Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Dec. 30, 2002

Winsted-Lester Prairie year in review

Many issues defined the year 2002 for local residents

By Julie Yurek

Several events defined the year 2002 for local residents.

In Winsted, development of Winsted's industrial park, relocation of Waste Management headquarters into the park, and a very soggy growing season, with some flooding, characterized the year.

In Lester Prairie, closing of the grocery store, placement in a new athletic conference at the Lester Prairie School District, and the fate of the outdoor pool dominated the year 2002.

January

Former Winsted resident Larry Kettner, who is blind, carried the Olympic torch on its 65-day trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 2002 winter games.

The Winsted City Council voted to accept the resignation of city building inspector Paul Waldron and Associates.

The resignation ocurred as the result of tension between Waldron and Bill Gilk of Scenic Homes, Inc., developer of Winsted on the Lake.

Winsted City Council members weighed options about paving the Winsted Airport runway during a workshop.

Sterner Lighting Systems' main office is heading home to Winsted after a four-year absence.

The positions of some people moved from the Eden Prairie office back to Winsted's recently remodeled building, Maus said.

Winsted City Council approved installation of an antenna from VoiceStream Wireless on the town's water tower.

"A signal should reach Highways 7 and 12 with the antenna," council member Tom Ollig said.

Winsted Airport will stay a turf runway.

The Winsted City Council decided to keep it a grass runway and re-zone the airport and industrial park to meet Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) regulations.

The industrial park will still be affected by the turf runway, but not nearly as much as previously thought.

The Lester Prairie City Council discussed taking off the diving boards from the pool next summer.

The park board recommended removal of the boards to the city council, said park board member Rose Halloran.

"The configuration of the pool floor is not safe. The park board has discovered that the bottom of a pool should be a certain length from the diving board, and the city's is not configured properly," Halloran said

Expensive repairs on the pool have made it hard to put money away for a new one, Halloran said.

A review of area school districts' open enrollment figures shows HLWW loses a significantly larger number of students than many other districts do.

Of the 312 students who are open enrolled out of HLWW, 75 attend Dassel-Cokato, 66 go to Watertown-Mayer, 59 to Lester Prairie, 46 to Buffalo, 26 to Maple Lake, and 19 to Delano.

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board reorganized for the new year, setting its sights on finding a new superintendent.

The search stems from the retirement of longtime Supertinendent Riley Hoheisel at the end of this school year.

Jim Raymond was named chairman, with former chair Gene Lorentz being named as vice chair. Jim Fowler was appointed clerk, and Charles Weber was named treasurer.

The newly appointed negotiation committee, composed of Charlie Borrell, Fowler, and Weber, will develop a plan for choosing the new superintendent.

The committee's recommendations will be announced March 15, which is the closing date for the position, with interviews to begin after.

February

Wisdom prompted veteran officer Gary Schott, 50, to retire Feb. 2. Schott decided to take a lesson from the past, and end his 27 years of full-time law enforcement while he still enjoyed his job and had his health.

Winstock's first headliner, Waylon Jennings, 64, died at his home in Arizona Wednesday.

Jennings was suffering from a recent leg amputation and diabetes-related health problems. Jennings headlined Winstock in 1994, the first year of the now annual festival.

Lester Prairie City Council voted 4-1 to keep the diving boards in place for this year.

Council member Rose Halloran voted against keeping the diving boards. Halloran represented the park board.

"The recommendation of the park board is to have the diving boards removed," she said.

"The pool does not meet state requirements and we are putting the city at liability (risk)," she said.

Park board member Chris Schultz questioned whether the city would be insured if the boards stayed.

Several charges were leveled against Benjamin Keith Berry, 16, of Lester Prairie in connection with the shooting of another juvenile.

The charges are related to the non-fatal shooting of Ryan Fiecke, 16, Feb. 17.

Fresh blood infused into the long-term facilities issue may yield solutions, or at least this appears to be the hope of the HLWW school board.

The board set a special session Feb. 28 to discuss its long-term space needs, including a potential new high school, or other long-term solution.

Since November, new board members John Lideen and Charlie Borrell took their places among the board. The board is also very different because it reflects fewer members - nine down to seven - pared down by a previous consolidation plan.

There is a definite crunch for space in all three buildings including the buildings in Winsted, Waverly and Howard Lake, said Supt. Riley Hoheisel.

