Willmar is America: Local author pens town history in new book
WILLMAR — Despite being a town for almost 150 years, there has never been an official book detailing the town of Willmar. Our local history, preserved at the Kandiyohi County's Historical Society and the Willmar Public Library and in the family photo albums, has never been compiled into one accessible volume for people to learn about Willmar.
That is, until now.
"Willmar: Images of America" is a book recently published by Jason Grabinger that takes readers through the history of Willmar, from its humble beginnings as a home to Native Americans — along with one Swedish settler — to the town it is today. The book also demonstrates how Willmar, a town not often known outside the state of Minnesota, represents the evolution of America as a whole, transitioning from small settler societies of immigrants to the bustling towns and cities of today.
Although Grabinger is new to the area, his passion for Willmar resembles that of a longtime resident.
"The smaller community, very close-knit, and tradition and different stories, all of that represents Willmar. It's such a neat town, different from anywhere else I've lived," he said.
Originally from Jamestown, North Dakota, Grabinger and his family moved to Willmar after his wife accepted a job at Northern Radiator. Since the move, he has been enamored with the town and its unique history.
"We moved to Willmar about two years ago and when I got here one the first things I did was start researching the history of the town. And it just kind of morphed in this idea of 'Hey, why don't I write something?'" Grabinger said. "The little snippets of stories and the pictures that I was running into were just so unique and interesting that I was inspired."
The project took about 10 months from start to finish, including the intensive research, writing, editing and, finally, publication.
With four kids at home and a full-time job, Grabinger pieced the book together over late nights and any other spare time he could find. And those evening hours were often spent matching pictures with little to no details to more developed stories.
"There were some pictures that I found at the historical society that didn't really have any explanation but they were such great pictures that I would have to go look to see if I could find them, you know, to try and determine what the time was and what was happening in those pictures," he explained, giving credit to a number of local historians including Jill Wohnoutka and Bob Larson at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.
"Jill and Bob went through to help me to fact check and make sure all my information was accurate, and they caught a few things that could have been embarrassing, so I was very glad to have them," Grabinger said with a laugh.
As a history buff and an articulate writer, Grabinger felt his book was the perfect opportunity to combine both of his passions. And with the proud and rich history Willmar has, it was a challenge to distill the town's past into a 128-page book.
"The most difficult portion was deciding what to put in it. I had so much more that I would have loved to have included, but just for space reasons I had to pick and choose," he said, "and even the stories, some of the pictures especially or some of the people in the pictures, I could write chapters on. To narrow those stories down into one little caption was the hardest part."
Yet in time, Grabinger managed to do just that, capturing the essence of this Minnesota town in eight chapters: Willmar Begins, Willmar Works, Willmar PLays, Willmar Serves, Willmar Prays, Willmar Learns, Willmar Survives and Willmar Looks Ahead.
"Willmar: Images of America" unveils a detailed history of a rural Midwestern town, founded by immigrants and built upon their strength and tenacity. Through grasshopper plagues, the Great Depression, multiple wars, tornadoes, fires and numerous other adversities, Willmar has held on, steady in the hands of the people who call it home.
Grabinger believes people should understand the background of their town for two reasons.
"I think it's important to know your history, especially in the place you live. The first reason is that you can learn from past experiences. Also I hope that it builds some pride in people that weren't there because I hope that they can see just what a gem Willmar is and that they would be inspired to continue the tradition of making this a great place to live."