To begin, I will be sharing a poem I wrote one morning while tucked away in a corner at Backroads.
I hope these streets bring about young love
the kind that races shopping carts
attempting to fly
under a star covered summer night sky
I hope these streets bring about old love
the kind that walks hand in hand
eats ice cream
on sunday afternoons on park benches
I hope these streets bring about a mother’s love
the kind that looks down and smiles at their child
before entering the toy store
their heart set on picking out the perfect birthday present
I hope these streets bring about a father’s love
the kind that bends over to help you tie your shoe
tousles your hair a bit
tells you to tell your mother she looks beautiful today
these streets can bring about love
it’s only a matter of time
a matter of looking for it
knowing it exists in between the cracks of the sidewalk
I’m not sure if you’ve been told this lately or not, but I would like to remind you that there are dreamers here. Here in a small town in the northwoods of Wisconsin; dreamers exist. There are dreamers found in the shops run by family members throughout generations. There are dreamers working the night shift while their family sleeps soundly at home. There are dreamers that hold a hammer in their hand throughout most of their day. There are dreamers taking your order at your favorite hometown restaurant. There are dreamers that have owner in their job title but are the same ones taking out the trash at the end of the day.
There are dreamers taking care of your loved ones in hospital beds. There are dreamers standing in front of a classroom of students each and every day. There are dreamers here. Whether you believe it or not, everyone in this room is a dreamer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, big things can happen in a small town; but it’s going to take dreamers like you, the person sitting next to you and across from you, to help make it happen.
I’m also not sure if you’ve been told this lately either, but you are loved. You’re loved by more people than you’ll ever know. They might not always tell you it or they might not know how, but they truly love you and are your biggest fans cheering you on from the sidelines. They want to see you succeed, celebrate little victories sprinkled throughout your day, and your big victories like the day you first started your business or decided to change careers. Looking back, that was quite the leap of faith wasn’t it? But you somehow managed to pull it off and you’re probably doing better than you give yourself credit for.
You are loved even on your bad days. Whether you’re short on patience because your internet is out or you’re having staffing issues, the printer is giving you fits, or it’s been a slow time of year and you’re not sure how your bills are going to get paid. On those days, may you feel loved and supported by the fellow small business owners in this room here tonight. Knowing they are alongside you and that in order for a small town like Hayward to thrive, it takes everybody.
Mister Rogers said it best when he said, "We get so wrapped up in numbers in our society. The most important thing is that we are able to be one-to-one, you and I with each other at the moment. If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that's what's important."
Hayward is and has always been home to me. Venturing off to college aided my realization of just how special of a place Hayward truly is. As a kid living in a small town, you’d hear plenty of classmates utter the cliché of “I can’t wait to leave this town.” For most, it’s probably true. They dreamed of skyscrapers, high volumes of people, and perhaps a little less taxidermy in their restaurants. I get it. I’m sure everyone that hasn’t returned since graduating has had their good reasons.
However, Hayward has had a hold on me since I was a little kid chasing down foul balls in the parking lot at Somerville Field. The biggest reason I returned after college is because of the sense of community I feel each and every time I walk the streets of Hayward. When I first started dating my now wife, we would take walks around town. She once asked, “Do you wave at everyone?”
I believe a large part of obtaining that sense of community had to do with the support that I received from my parents. Folks, my mom had us Hessel kids signed up to volunteer at every event under the sun that was run in the Hayward area. We volunteered for everything from being pooper scoopers in the Musky Festival parade to handing out medals at the finish line of the American Birkebeiner. Were there times where I would have much rather have stayed at home? You bet. I didn’t know this at the time, but volunteering at these various events helped stir something up inside of me that created such a feeling of pride for my hometown. So thank you mom. And now, as adults, we still find ourselves volunteering for such events! This time at our own free will.
Side note, gosh, was it hard to get away with anything in this town with Stacey Hessel as your mother. One time, I tried to rent “Call of Duty” from Northwood’s Video and Tanning and the worker called my mom to make sure it was okay with her…it was not. I swear she had eyes and ears everywhere. Lord help if you went to the grocery store with her and you weren’t in a hurry. Mom, I love you, but sometimes it was tough to be patient.
