Closing of Manor is top local news story of the year
1. MINNEOTA MANOR CLOSES
Local residents were saddened with the news that the Minneota Manor, a mainstay in town, would be closing its doors on Dec. 2.
While the Manor's nursing home closed, non-profit owner Living Services Foundation announced it was planning to expand the assisted living Madison Avenue Apartments and the Medicare-certified Town and Country Home Health.
"That will allow us to provide a much wider array of care in those settings than we have historically,' said Jennifer Gleason, Chief Operating Officer of Living Services Foundation. "We've attempted to transition in a way to provide as many services as possible with the staff we have. We will restructure so we can continue to provide these services in the community."
The main reason for the decision to close the Manor was based on a severe shortage of qualified licenses nurses to care for the residents.
"It's a staffing issue," said Kathy Johnson, Minneota Manor Administrator. "It's traumatic around here. We only have three licensed nurses now and they are working ungodly hours. We have been able to handle this up to now, but we can't continue this way. We need to hire three or four more licensed nurses, but we just didn't get any responses."
2. SCHOOL REFERENDUM - 1 YES, 1 NO
In a special school referendum vote held on Monday, Nov. 8, over 700 voters turned out to make two important decisions on the future of the school.
The Technology Levy was approved by a vote of 384-321, while the larger of the two, the Building Bond, was voted again, 379-325.
"I'm sad that the building bond didn't pass, but I am happy and elated that the tech levy passed," said Superintendent Dan Deitte.
The Technology Levy that passed was for $500,000 a year for 10 years.
"We had nothing left in the budget,"Deitte announced. "If this had not passed, we likely would have had to cut some staff and programs. That is never a good thing."
While devices need to be replaced every three or four years, the Tech Levy also includes Career and Tech, which also includes Shop and FACS, as well as servers, curriculum and other infrastructures to support the building, equipment updating, and paraprofessional and PSEO costs.The building bond that failed was proposed for $7.3 million, plus interest, over 20 years, and proposed modernizing and expanding cafeteria, stage area, wrestling room, parking lot, bathroom facilities at K.P. Kompelien Field, playground upgrade, and more.
3. HALVORSON FAMILY CLOSURE
In a story that made national news, the discovery of the U.S.S. Grayback submarined off the coast of Japan brought some closure to the family of Minneota native Earl E. Halvorson, who was one of 80 crewmen aboard.
The U.S. Nave Department had included Halvorson and others missing in action and when they weren't found after two years, declared a date of death for the men of 1946. But when the Grayback was discovered by Tim Taylor's Lost 52 Project in 2019, it was also learned through Japanese records the day the submarine was bombed and sank, Feb. 27, 1944.
While the military generally only issues one veteran marker per family, Earl's sister and her children began pursuit of a new and accurate marker. With the help of Representative Michelle Fischbach and her colleagues, among others, a new Earl Halvorson memorial marker was issued.
A new memorial service was held at Hemnes Lutheran Church Cemetery on a cold and windy morning of Friday, Oct. 15. A large crowd turned out, including political figures, veterans, friends and family.
Earl Halvorson's new stone now rests besides those of his mother, father and grandfather.
4. RESTRICTIONS LIFTED ON BARS
Among the small businesses feeling the pandemic crunch the most have been bars and restaurants, which have had to shut down for a time or operate at limited capacity by Governor Tim Walz's Executive Order.
Those restrictions expired on May 28 and bar and restaurant owners and were elated to be operating once again.
"The pandemic has been a struggle like no other," said Becky Esping, who owns and operates West End Bar in Taunton. As a business owner, I have never had to deal with anything like this from the bars closing completely and not knowing when we could be open, and then being open with limited hours."
Not only did owners lose money during the restricted period, staff members also have been on hiatus, not knowing when they would be able to return to work, or if they should seek other employment."
After a year of following all the guidelines and restrictions, business owners were happy to welcome back its customers.
"We were very excited to return to normalcy in some capacity after such a long year of following all of the various rules and regulations," said Jordan Dressen, the manager of City Hall Bar & Grill in Minneota. "I'm excited for people to feel safe and at ease in a restaurant setting again."
5. TAUNTON CAFE SOLD
For nearly two years the corner cafe in Taunton has stood empty. Many residents of that community, who used to enjoy dining and socializing with friends and family in that building, were now forced to travel.
The building has been up for sale, but there were no serious bites. So, an absolute auction was held on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at the restaurant, with the highest bid being accepted.
Nearly 30 men attended the auction, but the majority was there to see what the outcome would be or to support their town's need for an eating establishment.
Blaine Foreman of LeMars, Iowa, produced the lone bid during the 30-minute auction. His bid of $20,000 for building, equipment, catering truck and furnishings was accepted.
The good news for the area is that Foreman plans to open a bar and restaurant sometime this spring.