The issue cropped up when the board approved remodeling to the Winsted Elementary building that would change a cooler into additional classroom space during its meeting.

However, one goal that was abandoned by the board was pursuing a consolidation with Lester Prairie.

More than $2 million worth of buildings were constructed in Lester Prairie in 2001, according to Paul Waldron and Associates, the city's building inspector.

The Lester Prairie School Board discussed the status of its athletic conference during its board meeting.

"We have not been accepted by any conferences yet," said Dean of Students Joe Miller. "Now we have to wait for the Minnesota State High School League to have a hearing that the athletic director and myself will attend, to let the league know which conference we feel fits our needs best."

March

It is a sticky situation that does not look like there will be a solution which makes everyone happy.

For nearly a year, schools in the Tri-Valley Conference knew they needed to go looking for new athletic conferences. The Tri-Valley is folding at the end of the 2002 spring season.

At this point, every school except Lester Prairie has a new conference for 2002-03.

Lester Prairie is having a tough time finding a conference near its enrollment, yet not so far away in distance.

So far, Lester Prairie has applied for admission to five conferences. Three have declined, and responses from two others are still forthcoming, Athletic Director Bob Kuehl said.

Benjamin Keith Berry, 16, of Lester Prairie appeared in court Feb. 20 to face three felony counts connected to a shooting incident three days prior.

Stabbing suspect Sergio Sanchez-Diaz, 23, of Lester Prairie was indicted in district court Feb. 21 with three murder charges related to a fatal December stabbing of his pregnant partner, Laura Vazquez-Ruelas.

A Winsted resident received a package that caused some concern Feb. 22.

The package contained an "unknown substance," said Police Chief Mike Henrich. The person opened the package and found it inside, he said.

"There was no note or letter of threat, or anything," Henrich said.

The police took the package into evidence and contacted the Minnesota Department of Health and the U.S. Postal Authorities.

The cities of Winsted and Howard Lake both have had more than 30 percent growth in population during the past decade, and other local cities are growing also, according to the most recent census.

Winsted also had a large increase with a 32 percent population rise between 1990 and 2000, with the number of individuals living in town rising from 1,581 to 2,094.

City Administrator Brent Mareck attributed the population rise as a result of the westward expansion of the metropolitan area.

Winsted has also seen new developments in the past 10 years, including Winsted on the Lake and Pheasant Run.

Winsted also had a large number of new housing units built in the past decade ­ 237 ­ which is an increase of 41 percent.

Residents of Lester Prairie saw their town increase in size from 1,180 people in 1990 to 1,377 in 2000.

City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said the growth is due to people wanting to get out of the fast life in the metro area.

"I think that it's just people wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities area," Pawelk said.

The railroad line running through the heart of Lester Prairie will be preserved.

At least, that is the goal of the McLeod Regional Rail Authority.

The rail authority is part of a joint venture that owns approximately 44 miles of railroad line stretching from Hutchinson into Hennepin County.

Dakota Rail purchased the rail line through a contract for deed, which stated it would provide service until 2008. Rail America purchased Dakota Rail in December 1995, and the last train ran on the track on June 14, 2000.

Small cities such as Winsted and Lester Prairie escaped at least the worst of the state's budget shortfall for the time being, Rep. Tony Kielkucki said.

Kielkucki described recent legislative action, including Governor Jesse Ventura's veto and the ensuing legislature's override of it, among other issues.

Overriding the veto bypassed the governor's budget plan, which would have eliminated the local government aid given to small cities ­ the City of Winsted expected that to amount to about $80,000.

The number of domestic abuse calls was up in Winsted in 2001 from 2000.

Thirty-five calls were received for domestic violence, and eight arrests were made, according to the department's annual report.

"Domestic violence is not just between husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends. It could be between siblings or roommates," Police Chief Mike Henrich said.

The department also had its first homosexual domestic call, Henrich said.

Overall, most crime and service calls were down or stayed about the same, he said. "One can see when unemployment is high and when it's low."

The amount of bad checks usually rises and falls with the economy, Henrich said.

Otherwise, 2002 has been relatively quiet, Henrich said. "Our drug level will probably increase." particularly methamphetamine.

"It's the drug of choice right now, and it's easily available," he said.

Lester Prairie area farmer Larry Michaletz was the talk of WCCO's "Snacks and Facts" segment recently.

