Library Wins Environmental Initiative Award for Nature-Smart Partnership

Renovated in 2014, Sun Ray Library is changing the way the community thinks about literacy, environmental stewardship, and youth leadership

The Saint Paul Public Library was honored on May 26 at the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards Ceremony for its unique partnership with the Children & Nature Network making Sun Ray Library a community hub of nature learning and recreation. Completely renovated in 2014 in a public/private partnership with funds from The Friends’ capital campaign, A New Legacy of Learning, Sun Ray Library transformed both its physical environment and programming to serve as a place for families to learn and engage with nature.

“Collaboration isn’t always easy. This project is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished for our environment, for our youth, and for Minnesota families when we choose to work together,” said Environmental Initiative’s Executive Director, Mike Harley.

To realize the goals of the project—to increase the community’s engagement with nature—the library worked with the Children & Nature Network to convene more than 60 civic, business, education and youth leaders, as well as residents of the library’s Conway Park neighborhood, for a series of community meetings. The purpose of these meetings was to generate ideas for transforming the Sun Ray Library and adjacent Conway Park into a nature-rich community hub. The resulting community environmental action plan produced several notable outcomes for the community:

  • The library now has 18 Nature Adventure Backpacks on different themes with a variety of environmental tools, activities, fiction and non-fiction books, being checked out by children and families for nature-based education and engagement
  • Library staff now run 48 environmental activities for youth that address 12 themes
  • “Story Walks” (story pages on stakes throughout the park) are inspiring families to read from the library doors along the park trail to further develop the connection between outdoor and indoor spaces.
  • Ten volunteers from the Young Mentors Group attended a 2-day leadership training program to develop a plan for a Natural Leaders Legacy Camp where 50 regional youth will be trained as Twin Cities Natural Leaders
  • A pollinator garden was installed and is being maintained on library land in partnership with the University of Saint Thomas, Wells Fargo Bank, and Urban Roots

“We’re used to thinking of reading and learning as something we do inside,” said Rebecca Ryan, library manager. “Our natural library is connecting young people and families to the outdoors in a really unique way by pairing the imagination of reading with exploration in nature.”

Through the project, local elected officials have become more aware of the importance of green space to the community, Conway Park has increased its tree canopy, the library grounds now boast a thriving pollinator garden, and the Sun Ray Library has outreach tools for environmental education and engagement with youth and families. Because of community involvement in this project, there is a continuing commitment by city and community organizations to tree planting and pollinator garden support, as well as momentum toward an overall master plan for Conway Park. Beyond its local impact, the project has proven to be a viable national model for engaging diverse urban communities in library-based greening and educational efforts.

Project Partners

  • City of Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Children & Nature Network
  • Urban Roots
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Wells Fargo
  • National Geographic
  • Lawal Scott Erickson Architects Inc.
  • Plum Landing: WGBH/PBS Kids
  • Sun Ray Young Mentor’s Group
  • St. Thomas University

The Environmental Initiative Awards are presented by the Environmental Initiative, nonprofit organization that builds partnerships among leaders from business, nonprofits, government, academia and more, to share ideas and diverse perspectives on pressing environmental issues, and develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems. Started in 1994, the Awards annually honor innovative projects that have achieved extraordinary environmental results by harnessing the power of partnership.

A New Legacy of Learning was launched in 2011, and successfully completed in 2015.  The City of Saint Paul contributed $7 million in public funds and The Friends raised $7.4 million in private funds, for a total of $14.4 million for the Sun Ray, Highland Park, and George Latimer Central Library renovations.

Trotskyists on Trial with Donna Haverty-Stacke (2016 Untold Stories)

Seventy-five years ago, 29 unionists and working-class socialists were prosecuted and labeled as dangerous revolutionaries by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Justice Department under the newly passed anti-radical Smith Act. Most were members and officers of the militant Minneapolis Teamsters Union that lead the historic 1934 truckers strikes. In Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR, Donna Haverty-Stacke tells the story of how these strikers were imprisoned, and how the Smith Act was later invalidated by the Supreme Court. Haverty-Stacke is an Associate Professor of History at Hunter College, New York.

