Page 1

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

Paul Larson, a 15-year veteran dispatcher at the law enforcement center in Litchfield, takes calls during his 12-hour shift.

Sp tlight on Public


DISPATCHERS Unsung heroes work 12-hour shifts taking life-and-death calls and complaints about barking dogs By Carolyn Lange LITCHFIELD – There’s a hushed atmosphere in the dimly lit room where two veteran Meeker County dispatchers work 12-hour shifts in front of a complex communication system and bank of computer monitors. Their hot lunch of burgers grows cold on the desks as they take calls from the public and send out emergency crews. On this particular day, there’s a call for medical assistance in Watkins. Last July they fielded scores of calls for help and paged emergency personnel when

a tornado ripped through the county and in August they sent police to Watkins where a little girl was kidnapped and later found dead in northern Minnesota. “It can get pretty busy in here,” said Suzi Holtz, who is the senior dispatcher in Meeker County with 16 years of experience. “You have to think quickly and just do it.” Oftentimes when the phones light up, the caller has a complaint about their neighbor’s barking dog or bad driving by a motorist on the road. Whether it’s routine or an emergency, each call – and

each caller – is treated with respect, Holtz said. “They need that voice and to know that help is coming.” A traffic accident can result in a dozen 911 calls from people on cell phones, but because the 13th call could be a call for help for a heart attack on the other end of the county, dispatchers answer each call as if it’s a new emergency, said Paul Larson, who has been a dispatcher for 15 years. “We’re taught not to assume,” Holtz said. Dispatchers undergo six months of training before they go solo. Jordan Spaulding was hired

in February and sits at the control center under Holtz’s careful eye. “I like what law enforcement does and I want to be part of that and do what I can to help,” Spaulding said. No matter how much training or experience – or the outcome of an emergency – dispatchers review whether they did everything right or fast enough, Holtz said. “You do the best you can.” Sheriff Brian Cruze said the crew of seven dispatchers in Meeker County are “unsung heroes” who provide a crucial web between the public and the people who are sent to help them.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

With 16 years of experience, Suzi Holtz, back, is the senior dispatcher at the law enforcement center in Litchfield. She’s training in Jordan Spaulding, who began working as a dispatcher in February. During their 12-hour shifts dispatchers take calls from the public about life-and-death emergencies, as well as complaints about barking dogs.

ABOUT THIS SECTION: Each year the news staff at the West Central Tribune works together to put out a “Focus” section, centering on a theme that showcases people from the region. This special edition to the paper is always well-received by our readers, and gives our reporters a chance to get out and do something different

from the day-to-day coverage of their beat topics. This year’s theme is: Spotlight on Public Service. Public service is that service which is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly (through the public sector) or by financing provision of services.

These include jobs with federal, state, local or tribal government organizations, public child or family service agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Government employers include the military and public schools and colleges. There are many, many people and jobs that fall under the “public service”

category, way too many to cover here. However, we tried to include a cross-section of services across the region to get people thinking about all the public services that operate right here amongst us all on a daily basis. We hope you enjoy this year’s Focus edition.


April 20, 2017


D2 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.




PO BOX 186 1320 22ND Street SW Willmar, MN 56201 320-214-7433, Press 1 for Dispatch Toll Free (888) 750-7433 FAX (320) 214-7754

612 East Lincoln Olivia, MN 56277 320-523-3589 Toll Free (800) 450-7964 FAX (320) 523-1043

LITCHFIELD OFFICE: 812 E Ripley Street Litchfield, MN 55355 320-693-7794

Hours of Service: (Hours vary by location) 5:30 am – 9:00 pm Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm Saturday & Sunday Sr. Transportation: Senior Transportation Program: +Volunteer drivers use their own vehicles +Appointments (medical, hair, dental, shopping, etc.) +Transport to various regional medical centers +Transport to airport in Twin Cities +Resident of Kandiyohi or Renville County and 60 years of age to qualify

Week Days Evening Route

+Escort may come along at no cost to assist with errands +Please call 48 hours in advance as Same Day Service is not available +Name, Address, Phone Number, Date of Birth for registration +Monday through Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm +Use up to (3) times per week

Become a Volunteer Driver: Please call 320-235-8413 for more information.

Central Community Transit is Connecting Communities Together!! CCT offers public bus transportation throughout Kandiyohi, Renville, and Meeker Counties 5-7 days per week!

Monday - Friday City Route CITY ROUTE Ridgewater College Regency West Lakeview Apts(High Rise) Highland Apartments Family Practice Med Center Becker Bus Station West Central Industries Affiliated Medical Center Skylark Mall Target Cub Foods Wal-Mart Super Center Bus Stop Sign S.E. Dana Dr Kandi Mall CashWise Woodland Centers YMCA Cardinal Apartments 407B Regency East Health& Human Services Bldg

If you want to be picked up at a location not listed below, please call by 5:00 pm Cashwise Kandi Mall Wal-Mart Target CUB ACMC Becker Bus Station Rice Hospital Highland Apts. High Rise Ridgewater College 407B Cardinal Apts. S* = Months of June, July, August


Call for Ride Call for Ride 8:10 8:15 8:18 8:21 Call for Ride 8:30 8:33 8:38 8:40 8:42 Call for Ride 8:48 8:49 8:51 Call for Ride 9:00 Call for Ride 9:11


9:21 Call for Ride 9:31 9:36 9:39 9:42 Call for Ride 9:51 9:54 9:59 10:01 10:03 Call for Ride 10:09 10:10 10:12 Call for Ride 10:21 Call for Ride 10:32


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10:57 NA 1:00 Call for Ride NA Call for Ride 11:07 12:00 1:10 11:12 12:05 1:15 11:15 12:15 1:18 11:18 12:21 1:21 Call for Ride 12:35 Call for Ride 11:27 12:45 1:30 11:30 12:48 1:33 11:35 12:53 1:38 11:37 12:55 1:40 11:39 12:57 1:42 Call for Ride Call for Ride Call for Ride 11:45 1:03 1:48 11:46 1:04 1:49 11:48 1:06 1:51 Call for Ride Call for Ride Call for Ride 11:57 1:15 2:00 Call for Ride Call for Ride Call for Ride 12:08 1:26 2:11

Sunday Route

If you want to be picked up at a location not listed below, please call by 5:00 pm on Friday 1 2 3 4 5 Cashwise 7:48 9:10 11:00 11:45 2:05 Kandi Mall On Demand On Demand On Demand 11:55 2:07 Wal-Mart 7:55 9:15 On Demand 12:05 2:11 Target 8:05 9:18 On Demand On Demand 2:16 CUB 8:08 9:22 On Demand On Demand 2:23 ACMC On Demand 9:24 On Demand On Demand 2:29 Becker Bus Station 8:15 9:31 11:05 12:30 2:35 Rice Hospital 8:17 9:33 11:06 12:35 2:37 Highland Apts. 8:20 9:35 11:10 12:40 2:39 High Rise 8:33 9:44 11:11 12:46 2:45 Ridgewater College On Demand On Demand On Demand 1:00 2:51 407B Cardinal Apts. 8:40 10:00 11:27 Break 3:01 Route Subject to Change

S* 5:25 5:30 5:35 5:42 5:49 5:55 6:01 6:03 6:05 6:09 6:18 6:28

6 3:07 3:13 3:19 3:24 3:28 3:31

7 4:15 4:21 4:27 4:32 4:38 On Demand

8 5:08 5:11 5:15 5:17 5:19 N/A

3:42 3:44 3:46 3:48 2:38 4:09

4:50 4:54 4:55 5:00 On Demand On Demand


3 9:05 9:10 9:15 9:18 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A


2:21 Call for Ride 2:31 2:36 2:39 2:42 Call for Ride 2:51 2:54 2:59 3:01 3:03 Call for Ride 3:09 3:10 3:12 Call for Ride 3:21 Call for Ride 3:32


3:57 Call for Ride 4:07 4:12 4:15 4:18 Call for Ride 4:27 4:30 4:35 4:37 4:39 Call for Ride 4:45 4:46 4:48 Call for Ride 4:57 Call for Ride Call for Ride

Thank you to all of our Public Transit Drivers, Dispatching Staff, and Volunteer Drivers for working hard everyday to provide Safe, Reliable, and Cost effective Transportation in Kandiyohi, Renville, and Meeker Counties!

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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

DeAnn Wendinger, left, visits with co-workers Linda Gloege, center, and Tami Stensrud at the Lac qui Parle Family Services office in Madison.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 D3

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

Cameron Kalkbrenner, program facilitator and maintenance worker, at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, uses an allen wrench to tighten up rocks at the indoor climbing wall at the rural Spicer facility, which is owned by Kandiyohi County.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS PWELC: Preparing for the students

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Paperwork is one of the frustrations faced by social workers as they are required to document all of their activities. DeAnn Wendinger is shown at her computer in her office at the Lac qui Parle Family Services office in Madison.