Foreman currently owns and operates two other restaurants in Iowa. He said his specialty is prime rib, which was also one of the specialties of longtime owner Rusty Rhymer when he owned Rusty's Corner Cafe in that building.
6. DROUGHT'S HAY SHORTAGE
The hay bales normally seen in abundance sitting in the fields in the summer were in short supply this year as a lack of moisture in June and July took its toll on the alfalfa fields.
"Farmers are baling the ditches to use as filler, but that's just grass," said one area farmer. "Alfalfa, which is used for hay, just isn't growing anymore with all this heat and no moisture."
To make matters worse, during the early spring growth of alfalfa, weevils were able to get ahead of the spraying. While many producers sprayed for the weevil, some ended up killing off some predatory insects that normally feed on alfalfa larvae.
"We cut alfalfa in late May/early June the first time, and it was close to three feet," said another area farmer. "The second time we cut, it was about half that size. But if you don't cut it, the alfalfa will mature too soon and the quality won't be as good."
Some farmers were getting by with hay left over from last year, but that won't be the case moving forward.
Governor Walz asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to open some lands in the Conservation Reserve Program (CSR) for emergency haying and grazing in order to assist farmers impacted by this summer's drought. The USDA granted the request.
7. COLD WEATHER STREAK
During a six-day stretch between Feb. 11 and Feb. 16, southern Minnesota had to endure below-zero high temperatures.
The lowest temperature during those six days in Minneota was -28 set early in the morning of Sunday, Feb. 14. That broke a record low for that date previously set in 1875.
The coldest spot in the state over the weekend during that stretch was -50 near Ely in northern Minnesota. That broke the previous state record of -46 in Detroit Lakes set in 1916.
"Usually, a February cold snap is three days or less," KSTP-TV meteorologist Jonathan Yuhas told the Mascot. "This was the coldest Valentine's Day on record."
The unusual cold streak for this time of the year came as a surprise since daylight is longer and the February sun angle is the same as it is in October, which normally keeps bitter cold away.
"This cold built up in Siberia in December, then worked its way to the North Pole in January, and then to us in February," said Yuhas.
8/9. NEW CHIROPRACTOR/DENTIST
Minneota saw local dentist Tracy Grossman and local chiropractor Stephanie Vlaminck leave their practice here. But those vacancies were quickly filled by Alexandra Lentz and Quentin Fixen, respectively.
Dr. Lentz, who is from Apple Valley and a graduate of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, took over for Dr. Grossman on March 18. Dr. Grossman, whose wife is also a dentist in Sioux Falls, decided to leave his practice in order to be closer to his family.
Dr. Lentz and her husband, Noah Vannevel, moved into an apartment above the dental office on First Street. They are familiar with this area as Vannevel is from Garvin.
"My husband and I were thinking about moving out this way before we even heard about this place for sale," said Dr. Lentz. "His family still lives in Garvin and runs a nursery there. I've been there quite a few times so I'm familiar with small town life."
Lentz previously was working as a dentist in Ramsey, a suburb of Minneapolis, and was informed through a mutual friend that Dr. Grossman was looking to sell his practice here.
After being a chiropractor with Prairie Winds Wellness the past 11 years, Dr. Vlaminck and her family decided to move to Hawaii and her final with patients in Minneota was Aug. 18.
She estimates that she had around 45,000 patient visits at her practice.
Dr. Vlaminck, her husband John Koons, and their children, Tate Koons, 7; and Blake Koons, 6; left Minneota on Aug. 23. She accepted a position with the Island Family Chiropractic group in Hawaii.
Dr. Vlaminck was involved in a number of groups in Minneota, including fundraising for the swimming pool surface repair, EDA committee, the GMT Women of Today, Dollars for Scholars, and more.
Dr. Quentin Fixen, who also operates a practice in Marshall and Slayton, purchases the operation from Vlaminck and took over soon after. One of his chiropractors that works out of the office here is Minneota native, Dr. Kim Fier, also an acupuncturist.
10. CHASING OUR TAILS GONE
Much to the surprise of many, Chasing our Tail, a pet treat company that operated a shipping and warehouse division in the former Schott Building on Jefferson Street, moved out without notifying anyone of their intention.
When contacted for an explanation or comment, CEO Steve Trachtenberg became agitated and refused to discuss the matter.
An anonymous source from Tracy where Chasing our Tails operates a production plant told the Mascot that Trachtenberg had become dissatisfied with the community support from residents and business owners here. He also said the warehouse would likely move to the former Del Monte plant that Trachtenberg recently purchased.
Chasing our Tails did not sell products at the facility in Minneota and the door to the building remained locked during business hours. The building here was used as a packaging and distribution warehouse and was run by Trachtenberg's fiancée, Elena Kalogeropoulos.
Other messages left for Trachtenberg were not returned.