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Annual block party turns neighbors into friends

Ray Manisto looks over the tasty options at the potluck portion of the "Know Your Neighbor" block party last Thursday evening. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 4
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How do you get to know your neighbors? For Cliff Svedahl, the answer was to host a get-to-know-your-neighbor block party.

Svedahl moved to the 1000 block of Sahlman Avenue in 1971 but was busy with work and family. When he retired, Svedahl and his wife, Kay, realized there were neighbors on the block they had never even seen!

Svedahl had B&B Market cater what was to be the first of 13 block parties after he retired in 2001. The next few years, the Svedahls took donations to help defray the costs, then decided to switch to the always popular potluck-style party and the tradition continues to this day.

There are always bowls of colorful fresh fruit and favorite Midwest salads as well as fried chicken, cole slaw, baked beans and, of course, a variety of tasty chocolate bars for dessert.

Cliff and Kay and their neighbors Aleta and Ken Brule, Patrice and Gary Stevens and Jeff and Christina Isakson have joined together to keep the block party organized every year.

The group distributes its invitations, which are printed flyers, to include homes on/near Sahlman Avenue from Eighth through 12th streets in Cloquet.

"We make a point to find new neighbors," Isakson said.

As various neighbors arrived last Thursday evening, each was welcomed by Svedahl or another organizer with a name tag and a Sharpie pen. The size of the party varies from year to year, anywhere from 50-150.

Old neighbors are also invited. This year Scott and Linda Browers were in town visiting from Arkansas.

Since the first block party, the mostly retired neighbors have become friends, pulling the loose-knit neighborhood a little tighter.

Svedahl said he has noticed a change in the neighborhood that he attributes to the annual block parties.

"The neighbors are more apt to help each other now, we look out for each other," he said.

In the past the block party has been on a Sunday evening -- this year the group decided to try it on a perfect Thursday evening.

Stories flew around the table.

"When I got out of the hospital a few winters ago, there were three guys with snow blowers in my driveway," said one neighbor.

"We look out for each other when we are gone on vacation," chimed in another.

Snippets of conversation floated on the breeze from other tables: neighbors asking about kids, others noting there were no mosquitoes that night, camping anecdotes, and "Does anyone know why that house is so quiet this week?"

The only original homeowners on the block are Ray and Pat Manisto, who built their home in 1960.

"There wasn't even a road here," Ray said.

The quiet, tree-covered street consists mostly of homes built in the 1960s and is like stepping back in time to a friendlier era, a time when you knew which children went to which family, and the kids played outside until dark or when the call of supper brought them home. There are no rentals on this block -- everyone owns the home they live in.

"Bring yourselves and bring your company," said Jeff Isakson.