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Mickville: A town built on pure joy

By BILL VOSSLER

At one time, the population of the mythical city of “Mickville” was, as the sign says, 14. Next to the sign is Cindy Heddens, who is the daughter of Vern Mick, the founder of Mickville. Photo by Bill Vossler

According to his daughter, the defining feature of Vern Mick’s life was “joy.”


“Even as an adult, every Christmas he was like a little kid,” said Cindy Heddens, who lives in Sauk Rapids. “He was always projecting a joy of life as he attempted to make other people happy. Really not so different from every other day of his life.”


Cindy said her dad was definitely one of a kind.


“My dad was a unique person,” she said. “He had no ulterior motives, no desire for fame. He absolutely loved life. He loved whatever he did, working, playing, and was tireless. He was massively outgoing, and brought that joy to others.”


His uniqueness was also clear by what he did during his 58 years of life. The most unusual and memorable thing that Vern did in his life was surely inventing a mythical town that still exists today. The town is called “Mickville,” and it is located a mile northeast of Rockville.


A town is born

The saga of inventing a new town began with Cindy’s grandparents, Norbert and Theresa Mick, who owned a farm near present-day Mickville. All the Micks spent a lot of time together at that farm. “We were all very very close. We grew up together, eating pancakes, drinking coffee, playing cards. We were a very close family, and still are today.”


Before Norbert and Theresa Mick died, they split their acreage into six plots among their six children, adjacent to each other south of their farm. “Because the plots were all next to each other,” Cindy said, “my dad jokingly named it ‘Mickville,’ and put up red fire hydrants in each of the four corners of their 32 acres.”


It could have stopped there, but soon afterwards someone in Rockville made a sign, “Mickville, Population 14” and gave it to Vern, who put it up, which led Vern to buying a water tower at an auction. “He painted ‘Mickville’ on it before he set it up,” Cindy said, “and bolted it into that huge rock. That was the beginning of everything.”


And that “everything” continued with a railroad crossing sign and arm which were donated to Mickville, along with a stoplight and a speed limit sign. In a St. Cloud Times article in 1986, Vern began wondering about “Star City” signs, and figured his town should be eligible. But rather than trouble bureaucrats, he had a pair of smaller signs made identical to the real thing, he said. The self-proclaimed mayor placed them at each end of Mickville, but further in on his land from the road so bureaucrats wouldn’t be troubled by the signs at each end of Mickville.

Vern Mick, founder of Mickville. Contributed photo

Vern continued to add different pieces to his mythical city, buying a horse-drawn hay mower from their growing-up farm that he said would serve as his parks department.


“Our horse Bingo pulled that mower, and also when we were growing up Bingo used to pull us around the farm in a wagon that is now at Mickville,” said Cindy.


Vern converted it into a Conestoga wagon, but the white top weathered away, leaving just the wagon box.

Mickville Grows

From 1985 until Vern Mick died in 1997, he added different pieces to Mickville, a fisher person sitting on a granite bench that had once been a bridge across a little stream on the property, three bells that Vern wanted to give to one of the Bell families in Cold Spring, but he died


As Mickville became better known, more and more people visited, curious about the items on the lot, and asking questions about how the town got started. Vern added an old-style gas pump with a dome on the top; a phone booth.

“We had people stop and ask if they could use the phone booth though it didn‘t work. That’s how crazy it was,” smiled Cindy.


Someone donated a parking meter, and it was “enforced.”


“If someone parked near it, dad had them put a quarter in, and he used the money to go to more auctions and buy more things for Mickville. He loved to attend auctions,” said Cindy.

Seasonal Additions

Sometimes people stopped and asked if they could use the phone in the booth, but it was not in working order, according to Cindy. The fisher person is sitting on what used to be a bridge across a small stream on the property.

Vern added donkeys and horses pulling wagons, and reindeer for Santa’s sleigh when Christmas approached.


“Dad was big into Christmas,” Cindy said. “He buried a ton of electric wires all around the property so he could put up thousands of lights each years. He would bring out barrels and barrels full of Christmas lights, and each year some bulbs wouldn‘t work, so we kids had to plug them in and find the bulbs that weren’t working in those hundreds of strings of lights. That was actually wonderful.”


The lights were put up on the hundreds of trees Vern planted by hand, one by one, trees that Cindy and her siblings helped dig out from the forest on their grandparents’ farm.