By Carolyn Lange SPICER – Cameron Kalkbrenner had just finished rewiring a canoe trailer and polishing windows in classrooms at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. Now he was dangling from a rope on the interior climbing wall using a red-handled allen wrench to tighten the rocks on the vertical wall. As a program facilitator and maintenance worker at the 500-acre PWELC in rural Spicer – which is owned by Kandiyohi County and includes miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails, a shooting range, pioneer cabin and a challenge course with

ropes crisscrossing the woods – Kalkbrenner’s tasks change from hour to hour. While there are programs year-round, during the month of March employees were busy preparing equipment and making facility improvements ahead of the big rush of students in April when at least 80 kids a day will be on the grounds canoeing, hiking and learning about the prairie and wetlands environment. One of those classes is learning how to use a compass. “We teach compass 101,” said Kory Klebe, environmental education coordinator, who was putting up new markers

on trees that students will find by using a compass. “You hold the compass flat with the world even though the world is round,” and the arrow is “below your nose and above your toes,” Klebe said, slipping into the lingo he uses with students to explain how to use a compass. “You dial in the degree heading you want to use and you put red Fred in the shed and then you follow him to that degree setting.” Bus loads of students from a 50-mile radius will be coming every school day to the PWELC until the school year ends in June. And then the summer youth programs begin.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune


Teamwork makes independence possible By Tom Cherveny MADISON – Not that many years ago, individuals with developmental disabilities were routinely placed in institutions. Today, help is provided from early childhood to help them live as independently as possible. Support is continued during their adult years to maintain it. One of the persons pulling the strings to make sure this help is provided – and monitoring to assure that it best serves the needs of those receiving it – is DeAnn Wendinger with Lac qui Parle County Family Services in Madison. “Oh my gosh. That would be perfect for me,’’ said Wendinger when she discovered the county’s social service office was looking for a social worker to serve the county’s clientele of people with developmental disabilities. That was in 2014, and she feels no differently

today. “I personally feel I have the best population to work with, the best caseload,’’ said Wendinger, who is part of a staff numbering over 20 in the Family Services Center. Her job has its challenges, she is the first to say, but this is the kind of work that is right for her. She discovered that early when she landed a summer job in a group home in her hometown of Dawson. Introductory classes in social work she took in college only reinforced her interest. She graduated with a double major in psychology and social work in 2000. She worked with the Circle of Nations School in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and with Creative Care for Reaching Independence in Moorhead before accepting her current job. At any given time, she may be working with 50 or more clients, ages 4 years to 80-plus. Care often begins in the home. Wendinger works with parents and

care providers to assure there is help for children diagnosed as needing support. The support often starts with helping a child learn simple tasks, and progresses from there. Wendinger meets with her clients at least twice a year, but usually much more frequently. Her work requires a fair amount of traveling. Adult clients often live in group homes where support is available for them. Some have moved to homes far away from Lac qui Parle County. Sometimes it is their choice; other times it is because space is not available close to home, she explained. She also works with the local school system, and other professionals providing support to her clients to provide consistent care. Many clients have very supportive families, she said. The rural communities in which she works are generally very supportive too, she added.

Kory Klebe teaches students how to use a compass in one of the classes at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

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D4 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

After crops are planted in the spring, Marilyn Dunn helps Kandiyohi County farmers document crop acreage on maps at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

FARM SERVICE AGENCY Keeping farmers farming

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

By Carolyn Lange WILLMAR – For 31 years Marilyn Dunn has been a key go-to person for farmers when they certify how many acres of a each crop they’ve planted in fields in the spring and how many bushels of grain they have in the bin in the fall. The information is necessary for farmers to obtain crop insurance and to participate in a variety of U.S. Department of Agriculture farm programs, such as lowinterest loans. Dunn, a program technician at the Farm Service Agency office

Sometimes being the ditch inspector means sticking your head in a culvert looking for beavers. Renville County Ditch Inspector Larry Zupke said beavers and their dams can be quite a problem in the ditches.

serving Kandiyohi County, is required to learn a myriad of new rules and regulations whenever Congress approves a new farm bill. Shelves by her desk in Willmar are lined with thick manuals that detail the regulations. “Every program has a different book so we have to go through it and try to know what the rules are, the situations and codes,” Dunn said. That knowledge is needed in order to make sure a farmer’s information is correctly documented so that he or she can be properly enrolled in programs. The best part of the

job, she said, is “working with the farmers in the county.” But just like the changing federal regulations, fast-paced schedules have changed interactions with farmers. “When I started, the farmers were a little bit more laid back. And now everybody’s in a hurry,” Dunn said. “Way back, like 30 years ago, this was their way of getting out and visiting a little bit and talking to people because they didn’t get out like they do now,” she said. “It’s not like it was before. Times have changed.”

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

Larry Zupke’s office in Olivia is full of maps, plans and paperwork focusing on hundreds of different ditch projects.

DITCH INSPECTOR Keeping the waters flowing for the next 100 years beyond its original borders would be financially undoable, Zupke said. “We are in the next 100 years of drainage,” Zupke said.




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systems, meeting with landowners, retaining decades of ditch records and forming the annual budget for the ditch department. “Every day is a different issue, you never get bored,” Zupke said. Redetermination of benefits is very important today, as landowners are asking for repairs and improvements to the systems so they’ll take water faster. “They weren’t constructed to handle the flows of agriculture today,” Zupke said. Zupke said redetermining benefits will spread the cost for improvements and repairs out over all who use those systems. So far Renville County has completed the redetermination for 12 systems, with 10 in the works. Lately, Zupke has also had to deal with the new state buffer law, which will have a major impact in Renville County. He said only about 5 percent of the county’s public ditches meet the requirement and approximately 3,100 acres of land will be needed. “It is significant,” Zupke said. Everything Zupke and his office does is geared toward keeping the ditch system in Renville County in the best shape it can be, because building new or expanding the system


By Shelby Lindrud OLIVIA – Larry Zupke, ditch inspector for Renville County, has a short window of time to complete needed repairs and maintenance on the county’s 768 miles of open drainage ditches. His office desk and walls in Olivia are covered in projects and plans, all with the single goal to keep the county’s drainage system – a century old in some places – flowing as freely as possible. “Our primary job is to keep these ditches functioning. Time is catching up with these systems,” Zupke said. Without the hundreds of miles of ditches, and the thousands of miles of subsurface tile, Renville County would revert to a massive wetland, unusable for agriculture. “Every drop of rain we get has to move through one of these public systems,” Zupke said. An average year will see Zupke heading over 360 different projects, ranging from ditch cleaning to televising tile lines. The mission is to keep the 151 systems functioning as designed. “Repair and maintenance is number one on our list,” Zupke said. Zupke also leads the redetermination of benefits on the ditch

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

Marilyn Dunn has been helping Kandiyohi County farmers certify crops and acreage information for farm insurance and federal government programs for 31 years at the USDA office in Willmar.



West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 D5

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Transit Driver Jerry Ostensoe arrived to take over the helm from Dennis Smith, and immediately checked the rider log. The days tend to be very busy and the time “just goes like that,’’ said Ostensoe.

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Transit Director Dennis Smith has been in charge of the system, and a driver, since its start in 1988. “If you like people, if you like helping people this is the job,” he said.

TRANSIT DRIVERS People on the bus make life go round transit system as a parttime driver in 2002, said the job acquainted him with a side of life in his hometown many just don’t know. A growing number of people depend on the transit service to lead better lives, and many just appreciate the convenience or economy. Add it all up, and it’s easy to understand this: “Every once in awhile you have one of those days where you start one-half hour behind and just can’t catch up,’’ said Ostensoe. There are also times when the schedule is not so hectic, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. Smith and Ostensoe said most riders love to chat. They enjoy the companionship they find the minute they board the bus. Like talk show radio hosts, drivers find themselves in the middle of conversations related to local news and gossip. And Ostensoe said there are riders who just appreciate a friendly ear. “No hurry,’’ he said. “They love to drive around.’’ Many riders are regulars, and the drivers get to know their schedules. Some

are elderly with mild dementia, and a few rely on the drivers to know when and where they need to be for appointments. At the local clinic, it’s not unusual to watch a transit driver escort an elderly rider to the door. Ostensoe said they occasionally get notes: “Really appreciate you guys taking care of mom.’’ The city’s transit system has not missed a day since its start in 1988, and that includes providing critical service during two major floods and a tornado. During the 1997 flood, the backup bus ran 24/7 transporting volunteers to sandbag sites while the main bus made sure others got to their jobs, schools or appointments. Smith said he had been laid off from a job as an agronomist. He had job offers that would require moving, but decided he would apply for the new transit job in hopes of staying put. Nearly 30 years later, he still considers the decision among the best he’s made. “It’s not a high-paying job but it’s an enjoyable job. Money isn’t everything.’’

