Listserv a connector for St. Anthony Park

By Dave Healy

The pandemic has affected behavior in sometimes surprising ways. One activity that’s increased noticeably is people going through household articles and deciding to unload some of them.

What to do with the stuff?

If you’re a subscriber to SAPark, you can post a message with the subject “Curb Alert,” followed by a description of the things people will find in front of your house, apartment building or in the alley by your garage. Such items are then free to the first person(s) to pick them up.

SAPark is a listserv, an automated mailing list that enables a subscriber to send an email to the entire list. The software was developed in 1984 and initially refined in 1986. It’s since undergone several updates.

Listservs were once ubiquitous in the business world as a way for professionals to network. They’re less common now in the age of Twitter, and other social media. But they haven’t disappeared.

SAPark was started in 2001 by St. Anthony Park resident Sherm Eagles. He had accompanied a church group overseas and was looking for a way for the group to stay connected with one another after their return.

“I did some research and found out about listservs,” Eagles said. “I set one up for our church group and then started thinking it might be a way to connect people in the neighborhood where I live.”

Eagles has been SAPark’s moderator throughout its existence. The list started small and grew slowly.

Currently, the listserv has about 1,300 subscribers. Although it’s billed as being for and about St. Anthony Park, anyone can join. Eagles reviews a new subscriber’s first post before it goes to the list in order to determine if the subscriber is a real person.

Thereafter, because participants mostly do a good job of policing themselves, Eagles is able to moderate SAPark with a light hand. Occasionally, he’s felt obligated to step in and say, “Let’s move on.” He does so only if he feels that the list is deviating from its purpose, which is to foster productive exchanges.

SAPark doesn’t have a formal list of rules. But as moderator, Eagles adheres to several principles.

“Participants need to maintain civility,” he said. “The focus should be on issues rather individuals, and on topics of local interest. SAPark is not a forum for political advertising or endorsing particular candidates.”

In the last year, curb alerts have been the most common topic on SAPark. But there are also other recurring ones:

Anybody else? Anybody else: Notice that strange smell this morning? Missing today’s newspaper delivery? Lose your power?

Crime reports: car and business break-ins, catalytic converter thefts.

Recommendations: Anyone know a good pediatrician, or dentist or painter?

Unusual sightings: owls, foxes, coyotes, turkeys.

Heads up: construction projects, public meetings, sales, events.

Complaints: noise, wood-­burning smoke, unshoveled walks.

Missing/found: dogs, cats, cell phones, keys.

SAPark is also a forum for discussing local issues. The proposal to develop a large chunk of Luther Seminary property with multi-unit housing, including the possible loss of Breck Woods, drew impassioned comments. More recently, the appearance of a large tent in College Park prompted vigorous discussion of appropriate responses to homelessness.

Eagles noted an increase during the last year in appeals to help other people.

“This neighborhood has always been characterized by a strong service ethic,” he said, “and recent events have really highlighted that.”

Listservs are vulnerable to mishaps. One is the person who intends to send a private message but inadvertently sends it to the entire list. Another is a violation of the list’s informal rules, but that’s rare on SAPark. Eagles has never had to kick someone off.

“Several years ago there was a guy who was obviously using the list to promote his own views, which he sometimes did inappropriately. I emailed him several times without really getting through to him, but he dropped off before I had to do anything more substantial.”

Besides individuals, a variety of groups make regular postings to SAPark in order to inform residents about meetings, events and services. Katharine Tondra, program director for St. Anthony Park Area Seniors, regularly uses the listserv to keep the neighborhood informed about SAPAS services and activities.

“I don’t know what we’d do without SAPark,” she said. “It’s a great way to reach people. Almost every time we post something, we get a response. It’s one of the primary ways our neighborhood uses to make connections.”

For Eagles, moderating SAPark has been a labor of love, a 20-year volunteer gig. Is there a post-Eagles future for SAPark?

“There’s no formal succession plan in place,” he said, “but I don’t worry too much about it. If the neighborhood finds our listserv valuable, I’m confident that others will emerge to keep it going. But I don’t have any immediate plans to retire as moderator.”

To subscribe to SAPark, send an email to this address: 

Dave Healy, a St. Anthony Park resident, is former editor of the Bugle.

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