Rondo Days founder stepping down for new missions: first, a busy plaza

Many African-American church choirs rehearse on Tuesdays.

And that’s the night of the week Marvin Anderson hopes to invite St. Paul churches to share hallelujahs in a commemorative park plaza overlooking Interstate 94.

The plaza, which will be located at Concordia Avenue and Fisk Street in the city’s Summit-University neighborhood, hasn’t been constructed despite nearly three years of planning, but that hasn’t stopped Anderson from coming up with programming ideas.

He’s talking to Bloomington-based HealthPartners about staffing an outdoor diabetes clinic.

He’s talking to schools about chess club demonstrations. He’s talking to artist groups about spoken-word performances. He wants a yo-yo show. Yes, a yo-yo show.

“I was a neighborhood Duncan yo-yo champion,” said Anderson proudly.

Anderson, 77, a former state law librarian, took it upon himself 34 years ago to co-found the annual Rondo Days celebration with his lifelong friend, former Central High School coach Floyd Smaller, to honor the legacy of the historically black St. Paul neighborhood all but demolished by construction of I-94 in the 1950s and ’60s.

In the first 20 years of interstate highway construction across the country, an estimated 1 million people were displaced, many of them low- to moderate-income people of color.

St. Paul, which had a growing black middle class, was hit especially hard.

In a nod to history, five days of events, from senior suppers to the Frank Adams 5K Walk and Run, culminate with the annual Rondo Days parade and festival on Saturday. New this year, the Hallie Q. Brown Center will host outdoor music and events for community elders, age 55 plus, on Saturday afternoon.

For Anderson, adding more events to honor neighborhood elders feels like the right way to wrap things up. Next year will be his last as an event organizer. He’s got a legacy to consider — not just his own, but that of Rondo.

At an appreciation breakfast Wednesday morning, Rondo Avenue Inc. will recognize six volunteers and political and civic leaders who have championed the creation of the commemorative plaza. They are: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle, Hallie Q. Brown’s executive director Jonathan Palmer, 3M executive Kim Price, former St. Paul NAACP leader Nathaniel Khaliq, and lifelong Rondo resident Marion Jones Kennon. Kennon, in the 1970s, organized a St. Paul chapter of the Links, an international charitable society made up of women of color.

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