Across the country, small towns are facing tough choices as they confront the realities of changing demographics, new economic pressures, and the expansion of urban centers. As populations decline, it becomes increasingly harder for rural towns to maintain community events and celebrations.

In Clarkfield, however, the story is playing out much differently thanks to the hard work and determination of the Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals - a group of local residents committed to strengthening and energizing their town through planning events and creating social forums in Clarkfield.

According to members Katie Kaatz and Troy Bruflat, the idea for a new civic organization arose “after the Clarkfield Civic and Commerce decided to no longer meet or plan Clarkfield Heart of the Prairie Days,” a loss that resulted in two years without a town celebration.

Beginning in 2014, “members of the community gathered to discuss ways to reestablish events within our community,” the pair explained. It was out of these conversations that the Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals was created. Today, the group consists of 14 members: Aubrey Johnson, Deb Bruflat, Gail Smolley, Hazel Hanson, John Lynner, Karen Kaatz, Katie Kaatz, Kris Swanson, Lois Lynner, Mary Brock, Missy Rohwer, Sue Toft, Troy Bruflat, and Wendy Best.

According to Kaatz and Bruflat, the members work to “provide activities that encourage the growth of our community.” The group also works to change perceptions about Clarkfield. “We want people to see that Clarkfield is full of awesome people,” Kaatz and Bruflat said, “and that it is a great place to live, work, and play!”

The Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals accomplish this primarily through putting together events for the community -- and what a busy schedule of events it is! Every year, the group organizes the Easter Egg Hunt, the Community Block Party on Main Street, the Cardinal Days celebration, and the Trunk or Treat event in October. There is also a fall fundraiser and lunch held every year in addition to the Afternoon with Santa event held in December.

The good work of the Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals, however, would not be possible without the support of other community partners. “We feel incredibly fortunate to live in a community where the businesses believe in what our group does!”, said Kaatz and Bruflat. “Without their donations we would not be able to operate.”

This year, the group received support from 45 separate organizations. The full list includes: Hills Hair Shoppe, Prairie Grain Partners, The Clarkfield Area Community Foundation, J.H. Lynner Company, F & M Bank, Granite Falls Health, Morland Pioneer Seeds, Par Piping and Fabrication, the Clarkfield Lions Club, The Chippewa County Montevideo Hospital and Clinic, Bollig Inc., Kruse Motors, F & M Agency Insurance, Collision Pros & Glass, Inc., J & S One Stop, The Filling Station Bar, Cenex of Clarkfield, Hardware Hank, K & K Tiling, Clarkfield Garden Club, Dan Larson Electric, Schlenner Agency, Inc., Alee Services, All Dyrdahl Construction, Bailey's Custom Cap, Bill's Electric, Bruflat Plumbing & Heating, City of Boyd-Cafe & Liquor Store, City of Clarkfield, Clarkfield Automotive, Clarkfield Care Center, Clarkfield Outdoors, Family Foods, Gniffke Insurance, Handeland Chiropractic, Kibble Equipment, Miller Equipment, Olson Sanitation, Open Door Health, Prairie's Edge Casino & Resort, Renew Styling Parlor, Robert Danielowski, P.A, Schlenner Construction, The Ink Spot and Viessman Trucking.

Kaatz and Bruflat believe the group is having a positive impact on the community. “Our hope has always been to bring everyone in this community closer together and open to new faces and ideas,” they explained. At the same time, the money raised by events also helps support worthy causes in town.

“We want to raise funds for youth programs in a way that creates a fun and enjoyable atmosphere,” the pair said, adding, “We want people to feel good about spending their money on a good cause while having a little fun in the process.” Group member Gail Smolley said she has received lots of positive feedback from the community as well in addition to ‘thank yous’ for helping get events off the ground. The Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals are already building off their prior success and looking ahead to the future.

In September, the group will organize a “community build day” to install the new playground equipment at Valhalla Park. “We will be needing many volunteers to complete this project,” Kaatz and Bruflat said. Clarkfield residents should expect to see more information about this event in the city newsletter (the Clarkfield Prairie Post) and on Facebook. Smolley said she would also like to see the organization continue to grow.

“Between all of us members, we’re always keeping our eyes and ears open scouting out new ideas,” she said, adding, “We’re always looking and hoping new volunteers will join us!” They have also received multiple requests from residents to organize an adult prom night. Local residents are encouraged to share their ideas with the group.

The Prairie Cardinals meet on the second Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at the Clarkfield City Hall. “New faces and ideas are always welcome,” Kaatz and Bruflat said, “We would love for more people within the community to join our group!” For more information about the Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals, please visit their website (www.clarkfieldprairiecardinals.com), find them on Facebook, or write them at Clarkfield Prairie Cardinals, P.O. Box 705, Clarkfield, MN 56223.