My dad and my step-mom have also been pivotal in my appreciation for Hayward. My dad was always there to coach the Little League teams I was on with local businesses names written on the back of our caps. The time that he put in when it came to practicing route running, shooting baskets in the driveway, and hitting up at the field was instrumental and fostered a love for the games that I played. As time went on, nothing could compare to a Friday night spent under the lights at Rod Lundberg Field, or the smell of popcorn wafting through the air as the pep band played in a loud gym at RJS, or spitting seeds in dirt while playing at Somerville Field. Their backsides were in the bleachers at almost every one of those games. It meant the world to me to have them in the stands and supporting me. Even having them here tonight is very important to me, so thank you.
I also would be remiss if I didn’t thank my wife for trusting in me and in the Hayward area. Since she moved here back in June of 2021, you all have made her feel welcome. Thank you very much for that. If you haven’t heard the story of how we met, it’s about as small town as it gets when it comes to love stories. She’s been such a great supporter of everything that I do and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without her.
Throughout the years I have seen Hayward change. I’ve seen small changes like a new coat of paint going on the side of a business that’s been in the area for years. I’ve seen big changes like Pastika’s and the Co-op get demolished to make way for something new. Change is inevitable, they say, but how do we make change a positive thing in a small town? This comes back to those beloved dreamers. The changes that happen here in Hayward rest on your shoulders, my shoulders, our shoulders. What kind of community do we want to be remembered for?
I see Hayward being remembered for the kindness that is cultivated and spread throughout community events. Whether it’s the grand stage of world class events like the Birkie or the Lumberjack World Championships or smaller events like a fireworks show out on the lake or in town on the 4th of July. I see Hayward being remembered for respecting the past but not being okay with “well, this is the way it’s always been.” I see Hayward being remembered for being a community that works hard for what they have. Taking pride in their work and making an honest living. I see Hayward being remembered for making it through hard times and still finding a way to smile.
We all recognize the fact that things have been tough these past few years. Maybe you’re still in the thick of it, and I want to tell you that you are all champions in my book for continually showing up and doing the best that you can.
I see Hayward being remembered for taking care of its neighbors. Yes, the tourists and cabin owners are vital to our community, but we also have to continue to care for one another. Checking in on each other from time to time with it being more than “how are you?” and the response being “I’m living the dream.” This is something I have to work on as well. I know we have places to be and things to do, but the joys of living in a small town often stem from knowing our neighbors. Now sometimes we know more than we would like to in a small town, especially when it comes to gossip, but really getting to know our neighbors to the point of us being the first ones to lend a hand, make and share a meal, or give someone a ride is the backbone of a great community.
That is the type of community and small businesses that Hayward will be remembered for.
During the spring and summer of 2020, I would occasionally stand on the corner of 27 and 63 in town with a sign. It wasn’t anything more than a permanent marker message scribbled onto a piece of white poster paper I bought at the Dollar Tree. This corner spot is better known for being a place where political signs are held, but to be honest, I wanted nothing to do with that. I believe our political differences much too often have gotten in the way of us caring for one another. The reason why I stood on the corner with those different signs was to spread hope and encouragement where I could. At the time, I was a single guy living in my apartment on Company Lake Road and was tired of watching television shows and movies that were on my list or playing video games. Holding those different signs was a way for me to connect with people again. I needed those messages just as much as anyone. “You matter.” “You are enough.” “You’ve got this.” “You are capable of amazing things.” “You are somebody’s reason to smile.” “Be kind. Love more.” “Believe in yourself.” “Dream, try, do good.”
I’d like to end my speech tonight by saying this. I know Hayward isn’t perfect, but who would want to live in a perfect town anyways? What kind of story would that provide? Small towns across America are the underdogs. In most cases there are only a few chain restaurants, no big retail stores and it’s hard to get great cell phone reception everywhere you go. Well I don’t know about you, but I love rooting for an underdog team when it comes time for March Madness. I’ve been rooting for this town since I was old enough to throw on a Hurricane jersey and I will continue to root for it.
I continually pray for every boarded up vacant building to be filled with a dreamer with a new idea. I pray for the current businesses to thrive throughout the rough winter months and that they survive the chaos of the summer. Despite staffing shortages and supply issues, may they be granted a peace of mind when they close up shop for the night. I pray for the students coming from a broken family where they’ve witnessed drug addiction when they should be watching cartoons instead. I pray for the students with heightened expectations placed on them to succeed when all they are asking for is to be loved. I pray for families to make this place their home and to connect with their neighbors. I pray they come together for festivals and in times of grief. I pray for our law enforcement that they come home safely at night to their families. They’re the same ones you see at Little League games and in line at the grocery store. I pray for this community as we push towards progress. In this, I am praying for you. May we always keep rooting for this Cinderella town.
- Dalton Hessel