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Youth is Served in Saint Joseph
By Marisa Helms
November 14, 2000
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Election 2000 brought several surprises, and not just on the national level. For the first time in its history, voters in the central Minnesota city of Saint Joseph elected the youngest and least experienced candidate on the ballot for mayor. Voters also elected the mayor-elect's roommate to a city council seat.

Kyle Schneider (left) and Larry Hosch (right) agree the relationship between the students and the city needs to change.
LARRY HOSCH AND KYLE SCHNEIDER are in their early 20s; they're eager, anxious and confident they can make Saint Joseph a better city. They are also friends, and roommates who have no political experience. Kyle Schneider says the idea of running for local office emerged from late-night discussions at Sal's, the bar he works in.

"All the sudden it became every night, two, three hour talks about the issues and how upset we are," he says.

Those talks turned into lawn signs, door knocking, and 9,000 flyers. It was a get-out-the-vote blitz that worked, particularly with students. There was an overwhelming turnout of student voters from the College of Saint Benedict, a small liberal arts college and monastery with a campus population of more than 2,000. The college is a centerpiece to the town of St Joseph, with 5,000 residents. But relations between the students and long-time residents have been strained over the years.

"There's concern in the community that the students are taking over," says Kay Wolsborn, a political science professor at the College of Saint Benedict. "There's always been that potential because there are a number of students in the community of St. Joseph. They haven't been mobilized to this extent before around capturing control of the city government, and they have this time, so this is an opportunity for the students and community to come together. It's also possible that that won't happen. I hope they don't polarize from each other. That would be a shame."

Saint Joseph's newest politicians agree the relationship between the students and the city needs to change. In fact, it was a key campaign issue for them.

Mayor-elect Larry Hosch says students complain to him that they're stereotyped as "partiers," and don't feel welcome in the city.

"A lot of students are frustrated. When they voice their concern, they feel they're not being listened to, and that their opinions aren't really valued. That just adds more frustration and animosity between the two groups in town. That's something I really want to work on. It's something that can be improved, and I think it will benefit not just students, but residents," Hosch says.

Before they're able to effect much change or bring more harmony to the city, Councilmember Schneider acknowledges they'll have to overcome the skepticism of many of the city's long-time residents.

"We have to prove to people that we can do this, that we can do a good job at it. Some people are concerned, but we'll have to go in and do the best job, prove to the whole city that we can do the job," Schneider says.

That will mean tackling the business of government. Issues facing St. Joseph include fiscal management, managed growth, a new community center, and a proposed annexation of Saint Wendell Township.