The Iron Range: Past, Present & Future (2016 Untold Stories)

Recorded on Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Iron Range has always held a special place in Minnesota’s labor history and lore. Now the future of the Range seems uncertain. The authors of two recent books give us a great opportunity to grapple with the connections between past, present, and future. Megan Marsnik is the author of the novel Under Ground, which centers around the roles of women in the miners’ strike of 1916. She teaches high school in Minneapolis. Marsnik is joined by Jeffrey Manuel, Associate Professor of Historical Studies at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and author of Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915-2000. The authors will participate in a conversation and reading moderated by Peter Rachleff of the East Side Freedom Library.


Elmer Smith and the Wobblies with Tom Copeland (Untold Stories 2016)

In his book, The Centralia Tragedy of 1919: Elmer Smith and the Wobblies, Tom Copeland, Macalester graduate and lawyer, tells the tale of Elmer Smith, also a Macalester graduate and lawyer. At the end of the Armistice Day Parade of 1919 in Centralia, Washington, Legionnaires, veterans, and others hostile to the Industrial Workers of the World, marched on the IWW union hall intending, again, to run the radicals out of town. The Wobblies knew of the plan and, on the advice of Elmer Smith, defended themselves and their hall. The attack began, the Wobblies fought back, four Legionnaires died, and three others were seriously injured. Later the Legionnaires lynched one of Wobblies. Twelve Fellow Workers and Elmer Smith were indicted for murder for one of the Legionnaire deaths. The jury acquitted Smith, but most of the others went to prison. Elmer Smith spent the rest of his life fighting, both in and out of court, for workers’ rights and for the freedom of his codefendants. Despite being jailed, ostracized, and disbarred, Elmer Smith never gave up the struggle. This is a story not often told but it needs to be heard by all those interested in the struggle to secure the rights of workers. 

Catherine Madison (2016 Fireside Reading Series)

Catherine Madison closes the Fireside Series with a reading from The War Came Home with Him, which tells the stories of two survivors of one man’s war: a father who withstood a prison camp’s unspeakable inhumanity and a daughter who withstood the residual cruelty that came home with him.
Doc Boysen died fifty years after his ordeal, his POW experience concealed to the end in a hidden cache of documents. In The War Came Home with Him, Madison pieces together the horrible tale these papers told—of a young captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps captured in July 1950, beaten and forced to march without shoes or coat on icy trails through mountains to camps where North Korean and Chinese captors held him for more than three years. As the truth about her father’s past unfolds, Madison returns to a childhood troubled by his secret torment to consider, in a new light, the telling moments in their complex relationship.

Journalist Madison was editor-in-chief of Utne Reader, senior editor at Adweek and Creativity Magazine, founding editor of American Advertising, and editor-in-chief of Format Magazine. She has written articles for many publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Star Tribune, and Minnesota Monthly.

William D. Green Wins the 2016 Hognander Minnesota History Award

Augsburg history professor William D. Green wins the 2016 Hognander Minnesota History Award for his book Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865–1912.

We are pleased to announce William D. Green as the winner of the 2016 Hognander Minnesota History Award for his book Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865–1912, published in 2015 by University of Minnesota Press. This biennial award, supported by the Hognander Family Foundation, recognizes and celebrates the most outstanding scholarly work published in the previous two years on a topic of Minnesota history. The award was last presented to Gwen Westerman and Bruce White in 2014 for Mni Sota Makoce, The Land of the Dakota. Mary Lethert Wingerd won the inaugural award in 2012 for North Country: The Making of Minnesota.

Spanning the half-century after the Civil War, Degrees of Freedom draws a rare picture of black experience in a northern state and of the nature of black discontent and action within a predominantly white, ostensibly progressive society. Green reveals little-known historical characters among the black men and women who moved to Minnesota following the Fifteenth Amendment and delves into the delicate balance of power between black activists and our progressive white society. Within this absorbing, often surprising, narrative we meet “ordinary” citizens, like former slave and early settler Jim Thompson and black barbers catering to a white clientele, but also personages of national stature, such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois, all of whom championed civil rights in Minnesota. And we see how, in a state where racial prejudice and oppression wore a liberal mask, black settlers and entrepreneurs, politicians, and activists maneuvered within a restricted political arena to bring about real and lasting change.

A professor of history at Augsburg College and the former superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, William D. Green is also the author of A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837-1869. He has published many pieces on history and law, including work in Minnesota History and The Journal of Law and Politics, as well as editorials in the Star Tribune.

