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Milan dedicates new Liberty Bell

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Tom Cherveny / Tribune Samora Tataciy celebrates as the Milan Community Band performs on Thursday evening during the ceremony to dedicate a new Liberty Bell in Milan. The original bell, dedicated 40 years ago for the community's bicentennial, was crumbling and the community raised funds to replace it. 2 / 5
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Members of Milan’s Micronesian community gather around the town’s new Liberty Bell and join in song as part of the dedication ceremony Thursday. Roughly half of Milan's population, they made a generous donation toward replacing the bell originally built for 1976 bicentennial celebration. 3 / 5
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Gabriel Elias performs on a ukulele next to the Liberty Bell dedicated Thursday evening in Milan. It replaces a bell built for the 1976 bicentennial celebration that was intended to last only six months. It held together for 40 years and the Liberty Bell has become a symbol of the community. 4 / 5
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Gabriel Elias performs on a ukulele next to the Liberty Bell dedicated Thursday evening in Milan. It replaces a bell built for the 1976 bicentennial celebration that was intended to last only six months. It held together for 40 years and the Liberty Bell has become a symbol of the community. 5 / 5

MILAN—For reasons only the late Vern Kleven knows, 40 years ago he decided that Milan needed its own version of the Liberty Bell to celebrate the country's bicentennial.

"He got it in his mind he was going to build it and he did. So we just let him do it,'' said Larry Germann, who served on the Milan City Council at the time.

Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich came to Milan to dedicate the bell, and the community's bicentennial celebration turned into a big deal, with a parade featuring 125 floats.

One problem with the bell: "It was supposed to last six months,'' said Gary Kleven, son of the original builder.

How the original bell—made of wire mesh and plywood—lasted 40 years is a story in itself.

How the town replaced it is another story, and what it says about Milan today is an even better story.

"It's a symbol of Milan,'' said Mayor Ron Anderson when speaking about the new bell that stands on the town's triangle on the end of Main Street.

When Gary Kleven told the Milan City Council last winter that the town's bell was literally crumbling, Anderson volunteered to raise funds for its replacement. Billy Thompson, longtime resident and keeper of the town's history, joined Anderson and in a couple of weeks raised over $5,000 for its replacement.

The donations for the new bell came from a wide variety of sources. They included what Anderson called a generous contribution from the town's Micronesian community, which numbers over 200, or roughly one-half and better of the town's overall population.

Many from the Micronesian community were on hand Thursday, as the city of Milan hosted a celebration to dedicate the new bell. The Micronesian residents gathered around the bell to snap photos of one another with it. And then, they gathered on the triangle to perform songs from their home island in the Micronesian state of Chuuk.

There was no parade for this bell's dedication, but there were two "floats.'' An authentic outrigger canoe built on Guam stood next to a Sons of Norway float of a Viking ship. The outrigger is the property of Vince Diaz, who is teaching this year at the University of Minnesota, said Michael Elias, a Micronesian resident of Milan.

After the Pacific island songs, the dedication ceremony featured music by the Milan Community Band.

Mayor Anderson pointed with pride as the Micronesians gathered around the new bell.

"See, they are taking ownership,'' he said. "What I like about this is they are taking ownership in their community.''

The mayor told those who had gathered that Milan has reason to celebrate. In a time when many small towns are losing population and aging, Milan is enjoying the benefits of the influx of working families from Micronesia with young children. The community also has a growing Hispanic population, likewise helping to make this a community filled with the laughter of children.

The mayor said the town has its challenges, citing affordable housing as among the first.

But he also noted that the town is doing well in terms of how the "new" and "old'' residents get along. There is more inter-mingling occurring as everyone gets to know one another, he said.

The Milan City Council currently includes an appointed, ex-officio representative from the Micronesian community. It's an opportunity to increase communication and involvement, he added.

The new bell dedicated Thursday includes a metal frame built by the town's blacksmith, Richie Adolph, a stucco covering and is set atop a cement slab. "We did it correctly,'' said Anderson, adding that it should last a long time into the future.

The time might be needed to find the city's time capsule that had been interred during the 1976 celebration. After digging and probing dozens of holes, it could not be located and opened for the dedication ceremony as hoped.

When it is found, said Anderson, the time capsule might be Milan's own version of the Vikings Runestone. The artifacts from 1976 will seem so far removed and different from the version of Milan now taking shape, he explained.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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