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Visitors revel in 125th activities

It was a white and neon green '97 Cavalier that caught Don Jorgenson's eye as he scanned the dozens of cars lined up for the Main Street car show.

Jorgenson brought his own '53 Ford Custom Line to Saturday's car show in Mills, and said it received quite a bit of attention, despite its unrestored state. New York Mills' 125th birthday party drew throngs of auto enthusiasts, food vendors, and curious spectators of all ages into the city's main corridor.

"We had a very good turnout," Jorgenson says of the car show. "I'd say 75 to 100 cars at least."

Even though it was the car show that brought him to Mills on Saturday, Jorgenson says he's no stranger to the city of New York Mills. He frequently drives through the town, but also makes sure to stop in every once in awhile.

"I do a little shopping here and there," he admits. "I try to help all these little communities survive."

For Wadena native Terri Spencer and her four kids, it was the fireworks that drew them to the city on Saturday afternoon. Her two boys said they were also fired up to see the old cars.

"I thought I'd bring my kids out here to have some fun," Spencer said, while seated with her family at a picnic bench, enjoying some of the snacks served up by area vendors.

It was a much longer journey to Mills for John and Melba Hensel, but the 125th parade and festivities were not something they were willing to miss. Melba (Majava) Hensel graduated from New York Mills High School with the Class of 1963.

The Hensels live in the Twin Cities, but make it up to New York Mills at least once or twice a year. This trip, they spent the weekend at the Whistle Stop Bed & Breakfast. Melba Hensel was involved in the Friday night parade in Mills, representing the Class of '63 on a float. Her classmates also organized an informal get-together to coincide with the city's 125th.

"Eighteen out of 51 classmates showed up for the gathering," Hensel reported. "A lot of these people are returnees who've moved back to the area."

She said one couple came from Florida, and another from Arizona, just to take part in the festivities. John Hensel, a Wisconsin native, said he found himself welcome in Mills, despite his status as an "outsider."

At their informal gathering, the classmates held a cook-out, reminisced about memories of growing up in the area, and decorated their float for the parade. As they reflected on their high school experience, someone brought up the story that the school board thought the Class of '63 was the worst class ever.

"We decided we thought the Class of '62 was the worst," Hensel said with a laugh, detailing some of the Class of '62's more deviant acts.

On Saturday afternoon, Hensels spent some time in downtown Mills, reminiscing about the city's history with Brad and Christy Morgan. The Morgans moved to Mills a year ago, and Melba is Christy's aunt.

"When I graduated, the high school was still an old building--now it's not there anymore," Hensel tells the Morgans. She says the reconstruction of City Hall was another big change. Back in her high school days, the teenagers would go roller skating there.

While some businesses have stayed the same over the decades, most of the Main Street shops have changed. However, Hensel sees them all as an integral part of the community of New York Mills, drawing in people from the surrounding areas.

"Especially in today's economy, New York Mills is thriving because the town is diverse and doesn't just depend on agriculture," comments Hensel. "Small towns can't depend on their rural economy to support them."

She sees the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center as having a profound impact on the community, fostering many fun projects. The Hensels also credit Lund Boats for the company's role in helping to shape Mills as a thriving business community. They took advantage of the tours the facility gave during the 125th weekend, and said they were very impressed with what they saw.

While parading down the corridors of Mills on a float with her classmates, Hensel mentions being struck with the significance of her hometown. "A lot of us have been a lot of different places, even overseas," she says, "yet we all came from this little place."