Oakes teams up to assemble 60,000-piece puzzle

The people in Oakes, North Dakota, have been wishing winter away, one puzzle piece at a time.

In Oakes, North Dakota, the people in town have been wishing winter away, one puzzle piece at a time.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

OAKES, N.D. — It started as a challenge. Could the town find 60 teams to put together one giant puzzle? The challenge has brought the community together.

Sure, the movie "80 for Brady" might be playing at the old Grand Theater in downtown, but the talk in town and inside a coffee and book shop called Sweets N' Stories, is who's finishing their puzzle section.

"Part of a community project, part of being involved with something bigger than yourself," said Oakes puzzler Kristi Gebeke.

Gebeke and Bruce Junker are two of the 60 teams who are helping piece together the 60,000-piece puzzle entitled: "What a Wonderful World."

They had just finished their section of the puzzle.


"It was a challenge, but a fun challenge," Junker said. "I thought all these windows over here in this section were difficult."

The community puzzle is the brainchild of Heather Roney, who owns Sweets N' Stories.

"It's called: "What a Wonderful World," and this is what the finished product will look like, and in a long, dreary winter, bright, fun colors is good for the soul," Roney said.

When they first started, project organizers wondered if they could get 60 people to work on the gigantic puzzle. They ended up with 60, with an additional 20 more on a waiting list.

One person in Oakes volunteered to go around town and raise money for the wood that will be used to make the giant frame for the puzzle once it's completed.

Once the sections are all finished, the final puzzle will stand 8 feet tall and 29 feet wide.

"Projects like this can really show us what we're capable of when we pool our resources, pool our talent, pool our energy," said puzzler Rebecca Undem. "It's awesome. So it's a cool reflection of what I think the best of us in small towns are."

People like Oakes residents Doug and Kathy Sitzler are finishing their section.


"It is a family thing," Kathy Sitzler said.

What started off as a project to keep their minds off winter has turned into something bigger. A community connector. All people are talking about are the puzzle and its 107 pounds of puzzle pieces.

"This has been a challenging one, well, they all have been, a little bit," Kathy Sitzler said.

When complete, the giant puzzle will be on display at the Growing Small Towns building, a chance for Oakes to say they just built the world. One piece at a time.

Roney says she already has a plan for next year. The current puzzle will be unveiled this spring.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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