Winona, Minn., was abuzz last month to learn that award-winning actress Winona Ryder would star in a Super Bowl commercial shot on location here in the city of her birth. The ad was going to help put us on the map, we were told. Members of the community would appear in the commercial, but they had signed nondisclosure agreements and couldn’t discuss the details of the project.
On Jan. 9, several streets were closed downtown. Boom trucks with floodlights were set up, and local police directed traffic away from the set so that the commercial could be filmed.
The Winona it depicted is nothing like the Winona I know.
The commercial opens with Ms. Ryder lounging in a rural, roadside snowbank working on her laptop. A patrolman stops his squad car to find out what she is doing sitting in a snowbank on the side of the road. (The patrolman is portrayed as a simpleton with a “Fargo”-esque accent. He acts nothing like the dedicated officers I know). When told that Ryder is building a website — one with pictures, no less — he muses that he too likes pictures. Satisfied that Ryder is in no danger, he leaves her in the snowbank, and the commercial ends.
Anyone who watches this ad and doesn’t know anything about Winona will still know nothing about Winona. I am not upset with Ryder. She likely didn’t write or produce the commercial. But if the writers and producer had done any homework at all, they would have discovered there is far more to Winona than they ever imagined:
Nestled between the banks of the Mississippi River and 500-foot forested bluffs, Winona is beautiful. It boasts architecturally significant banks, churches and Victorian mansions, two lakes, tree-lined streets and the Avenue.
Winona is also a cultural mecca.
• Each year the Great River Shakespeare Festival produces several plays drawing actors and audiences from around the country.
• Winona’s Beethoven Festival, sponsored by Hugh and Vera Miller, has brought world-renowned performers such as Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell and major orchestras and quartets to the city for more than 15 years. A free community concert by the Minnesota Orchestra fills Lake Park each year.
• Winona is home to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, conceived and built through the vision and generosity of Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter. It displays one of the finest collections of art in the country. There are very few collections that rival the museum’s collection of masterworks by Renoir, Matisse, Piccaso, Monet, Van Gogh and many others.
Winona State University, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Minnesota State College Southeast educate thousands of students each year. They offer cutting-edge programs in the liberal arts, medicine, education, business and composite engineering. Winona likely has more Ph.D.s per capita than 90% of the rest of the country.
Is it any wonder, then, that Winona is also a world-class business community? Winona companies with national and international reach include Watkins, distributing spices and extracts around the world for 150 years; Peerless Chain, North America’s largest automotive-chain manufacturer; Hal Leonard, America’s largest sheet-music publisher; WinCraft, which manufactures and distributes licensed sports products for the NFL, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the NCAA; Wenonah Canoe, which makes handcrafted canoes, kayaks and paddle boards; RTP Company, a global compounder of custom-engineered thermoplastics; Cytec/Fiberite, which develops plastic resins so diverse that they were used in the first graphite golf shafts, tennis rackets and the Apollo re-entry heat shields; Knitcraft, which knits luxurious fabrics and fashion sold coast to coast; Watlow Controls and Benchmark Electronics, both of which produce technologically sophisticated electronics used in everything from computers to incubators and pacemakers; and Fastenal, one of the country’s largest suppliers of industrial supplies and fasteners.
Winona is also home to a vibrant medical community, including Winona Health, designated one of the nation’s top community hospitals in each of the last three years.
With its many accomplishments, Winona has cultivated a spirit of unmatched philanthropy. Generations of philanthropic families have supported Winona’s cultural, educational and religious institutions. The Latsch, King, Lucas, Bambenek, Miller, Kierlin, Slaggie, Gostomski, Knight, Papenfuss, Arnold, Rukavina, Pope, Brenner, Kolter, Oberton and many other families have quietly led by example modeling a spirit of generosity for successive generations.
It’s a shame the commercial’s producer and writers chose to portray Winona as a backwater in flyover country. Perhaps they think that is what their East and West Coast audiences expect. But with just a bit of research they would have discovered what a beautiful, innovative and exciting community they chose. Hopefully, when the ad industry returns, it will have done its homework and will capture the real Winona.
Paul Brosnahan is an injury lawyer who, like Winona Ryder, was born in Winona, Minn.