When you have to get out a map to show someone where you’re from, it probably means you grew up in a small town.
For me, that town was Gordon.
Considered to be Wisconsin’s vacationland, people from big Midwest cities like Minneapolis and Chicago migrate to Gordon during the summer to live a rural lifestyle in cabins. But when below-zero temperatures arrive at their front door, only the true locals stick around to keep the town running.
“This weather I love,” says Tod Wise, the high school wrestling coach for the Northwood School District. “I’m a winter person…I could never leave this. A lot of people go South and I could never leave winter…I want fresh snow every day. I like the cold.”
While the town undergoes somewhat of a hibernation during the winter, it was in for a bittersweet awakening in January when the news broke that Jayme Closs was found in Gordon. What made it even more shocking was the man accused of kidnapping her was 21-year-old Jake Patterson, a longtime Gordon native.
“There’s a lot of woods between here and Barron, he could’ve been anywhere. But to be in Downtown Gordon, yeah it was a complete shock to everybody,” said Darin Knowlton, a bartender at the nearby Bootlegger’s Bar & Grill.
On the day after Jayme was found, law enforcement crowded Patterson’s home and blocked off the surrounding area. Neighbors and local business owners were also bombarded by news outlets looking to get any scrap of information on Patterson. While most people avoided the microphones and cameras, the talk behind closed doors was ripe with conversation.
“The first couple days, they were like ‘Wow, I can’t believe it’ and they were bringing in their school year books and showing me pictures (saying) ‘this is the guy I went to school with, that was him right here,'” Knowlton said.
Now that the dust has settled, locals are just hoping to move on.
“The talk has cooled down but more of the concerns and thoughts and prayers are for Jayme and her recovery and her family,” says Dan Rankila, a business owner at Northwoods Heating & Cooling.
Stlil in a town of just over 600 people, many are left wondering what they would have done if Jayme walked down their driveway.
“I would’ve taken her to my house, I’d have loaded my rifle and waited until the cops got there,” claims Knowlton.
Jeanne Nutter — the dog-walker Jayme approached — has been applauded for her simple act of kindness, along with Peter and Kristin kasinskas, who opened their doors to the missing 13-year-old.
Perhaps their actions are a better representation for the town than Patterson’s.
“Gordon is just another small town in Wisconsin where people are friendly and have the same problems that they do anywhere,” says Wise.
“I truly believe that if it would’ve been anybody that wasn’t involved that if she went up to them, the same response would’ve happened,” Knowlton claims.
However, only time will tell if the stigma gets swept away.