The Hognander Minnesota History Award stems from the Hognander family’s belief in the importance of studying and preserving history. As Joe Hognander notes, “We established this award because of our relationship with the Minnesota Historical Society. Its commitment to excellence is noteworthy in promoting scholarly research and writing. We hope this award will inspire more such activity by recognizing and rewarding the finest work in this field.”

Green will be honored on Saturday, April 16, at the 28th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony at Saint Paul’s Union Depot. Awards will also be presented in eight book categories, as well as the annual Book Artist Award and Kay Sexton Award. Tickets are on sale now.

For more information on the Minnesota Book Awards, visit, or call 651-222-3242.

About the Minnesota Book Awards:
The Minnesota Book Awards is a statewide, year-round program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library that supports readers and writers statewide, moving beyond the book, into the community. The program was created in 1988 by The Friends and other organizations as a part of the Festival of the Book. In 2012, The Friends was designated the Minnesota Center for the Book—the state affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. To learn more about the Minnesota Book Awards and the Center for the Book, please visit

Anton Treuer (2016 Fireside Reading Series)

Ojibwe historian and linguist Anton Treuer presents his latest work, Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe, a fascinating history which offers not only a chronicle of the Red Lake Nation but also a compelling perspective on a difficult piece of U.S. history.

The Red Lake Nation has a unique and deeply important history. Unlike every other reservation in Minnesota, Red Lake holds its land in common—and, consequently, the tribe retains its entire reservation land base. The people of Red Lake developed the first modern indigenous democratic governance system in the United States, decades before any other tribe, but they also maintained their system of hereditary chiefs. The reservation is also home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in the state.

Warrior Nation covers four centuries of the Red Lake Nation’s forceful and assertive tenure on its land. Treuer conducted oral histories with elders across the Red Lake reservation, learning the stories carried by the people. And the Red Lake band has, for the first time, made available its archival collections, including the personal papers of Peter Graves, the brilliant political strategist and tribal leader of the first half of the twentieth century, which tell a startling story about the negotiations over reservation boundaries.

Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, is the author of Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask and twelve other books on Ojibwe history and language. Warrior Nation is a finalist for the 28th Annual Minnesota Book Awards, a nominee for the Hognander Minnesota History Award.

Erika Lee (2016 Fireside Reading Series)

In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.

Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.Lee is the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants who entered the United States through both Angel Island and Ellis Island. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. She teaches history at the University of Minnesota, where she is also the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History and Director of the Immigration History Research Center.


Beth Dooley (2016 Fireside Reading Series)

In Winter’s Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland

Coming from her native New Jersey, Beth Dooley had a lot of preconceptions about the Midwestern food scene. As she explored farmer’s markets and the burgeoning co-op scene in the Twin Cities, these assumptions faded and she eventually discovered a local food movement strong enough to survive the toughest winter.

Through In Winter’s Kitchen, Dooley shares her journey of coming to know and be an integral part of the Heartland food community. From the husband and wife who run one of the largest organic farms in the region to Native Americans harvesting wild rice, and from award-winning cheesemakers to Hmong immigrant farmers growing the best sweet potatoes in the country, a rich ecosystem of farmers, artisanal producers, and restaurateurs comes richly to life in this fascinating book, demonstrating that even in a place with a short growing season, food grown locally and organically can be healthy, community-based, environmentally conscious, and—most of all—delicious.

Beth Dooley has been involved with the local food movement for over twenty years. She is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks about Heartland food traditions and her travel and food writing has been featured in the Star Tribune, Fine Cooking, Delta Sky Magazine, and the North American Review. She is also regularly a featured guest on MPR’s Appetites with Tom Crann.

Rick Shefchik (2016 Fireside Reading Series)

This behind-the-scenes, up-close-and-personal account relates how a handful of Minnesota rock bands erupted out of a small Midwest market and made it big, covering Augie Garcia and Bobby Vee to The Trashmen and the Castaways. Through interviews with many of the key musicians, combined with extensive research and a phenomenal cache of rare photographs, Everybody’s Heard about the Bird reveals how this monumental era of Minnesota rock music in the 1960s evolved.

Shefchik spent almost thirty years in daily journalism, mostly as a critic, reporter, and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is the author of From Fields to Fairways: Classic Golf Clubs of Minnesota, among other nonfiction and fiction works, and has been in several working bands as a guitarist and singer.