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

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By Tom Cherveny GRANITE FALLS – Picture yourself as an armchair psychologist lending an ear, a talk radio host in the middle of a lively discussion, or a race car driver. It pretty much sums up a typical day for Dennis Smith and other drivers with the Granite Falls Heartland Express. “It is a very interesting, fun job,’’ said Smith, the city’s transit director. “You meet a lot of people. If you like helping people, this is the job.’’ The on-call bus operates 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, and Sunday mornings. Last year’s ridership totaled 24,300. The city’s two buses covered 32,000 miles ferrying passengers to work, school, restaurants, the grocery store, homes of friends, you name it – all within the city limits. For many in this community of 2,897, the bus is their only way to get around. “I’m guessing three-fourths of our riders maybe don’t have driver’s licenses,’’ Smith said. Jerry Ostensoe, a musician who joined the

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D6 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

Lee Stock, Renville County Veteran Services officer, is on hand to help veterans and their families get the benefits they’ve earned.

DRUG-FREE COALITION Dedicated to healthy community future

VETERANS SERVICE OFFICER Working for the benefit of veterans By Shelby Lindrud OLIVIA – Lee Stock, veterans service officer for Renville County, is passionate about his job and the people he serves. “My job is to provide services to veterans and their dependents,” Stock said. In Renville County there at least 1,200 veterans, yet only 60 percent of veterans utilize their benefits. “It is our goal for them to get the maximum benefit,” Stock said. Those benefits include medical, home loans, pensions, burial benefits and compensation. Stock works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure veterans receive what they’ve earned. “We provide the face and experience” to help veterans through the benefits process, Stock said. While Stock is based in Olivia, he has made an effort to be available to veterans from all over the county. He will meet with veterans in their homes and also holds office hours

in Morton and Fairfax in the southern half of the county. This summer, Stock also plans to spend one day a month in both Renville and Hector. He makes appointments with veterans in the area, to make sure he can help them. “Another thing very important to me is outreach. It is our duty to get the word out,” Stock said. In addition to meeting with veterans and their families, Stock participates in and meetst with other veterans groups, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Renville County Veterans Association. He also sits on the Renville County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee, which was established in 2011 to assist veterans returning from deployment. “We’re there to help,” Stock said. It is also important for Stock to meet with government officials from any level. He recently met with Sen. Andrew Lang – himself a veteran from Olivia – in St. Paul. “Greater Minnesota does have a veterans

voice,” Stock said. Stock works in partnership with many organizations to assist veterans, whether it’s to help with housing or find jobs for those unemployed. “Together we can all provide better services to our veterans,” Stock said. Stock said the current veteran service office was set up after the Gulf War in 1991. The need for the office’s services expanded during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as thousands of local Guard members found themselves deployed to the Middle East. Lately though, Stock has been dealing more with military personnel who have found themselves removed from their job after the downsizing of the military. “That is when I found out how desperate it was,” Stock said. Stock will continue to work hard to help veterans, and believes the next few years could bring some needed changes and updates to veteran benefits and services. “I think we’re going to see a lot of good changes,” Stock said.

Surveys indicate the local efforts are helping. The most recent data from the Kandiyohi County SHARE survey of high school students found improvements in key measures from 2009 to 2016. During this period there was a 7.2 percent decrease in the number of teens reporting alcohol use within the past 30 days, a 3.8 percent decrease in past 30-day use of tobacco and 2.3 percent decrease in past 30-day use of marijuana. Major funding for the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition comes from a federal grant. An upcoming challenge for the group will be how to sustain itself and keep its programs going once the grant dollars run out. Leveraging existing resources, the Drug-Free Communities Coalition uses strategies that are evidence-based and have shown to be costeffective, Daak said. “The bottom line is that the work of our coalition is a commonsense, smart-spending, sound investment in the future of our youth and community.”

smoke-free beach ordinance. It has helped promote social host ordinances for adoption by local city councils. Most recently it was one of the partners involved in updating and expanding the county’s smoke-free ordinance. The coalition has a frequent presence at health fairs and community events. Its message also is familiar to local radio listeners with an ongoing campaign of catchy public service announcements to keep the public aware and informed. Preventing underage substance abuse is a critical public health goal – and one that pays large dividends, Daak said. “Substance abuse clearly is among the most costly health problems in the United States,” she said, noting that national estimates of disease-related costs place alcohol second on the list, tobacco at No. 6 and drug use at No. 7. The return on investment in schoolbased prevention programs ranges from $7.40 to $36 for every dollar spent, she said.

By Anne Polta WILLMAR – They come from many walks of life – law enforcement, social work, the mental health field, the criminal justice system, the faith community. What members of the Kandiyohi County DrugFree Communities Coalition have in common is a desire to keep alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other substances out of the hands of underage youths. “We have established a coalition that is dedicated to engaging our entire community in this endeavor,” said Laura Daak, coordinator. The coalition has been active for nearly a decade and can chalk up many accomplishments. It partnered with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office to establish a permanent drop-off site for unused prescription drugs. It supports peer-to-peer education through six student-led teams at Kandiyohi County high schools. On the tobacco front, the coalition worked with Kandiyohi County officials to create a

Anne Polta / Tribune

Laura Daak, left, coordinator of the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition, and volunteer Nick Aaker discuss the schedule for the group’s spring media campaign.



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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 D7

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Jill Wohnoutka, Kandiyohi Historical Society director, measures a Red Cross signature quilt for a World War I exhibit at the historical society museum. Wohnoutka wanted to hang the quilt as a backdrop for the exhibit.

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the U.S. 40 years ago. Permanent exhibits include a turn-of-thecentury fire engine, antique typesetting equipment and one of the museum’s prize possessions, a genuine Great Northern locomotive that’s displayed outdoors. History doesn’t have to be ancient to be worth preserving, Wohnoutka said. There’s a gap in the museum’s collection for the 1960s through the 1990s she would like to see filled with donations from the public. Some day this era will become history too, she said. “Fifty or 100 years from now, people can learn from it.” The Historical Society shares the stories of Kandiyohi County through the 21st-century technology of Facebook and Twitter as well. The staff is driven by a passion for how history illuminates the present. Immigration, for example, is a story that’s as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. “If you don’t know where you came from, how do you know where you’re going?” Wohnoutka said. “You can learn so much from the past and apply it to the future.”


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summer, the responses from the public will be included, as well as items from the museum’s own collection such as food posters, military coats and helmets and a Red Cross quilt. World War I-era correspondence from Brian Sperry, whose family owned the Sperry House that’s now part of the museum campus, was unearthed for the exhibit as well. “Whatever age you are, you have a section of that exhibit that represents you,” Wohnoutka said. The display will remain open for the next few years. Plans also are underway for a regional traveling exhibit next summer on World War I. It’s an example of how the Historical Society draws together many threads to weave stories connecting new and old, past, present and future. Surrounded by artifacts and documents on a daily basis, workers at the museum are the keepers and chief storytellers of the county’s history. A current exhibit is devoted to the Willmar 8, the eight women who staged the first bank strike in

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By Anne Polta WILLMAR – Uncovering, preserving and sharing the stories of Kandiyohi County is central to the mission of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society – and often the stories come from the county’s residents themselves. For an upcoming major exhibit on World War I, the museum began collecting public input last summer at the county fair. Fairgoers were asked one question: What comes to mind when you think about World War I? Their answers were then sorted by generations. Both young and old responded enthusiastically, but the most participation came from the youngest generation, said Jill Wohnoutka, executive director of the Historical Society. They knew about trench warfare, chemical warfare and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, whose death in 1914 was the fuse that set off the war, she said. “I was so excited,” she said. “They took it seriously. It was so cool to see.” When the exhibit opens this

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D8 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Stacy Bagaus, right, head cook at Ramsey Elementary School in Montevideo, serves lunch, along with jokes, to students and staff in the school cafeteria.

Briana Sanchez/ Tribune

BELOW: Choir director Travis Michelson at Willmar Middle School, directs students for Disney’s “Camp Rock: The Musical” during dress rehearsal at Willmar Senior High School.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

BELOW: Stacy Bagaus, head cook at Ramsey Elementary School in Montevideo, tests the internal temperature of chicken breasts to see if they need more baking time before they’re ready to serve.

