I warned the editors that I was not a good choice to write a sappy, bittersweet, folksy, sorry you’re leaving article. I feared they would want a heartwarming piece about a plucky Kenwood couple who after 57 years of making molasses fudge brownies for block parties, hand sewing little league uniforms, and spaying hamsters, were being shuffled off to Happy Acres, or to live in their grand-nephew’s basement in Femur, Arizona. I imagined having to include their homespun reminiscences about a cow getting loose on Colfax Avenue, or how the couple once ran breathless to the police station because they were sure they saw Kaiser Wilhelm at a gas station on Lake Street, or the hilarious tale of the time they pretended to be guests at Theodore Wirth’s wedding.
I had all of my excuses in line until I heard the name. Kim and Harley (Toby) Toberman of 24th and Girard, neighbors and friends for sixteen years. How could I not write about this vibrant and unique couple? Kim’s lush garden has name tags for all of her flowers and plants so the children can learn them. She provides a bench in front of the house so lovers can smooch, the footsore can rest, and kids can wait for the school bus. Toby’s imaginative and terrifying Halloween haunted house has long been a magnet, drawing kids from all over the neighborhood and beyond.
What do you say about people who use a wood burning stove, have a gorgeous three story antique-filled Victorian home complete with a very modern two-person Jacuzzi, and a movie theater? These are very unusual folks. Kim has brought high culture to the prairie with her annual ladies’ tea complete with harp music. Toby (owner of Toby’s Tunes) once made and marketed a video for dogs.
Long before suburbanites discovered great rooms and plasma TVs, Kim and Toby had a full screen theater complete with projection booth and hundreds of movies. Their bi-monthly wintertime special, dubbed “Movies in the Parlor”, treated as many as forty lucky souls to a lineup of obscure shorts and feature films “that no one else would have the nerve to show.” Kim and Toby, in formal attire, hosted an annual awards night with a prize in the categories of best homemade munchies and perfect attendance. People planned their winter vacations to not miss a Friday night at Toby’s.
I had to find out how they could give up their breathtaking home and the garden they have nurtured for twenty five years. What follows is my inaccurate recollection of our long and silly phone conversation.
Hill and Lake Press (really just me): Talk about the decision to leave.
Toby: We have been looking for a home in a warm climate for a number of years. We quickly decided Florida was too tame, and began to explore an island a year: Jamaica, Barbados, and then in 1998 we went to Costa Rica and fell in love with it. We bought property and have seen it greatly increase in value, although that was not our motivation. The people there are wonderful and there is a huge ex-patriot community with many Russians, Europeans, and Canadians.
HLP: Maintaining two residences so far apart must be a strain.
Kim: We went back to Costa Rica last winter sure that we had to make one a permanent home. A decision we thought might take a month was answered in two days. Our Minnesota home is up for sale. Toby has sold his film and record collection on E-bay, and we have had sales of our antiques.
Toby: I find I don’t miss the stuff when I am down there. We are shipping a car, which is an unbelievable labyrinth of certifications, notaries, consulates, and foreign relations ministers.
HLP: Is your leaving at all political?
Toby: We were going anyway, but the change in the gun laws…let’s just say it is a different Minnesota.
HLP: Tell about some of your community work.
(I am editing out twenty minutes of credit to others, and minimization of her accomplishments)
Kim: I was on the board at Neighborhood Involvement Program for a number of years. N.I.P. is a wonderful resource, right on Hennepin Avenue. They provide healthcare, counseling, and other services for people who do not have insurance.
Toby: What about the garden club and your two terms as president, and the Spring Tea?
Kim: The Kenwood Garden Club has about 35 members and still does tours. It is designed to promote neighborhood pride. Blooming Boulevards is a CUE (Committee for Urban Environments) volunteer organization that recognizes neighbors that go out of there way to make boulevard common space attractive…
Toby: The city cut the funding for it even though it’s all volunteer and the only cost is postage.
Kim: The Spring Tea was not just for women who lived in the neighborhood, but for those who work here…GJs, Walgreen’s, and all of the local businesses. It was an opportunity for the women of the community to network…
Toby: And have great desserts.
HLP: Since you do not want me to mention the illegal stop sign you installed on 24th Street, I’ll ask what will happen to Toby’s Tunes, one of the premiere sound recording studios in the Twin Cities and located above your garage?
Toby: It is a good time to close out. Jerry Horvath, who has worked for me, has Buzz Cuts Audio downtown, but I chose not to continue the name.
HLP: All I know about Costa Rica is that San Jose is the capital. Are you near there?
Toby: (laughs) We are in the mountains, six hours by car, four hours by foot. We have a swimming pool that is currently filled with frogs. We have been hand carrying all the equipment necessary for a movie theater. Since many of our neighbors have never seen a movie, they are most impressed. We are mostly showing old comedies and films that don’t require a lot of translation.
HLP: Does this enterprise have a name?
Kim: Yes, it’s “Movies in the Jungle” We have huge pot luck dinners and watch movies. Toby is in his glory.
HLP: It sounds as if your new life is already in progress. What will you miss?
Kim: I’ll miss mail order catalogues–I get tons of them–plus pizza delivered to the door.
Toby: Best Buy, and my music partner Gregg Kubera. Every Tuesday night for the last twenty two years we would write and play music together. Hundreds of songs…(pause) we are called “The Client Brothers”, and we are as close as brothers.
HLP: You both have brought creative community building activities to us and had fun doing it. Kim and Toby, you have made the city a smaller and friendlier place. Because of your own contentment you have always been ready to help new arrivals or those in need. You will be profoundly missed.
Tom H. Cook is a sentimental L.A. resident with a deep love for the old neighborhood. He has no current plans to run for governor of his adopted state.