Mary Amundsen: We are all responsible for shaping the personality of Rochester

Sixty years ago, it was so much different than it is today.

Post Bulletin columnist Mary Amundsen June 9, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach /

In 1960, my husband enticed me to move here from Milwaukee, and after school in Chicago, with the description of a new mall called Miracle Mile. The population of this quiet town was 40,000.

He would be a student and Mayo offered some housing behind the current Crossroads mall of quonset huts. Those dead-end avenues -- 16th street didn't exist yet -- had houses which were rounded, prefabricated and erected after WWII for returning soldiers. Mayo was starting to build Homestead Village and later the quonset huts went to farmers as chicken coops.

However, for the year we lived in the hut it was several streets of young couples and children. We were up at the end in a two-bedroom house with a basement. It seemed such a quiet and friendly safe neighborhood until ... there was a new movie in town. My husband loved movies, so leaving our baby with a friend, we went.

Upon returning home we unlocked the door, stood in front of the basement door we both refused to open and slowly pulled back the shower curtain. Alfred Hitchcock's latest, "Psycho," totally undid us.

Two years later, when the required Army orders came and asked us where we wanted to be stationed we wrote, "Warmest place possible." Orders came, I ripped open the envelope and asked the mailman, "Where is Albuquerque, New Mexico?” Our years in this quiet friendly town were over for now.


Then came 1980. After the Army stint and then 16 years in Denver, we returned to Rochester. The population now was 60,000 and it didn't seem much different from before. Our teenage daughter said she felt like she had moved to "Happy Days." As parents of a teen, this was fine with us.

Now there was Apache Mall (even though we wondered how they picked that name) and several restaurants. We picked a house in woods as we had missed all those trees. For 10 years the town seemed about the same, but it was gradually welcoming Asians and others from around the world. IBM had started here in 1956 and was increasing its population also. Many, many cultures were making this an interesting city and neighborhoods.

That brings us to 2021. Now the population is almost 123,000. Rochester has grown 33% in the past 20 years. It is much more multicultural, but seems to struggle with defining its personality. How many old buildings have been torn down and what can we save? Who are we as a Midwestern medical city?

What do we want to be? Are we welcoming to those here with medical issues that by nature cause anxiety? We offer a world class medical center, and Mayo sees the most difficult problems. How do all those patients and families perceive us?

I try to be patient with drivers who are searching for an address or street, particularly if they have an out-of-state license plate. We are unique in so many ways, which calls on all of us to be welcoming. Giving a smile costs nothing but may improve the day for that very worried-looking person crossing the street or in the grocery. We are all responsible for creating the personality of this growing city.

Mary Amundsen, of Rochester, is a poet, tennis player, gardener and companion to her rescue dog Molly. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters,

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