CHOIR/PLAY DIRECTOR Teacher wouldn’t want to be anywhere else

SCHOOL COOK Montevideo elementary school has ‘crazy lunch lady’

Kennedy Elementary and Willmar Senior High. With a license to teach grades K-12, he has taught classes at nearly every age level in his career. “I haven’t taught orchestra or first grade,” he said. He also has coached track and hockey. A product of the Willmar Public Schools, Michelson performed in “Cinderella” in junior high and was in the pit orchestra for “Oklahoma” in high school. But at the time, he gave up the musicals in favor of playing hockey. Now, as the Middle School’s choir director, he sees about 540 kids a week, and is enjoying it. “Kids choose to be in my class,” he said. “I hope it’s because they have

fun in here.” Michelson, 32, comes from a family of teachers and said he is very happy with his career choice. “I can’t see doing anything else that would make me happier,” he said. Even the long hours of directing a play – 150 hours of contact with the students, plus the preparation and planning work he does on his own – is worth the time, he said. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.” Both of the Michelsons are Willmar natives and always wanted to return to their hometown. “Plenty of people say they can’t wait to get out,” he said. “I can’t think of being anyplace else.”


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Sederstrom watched over the students from her classroom, offering a reminder to those who forgot to say “Thank you,” as they’d discussed in class the week before. “We have wonderful cooks, very kind and patient,” she said.


Ramsey. “I love it,” she said. “My husband and I talk – if we won the lottery, would we quit our jobs? I don’t think I would.” She’s worked in food service for a long time, but working in schools adds a special element. “I like my job itself, but I really enjoy the kids.” She adds with a smile, “I am a crazy lunch lady.” She makes up fun names for foods and will occasionally burst into song. She wants them to enjoy lunchtime. “This is their time to kinda be free,” she said. As the kids come through the line, they make their choices and go to their assigned tables. Each classroom has an assigned table. When the class is ready to leave, the students wipe off their tables. “They want to do that,” Jakobs said. “They fight over who gets to do it.” Paraprofessional Lisa 001569154r1

By Linda Vanderwerf MONTEVIDEO – It’s mid morning, and the cafeteria at Ramsey Elementary School is clean and quiet. Head cook Stacy Bagaus and staffers Denise Ryer, a cook, and Carol Jakobs, who operates the computer checkout, are taking a break after clearing breakfast and preparing for the onslaught of about 300 hungry first-, secondand third-graders seeking lunch. Today’s choice is a breaded chicken breast on a bun or a yogurt parfait with granola, along with grapes, veggies with dip and milk. Most kids choose chocolate. Being called a “lunch lady” is fine with Bagaus and her crew. They are used to it, and they enjoy the youngsters they feed five days a week. “We tell them our lunch ladies are the best,” Ryer said. The cafeteria staff knows the favorites in their cafeteria. All students receive a free breakfast, and many are from families that qualify for free lunches. Some of the top favorites – breakfast pizza, “brunch for lunch,” french toast sticks and hot dogs. Bagaus, 47, has been with Montevideo Public Schools for 15 years. She started at the middle school before moving to

By Linda Vanderwerf WILLMAR – Directing a student musical is a family affair for Travis Michelson, Willmar Middle School choir director. His wife, elementary teacher Kari Michelson, is the choreographer for the shows. And with both parents involved, Emmett, 4, and Edyn, 2, come along for the ride. “They do just fine” at rehearsals, with DVDs and bags of snacks, he said. Michelson recently directed the Middle School musical “Camp Rock,” the 14th show he’s worked on in the past 8 1/2 years. He has taught at the Middle School for five years and previously taught at

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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 D9

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

Jodi Thielen, a diagnostician at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar, conducts tests to identify bacertia on poultry samples.

POULTRY LAB Team of public employees shares mission of keeping poultry healthy and people safe at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab in Willmar By Carolyn Lange WILLMAR – When the call came from a poultry farmer late in March that he feared something very bad was happening in his flock and needed samples tested immediately, the crew at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab in Willmar was ready. Even though the farm was five hours away and the samples didn’t arrive until 8 p.m., lab manager Stacy Pollock and lab diagnostician Cassie Ziemer received the samples and conducted the tests. The job was finished shortly before midnight. Fortunately, all the tests for possible deadly diseases – including the highly pathogenic avian influenza that hit millions of Minnesota turkeys and chickens in 2015 – were negative. The two women were back on the job at 8 a.m. the next day. It’s all part of

the teamwork and commitment to keep poultry healthy and people safe, said Dr. Dale Lauer, director of the Poultry Lab and assistant director on the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Housed in the newly renovated facility, staff from the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Board of Animal Health perform a wide range of duties including making sure all 200 poultry dealers in the state are licensed, and training 800 commercial and bacyard poultry farmers how to collect samples from their birds to test for diseases. Samples of poultry blood, tracheal swabs of saliva and barn litter are delivered at a secure entrance to undergo testing for diseases that could harm the birds – like avian flu – or the public – like salmonella. Different tests are conducted in separate bacteriology and

serology labs as well as the new molecular lab where highly sensitive equipment and precise procedures for polymerase chain reaction tests can spot pathogens and infectious diseases. Once someone is hired, autopsies on poultry will be conducted in the necropsy lab. Using all the available tools and training to produce conclusions requires lab specialists to be “skeptical,” said Josh Oestreich, who works in the bacteriology lab. “It’s like putting a puzzle together,” said his co-worker Jodi Thielsen. Producers can view test results on a computer network. Lauer said many people aren’t aware the lab in Willmar even exists, but he said the work being done here is “really a public service” that’s good for the community and the whole state.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

RIGHT: Josh Oestreich, diagnostician at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar, tests poultry samples to identify bacteria and potential diseases as Dr. Dale Lauer, director of the MPTL and assistant director on the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, looks on.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

LEFT: Cassie Ziemer conduct tests in the molecular lab at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar. Equipment and staff in this part of the lab was added last year to identify exotic poultry diseases and highly pathogenic avian influenza, like the strain that killed millions of turkeys and chickens in 2015 in Minnesota.

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D10 Thursday, April 20, 2017


Sp tlight

April 20, 2017

on Public


SOMALI LIAISON Willmar grad helps African students adjust to American high school By Linda Vanderwerf WILLMAR – Siyad Ahmed encourages newcomer students at Willmar Senior High School to get involved in sports and to speak English at home as much as they can. Those things helped him learn English when he was a student there, so it makes sense he would offer that advice as the Somali cultural liaison at the high school. Helping African students and their families adjust to an American high school is part of the job for Ahmed. He translates documents and interprets conversations as needed. He visits English Language Learner classes and helps students where needed. After school, he helps supervise SMART Club, which offers homework assistance. No day is the same as the day before in his job, he said. “Anytime they need me, I’m here at

the school,” he said. Flexibility is the name of the game. Language barriers are always an issue, he said. Ahmed arrived in Willmar in 2005 and started the ninth grade. He had been attending school in Kenya, but it was still a huge adjustment. He said his experiences help him to understand what students and parents are going through. He played soccer and was a runner. He learned that being on a team with English speakers helps a person become more comfortable speaking English. Parents who are new to the country can be a little shocked by an American high school, he said. He helps them understand the rules and culture. He explains that Muslim students may pray at school, but they can’t disrupt class or leave without a teacher’s permission. Most students pray in a

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Siyad Ahmed, cultural liaison at Willmar Senior High School, checks on Hamdi Mohamed, left, and Nasri Ali, right, during their American culture class. secluded corner of the Media Center, using apps on their phones to tell them which direction to face. For students, he tries to help them understand what they need to do to keep up in school and tells them to communicate in English as much as possible. Ahmed said he’s seen how much the school-issued iPads have helped students learning English. They

weren’t available when the 2009 graduate was in high school. “They can hear the sound,” he said. A student can read a passage and record it on the iPad, then listen to the recording to work on their pronunciation. Ahmed became a citizen in 2012, while he was studying marketing management at Ridgewater College and working at Jennie-O Turkey Store.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Luis Fuentes, Latino cultural liaison, takes a call from a parent about a student at Willmar Middle School. Fuentes helps students and parents with questions about classes or school activities. He also helps students who are having a hard time with language and social issues at school.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune


Luis Fuentes, Latino cultural liaison, talks to Mariela Guzman at Willmar Middle School. Fuentes helps students and parents with questions about classes or school activities.

Job helps change his perspective By Linda Vanderwerf WILLMAR – Luis Fuentes is proud to be part of Willmar Public Schools’ efforts to reach out to newcomer families. When he came to Willmar as a 9-year-old from Guatemala, he said, those efforts weren’t as well-developed. He recalls missing his bus shortly after he started school in Willmar and being unable to find someone who could speak Spanish to help him. Now, each school building in the district has cultural liaisons on staff to improve communication with non-English speaking students and parents. Fuentes, 23, is a Willmar graduate who has been the Willmar Middle School liaison for two years and worked in the district for three years.

