WHEATON, MN—There was a time when small towns were known for decency and traditional virtues. Such is clearly not the case for the flagrantly self-promoting village of Wheaton, MN. With its outdoor performing-arts series, new railroad museum, and freshly inaugurated county fair, Wheaton, MN, population 1,755, has shown that it will do anything for a little attention.
"Our town has grown some in recent years, which makes us proud," said Wheaton mayor and shameless civic booster Chet Ornblad. "Wheaton really is a special community, and a wonderful place to raise a family."
Debatable. In the late '90s, the town began to brazenly woo "commerce" and "nightlife" by spreading its figurative legs to lure anonymous outsiders to gauche events like the Midsummer Hoedown. What's more, observers in decent neighboring towns agree that the Wheaton Indoor Flea Market has been slathered in a shade of taupe that would be tawdry for a building half its age. Apparently, many residents have no idea how ridiculous they look.
"I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen as much hubbub as we've had recently," mother of two Penny Thorvaldsen said. "And did you see they covered our Watermelon Fest on EyeNews 12? I thought that was just super. Chet did a great job on that one. But I think I put away a bit too much melon that day."
The mid-June watermelon wallow is just one of many transparent grabs for the sort of attention any decent town would seek to avoid. Other orgies orchestrated by the Wheaton Pride Committee include River Day, the Walleye Fry, the Autumn Apple Pick & Cider Squeeze, and something called "Dandelion Daze" that is best left unexplained.
"Oh, Labor Day was some fun, yes sir," said Chamber Of Commerce president and prominent local grocer Roger Johnson, speaking of the parade in which everything—marching bands, floats, the retired police force orchestra—was thrust out there for the whole world to see. "Connie [Weymick] and the Pride Committee did up some real neat decorations, the Jaycees raised $2,000 for muscular dystrophy with their bratwurst cookout, and [Wheaton High School music teacher] Walter [Bosch] conducted the Glee Club in a medley of patriotic songs."
Johnson seemed to be willfully turning a blind eye toward the discomfiting spectacle that is a small town held rapt by its own misguided vanity—case in point, the holiday garlands wound like strumpets' legs around lampposts on Wheaton's main drag. Or, even worse, that God-awful bunting that just hanged off the dais during the Wheaton High School wrestling-team banquet last weekend.
"We like to cut a rug," Johnson added. "Our recent library fundraiser dance raised over $4,000 for a new periodical wing. I heard they were still going well past midnight."
The outrages continue. According to city-hall sources, after Wheaton gained ISO certification in September, the local government has been sporting an ISO logo on all its papers and official documents, like it's some kind of an honor.
Media whore Mayor Ornblad has given interviews on several local-news shows, and has even gone so far as to brazenly broadcast town-hall meetings on local cable-access Channel 4.
According to Johnson, Wheaton's been trawling for company in some unusual places.
"Wheaton recently introduced a website that provides potential visitors with a suggested itinerary," said Johnson, who seemed very comfortable with imparting intimate details on the World Wide Web. "Out-of-towners have said to me personally that our site is very helpful, and pointed out many interesting facts. Not very many towns of our size have their own ice rink, or a 70-year-old bandshell with its original aluminum exterior, for example. It feels good to let others know that."
Apparently, Wheaton exults in that sort of shameless notoriety.
"Wheaton's growth has not gone unnoticed nationally, either," panderer-in-chief Ornblad added. "Our Fall Hayride was featured in September's Travel Magazine as one of the top 20 little-known seasonal weekend getaways."
When asked his opinion of Wheaton's recent flowering, Clyde Heckert, mayor of nearby Rosholt, SD, gallantly took the high road.
"In the Midwest, we're starting to see a resurgence," Heckert said. "And like our farmers around here, the newcomers are bringing in a bountiful harvest of their own: jobs, revenue, and overall opportunity."
Asked what exactly he meant to imply when he said "bountiful harvest," Heckert demurred, in a show of modesty Wheaton would do well to emulate.