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New Growmobile makes its debut

Renee Nolting, left, of the United Way, shows a group of children the new Grow Mobile Wednesday when it was brought to Jefferson Learning Center in Willmar for tours. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — United Way of West Central Minnesota unveiled its new Growmobile on Wednesday.

The small school bus will be used to deliver pre-school services to children in Kandiyohi County.

In its first morning on the road, the bus made a visit to the United Way’s Board of Directors meeting. The next stop was Jefferson Learning Center for a seal of approval from pre-school classes there. The last stop was the Jennie-O Turkey Store corporate offices in Willmar.

The bus was purchased with a $60,000 grant from Jennie-O to the United Way’s women’s initiative Empower: Women United in Philanthropy.

When Jennie-O officials were looking for a project a year ago, they asked United Way executive director Renee Nolting what the group needed. She explained that they were seeing mounting maintenance costs for the old Growmobile and were planning a fundraising campaign to replace it.

A few weeks later, she said, Jennie-O officials said they would be providing enough money to purchase a new vehicle.

Jennie-O President Glenn Leitch said Wednesday morning that the decision was a “no-brainer” for the company.

“We’re big supporters of reading in the schools,” he said, so funding for the Growmobile fit well with the corporation’s giving program, too, he said.

“We looked at the options, and this seemed to be the most practical,” Nolting said.

It is a flex-fuel 12-passenger bus, but three rows were removed from one side of the bus, and shelves were added to carry educational materials. Of the remaining six seats, four can be folded up to free floor space if needed, said United Way finance director Teresa Wizenburger.

Nolting said the bus arrived two weeks ago, and it took about a week to have the graphics put on.

The graphics are similar to the original vehicle’s, with green grass shooting up behind the name, and a grinning caterpillar forming the W in Growmobile.

The Jennie-O logo is on the back of the bus. Nolting said Jennie-O did not request that, “but it was something we felt obligated to do. They were the only sponsor.”

A group of Jennie-O executives and employees gathered to look over the new bus Wednesday morning.

Pat Solheid of Jennie-O said the staff was excited to have played a part in the program.

Sales accounting employee Sara Gardner came out to look at the bus. It stops at the daycare her daughter attends, she said.

“My daughter talks about Michele all the time,” she said. Michele White is the educator who drives the Growmobile. She presents education programs to home daycares in the county during the school year.

In the summer, White takes the Growmobile to area communities once a week and to several Willmar parks Monday through Friday. Children from neighborhoods around the parks gather near the Growmobile for educational programs and physical activities.

“It’s going to be fun for the kids to see something new,” White said. “The program doesn’t necessarily happen inside, but they’ll get to see the inside.”

White said the new Growmobile is a little smaller than the old one, so it will fit better in some of the parks she visits during the summer program. The backup camera will also make it safer.

Patti Dols, a leader of Empower, said she was pleased with the bus and its flexible design. “This is going to be really nice,” she said, looking at the floor space available in the bus.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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