Fuentes said his job depends on the day. He visits English Language Learner classes and tries to be a positive presence in the school halls between classes. Part of his job is to translate or explain school rules and policies to parents who are still learning English themselves. He also delivers little pep talks to kids in the hallways, and offers his presence as a calm, helpful adult for students and their parents. Some students will often drop in at the office he shares with Somali liaison Nagi Abdullahi. “Sometimes they just need to talk to somebody,” he said. “They’ll come in here to tell me about a good day or a bad day, a good grade or a bad one.” He occasionally delivers

a friendly talk about finishing assignments and keeping up in class. “I know what the struggle is for these kids,” he said, because he went through it himself and struggled academically at first. Fuentes said he comes from a family where helping others is part of life, and he has tried to follow the example his parents set for him. “I feel I’ve kinda left my mark with the kids,” he said. He tells them hard work will pay off and learning to be comfortable speaking English takes time. So it’s with sadness he will be resigning from his post at the end of the school year. He started a family after high school, and the school-year job just doesn’t provide enough

income, he said. When his summer employer offered him a year-round, full-time job, he felt he needed to make the change. “I had to do what was best for my family,” he said, but he will miss the school. The liaison position has given him a lot, too, he added, including a greater appreciation of people from other cultures in the community. “The job not only helped me professionally but just as a person,” he said. “It’s made me a much better person overall, less judgmental.”

E2 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Eric Rudningen, left, and Paul Beck, fixed-base operators at the Willmar Municipal Airport, talk about their day-to-day jobs near the runways at John Rice Field.

A Great Place to… AIRPORT OPERATIONS Access to the skies with the Willmar Municipal Airport

By Shelby Lindrud WILLMAR – During the summer peak, the Willmar Municipal Airport’s John Rice Field can see up to 30 takeoffs and landings a day, ranging from business flyers to those who take to the skies as recreation. “It’s always changing, normal is not normal. You get very varied segments of the population with access to the same place,” said Eric Rudningen. Rudningen and his business partner Paul Beck own Oasis Aero Inc. and are the fixed-base operators at the airport, responsible for the smooth running of the airport. It is their job to make sure all those pilots who use the Willmar Airport receive the help they need, from fueling up their airplanes to assistance in getting needed repairs done. “We have to try and help everyone. Be friendly,”

Rudningen said. The FBO also monitors field conditions and makes sure pilots are aware of any concerns or alerts that have been issued through what are called “notices to airmen.” Rudningen and Beck daily inspect the airport grounds. The Willmar Airport is around 260 acres and includes a paved runway 5,500 feet long and 100 feet wide. “You could land a 737 out there,” Rudningen said. As fixed-base operators, Rudningen and Beck check pavement conditions, looking for cracks in the runway. They keep the sod runway in good condition, so it is available for those flyers with smaller planes. The airport has lights throughout its property, to assist planes in landing. “We keep the lights working,” Rudningen said. Willmar Public Works

crews assist in keeping the airport running, with such things as snowplowing, Rudningen said. “Our public works guys are second to none. They absolutely do it the right way,” Rudningen said. The airport also has to make sure birds don’t pose a risk to the planes. Gulls and geese cause the most problems, and the airport does have a permit to remove them. The Willmar Airport has both privately owned hangars and T-hangars that are rented out by the city. “We’d like to have more availability,” Rudningen said. The Willmar Municipal Airport could open the city and region to the larger world, bringing new opportunities and amenities. “If you pour a milelong runway, you can go anywhere in the world,” Rudningen said.

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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 E3

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Benson Police Chief Ian Hodge appreciates the opportunity to patrol and get out in the community that being a chief in a rural community allows, but there are still paperwork and administrative duties that require time in the office.

POSTAL EMPLOYEES Snakes, tires and a single flip-flop with a stamp: Anything and everything gets delivered through the US Postal Service By Carolyn Lange BROOTEN – When Michelle Kent gets to the Brooten Post Office before the sun rises, there are large containers “full to the top” of mail that must be sorted before it can be delivered. The multi-phase, multi-person process includes dumping “cages” of mail and sifting and hand-sorting through letters, boxes, newspapers, advertising flyers and other mail that is put into individual post office boxes for town residents and sorted into cases that carriers deliver to residents on

CHIEF OF POLICE Making a difference for the good By Tom Cherveny BENSON – If you wear a badge to work, you will be dealing with all of society’s problems – from criminals intent on harm to heart-breaking cases of child abuse. Or as Ian Hodge, chief of police for Benson, puts it: “You will see some things that will take licks at you.’’ He is also the first to say: “I am very proud of what I do. There is no other job I’d rather do.’’ And here’s why. It’s a lesson from his father, Doug, who retired as a chief sheriff’s deputy in Chippewa County. “Impressed upon me at a pretty young age was the fact that you could make a difference. You could stop some of the wrongs in the world,’’ said the chief. Hodge, 43, came late to this career. After graduating from Montevideo High School, he pursued a career in manufacturing, married, and started a family. He was doing well as a machinist in Benson, hometown for his spouse, Linda, when the couple decided to hit the reset button. Hodge earned a fouryear degree at Moorhead

State University, and completed the law enforcement program at Alexandria Technical and Community College, where he was class speaker. At age 30, he started his law enforcement career with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. He served as chief for the communities of Clarkfield and Boyd before starting his position in Benson on April 23, 2013. He leads a department that includes seven full- and four parttime officers. They keep a busy pace: Each year the department records over 6,000 situations to which they respond. Hodge said rural law enforcement agencies are all very busy, and getting more so. Rural communities are seeing an influx of people who previously lived in metropolitan areas. And, officers are being called on to deal with more problems that traditionally weren’t law enforcement’s problems, he said. Rural officers have fewer resources to call on than their urban counterparts. There are times when an officer’s backup help might be a 20-minute drive away,

or at home asleep. Yet Hodge said officers can always count on support from their fellow officers. “We try to watch out for each other, make sure everybody goes home at the end of the night safe.’’ That camaraderie is one of the attributes that makes this a special career. There are frustrations. Not every crime can be solved, and not every investigation turned over to the legal system has the desired end result. “By and large I always figure I am the fisherman. They are the fry cook. How they cook ’em up is up to them,’’ laughed Hodge. He also advises those interested in this career to know that it becomes defining. “You become identified as an individual by what you do, not who you are, and that can be a hard change for some people. “Ultimately at the end of the day we’re people too, with feelings and passions, hopes and dreams just like everybody else,” Hodge said. “There’s a heart behind every badge. A lot of good people out there doing this job.’’

two rural routes. Kent, who is a parttime flexible clerk who lives in Brooten but travels to other post offices around the region, said when she started the job seven years ago, she was surprised at how much work it takes to sort and deliver the mail. It’s not just Christmas cards and unwanted bills that come in the mail. “We’ve had tires and bags of alfalfa seed,” Kent said. There have also been live bees, boxes of baby chicks and even a snake. “Someone sent a flipflop and then like a couple months later sent

the other one to match it,” she said. Just to be clear – the flip-flops were not in a box or envelope. Each flip-flop had an address written on it and an adhesive stamp attached to it and each flip-flop was delivered. One of the best parts of the job is “working with the public” at the counter where she weighs packages and sells stamps. “I love the Postal Service,” said Kent, who said anyone who’s looking for a new job should consider making a career move.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

Michelle Kent puts mail into post boxes at the Brooten Post Office.


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E4 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

RIGHT: Sue Anderson, dietary aide, answers a phone call from a patient at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield. Anderson is part of a team that implements healthy eating at the hospital. She takes food orders from patients at the hospital, hands the order off to the cooks, delivers the food to the hospital room and picks up the plate when the patient finishes their meal.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

BELOW: Joanne Searl, dietitian, talks about how she implemented new practices for healthy choices in the vending machines at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield.

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Ben Pieh relies primarily on computer access to law books for his research, but said he still favors the print books for a good portion of it. He is in the law library of the Chippewa County Courthouse in Montevideo.


Briana Sanchez / Tribune

ABOVE: Bill Berkowitz, nutrition services manager, puts in an order for food through Sysco March 20 at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield.

