Crime down, but Lyndale neighbors still stage week-long prevention marathon

Not resting on success, Mike and Shirley Montrose kick off another Lyndale Neighborhood Walk-a-thon April 24.

Mike and Shirley Montrose, 3200 Pleasant Ave. S. say their Lyndale neighborhood has turned around 100 percent from the slumlord and drug-dealing problems of the 1990s, the days when cars would do "U-ies" in their intersection, occupants firing guns skyward.

Still, the Montroses will again host the kick-off for the annual Lyndale Neighborhood Walk-a-thon, a 24-hour-a-day, crime-prevention, know-your-neighbors effort. Residents sign up for two-hour shifts, aiming to patrol the neighborhood every hour for a week.

"The minute you let your guard down, [crime] can creep back in easily," Shirley Montrose said. "It takes a long time to get a good reputation. I still come across people who are shocked that I live here."

The Montroses will smoke some ribs for the kick-off, Thursday, April 24, 6:30 p.m. in their front yard. Neighbors will bring potluck dishes, and "kids will run amok," Mike Montrose said.

Crews will start walking the streets, socializing and looking for suspicious activity until Thursday, May 1. Lyndale is bounded by Lake and 36th streets and by I-35W and Lyndale Avenue.

The Montroses have hosted the kick-off event 10 of its 11 years. (Lyndale resident Luther Krueger, a driving force behind the Walk-a-thon, hosted the kick-off the other year. "It was a cold, blustery day," he said. "It was a flop. I thought, ‘I’d better not do that again.’")

The Walk-a-thon has a few simple rules. Walk in teams. Wear the yellow "Lyndale Citizen Patrol" ball caps and laminated photo-ID badges, avoid confrontations and carry no weapon other than a cell phone.

Krueger organized the first Walk-a-thon in 1993, when he chaired the Lyndale Neighborhood Associations crime and drug committee. He said when he asks for volunteers, the Montroses "are always first in line to help."

Neighborhood improvements have hurt Walk-a-thon recruitment. Volunteer numbers peaked between 80 and 90 in 1997 or 1998, when they walked Lyndale streets more than 22 hours a day for a week, he said. Last year, roughly two dozen people volunteered, covering an average of 12 to 14 hours a day.

(Mike Montrose said roughly 70 people attended the kick-off event, but not many signed up for the walking patrols.)

The Montroses moved into the neighborhood in 1987, and their home seems to be a natural social hub. Mike and Shirley Montrose and Krueger sat in the Montroses’ living room during an hour-long interview. Friends would pass through the home, say hello, and proceed to the kitchen.

"We have a bottomless pot of coffee and people roll in and out," said Mike Montrose, a flight operations worker for Northwest Airlines. "It wouldn’t be that kind of house if we hadn’t been involved in the community."

The Montroses readily recall how the neighborhood used to be — the names of "slumlords" and problem properties. Shirley Montrose, a concierge for a downtown hotel, said her husband bought her a German shepherd their first Christmas in their home.

"I wanted a dog. He was dead-set against it," she said. "As summer progressed, he changed his mind."

They got active in the neighborhood in 1990, following the shooting death of a cab driver in the neighborhood. In the early 1990s, they would sit in their front yard because "there was more action than on TV," Shirley Montrose said.

The Montroses try to take a two-hour shift every day during the Walk-a-thon, they said. Even during the bad years, nothing much ever happened on their patrols. The most excitement they recalled was one crew who phoned in a suspicious person; the police ended up arresting the person for an outstanding felony warrant.

"That is the crazy thing about it," Krueger said. "When we do it, nothing happens. That is the point."

Shirley Montrose recalled one two-hour shift where she was so busy getting caught up with the neighbors she hadn’t seen all winter, she didn’t make it off her block.

As recently as five or six years ago, residents were comparing notes about when they had last heard gunshots, Krueger said. Even though things have calmed down, "those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it," he said.

Interested in volunteering? Call Krueger at 825-6281.