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Korby's Connections: Clothing Depot set to close in August

They've been friends since they were both in kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary School on Eighth Street and Cloquet Avenue in Cloquet.

Now, after roughly 70 years, they volunteer together at the Clothing Depot in Cromwell. Dardanell "Beanie" Randa and Jayne Hakamaki have been fixtures and leaders in the Cromwell area for years. Unfortunately for many of its devoted customers, plans call for the nonprofit organization to close its doors in August.

Their paths have crossed and separated many times, but have always remained intertwined and close friends. They laughed when they reminisced about having cherry Cokes together, hanging out in the booths of the Tulip Shoppe on 10th Street and Cloquet Avenue. It was a CHS junior- and senior-high student lunchtime location and fun place for after-school gatherings.

Both Beanie and Jayne married young and started families. Both worked for the Cromwell school district, mainly in food service. They've also worked in elder care and assistance at the Eagle Lake Home and Villa Vista on the outskirts of Cromwell. They've volunteered together at the Clothing Depot since 2009, with Beanie's tenure at the nonprofit actually going back to the 1990s.

The Clothing Depot accepts donations of clothes, kitchen appliances and dishes, holiday ornaments, sporting goods, life jackets, picture frames, cards, books, CDs, and more for a wide variety of merchandise. Volunteers sort and display the items in readying them for sale. It is physically hard and demanding work. The Depot is currently open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Other than building rent, the Depot has little overhead, and can sell items at very affordable prices. Customers include people down on their luck to high-end shoppers looking for novelty items where "used" has no bearing on their purchase. Merchandise that doesn't move after a period of time is sent to Goodwill, the DAV, Savers and other places accepting used items. With proceeds from sales, the Depot has been proud and thankful to assist other local nonprofits including the food shelf, Dollars for Scholars, Harvest Fest, Wrong Days in Wright, the Cromwell-Wright yearbook and the school's senior choir.

I asked Beanie about her nickname.

"When I was born, my mother told me I was only four pounds," she said. "They put me in my dad's boot box, and then in a dresser drawer that served as my cradle. They said I was such a little 'beanie baby.' The name stuck."

Beanie also said she had a traumatic event that stifled her speech development at age 4, prior to going into kindergarten. Her father was trying to burn grass in the vicinity of their sauna, when the sauna caught fire, with her mom in the line of the flames. Beanie couldn't yell a warning - she lost her speech and couldn't utter a sound. She said it took her over a year to regain her ability to talk by conversing with her parents, siblings, friends and teachers.

Jayne Hakamaki raised four boys, who all played football and basketball for Cromwell High School on state championship teams. The sons stuck around Cromwell and had mostly daughters, her granddaughters. One son built a pole building as a dedicated indoor basketball court. At one point, there were four Hakamakis playing on the Cromwell girls basketball team. They were in the Minnesota high school state championships when the governor's Covid-shutdown order prevented them from playing the championship game. Unbiased, Jayne is sure they would have won the game and championship. Jayne also enjoyed watching her granddaughter compete at UMD, making it all the way to the NCAA Division II basketball title game last year.

For Beanie, the Clothing Depot became a second home and a happy place to avoid depression and everyday worries and challenges. She was the manager/CEO/chief bottle washer ... everything. It is an important benefit to the community. Both Beanie and Jayne choked up when talking about the business, and will be very sad to see it close. They both have hard jobs in their careers and still managed to devote many hours volunteering at the Depot, which is very commendable.

Plans call for a "Christmas in July" sale and a pre-school sale in August. They have looked for a person or some organization to take over the operation but, to date, there have been no takers. I witnessed firsthand the buys, especially with clothing, that the customers were able to get for themselves and their children. This Cromwell business will definitely be missed by many.

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].