Sense of purpose puts him in corner for accused


Kitchen revolution: Meeker Memorial takes pride in healthy menus

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stories from troubled lives, and with the knowledge he may hear them again. Some of his clients will be repeat offenders. It isn’t so much they won’t change their ways, said Pieh, it seems more they can’t. “They’re stuck.’’ Often it is because of a mental illness, a crippling depression or severe anxiety, combined with an addiction to alcohol and other drugs. There are times when clients are at the point when the law says it is time for them to go to prison. At these times, it is Pieh’s duty to beg and argue and try to persuade a judge and prosecutor to give the person one last chance at probation. Sometimes he succeeds. And every once in awhile, Pieh knows the satisfaction of seeing that client run with that one last chance and change course. That is the reward of his work that goes beyond the sense of purpose that comes with being the voice for equal justice. “I can’t make them change, but I can at least be a part of getting that last chance.’’

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healthy menus, its nutrition rating on a selfassessment scorecard has more than doubled, Rice said. Other hospital-based wellness efforts also are ongoing in areas ranging from tobacco use to physical activity. The hospital has adopted a comprehensive wellness policy, banned tobacco use from its campus and is embarking on bikefriendly certification. “It’s always a work in progress,” Rice said. “We have had the support of administration and some really strong champions.” The real endorsement comes from patients, who are routinely surveyed for their feedback and ideas on how to further improve the food service. “We get really high marks from our patients,” Searl said. “It’s always 90 percent plus. So we know that what we’re doing is pretty good.”


later, the hospital has a food service that emphasizes fresh and nutritious, with minimal processing. The menu includes offerings such as lemon pepper fish, personal flatbread pizzas and fresh fruit. “All of our menus come with a nutritional analysis, and we’re very precise about the portions we use,” Berkowitz said. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. “The patients appreciate it. The families and staff appreciate it.” Everyone involved said it has been a learning process. Maintaining a creative menu takes effort, Berkowitz said. But “there’s a lot more possibilities than I ever imagined,” he said. Registered dietitian Joanne Searl admits there was pushback from some employees. “At first there was the perception that we were forcing them. No, we’re offering it. We’re trying to motivate people to think more about what they eat,” she said. She knew there was a breakthrough when employees began requesting smaller desserts. Now “it’s just sort of accepted,” she said. “More people are thinking about healthier recipes and healthier ways to cook. There’s more interest in locally grown food. All those things work together.” Since Meeker Memorial began implementing

001564702r1 001089006r1

By Anne Polta LITCHFIELD – Cafeteria fare at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield has taken on a distinctly healthful flavor. Bill Berkowitz, nutrition services manager, has slimmed down the use of high-fat, high-calorie ingredients. “We use a lot of spices and seasonings here. We use very little salt. I have no heavy cream in the house,” he said. Meals for patients, staff and visitors are prepared almost entirely from scratch. In summer the menu is augmented with fresh produce grown in the hospital’s own garden. Even the identity of the cafeteria has undergone a makeover; it’s now Prairie Winds Cafe. “It is walking the talk,” said Lori Rice, communications manager and a member of the hospital’s wellness team. “We’re trying to be healthy inside the hospital, and outside we’re trying to share that. We didn’t do that very well before.” The changes in the cafeteria grew out of the Statewide Health Improvement Program, a Minnesota Department of Health initiative to spur policy and environmental changes leading to improved community health. When the hospital’s wellness team sat down to develop a list of priorities, nutrition emerged as a key area. Almost seven years

in 2013, right after the Labor Day weekend. “I left the courthouse on Friday as clerk and came back Tuesday as the public defender.’’ He is primarily responsible for representing defendants in Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties, but can be assigned elsewhere in the large, rural district. His active caseload ranges from 55 to 75 at any given time. He devotes a good portion of his time explaining to clients “this pretty odd process they are about to go through.’’ As an attorney, he sees what will matter to the judge, prosecutor or jury. His clients – out of fear, anger, or both, and a lack of legal training – don’t always focus on what matters. Most of all, they want someone to explain what is going to happen. The vast majority are very honest with him, but some are leery. For some he is still a guy in a suit. Some wrongly fear he might go to the police if they confide too much. He goes home every night with difficult

By Tom Cherveny MONTEVIDEO – Ben Pieh stands by the accused. He spends his days in western Minnesota courthouses as a public defender working for those who do not have the resources to employ an attorney, but face criminal charges. This is work he has wanted to do since a college course led him to the pages of “Gideon’s Trumpet.’’ The book by Anthony Lewis tells the story of how a letter by inmate Clarence Earl Gideon led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one. “I just thought it spoke so well of society that it didn’t matter who you were. You get a lawyer. You get someone on your side no matter what you are accused of doing.’’ A native of New London, Pieh earned his law degree and worked on the East Coast for a few years, but came home to clerk in Montevideo for judges in the Eighth Judicial District. The opportunity he long wanted opened R001765639

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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 E5

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

BELOW: Greg Yeo, left, and Deb Anderson practice putting a neck collar on Kory Klebe as part of a training session for members of the Sunburg Ambulance and Lakes Area First Responders.

Linda Vanderwerf / Tribune

Minnesota West Vocational and Community College accounting instructor Leslie Bauman is pictured in her office. Bauman has taught at the school for 31 years and now teaches many of her classes through interactive TV or online.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

BELOW: Darin Pierce, from left, Laurie Rothers and Jim Carlson said the best part about being a volunteer with the Sunburg Ambulance is helping neighbors in need.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune

BELOW: Members of the Sunburg Ambulance crew and Lakes Area First Responders participate in a training session.



Rural emergency medical volunteers provide vital care By Carolyn Lange SUNBURG – Darin Pierce knows it’s “scary” to ride in the back of an ambulance. He was there after being seriously injured in an ATV accident several years ago. That perspective comes in handy when he’s the one providing care as a member of the Sunburg Ambulance. The volunteer department, which serves the very rural areas of Kandiyohi and Swift counties, just finished a 20-hour refresher course along with members of the adjacent Lakes Area Rescue Squad. The training is required every two years and keeps the volunteers up to date on emergency medical procedures. “It’s always good to relearn this stuff,” said Pierce, a farmer who has been on the crew for 12 years. The department

is to call sooner rather than later. “Don’t be afraid to call,” Rothers said. “We would rather error on the side of it being nothing, like heartburn, than the side of it being something and we get there too late.” “We’ve got a better chance of helping them if we get there sooner,” Carlson said. An individual can be checked out by responders and turn down a ride in the ambulance without a financial cost, according to Pierce. Donations for those types of calls are always welcome, with contributions going toward emergency equipment. Because of the distance between the rural responders and homes, Pierce also said everyone should take a CPR or first aid class to help buy a little more time until help arrives.

typically responds to about 60 calls a year. “We’ll go for a week without a call and then we’ll get three or four in a day,” Pierce said. “A lot of times you’re working on neighbors,” said Jim Carlson, another farmer who’s been with the ambulance for 20 years. Helping neighbors can be one of the best parts of the job, said Laurie Rothers, a 20-year volunteer. “They are immediately comforted when they answer the door and they see a face that they know,” said Rothers. But when the outcome isn’t positive, working on people they know can be one of the most difficult parts of the job, she said. Their advice to people who think they may need emergency medical care – but don’t want to bother the responders in case the suspected heart attack is heartburn –

After 31 years, she still enjoys seeing students learn By Linda Vanderwerf GRANITE FALLS – When she was a young accounting student at Granite Falls Area Vocational Technical Institute, Leslie Bauman was the kind of student who would take charge of a class when an instructor was late to class. When there was an opening for a parttime instructor, that instructor recommended her for the job. Thirty-one 31 years later, she’s still teaching at the school, now called Minnesota West Community and Technical College. “I love students getting the concept,” she said, “and then taking what they’ve learned and becoming productive citizens of society. ... It’s

why I’ve been here so long.” Bauman, 53, teaches many different classes throughout the year – accounting, payroll, cost accounting, c o m p u t e r i z e d accounting, taxes. It’s a total of seven to nine courses each semester, most taught online or through interactive TV. The busy schedule helps her keep up to date on accounting practices, and she gets to know a wide range of students, she said. Her students are from other Minnesota West campuses, and sometimes from other states. She tries to get to the other campuses at least once in a semester to meet all of the students face-to-face. For the

online courses, she can work from home, but she needs to be on campus for the ITV. “I think online learning has definitely helped rural America become educated,” Bauman said. It helps men and women who can’t afford to stop working to return to school, she added. Some people go back to school to earn a promotion at work, and some do it to try to better their families’ lives. Bauman said she has great empathy for her non-traditional students, because she was one. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bemidji State University, and “I did it while raising kids and teaching,” she said.



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E6 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

LEFT: Renville County Water and Household Hazardous Waste Management Coordinator Diane Mitchell explains how a rain barrel works. Her office sells rain barrels and compost bins as part of its water quality and waste disposal mission.