This program features two state legislators who come in to discuss current issues - as well as a unique snack.

Senator Steve Dille was one of two featured legislators, who brought Michaletz's unique brand of Nature's Prairie red, white, and blue popcorn with him to the studio in Minneapolis.

Although it comes unpopped, Dille made some the night before and brought it in for people in the studio to try out.

"When it pops, it comes out white, but it's red, white, and blue naturally," Dille said.

The red, white and blue corn is a product that was developed by the Michaletzes at their farm outside of Lester Prairie.

A coin toss decided the clerk position for Winsted Township, highlighting recent election results for several townships.

No one filed for either position, with write-in votes filling both and a tie resulting for the clerk position.

Peggy Sullivan secured the clerk position following a tie with incumbent Nina Stifter. Both candidates received four votes.

The Board of Canvass met and after a coin toss, Sullivan was declared clerk for a term of two years.

Large-scale remodeling is nearly out of the question for the existing facilities of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district, following a visit Monday from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning (CFL).

Board members were given state guidelines on remodeling and new building projects by CFL Representative Bob Buresh.

Buresh told the board that the state would not allow the school district to renovate existing buildings on a large scale unless an additional 30 acres or more could be added to the structures, in order to bring the buildings up to state expectations.

School districts' plans for construction projects in excess of $500,000 must be approved by the state, Buresh said.

In addition, when the cost of renovating approaches 60 percent of its replacement cost, the state recommends the district to build new, he said.

The question would be whether it could be cost effective to renovate when the numbers go this high, unless the district can make a case for it, he said.

Buresh gave a list of 13 items, ranging from indoor air quality to the square footage of rooms, that the state requires.

The guidelines are specific to communities, since there have been some exceptions to the acreage rule, he said.

Buresh indicated that the Howard Lake buildings are undersized in every way, both inside and out, and in regards to acreage. He gave them a grade of C- or D for overall structure.

"In essence you're telling us that this site right here (the high school building) would not be usable," Board Member John Lideen said.

"Yes," Buresh said. "Unless you can add 30 adjacent acres or more," for a high school site, he said.

"How about for a middle school?" Lideen asked.

"You're not even close," for acreage, Buresh said.

A burglar struck Littfin Lumber Company in the early morning hours of March 9.

Stolen items included a radio, two computers, computer-related objects, cell phones, and other small miscellaneous items, according to the police report.

April

Chronic complaints about cell phone service have been noted by the Winsted City Council, apparently caused by the location of Winsted and Lester Prairie, which are wedged between metro and non-metro calling areas for many service providers.

The city itself experiences trouble using cell phones, including the police department.

As a result, the City of Winsted recently asked several cell phone service providers to put up an antenna in the city to help combat the poor service coverage.

Out of the companies contacted, only one, VoiceStream, was willing to assist the city, said City Administrator Brent Mareck.

This antenna is scheduled to be erected on the Winsted water tower in April or May, for the benefit of VoiceStream customers only.

After a nearly two-year standstill, DairiConcepts production line in Winsted will once again be in full swing.

"What it all boils down to is we're gearing up for a new production line for making a wet cheese blend," DairiConcepts Production Supervisor Dawn Raymond said.

A Winsted Fire Department T-shirt is making a statement in Las Vegas, thanks to Jim Habisch and Marv Vetsch of Winsted.

The T-shirt is part of a memorial to all those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001 ­ among the dozens of T-shirts from fire and rescue squads all over the country in front of the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas.

A common poll will be located at the Winsted Fire Hall for the Winsted City Council and Winsted Township.

The Winsted Sportsmen's Club's he/she mixer was cancelled April 5 as the result of an anonymous call to the police.

The mixer was to include illegal gambling in the form of blackjack and other games, which has been a practice of the sportsmen's club for the past 12 years, said Tom Kieser, president of the club.

No fines or actions were taken against the club.

Proceeds from the gambling are used to fund various community events.

Watertown resident Bonnie Roy planned a fundraising event June 21 at the Blue Note Ballroom of Winsted. All money raised was given to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation.

June will also mark her five-year anniversary being cancer-free.

The HLWW school board hired McLeod West superintendent George Ladd. McLeod West serves the Brownton and Stewart area.

Ladd, who is a Buffalo resident, was the top choice out of three final candidates.

