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Pick a weekday, around 9 a.m., and you’ll find a group of retirees gathered around a few tables in the Dakota Square food court, enjoying a cup of coffee, telling stories, and solving the world’s problems.
But eight or nine days of the year, you’ll find the same guys at one of the five “Welcome to Minot” signs on the city’s edges, mowing, pulling weeds, telling stories, and solving the world’s problems.
The group began taking care of the city’s “Welcome to Minot” signs more than 10 years ago. It all started because Henry Milkey, the unofficial and self-appointed spokesman/president of the group, doesn’t like the sight of weeds.
“It seemed like after the City spent the money to put up these signs, nobody was in charge of taking care of them. So I started stopping by and pulling weeds,” Milkey said. “I talked to the City, and asked if our little group could take care of the signs. The City said sure. Our group members thought it was a great project for us to tackle.”
Besides Milkey, the dedicated group includes Terry Hjelmstad, Rod Romine, Duane Brekke, Terry Zeltinger, Bob Sundberg, Pat Schmitt, Ernie Medalen, Larry Wahlund, John Doering, Garry Huber, Roger Backus, Dale Mattern, Keith White, Pat McNally, Ron Hansen, Jack Nybakken, and Dick Westlake.
The group mows around the signs eight or nine times a year, in addition to pulling weeds and doing any other necessary simple maintenance. It’s a chance to give back to their community, to continue the decades of volunteer service and civic pride the group members have exhibited throughout their lives.
Just as important, taking care of the signs is also a welcome opportunity to do something together, as a group. Working together on the project is another way for the group members to stay in touch with each other, to further cement their already strong bond.
When the group first took on the project, Milkey said he was pulling old mowers out of the trash and fixing them up. He knew there had to be a better way.
“They were all push mowers, and at our age, that gets a little tough,” he said. “We knew we needed some help, and we’ve been very lucky to have support from businesses and the City.”
Because of that support, the group now uses 10 self-propelled mowers that were paid for and donated by The Grand Hotel, Don Bessette Motors, First International Bank, First Western Bank, Thompson-Larson Funeral Home, I Keatings, Kevin Connole, Harley’s Arrowhead Standard and Ron LaCount, and two from the City of Minot.
The City of Minot keeps the mowers in storage, and supplies the gas and maintenance for the machines. “We have a great relationship with the City,” Milkey said. “They’ll do just about anything for us, and we’re just happy that we can do something in return for the City.”
The group takes care of five signs: near U.S. Highway 2 going to Surrey, U.S. Highway 52 going to Velva, U.S. Highway 83 going north to Minot Air Force Base, U.S. Highway 2 and 52 going to Burlington, and U.S. Highway 83 heading south to Bismarck.
“This is a great group of guys to work with. Everyone works together to get the job done,” Milkey said.