Sean Dilley (left) and Kim Bloch (right) posed for the Class of 2020’s outdoor graduation ceremony.

COVID affects local schools, businesses top 2020 news story

Many of the top local news stories of 2020 centered around the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look forward to the end of a trying year, we all hope 2021 will be much more enjoyable and bring back some normalcy in our lives.

(1) COVID hits home
As COVID-19 spread and became a pandemic, the number of postponements/cancellations/shutdowns also spread across the nation.
The governor's order for the school closings was set to begin on Wednesday, March 18, but Minneota schools decided to shut down on Monday, March 16 instead to "be extra cautious", according to Superintendent Dan Deitte. A myriad of schools events were either postponed or cancelled, much to the dismay of the students and parents.
The Minneota Manor immediately sent out notice that the facility would be closed to visitors. Family members had to conduct "window" visits if they wanted to see their loved ones.
Stores throughout the state were having a difficult time keeping toilet paper, soap products, disinfectants, water and certain foods in stock as many people expected the worst. Shelves at Brad's Market where some of these products sat were suddenly standing empty.
Local churches were limited to the number of people that could attend services, and some held virtual or outdoor services each week.
Minneota has long been regarded as one of the perennial high school sports powerhouses in the state, regardless of size. Cancelling, postponing and scaling back high school sports due to the governor's order amid the coronavirus pandemic may have affected Minneota more than the majority of other schools throughout the state.After the girls basketball state tournament was cancelled prior to the semifinals, the boys basketball season was also cancelled. Wrestling had wrapped up its season the week prior to the girls' tournament.
In the spring, the virus did not dissipate enough for youth sports to begin. Spring sports, which have the shortest season of all, were all cancelled. Nolan Boerboom, a senior, was denied a chance to qualify for his fourth straight state golf meet.
As fall rolled around, the sports season began late and regular season games initially were reduced to conference games and matches only, and no state tournaments were held.
Winter sports for the 2020-21 season are currently getting a much later start to the season with practices not expected to start until January. Questions remain as to whether the state tournaments will be cancelled again.
The Minneota speech team, which had developed into an experienced and powerful group, also saw its season end abruptly in mid-March after they had been winning nearly every meet they were entered in to that point.

(2 & 3) Two local icons pass
Two of Minneota's most iconic people passed away within four days of each other with their obituaries appearing in the same issue of the Mascot. Lawrence "Larry" Tillemans died on Dec. 28, 2019 and Lester "Les" Josephson died on Jan. 1, 2020.
Tillemans and Josephson were each voted by local residents in a Mascot survey to be included in the "Minneota Mount Rushmore" in which the four most impactful people in the community's history would be carved on a hypothetical mountain.
Tillemans was only 19 years old when he was a typist clerk in the U.S. Army and sat in on the historic Nuremberg War Trials that eventually declared many Nazi leaders to be executed for war crimes in 1945. In a lengthy interview with the Mascot, Tillemans reflected on what it was like to be front and center in one of the world's most historic events.
"I spent hundreds of hours taking notes and later typed statements of the captured Nazi leaders through their attorneys," he said.
Eventually, Tillemans would speak to hundreds of groups, schools and other places to educate them on the horrific events before, during and after the war. A PBS documentary entitled "The Typist" focused on Larry's life and won an Emmy Award.
Josephson remains the only Minneota native to play sports professionally. As a standout eight-man football player for Minneota, Josephson went on to play four years as a running back for Augustana College in Sioux Falls. It was the first time he had ever played 11-man football, but quickly adjusted enough that he drew the interest of the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, the latter who signed him as a free agent.
But due to injuries, the Cowboys were in desperate need of an offensive lineman and traded Josephson to the Los Angeles Rams, where he became a Pro Bowl selection in 1967 after rushing for 800 yards and four touchdowns, and catching 37 passes for 400 yards and four TDs when teams played 14-game schedules.

(4) Boxelder Bug Days cancelled
For the first time ever, Boxelder Bug Days in Minneota cancelled all activities with the exception of the queen coronation and 5k Virtual Run.
The queen coronation was held outdoors on Sept. 12 with Brooke Moorse being crowned queen. Ellen Meagher was selected as First Princess, and Ava Larson and Morgan Wersal were Second Princesses.
The Boxelder Bug Days committee initially began scaling back several of the annual activities such as the Johnny Tillemans Chili Cook-off and the Smokin' BBQ contest. They also eliminated "hands-on" activities such as the bouncy houses/
But as the coronavirus spiked later in the summer, the committee decided to cancel the town's annual event.
"We just didn't feel it was worth the risk," said Bug Days Chairman Scott Josephson. "If we caused a spike in the number of cases, it would affect school here and also other schools in the county."
Belgian-American Days in Ghent and Harvest Fest in Porter scaled way back and only held a handful of events this year.