The other two top candidates were Percy Lingen, superintendent of the Caledonia School District, located near La Crosse, Wisc., and John Franzoia, superintendent of the Royalton School District.

Ladd has been superintendent of McLeod West for two years, and principal of Glencoe-Silver Lake from 1999 to 2000, Weber said.

There's no doubt about it - the Lester Prairie outdoor pool is losing big money.

Revenue for the pool, which is 35 years old, was approximately $11,901 in 2001, with expenses reaching about $70,000 to $75,000, park board member Chris Schultz told the City of Lester Prairie.

The revenue included pool admission fees, swimming lesson fees, and concessions, Schultz said.

"For every person in that pool, it is costing the city $14 in operating cost," Schultz said.

The total park fund budgeted amount was $73,300 and the actual amount spent was $91,875.

In order to save money this year, the park board suggested possibly cutting back the pool hours, perhaps from 2 to 7 p.m, with a break, Schultz said.

To help fellow student Jason Fern, 9, who has leukemia, HLWW school hosted a community-wide Scholastic book fair for Fern.

All proceeds went to his family.

Planning the next move for a potential high school took center stage at the HLWW school board meeting.

Board members decided to take the issue to the people - to actively seek out town boards, councils and other organizations' opinions.

The committee is also supposed to hash out different ideas from each board member about exactly how to improve the school facilities, Lideen noted.

The building and grounds committee is already interviewing four architect firms to handle the issue.

An issue once thought to have been dropped, came up again at the Winsted City Council meeting.

The South Lake ditch is claimed to be blocked over the years, causing damage to Chuck Gutzmann's property, according to Gutzmann's attorney.

City Attorney Fran Eggert received a letter from attorney Kerry Olson of Galvin, Olson, Savre, and Winters in Glencoe in regards to the complaint.

Eggert will get in touch with Olson to determine if the $15,000 payment is what still stands and Gutzmann's rationale as to why he feels the city is responsible for any possible damages to his property.

Main Street Catering expanded its services to Winsted and surrounding towns. It has been in business for 15 years.

May

Caring Hearts Pet Service opened its doors in Winsted.

The business, which is owned by Bruce and Charlene Anderson of Winsted, is located at 22174 Babcock Avenue.

For the ninth year in a row, Sherm's Team of St. Bonifacius raised money at the MS Society's MS Walk.

"Including this year's money, the team has raised about $140,000 in nine years," team member Kathy Rathmanner said.

She is a former Winsted resident and has walked on the team for seven years.

The team was a top contributor in the state for donations for four years in a row.

After months of speculation and uncertainty, Lester Prairie has a new conference to call home.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) placed the Bulldogs in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Alliance (MCAA).

With the Bulldogs accepting the placement, Lester Prairie will be a full member of the MCAA in all sports, except football, starting in the 2003-04 season.

Since current MCAA schools do not have football, Lester Prairie will be part of the Gopher Valley Conference for that sport.

For other sports, the Bulldogs will play an independent schedule next year unless arrangements can be made to come into the conference early in certain sports.

Restructuring of staff positions and switching the kindergarten schedule were the highlights of a special meeting for the Lester Prairie School Board May 2.

Board members decided to try an all-day, every-other-day schedule for kindergartners for the 2002-03 school year, said Supt. James Redfield said.

This would mean kindergartners would attend Monday, Wednesday, and every other Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday, Elementary Principal Pam Lukens said.

However, Redfield indicated that the final decision will not be made until the regular board meeting May 20.

The move would save between $10,000 and $13,000 in transportation costs per year, if implemented, Redfield said.

The savings is related to bussing at noon time, he said.

A decline in enrollment and fund balances is the driving force behind changes in staffing, Redfield said.

Three youths were arrested in connection with a string of burglaries in the Winsted area.

Felony charges of burglary and possession of stolen goods have been filed against youths from the Glencoe, Plato, Silver Lake, and Winsted areas, said Police Chief Mike Henrich.

It is believed that the youths were involved in the burglaries of three Winsted businesses - Winsted Farmers Elevator, Pantry Cafe, and Littfin Lumber, according to the police report.

Two appointed candidates assumed the clerk and supervisor positions for Winsted Township recently, following the decline of write-in candidates chosen by voters in April's election.

Susan Goebel and Larry Michaletz were appointed to the township board as clerk and supervisor, respectively, at a special meeting.