“We kids had to stand out there and water them all afternoon to get them to grow,” said Cindy.


The entire acreage would be lit up, she said, from the walnut trees in the south to the next driveway north. Everything under the sun had lights on it.


During the Christmas season, the area was full of Santa Clauses, reindeer, and snowmen everywhere, and when the house had a flat roof, Vern put Santa and a sleigh up on the roof.


“Dad built a manger and hooked it up to a big trailer with the nativity scene in life size lit up and put out front. He also had a star on a balloon flying around so people could see it from miles and miles away.”


They did see it, and people did come. “They came and took holiday pictures there, or just because it was so different. My sister Barbara got married there, and other people had their wedding photos taken at that wonderful place.”


Santa Claus

Every year, Vern dressed up as Santa Claus.

Cindy Heddens with a pair of donkeys set to pull a trailer in Mickville. Contributed photo

“He peroxided his entire hair and beard so they were white as white can be. He’d become a Santa Claus at K-Mart and ShopKo, and wouldn’t get paid. He’d also play Santa Claus at people’s houses, including ours every Christmas Eve. That was a big thing for him. We still celebrate Christmas Eve as a family, with all the Micks, grandparents, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, everyone,” said Cindy.


After that first Christmas, Vern began to put up the lights for every major holiday.


“Every Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, people would come from miles and miles to see the thousands of lights he had set up. People came because they‘d heard of this strange town, to take pictures of the beautiful acreage.”


As examples of how people enjoyed the concept of Mickville, after Vern put up his Star City sign in mid-1980s, the Mayor of Rockville, Vince Schaefer, said in the St. Cloud Times, “We’re concerned about whether Vern wants to annex Rockville. I think he’s got plans for it.” But Vern denied any such thoughts.


Also, for a number of years, Cindy said, an Albany radio station held a Mickville parade each year, discussing items that were passing through Mickville on parade day, Sept. 31. “Of course, there is no September 31, so it was all in fun,” said Cindy.


Future Mickville

Vern’s future plans for Mickville included Mickville International Airport, with a long line of blue landing lights in the field, along with a windsock, and a mini-church for Christmas decorations, as well as other ideas, as he said the gears in his mind were always turning.


“But because he died young, he never fulfilled those dreams,” said Cindy.


Vern Was Greatly Loved

A couple of occurrences explain how much Vern was loved and respected. He was an avid follower of the Cold Spring Springers baseball team.


“The summer after he died they held a moment of silence in remembrance of him at the State Amateur Baseball Tournament.”


Then following his funeral, when the Micks went to pay the expenses, they were told that everything had been paid by his employers, Miller Construction of St. Cloud.


Disappointments

“One of the hardest parts,” Cindy said, “was when my grandparents passed away, so we no longer connected at the farm, though we all still figured out how to get together.”


Cindy said her biggest disappointment is that the old Mickville Days no longer exist.

“Our intent was to keep Mickville going, but the reality was that the challenge got too big. It used to be beautiful, but we couldn’t keep it up. When we realized we couldn’t keep doing what dad had done, it was very disappointing. People wanted us to keep it going, with all the lights and everything on the holidays, but we couldn’t. It got too hard. We weren’t going to sell any of it, but finally we sold 50 trailers full of his stuff because people wanted to buy it.”


Mickfest

Mickville is not forgotten. Every year since his death, Mickville has held a Mickfest in his honor.

Cindy Heddens stands by the rock anchoring the Mickville water tower, erected by her father, Vern Mick, several years ago. Contributed photo

“During one weekend every summer, about 50-100 people come,” Cindy said. “A few campers stay there. Josh and April Mick Sachs, who live in the house there, set it up each year. They have tournaments, like lawn darts, beanbag tosses, water games for little kids, and sell t-shirts.”


A Mickfest poster indicated that volleyball, trap shooting, music, and much more went on during the weekend.


Cindy said the most fun for her at Mickville was watching her dad.


“He was like a kid, and after working for a construction company from sunup to sundown, he’d come home in the middle of the dark and put in hours and hours of work. That property was his heart and soul. He worked hard on the trees and the lawn. His joy came from that place. Being the youngest child, to please my folks I was out there cutting down trees and mowing the lawn. Watching his passion was what us kids loved the most.”


In the end it was all about joy.


“He brought so much joy to Mickville, and in turn that small invented town brought joy to so many people.”

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