draft. Todd battled in the minor leagues for 15 years before changing directions.

No matter where he was living, he found himself returning to Minnesota in his spare time to visit family and friends, so when the University of Minnesota invited him to become their next pitching coach, he happily accepted.

In 18 years as the Golden Gophers pitching coach, Todd helped to shape over 20 pitchers that made it to the big leagues, including Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins. “There is not a single person more responsible for the career I’ve had than Todd Oakes,” Perkins said, “He has impacted me on the field more than anyone could have imagined or would have expected from a college pitching coach.”

In 2012, Todd was diagnosed with leukemia. Like the battler on the mound, he dug in his heels to fight. His “Never give up! Never give in!” attitude inspired those around him. He even wrote a book to help others find the courage to win their own cancer battles titled, Why Not Me? My Battle with Leukemia.

Todd served on the board of directors for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and was nominated for their Man of the Year Award in 2014.

Sadly, Todd lost his battle to leukemia in May of 2016, just as another baseball season was starting to gain momentum. In Spring Grove he is remembered as our greatest athlete and a man who touched the lives of many, both in his hometown and everywhere he went.

Story by Tyler Omoth

Nisse Treehouse - Darcy Thorson

“It’s pajama day today!” she says, pointing to her cozy holiday attire.

Meet Darcy Thorson, owner and director of Nisse Treehouse Child Care and Preschool in Spring Grove. It was the week before Christmas, and Darcy had a number of fun things planned for the children. Just down the hall, a group of giddy 3-year olds get ready to make the two-block walk down the street to the Spring Grove Cinema for a holiday movie. Bundled up in their winter clothes, they excitedly waddle down the hall and out the door.

The decision to start Nisse Treehouse began with her own personal story; as a mother of three young children, it has been difficult to secure high-quality care for them—especially amidst a major childcare shortage in the region. “Finding daycare has always been a struggle for my family,” said Darcy, citing issues such as in-home care’s unpredictable hours, lack of access to preschool, and lengthy daily daycare commutes.

Darcy is a Spring Grove native, and after living away from the community for years, she recently moved back. When she made the decision to return and open her own in-home daycare, every spot was filled before she even got back to town. The need was greater than she originally thought, and she got to work on the planning and licensing process for building a new child care center. The Spring Grove Economic Development Authority helped Darcy secure grants and financing to purchase land adjacent to Spring Grove Public School and complete construction on the new facility, which features an infant room, preschool classrooms, a commercial kitchen, and a dance studio. The community came together to celebrate this new community asset when Nisse Treehouse opened in fall 2016.

Learn more about how you can live, work, and play in Spring Grove at www.springgrovemn.com/

Story by Courtney Bergey