MANKATO — The Mankato community became firmly ensconced in the 20th century during this period that began the year the Titanic sank and ended the year Jesse Owens dominated the Olympics in Berlin as Adolf Hitler looked on.
Some of the community’s newsmakers of the day:
* Marvel Cooke, in 1903 reputedly the first African-American baby born in Mankato, went on to break barriers throughout her life.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1925, she moved to New York City where, as a journalist, she exposed the exploitation of black women by wealthy white women, fought for newspaper workers’ union rights and was called upon to testify before Sen. Joe McCarthy about her membership in the Communist Party.
She went on to become the first African-American staffer at the white-owned Daily Compass newspaper in New York City.
* In the summer of 1919 Sinclair Lewis and his family resided in the J.W. Schmitt home on South Broad Street, where Lewis wrote much of his classic novel “Main Street.”
Lewis took a liking to Mankato, remarking that its “garden-sheltered streets and aisles of elms is ... New England reborn.”
Lewis also had a fondness for local parties. According to one biographical account, he was escorted out of a gala after boozily wandering into the hostess’ closet and emerging dressed in one of her evening gowns.
* Gilbert Fletcher, born on his family’s farm near Mankato, came to be regarded as Mankato’s greatest artist.
He rose to national prominence in the 1920s with his pioneering work in color linoleum block printing. In 1922 he became art editor for the New York Herald and later joined the New York Tribune.
* Mankato native Clifford Fagan’s high school basketball officiating career after graduating from high school in 1928 eventually led to his induction into the national Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mo.
He devoted his life to the improvement of officiating by publishing manuals and films to aid in the training of officials.
He served on the U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors for 15 years and in 1984 was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
* Russian immigrant Leon Salet began as a cart peddler in 1896 and a little more than a decade later had opened a department store in downtown Mankato.
By 1917 Leon and wife Anna had purchased a larger store on the corner of Main and Front streets, and thereafter opened stores in New Ulm, South St. Paul, Rochester and other southern Minnesota cities.
His success and generous philanthropic endeavors made him a symbol of pride among the state’s Jewish immigrant population.