(5) Graduation held outdoors
The 2020 Minneota graduating class was the first in school's history to hold its commencement exercises outdoors on Friday, June 26.
Following an unusual school year in which students distance learned due to the coronavirus pandemic and held graduation outdoors much later than previously scheduled. The majority of the seniors said "It was worth the wait" as the emerald green grass at K.P. Kompelien Field and the sun-splashed sky made for a beautiful setting.
"It's a perfect night," said Superintendent Dan Deitte that day. "I'm glad we were able to do this for the kids. It's a great class and they deserve it."
Each of the graduating seniors (two were missing due to a previous commitment) were allowed to invite four guests in order to limit the number of people attending in order to maintain social distancing.
"Can you believe we made it here today?" said Valedictorian Natalie Bot. "And not even by Zoom call either."
Following the commencement exercises, the seniors were paraded through town to allow the citizens to acknowledge and congratulate them as they passed by their homes.

(6) Pool reaches funding goal
In what many thought was an out of reach goal to raise enough money to keep the community pool open has come to fruition.
Southwest Health and Human Services, which inspects the pool each spring, had ordered the baby and toddler pool, as well as the main lap pool to be resurfaced by 2020 for safety reasons or the State Licensing Board would not issue it an operating license and the pool would be forced to shut down.
The City of Minneota paid for the completed resurfacing of the baby and toddler pool, leaving over $275,000 still needing to be raised for the main pool. Because the baby and toddler pool's resurfacing were completed, the main pool resurfacing was granted an additional year to complete.
The resurfacing project was again put up for bid and a new company, Go Get FRED, Inc. came forward with a bid of only $120,000 to do the work. Through fundraisers and donations, the pool had collected $81,000 and the City of Minneota agreed to foot the bill for the remaining portion.

(7) Helping hands
With the coronavirus forcing the cancellation of many traditional holiday gatherings and also causing people to be out of work, several local groups lent a helping hand.
Bethel Fellowship Church handed out free meals several times. The National Honor Society students volunteered their time to pass pack and distribute food at the school and Hope Lutheran Church. The Hope Lutheran Endowment was utilized for food.
The Christmas Angels program, coordinated by Amber Rodas, had its most successful year ever in amassing gifts, food and cash to help needy local families during a tough year for many.
Many local ladies took time and used their own money to make and give away masks for people to wear once the coronavirus health guidelines were introduced. Some of the ladies donated homemade masks to Gislason Hardware to sell with the money going toward the required swimming pool surface repairs.
There were also others who donated time, money and gifts to help others who wished to remain anonymous.
The First Responders and the Minneota Fire Department also drove Santa Claus around town at different times in order for the children to get a chance to wave and say hello since they were unable to sit on his lap and reveal what they wanted for Christmas due to the pandemic.
It takes a village.

(8) SPMH regroups
With the former Big Store being on the National Register of Historic Places and the top floor housing the iconic Opera Hall, the Society for the Preservation of Minneota Heritage (SPMH) reformed and began fundraising to repair and renovate the Big Store building that now houses the public library.
One of the first orders of business was to paint the Opera Hall, organize and document collections, tuck point the brick and mortar, and much more.
The SPMH was first organized in 1978. But Daren Gislason was the only surviving member of the original board of directors and had been doing his best to keep things in order over the years. Gislason is now the historian consultant of the newly-formed SPMH. Wendy Sarazyn is the president, Gary Buysse the vice president, and Sandy Josephson the secretary-treasurer.
"I became interested in Minneota's historical society because I love old buildings," Sarazyn said. "And the Society for the Preservation of Minneota's Heritage had the vision to save the Big Store and make plans to repurpose the building for a variety of possible community uses."
The SPMH has been meeting monthly and has been fundraising in order to get enough financial support to complete some of the much-needed repairs in order to preserve local history.

(9) Finnegan dies from COVID
Former longtime grocery store owner Ed Finnegan Jr. died following complications from COVID-19. He was 76.
Finnegan, who was living in Gary, SD at the time of his death, owned and operated Finnegan's Super Valu in Minneota for many years before selling it to Brad Minnehan, who currently operates Brad's Market on the corner of N. Jefferson and 2nd Streets.
Minnehan worked for Finnegan in the store from his freshman through his senior year of high school.
Finnegan followed in the footsteps of his father, Ed Finnegan Sr., and and his grandfather, John Finnegan; both who owned and operated a butcher shop and/or grocery store in Minneota.
"I will always remember Ed for his kindness and thoughtfulness," said Judy Hagen. "He gave great discounts on grocery items purchased for church dinners, benefits and fundraisers. Many people and organizations benefited from his generosity."

(10) Lighting contest lifts spirits
Because so many holiday events had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Mascot decided to hold a "Battle of the Bulbs" Christmas Lighting Contest.
Having no idea whether or not it would be successful, there ended up being 29 participants in Minneota, Ghent and Taunton.
Austin and Shannon Dritz of rural Taunton earned the highest score from the six judges and won well over $500 in gifts. Gus and Mayra Molina of Minneota finished in second place and won over $250 in gifts, while Tom and Kim Abraham of rural Minneota were the third-place winners of over $100 in gifts.
Because so many local businesses in Minneota, Taunton, Ghent and Marshall donated prizes for the contest, the winning amounts ended up being much higher than promoted and two additional prizes were given. Peanuts and Ali Kloos of Minneota came in fourth place and won $75 in gift cards, while Lynn and Barb Okrina of Minneota were voted fifth place and were given $55 in gift cards.

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