Outstanding Citizens, Business of the Year Announced
Earlier this month, the City of Columbia Heights announced its 2023 Outstanding Citizens of the Year (Adult and Youth) and its inaugural Business of the Year.
Mary Tholkes (2023 Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Adult), Roger Rogne (2023 Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Youth), and Rapid Graphics (Business of the Year) were presented with plaques at the June 12 City Council meeting. The two Outstanding Citizen of the Year honorees also participated in the 2023 Columbia Heights Jamboree parade.
Mary Tholkes, Adult Category
In her circle, she’s known as The Garden Lady. But now she has another title to go by.
Mary Tholkes, a Columbia Heights resident of more than 40 years, was recently named Columbia Heights’ 2023 Outstanding Citizen of the Year, adult category. She was selected by Mayor Amáda Márquez Simula and last year’s OCY winner Veronica Johnson from a group of submitted nominations.
Thirteen years ago, Mary established the community gardens at 40th and Jackson.
“That was the beginning of the housing crisis,” Mary said. “Quite a few houses had been torn down and turned into empty lots.”
She outlined a proposal and leveraged some partnerships to turn those abandoned lots into community gardens that now support up to 22 gardeners. Mary coordinates and oversees the use of the land while also tending to her own two garden plots where she grows and harvests between 500 and 1,000 pounds of produce every year. She donates all of it to the SACA Food Shelf.
Mary retired from her job at Wells Fargo shortly after starting the community garden project. Well over a decade later, she’s still going strong, but also keeping an eye out for a successor.
“I’ve started looking for someone to co-chair with me to teach them the ropes,” Mary said. “I’m no spring chicken anymore.”
People who want to join the waitlist for a community garden plot or who might be interested in volunteering as the new project coordinator or co-chair may call Mary directly at 763-202-0796.
“I’m honored. And I’m humbled,” Mary said of receiving the OCY award. She then repeated the sentiment that nearly every outstanding citizen winner share: “I don’t feel I do anything more than many other people do in the community.”
That’s maybe because she surrounds herself with other volunteers and community partners. In addition to her garden work, she chairs the outreach committee at Community United Methodist Church, organizes backpack food donations for children in need through the Every Meal program, and leads environmental education initiatives. She also recently spent five years volunteering for her church’s refugee resettlement program helping to support a single mom and her five children as they found their footing. That doesn’t even come close to covering all of it.
Mary summed up her community involvement philosophy in one sentence: “I just feel the need to leave the world a better place than when I came.”
We thank you for your service, Mary. Congratulations!
Roger Rogne, Youth Category
Roger Rogne, 16, has lived in Columbia Heights his whole life. He loves the City, he said, but that’s no reason to get complacent when it comes to making positive changes.
“This is a very accepting community,” Roger explained. “People from any background are welcomed in Columbia Heights. Though we still have a ways to go.”
This sense of purpose has pushed Roger to take part in several community programs and volunteer projects. It’s the reason he was nominated and selected to be the 2023 Outstanding Citizen of the Year in the youth category (ages 14-18).
At 15, Roger was among the founding 10 members of the Columbia Heights Youth Commission. In March of 2022, his fellow commissioners appointed him to be vice chairperson. They reelected him to the role at the start of the new term.
“I want to see more youth involvement in the community,” Roger said. “It’s one reason I joined the commission.”
In addition to his time on the Youth Commission, Roger volunteers to teach Sunday school two hours a week at First Lutheran Church. At the church, he also helps mentor LGBTQ youth, helped pass a formal resolution to increase more diversity and inclusion for marginalized groups, and volunteered with the church youth group to sort food donations for giveaway at SACA Food Shelf.
During the first Columbia Heights Pride Festival, Roger volunteered to scoop free ice cream for attendees. Last year, he was a vendor at the event, selling his homemade crafts. Roger is often seen crocheting bees and other little creatures he sells or gives away (see photo below).
Outside of Columbia Heights, Roger is the treasurer of the student council at Lionsgate Academy in Shoreview. At the school, he helps plan events, fundraisers, and youth leadership enrichment opportunities.
After graduation, he said he hopes to study art education in college and become a teacher.
Thank you for being so involved in your community, Roger. Congratulations!
Rapid Graphics is the City’s First ‘Business of the Year’!
This spring, the Columbia Heights’ Economic Development Authority reviewed a list of submitted nominees and selected locally-owned Rapid Graphics & Mailing to be the City’s first Business of the Year award recipient.
Rapid Graphics has been in the same location at Columbia Heights for 52 years. A lot has changed since its current owner, Warren Kapsner, purchased the business in 1985.
“We had a dark room and a huge cast iron camera about 10-feet long that weighed at least a ton,” Warren said. The camera would shoot negatives that would be used to burn images and text onto metal printing plates. Almost all prints were black and white. “Lots of chemicals. Typesetting, manual layout, design work. If we needed to print a photo, that was a major deal.”
In the mid-90s, Xerox digital printers became available and Rapid Graphics invested in one.
“That was the start of it,” Warren said. “Now we have seven digital printers. Now we can print anything.”
And they do. With a staff of five, Rapid Graphics runs print projects for local organizations and individuals as well as for major national companies, including Medtronic. Brochures, envelopes, photographs, books, newsletters, postcards, signs, you name it—and always from the same building on Central Avenue just north of 40th.
The business recently made headlines in the local papers and on KSTP 5 for its creative holiday display. Over the last three years, the November/December window display at Rapid Graphics has featured a three-dimensional diorama and collage of world religions and cultural groups with placards and designs representing Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, atheism, Judaism, LGBTQ groups, and BIPOC populations, to name a few.
“I wanted to bring a little more understanding, a little more history to these ideas and organizations,” Warren said. “You can build trust and friendship when you learn more about other groups and cultures, when you start understanding people better. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Congratulations, Rapid Graphics!
The Business of the Year Award will be an annual recognition like the Outstanding Citizen Award. Nominations for 2024 will be accepted starting this fall. Check back at www.columbiaheightsmn.gov for updates.