WATER & WASTE COORDINATOR Coordinating loans and programs for a cleaner environment

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

Diane Mitchell is Renville County’s Water and Household Hazardous Waste Management coordinator.




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the past seven years, 37 loans worth $467,208 have been made. Mitchell also helps with special projects, including the geological atlas, which has been researching the geological and hydrology of Renville County’s aquifers. “We’ll have a better understanding of our aquifers. Have a better picture of what is going on with our groundwater,” Mitchell said, referring to the completion of the project. As the coordinator of a department that oversees a variety of issues, Mitchell finds herself involved everyday in many things. However, she enjoys that variety and the challenges they bring. “That is a characteristic of rural counties. It’s not boring,” Mitchell said.


pesticides, poisons, asbestos and mercury, and 11,835 pounds of ag waste. Mitchell has even more going on when it comes to water. She is involved in four different watershed committees and assists in the establishment of the local water management plan. How those plans are created and implemented is undergoing some major changes as the state begins to implement the One Watershed, One Plan, which means each watershed will need its own management plan. “We’re in a new era. That is a whole new way of looking at water protection,” Mitchell said. There are also loan programs to help rural residents fund new wells and septic systems. Those living in the country might have a harder time paying for these expensive projects, especially because they don’t have cities to lean on. “I do a number of loan programs,” Mitchell said. The septic system loan program has been helping people since 2001. There have been 484 loans approved, valued in total at $3,634,216. A newer program was put in place in 2012, to help those people in rural areas who need a new drinking well. In


By Shelby Lindrud OLIVIA – Renville County Water and Household Hazardous Waste coordinator Diane Mitchell’s duties and responsibilities cover a wide range of projects and programs dealing with water and waste. She helps coordinate the county-wide cleanup events and assists with the collection, disposal, reporting and education of household hazardous waste. “We’re trying to educate people about what they can do with it. Giving people resources and opportunities,” Mitchell said. Household hazardous wastes include such things as drain cleaners, mercury thermometers and thermostats, rechargeable batteries, cell phones and fluorescent bulbs. “If they’re improperly disposed of, they can harm people and the environment. We don’t want them in the landfill, or for people to bury or burn them either,” Mitchell said. The Renville County landfill accepts household hazardous waste free of charge for county residents. The hazardous waste collection began in 2001 and since then 10,470 gallons of latex paint have been disposed of properly, along with 19,831 gallons of products such as


West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 E7

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

BELOW: Joe Baker, operations foreman and chief of the Willmar municipal power plant, checks the inside of the boiler.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Chris Carlson, power supply manager at Willmar Municipal Utilities, talks about how she digitally monitors power supply in her office.

POWERING WILLMAR By Shelby Lindrud WILLMAR – A lot has to go on behind the scenes to make sure that when a Willmar resident flips on a switch, the light turns on. Chris Carlson, power supply manager, keeps track of Willmar’s power usage, or load, by the minute, all day and night. “This is real-time information, right now,” Carlson said. Every day Carlson has to predict how much power Willmar will need the next day. She looks at historical usage, along with weather forecasts. Once she estimates the power load, Carlson will purchase the power. If during the day, Willmar is using more than forecast, additional power is purchased at a rate that is constantly changing. If Willmar is using less than estimated, it can sell its excess at the same rate. The vast majority of Willmar’s power is purchased through power contracts. On one weekday afternoon in March, Willmar was using 37.60 megawatts; nearly

30 were purchased. The remaining seven were produced in Willmar, either by the two wind turbines or the city’s power plant. Eighteen staff members work at the Willmar Power Plant, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week for most of the year. “I oversee the guys who are doing the dayto-day,” said Joe Baker, chief of the plant. It is also Baker’s responsibility to make sure the power plant is able to produce the power that is needed. Operating the power plant includes monitoring the grid, running the turbines and generators, and doing the needed reports and paperwork, Baker said. The plant can run on coal, natural gas or a combination of both. Baker said the plant uses an average of 140 to 150 tons of coal per day. The coal is constantly fed into the boiler to burn. The heat created by the boiler fire boils water which creates steam. The steam enters

the generator turbines, which spin. The spinning creates the electricity, which is sent out into Willmar’s power grid. The plant’s steam also runs the district heating system. While the plant usually produces only about 5 megawatt-hours, it can produce up to 17.5 if running at full power. Baker said when power prices were high, sometimes the plant would produce more to sell, but after the recession in 2008, both power prices and power usage went down. “There is a lot of power out there, more power than demand,” Baker said. The Willmar Power Plant is old, parts of it over half-a-century. Part of Baker’s job is to oversee annual maintenance on the plant and all its parts. This year the plant had a planned shutdown in early April for its overhaul, including a complete cleaning of the boiler, Baker said. “When these places were built, they were built to last,” Baker said.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Joe Baker, operations foreman and chief of the Willmar municipal power plant, sits at a work station where he can oversee the power plant operations at Willmar Municipal Utilities.


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E8 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

LEFT: Larissa Christensen, head librarian, and Brett Miller, programmer, talk about how they help people use the library’s website to look up material at the Clara City Library.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

RIGHT: Larissa Christensen, head librarian, sorts books at the Clara City Library.

LIBRARIAN No hush hush here: She makes lots of noise about libraries

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

BELOW: There is always work in the waiting for Larissa Christensen, head librarian of the MontevideoChippewa County and Granite Falls, Clara City and Milan libraries.

By Tom Cherveny MONTEVIDEO – “When I was a kid I did not like reading at all,’’ said Larissa Christensen, explaining how a twist of fate made her much more than a voracious reader. Today she is the Pioneerland Library System’s head librarian for the MontevideoChippewa County, Granite Falls, Clara City and Milan libraries. She brings to her job an almost evangelical zeal to introduce others to the world of reading and all that libraries have to offer. Her libraries are committed to offering a wide range of programming to get people of all ages through the doors. Whether it is children storybook hours, Lego clubs or adult painting classes, every attempt is made to reach out and engage people. She makes every attempt to make sure the library remains as relevant and as important as ever. “We’re offering different things … and the reason for that is because we’re evolving with the times,’’ Christensen said. “And I think if you’re a library and you’re not changing and not

evolving, then I think you are going to die.’’ No worries about that in the four libraries she leads. Christensen has seen patronage at the four remain strong and grow since she started in October 2015. It’s not all her doing, she is the first to say. Despite all the naysayers, the truth is people still love to read. And print books remain as popular as ever and are actually increasing in number, according to Christensen. Lib rari e s once were “information warehouses’’ where people came to find books or specific information. Today they are more in the vein of a community center. Patrons come to access resources for everything from job hunting and business research to DVD movies, books and magazines. “It’s all free. Sometimes that just blows my mind. A resource like this that people don’t know,’’ she said. That’s really the big issue facing libraries today. Many people don’t know what they offer. Give her a magic wand, and Christensen would use it to promote and get more people to discover libraries.

Her route to the world of literature started in middle school. She said a teacher “took pity’’ on a young child struggling with a speech impediment and gave her a job of stacking books in the library. The job ended the anxiety she had felt about this world of whispered voices. And soon after, she discovered the pleasure reading offers. Christensen said she graduated from high school knowing libraries were her future. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in library science. She has amassed a large personal library and reads anywhere from one to three books a week. When not reading, she loves to travel. This librarian credits her reading with inspiring her to visit eight countries so far, from Peru and Bolivia to Tanzania and Ireland. Yet what she loves most is being at the library helping people. “I feel like there is such a variety of rewards, simple, small pleasures we get from the smile on somebody’s face when they find a cool book, or a thank-you email from somebody you helped apply for a job.’’



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West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 E9

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Denny Marty, maintenance supervisor, talks about how he keeps 511 road information updated every day at MnDOT District 8 headquarters in Willmar.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

RIGHT: Jay Jorgensen, District 8 lab supervisor at Minnesota Department of Transportation in Willmar, shows how he tests the consistancy of gradation through a nest of sieves.

HIGHWAY CREWS The many faces of MnDOT

maintenance supervisor, is in charge of updating regional road conditions shared on the 511 traveler information website. As plow drivers call in from their routes, he will change the website as needed. The website is updated a few times daily, even when the weather is good. It is also Marty’s responsibility to keep the district well-stocked in salt, sand and salt brine for the winter driving season. The salt order is made in July and Marty makes the order based on past averages. Huseby and his team stay busy year-round planning, engineering, testing and fixing to make sure everyone can get from Point A to Point B. “What an honor and responsibility we have with our role,” Huseby said.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

Lindsey Knutson, district planning director, left, Jon Huseby, district engineer at Minnesota Department of Transportation, and Teal Spellman, pre-design engineer and project manager, look over a future road project map District 8 MnDOT headquarters in Willmar.


