Passion, resilience, creativity: this is the spirit of White Bear Lake.
If a community is only as special as the people that call it home, White Bear Lake is in a league of its own. And while our Best of 2022 readers’ choice survey draws attention to many of the businesses and organizations that help this place thrive, there can only be so many categories and winners! So, let’s take a moment to recognize a few more local gems that embody the spirit of White Bear Lake.
Linking our communities through safe trails
Making a difference is a relentless pursuit. And for those who know Steve Wolgamot, it’s clear that his dedication and tenacity have made an impact in the White Bear Lake area.
A fixture of the Mahtomedi community, Wolgamot has served on various boards and foundations, including the Lake Links Association, a group focused on bringing the Lake Links Trail Network—a safe, 10-mile walking and biking loop around White Bear Lake—to fruition.
As one of the association’s founders, Wolgamot helped to pull $7.87 million in funding into the area between 2017–2021 by advocating for the project in all levels of government.
“[Wolgamot] is a unique blend of technical and art, compassion and community, a renaissance man,” says Mike Brooks, Wolgamot’s friend and Lake Links chair. “If asked, he would most likely say his involvement in Lake Links Association is for his grand-children and future generations of kids—that we should all have the right to feel safe.”
In honor of Wolgamot’s contributions, the Mahtomedi City Council co-named the city’s segment of the Lake Links Trail “Wolgamot Way” in April 2021. Wolgamot was also selected as the 2021 J. Stanley and Doris Hill Legacy Award recipient, which honors a local deserving individual committed to lifelong community service. And last June, the Greater White Bear Lake Community Foundation established the Wolgamot Lake Links Trail Enhancement Fund to secure the future prosperity of the community trail.
Every local hero has a catchphrase, and Wolgamot’s has always been (at least to the Lake Links Association board) “We Will Get This Done,” says Brooks. Maybe that’s why, if you ask around town, you’ll soon find the well-known Rosie the Riveter poster altered with Steve’s head (red bandana, biceps and all) under the familiar slogan, “We Can Do It.”
“Steve has one of the best senses of humor,” Brooks says. “He just thought that was great.”
In January of 2021, not long after receiving word that funding for the last segments of Lake Links was secured, Wolgamot was diagnosed with brain cancer. While we were not able to speak with him for this piece, his children, Megan Malvey and Doug Wolgamot, offered the following, “In addition to all he has done for our community, we think he has earned a ‘best of’ award in the categories of dad, grandpa, husband, brother, friend and neighbor. We are so proud of him, and we love him so much!”
Building a brighter tomorrow through creative expression
How can children make a difference in their community? This is the question Children’s Performing Arts (CPA) seeks to answer in its signature “Spotlight on a Cause” production, hosted at Hanifl Performing Arts Center each summer.
“Growing up I didn’t understand how I could … give back to the community we live in,” says Sharon Hanifl-Lee, board chair and senior advising director at CPA. “I want the students that we work with to know that they have a voice in this world and that they can make a difference.”
Hanifl-Lee says the program, now in its fifth year, aims to build confidence and passion in students by helping them become informed on topics that impact their community.
“Spotlight on a Cause is really cool because we still get to put on a play, but we also get to learn about issues that are effecting us as students today … and bring awareness to a cause,” says Hanifl-Lee’s daughter Maddox Lee, 17, who has been performing with CPA for 12 years.
Each year brings a new production and a new cause. Past shows have covered topics such as addiction, dyslexia and the global water crisis. For the 2022 production, Pippin, students in grades nine–12 will focus on the cause of mental health.
“In our society right now, mental health is so prevalent, and our students are going through so much, especially coming off the pandemic,” says Hanifl-Lee. In this year’s show, the protagonist, Pippin, is seen dealing with insecurity and thoughts of suicide. Through conversation with experts while rehearsing difficult scenes, students are taught to understand and empathize with another’s struggles.
“What better way to have students put themselves in somebody’s shoes?” Hanifl-Lee says.
Performances of Pippin will occur at Hanifl Performing Arts Center from August 11–19. For more information, visit childrensperformingartsmn.org.
Spreading the polar bear love
Medicine Chest Pharmacy is so much more than just a small-town pharmacy. In over 85 years of business, the downtown White Bear Lake staple has cemented themselves as a stop for locals and tourists alike under a fitting alias: “The Polar Bear Store.”
From ceramic figurines and ornaments to custom polar bear clothing, Medicine Chest’s expansive inventory of bear merchandise over the decades played an important role in solidifying the polar bear symbol in local legend.
“At this point, [polar bear merchandise] takes up at least half, if not more, of our gift space,” says store manager Lindsay Schlichting.
When Twin City Nursery closed its doors in 2014, Medicine Chest’s former owner purchased the company’s polar bear molds. And now, the neighborhoods of White Bear Lake are a stomping ground for bears of all shapes and sizes.
The statues found at Medicine Chest are the real deal: solid concrete, painted and coated to be weather resistant year-round. They come in a variety of sizes, with the biggest weighing in at about 600 lbs.
“They pretty much sell themselves,” Schlichting says. “The polar bear has just become this iconic symbol of White Bear Lake. It’s nice to be able to reflect that in our store.”
That such a pharmacy has been able to survive—and thrive—as larger chain stores pop up is a testament to its importance to the community. Despite challenges during COVID-19, including supply chain issues and rising concrete pricing, the Polar Bear Store is still going strong.
“We are a small, independent business, so to be able to continue to bring people into White Bear Lake and help spread that sense of pride for the town …. I mean that’s why we all work here,” Schlichting says. “It all ties into pride for the town we live in.”
Preserving the spirit of White Bear Lake
Sometime in 1857, before the founding of Minnesota, a hot air balloon soared through the sky above a clear, blue lake. Its pilot became enamored with the area, deciding then and there to build a cottage on its shores. And he did.
In the decades that followed, White Bear Lake became a gathering place—a resort town that drew people from near and far. And the adventurer and many of his descendants continued to call the town home.
“It’s just kind of intriguing to me,” says Sara Markoe Hanson, the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society and the hot air balloon pilot’s great-great-granddaughter. “There’s just something about the lake that … has drawn people to it for centuries.”
In an area with such a rich history, there’s nothing more important than documenting the stories that define us. And since 1970, the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society has done just that. What once began as an initiative to preserve the Fillebrown House evolved into so much more.
“Our mission is essentially to connect our community to its past,” says Markoe Hanson. “We try to do that by collecting the history, preserving and saving it, then sharing it in whatever ways we can.”
The historical society services the five municipalities that touch the lake: Birchwood, Dellwood, Mahtomedi, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. Markoe Hanson refers to these distinct areas as siblings. “They come from the same place, but they have very different personalities and approach[es],” she says.
Along with ongoing initiatives to promote learning and help residents engage with and understand their history, the historical society has embarked on many larger projects. In 2015, it was saving the White Bear Town Hall. In 2020, the historical society celebrated its 50th anniversary with a goal to document and share 50 community stories. In 2021, they began offering free, virtual programs on a variety of local historical topics.
And all throughout, the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society has continued to foster the area’s spirit of community through education and opportunity.
“One of my favorite things is just really connecting with people on that history and what it means to them,” says Markoe Hanson. “There’s never an end to the stories we can tell … and that’s really what keeps us going.”