Peggy Sullivan and Anthony (Tony) Hausladen were declared the write-in winners after the election March 11.

Sullivan and former clerk Nina Stifter tied for the clerk position, and after a coin toss, Sullivan was declared winner.

"Neither Peggy nor Tony filed for the positions, so they were under no obligation to accept," Stifter said.

Sullivan and Hausladen had until the end of March to take their oath of office. When they did not, the position became open, Stifter said.

"All the write-in candidates were contacted, and all declined," Stifter said.

Lester Prairie Police Chief Fred Blaser retired July 31.

The council approved hiring Officer Bob Carlson as the new Chief of Police, per Blaser's recommendation.

Lester Prairie City Council member Rose Halloran resigned from the council, citing family health reasons.

Her last council meeting was Aug. 12. Halloran is also the park board liaison.

The classmates of the late Christopher Bebo of rural Silver Lake decided to plant a sugar maple tree in his honor.

Bebo was helping his grandfather in the field when he was accidentally run over and killed.

Bebo's class graduated from kindergarten at Holy Trinity without him.

The kindergarten class in Lester Prairie will remain half-day, every day for the school year 2002-03 as decided by the school board.

The board reversed its course on the issue, following feedback from parents at a meeting May 13.

The issue started after the kindergarten roundup April 8, during which no mention of a different schedule was given to parents at that time.

After the roundup, the public was notified that the district intended to change the schedule from half-day, every day, to an all-day, every other day schedule.

A public forum was scheduled to talk about the issue May 13, during which about 27 parents showed up explicity asking to stay with the previous schedule.

Memorial Day services featured Major Cathy Bartholomew, USAF, the daughter of Joe and Janice Kieser of Winsted.

June

Winstock 2002 headliners included George Jones, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, along with the Kentucky HeadHunters, the Wilkinsons, Junior Brown, and BlackHawk.

No injuries were reported due to the quick action of an employee from Treasure Hunt Antiques and Consignment during an incident at Highway 7 near Lester Prairie.

Todd Pruden evacuated the business after a truck driver knocked over an electrical pole - causing a live wire to fall across the large propane tank that was located near the front corner of the building. The tank had a minor leak in a hose connected to it, previous to the accident.

The Lester Prairie Fire Department and McLeod County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to the scene.

Xcel Energy cut the cable, repaired the gas leak, and straightened the pole, since it wasn't broken or damaged, Lester Prairie Fire Chief Jim Hoof said. The department was sent home shortly after Xcel Energy arrived.

Highway 7 is under construction from St. Bonifacius to Highway 41 in Shorewood.

The anticipated completion date is November 2002.

Approximately 10 percent of Winsted residents are not paying their utility bills on time.

As a result, the Winsted City Council discussed increasing late fees.

"It was a good year," said McLeod County Sheriff Wayne Vinkemeier of this year's Winstock Festival.

A well-behaved crowd of more than 13,000 people were in attendance for camping and country music.

With thousands of people assembled during such a large public event, law breaking is always a possibility.

This year, a fence owned by Leonard and Linda Juncewski was cut, which faces the Winstock grounds at its southern end.

Three calving buffalo and one bull buffalo are located inside the pasture where the fence was cut.

Although normally docile creatures, buffalo can be protective during the calving season, and the fence cutting incident caused concern because campers would have been in danger if the animals got loose.

Communities in our area experienced record rainfall overnight June 24 and 25.

"We're just thankful for all the volunteers and the fire department helping out with things, and the guys from our maintenance department - Damon Thompson and David Meyer - working through the night to make sure all our pumps were working, and helping people with water in their basements," Winsted City Administrator Brent Mareck said.

Winsted Lake also rose, he said.

"We had probably a handful of calls from residents in Winsted with water in their basements - it was nothing to say we had a crisis or anything like that."

"It was a long night, though, Monday (June 24) for a lot of people," Mareck said.

Although Winsted and Lester Prairie were hit hard, Silver Lake and Hutchinson were also pounded with the heavy rains.

"I know that we had some damage with people and water in their basements, and things like that," McLeod County Sheriff Wayne Vinkemeier said.

"We've had quite a bit of rainfall in the area over the past week or so, and in regards to the last rainfall Monday night (June 24), I think at that time we had between five to six inches of rain across McLeod County," McLeod County Emergency Management Director Kevin Mathews said.

See part two, Jan.-June


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