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referred to as the North Gap. The South Gap is between New London and Paynesville. On average, District 8 completes 10 to 12 individual projects a year. In the lab, Jay Jorgensen and his team make sure the concrete, asphalt and grading materials used in those projects meet the standards of MnDOT. A wide range of tests are done at the lab – heating the product to a high temperature or compacting it using crush pressure – all to make sure each mix used will meet specifications of each project. “We do quality assurance testing for the county, cities and our own projects. We want to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth. It is up to us to say if it’s OK,” Jorgensen said. MnDOT works with local, regional and state contractors to do the major construction work. These contracts average $40 million per year, Huseby said. That is money and jobs being funneled into the local and regional economy. In the maintenance garage, mechanics work on the district’s fleet of equipment ranging from snowplows to mowers. The maintenance crew is also behind the snowplows, road treatments, filling of potholes and cracks and keeping the public aware of road conditions. Denny Marty,


By Shelby Lindrud WILLMAR – There is very little in a person’s day-to-day life which isn’t touched in some way by the work taking place at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. District 8, which reaches from Willmar to Pipestone and from Hutchinson to the border with South Dakota, does more than fill potholes. It assists with the region’s economy and quality of life. MnDOT engineers plan years in advance for projects designed to ease the passage of commerce. Its maintenance crews work to keep the roads clear and holes filled, and technicians run tests on the materials being used in the roads to make sure the route used by the citizens is as well-built as possible. “We have a role in it,” said District 8 engineer Jon Huseby. Currently, a team is completing the e n v i r o n m e n t a l assessment work on two potentially large projects in the region – the two sections of state Highway 23 in the region that are still only two lanes, which when completed would make Highway 23 a four-lane highway all the way from Willmar to Interstate 94. “We’re very early on in the process,” said Lance Kalthoff, project manager for the section north of Paynesville


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E10 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

STATE PARK MANAGER Making it look easy in the best work environment

By Tom Cherveny NEW LONDON – One of the best parts of Colin Wright’s job is what no one else sees, and that’s kind of by design. “There’s a lot of components to a state park operation most people don’t see every day,’’ said Wright, who joined Sibley State Park as its assistant manager in February. “One of the things most rewarding to me is seeing all these things come together every day to make the operation as a whole.’’ Operating a state park is much like running a small city, involving everything from maintaining infrastructure like roads and buildings to keeping trails clear, managing staff, budgeting, handling reservations and paperwork, interacting with customers and, of course, protecting the natural resources. “ E y e - o p e n i n g experience if you come from one side as park visitor to the other side working for the park,’’ Wright said. “And that is our goal, to make it look easy. It is not always easy.’’ It all takes teamwork, and that too is something

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

RIGHT: Dr. Al Balay, director of Ridgewater College’s veterinary technician program, performs a spay surgery on a cat named Ninja with students assisting.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune

LEFT: Dr. Al Balay, director of Ridgewater College’s veterinary technician program, goes over charts with Morgan Briceno, left, and Amanda Fobbe, second-year vet tech students.

RIDGEWATER INSTRUCTOR Veterinarian wanted to see his kid grow up faculty and staff in the department has grown from five to eight. The program is nationally accredited, and its graduates pass the national exam at a rate higher than the national average. “Lots of people want to hire a Ridgewater grad,” he said. Along the way, Balay did get to see his son Scott grow up and become an Eagle Scout. Balay himself has been involved with the New London Boy Scout troop for more than a decade. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without this job,” he said. “I enjoy what I do a lot; that’s why I’m still here.”

Tom Cherveny / Tribune

Colin Wright grew up with an appreciation for the outdoors, and has always enjoyed the mix of lakes, prairie and woodlands found at Sibley State Park near New London.

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This summer stop in for a visit at these Chippewa County Historical Society locations!

HISTORIC CHIPPEWA CITY Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm Sat., Sun. & Holidays 1pm-5pm

320.269.5428 001569134r1

Montevideo, MN



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101 South 1st St. | PO Box 476 Danube, MN 56230

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320.269.2163 800.247.5051 We’re here to help with your rural living!



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Renville Sibley

outdoors,’’ said Wright of his role at Sibley State Park. It is among the state’s 10 most popular state parks, and that fits him too. He likes the challenges and busy pace, and the opportunity for interaction with people. One of the best rewards of being a park worker is the pleasure of helping people make the most of their visit, he said. People who are visiting state parks are there to enjoy themselves, and in good spirits, he noted. And you can’t beat the environment. He loves the mix of lakes, tallgrass prairie and oak savannah that defines Sibley Park and the region. Now that he’s back home, he’s hoping to stay awhile. “A person can spend their whole career at Sibley State Park and still have yet to see all the secrets and beauty the park holds,’’ he said. “I certainly plan to explore more of it.’’ An avid angler, it’s a safe bet to say he will be rediscovering many of his favorite fishing spots as well.


a family, “I started thinking I’d like to see this kid grow up.” Veterinarians for large animals don’t get to spend a lot of relaxing nights at home, something that didn’t matter to him when he was young and single, he said, but he’d watched his married partners regularly miss family events. In addition, his parttime teaching had been enjoyable. “It was a great experience, and I enjoyed working with young people” he said. Over the years Balay has helped the Ridgewater program grow in size and stature. There was one lab when he joined the school. It now has five. The


By Linda Vanderwerf WILLMAR – Dr. Al Balay 22 years ago moved from a thriving veterinary practice to teaching veterinary technologists. Why would he have sold his Michigan practice and moved to a teaching job at Ridgewater College in Willmar, only to earn about half as much money in that first year? “I took that cut in pay for quality of life,” Balay said. Balay had taught parttime at a Michigan vet tech program while he and his partners were building their small animal and equine practice. But after he married his wife, Claudia, and they started

he enjoys about this work. Wright grew up in Spicer in a family that appreciates the outdoors. His father, Skip, is the regional manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s southern ecological and waters resources division. Colin Wright set his goal for a career in natural resources early. He served as a Gary Westby intern with the DNR’s shallow lakes program while in high school and worked two summers with the Chippewa River Watershed Project. He earned a degree in environmental studies in 2010. An opportunity to work with the Temperance River and Tettegouche state parks introduced him to what it’s like on the other side of the park office counter. He loved it. He took on assignments at the Split Rock, Charles Lindbergh, Hayes Lake and Whitewater state parks before the opportunity he long wanted came open. “I get to spend time working outdoors, some of the time in a place that serves as the gateway to Minnesota’s great

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Public Service

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 E11

Focus on Quality. Focus on Value. Focus on Service.


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Thank you for your support. We truly need and appreciate your business! Not just because we’re local, because we’re better! Owners Rick and Kelley Dahle

E12 Thursday, April 20, 2017

West Central Tribune | Willmar, Minn.


Visit twotownsonedes�na� for a bike & trails map, store lis�ngs, restaurants, events & more!

Upcoming Events


Traditional, Transitional, Vintage, & Comtemporary Styling!

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CONVENIENCE STORE • Bait • Tackle • Video • Pop • Groceries • Snacks • Lottery

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30 Main St. N, New London 320.354.4881



A & W Hours: 10am-9pm 354-AW02 (2902)


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M 12-8, T-W. 9-5, Th 10-7, F 9-5, Sat. By Appt 17 Main St. N, New London


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May 12-13 Spin into Summer May 19 5th Annual Mayors’ Bike Ride June-Aug. Li�le Crow Ski Team - Ski ShowFriday nights (some excep�ons) June 10 Crow River Fishing Tournament June 11 Smokin’ for The Link- Rib Fest June 16-17 Studio Hop July 12-16 New London Water Days July 14 Customer Apprecia�on/Sidewalk Sales July 15 New London Kids Fishing Tournament July 15 Mill Pond Mile - Family Fun Run Aug. 9-12 New London to New Brighton An�que Car Run Aug. 19 New London Music Fes�val Sept. 9 Grape Stomp Sept. 9 Prairie Pothole Day Sept 15-16 Fall Fes�val Sept.16 NL-S Schools 5k Color Run Sept. 24 Glacial Ridge Winery Harvest Fest-Family Fun Day Oct. 12 Fall Ladies Night Out Nov. 10-11 Home for the Holidays Nov. 25 Small Business Saturday Dec 9 Santa Semi/A Charles Dickens Christmas

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M, T, W, F 9-5:30 pm Th. 9-7 pm Sat. 9-5 pm; Sun. 11-3

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Focus 2017: Spotlight on Public Service  

Annual Focus edition highlighting public service employees across the region.

Focus 2017: Spotlight on Public Service  

Annual Focus edition highlighting public service employees across the region.