BY NIKKI MEYER
The weather just keeps on coming here in Minnesota. February 2019 has already broken the 1962 record— 26.5 inches—for snowiest February in Minneapolis in recorded state history. The Twin Cities were up to nearly 32 inches with last Wednesday’s storm. Sunday’s blizzard only added to the total, with more snow in the forecast for this week.
This month is also making its way up the ranks for most snow in any given month in MN—sitting in 6th place as of Feb. 25, according to the National Weather Service. Normal average snowfall in Minneapolis is only 7.8 inches. In Mankato it’s 6.4 inches. It is worth noting that the last time Minnesota saw over 30 inches of snow in a single month was the month the Metrodome roof collapsed. Even though we’re up there for the monthly total, the all-time monthly snowfall record is unlikely to be broken. That one was set in the wake of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard, when 46.9 inches of snow fell in November.
While last Wednesday’s blizzard tipped the scales for snowiest month, and breifly shut down two runways at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the it wasn’t the record for the largest snowfall on that day of the month. 2011 holds the official snowfall record of 11.8 inches for Feb. 20.
After Wednesday’s storm finished dumping its load of snow, residents took a quick breath on Thursday and Friday, then prepared to be battered again over the weekend. Saturday proved to be fairly quiet in our region—until evening fell. Sunday’s blizzard would far and away outdo the effects of Wednesday’s snowfall.
A little after 7:00 p.m. Sheriff Freitag of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office posted, “We are in a blizzard warning and at 1930 (7:30 p.m.), I-90 will be closed at Alden for eastbound and westbound traffic. All traffic west of Alden will be closed and traffic east of Alden will remain open until further notice. County plows have been pulled and MN DOT plows are having a tough time keeping up. Visibility is greatly reduced. Tow trucks are not pulling vehicles out. Please don’t go out on the roads until after the weather has improved.”
Highway 169 south of Amboy, Highway 15 south of Fairmont and Highway 263 south of Welcome all closed around the same time due to whiteout conditions.
At 10:00 p.m. Governor Walz ended up declaring a Peacetime State of Emergency in Steele and Freeborn counties. Heavy snow and winds stranded motorists in the area, and the Minnesota National Guard was activated to assist with search and rescue operations. The armories in Albert Lea and Owatonna were opened to serve as shelters. Officials reported at 150 people sought shelter at the Owatonna Armory, while nearly 100 more stayed at the Albert Lea shelter. Others were reported to have been housed in shelters in the Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatanna, and at places in Ellendale and Blooming Prairie.
In Steele County the Minnesota National Guard rescued at least 20 drivers, and in Freeborn County another 68 people and a dog were rescued.
On Sunday morning the Sherburn Fire Department & Ambulance Service required the use of a state snow plow to get them first to Ceylon, then to the hospital in Fairmont and finally back to Sherburn again. By noon on Sunday the Martin County Sheriff’s Office posted that, “Due to the extreme blizzard conditions the county plows are being pulled from the roads. Absolutely no travel is being advised.”
Forty-five miuntes later the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office declared a State of Emergency for Olmsted County and requested the use of the Minnesota National Guard in rescuing stranded motorist throughout the county.
ABC 5 Eyewitness News reported, “Many drivers were forced to leave their vehicles, which were swallowed up by the snow... Dozens of other drivers stayed warm at the Kwik Trip at Exit 45, off Interstate 35. A gas station employee told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there were 50 to 60 people waiting inside the store at one point.” https://kstp.com/news/this-is-insane-dozens-of-drivers-abandon-their-vehicles-during-whiteout-conditions/5257561/?cat=1
Abandoned vehicles only made the already poor conditions worse. The Minnesota Department of Transportation posted a photo on their Facebook page at 12:35 p.m. with the message, “This is what Minnesota Department of Transportation plow drivers are up against today. Stuck cars littered [the road] this morning. Plow drivers have to navigate around those cars and can’t clear that part of the road. This delays snow removal efforts and prevents them from doing their work safely and effectively.”
By 5:00 p.m. no travel advisories had been issued in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown, Watonwan, and Waseca counties. A number of state highways were closed, and large stretches of interstates 90 and 35 were barricaded. Drifts as high as six feet tall were reported between Courtland and Nicollet.
In Brown County, the Sherriff’s Office would later report via Facebook, “Numerous motorists reported being stuck both on and off the road in drifts across the County. The Sheriff’s Office’s UTV with tracks had to be used to rescue a motorist in Sigel Township. The River Valley Dutchman Snowmobile club’s groomer with tracks had to be used to get to stuck motorists on County Road 29 west of Highway 4 north of Sleepy Eye because the road was not passable to vehicles. The Brown County Highway Department plow assisted the Comfrey Fire Department in getting to a motorist that was stuck approximately six miles west of Comfrey on County Road 17, and also assisted two tow trucks with removing two vehicles that were stuck on the roadway on Highway 15 north of Searles.” The department also thanked all who assisted with the rescues.
Snowmobiles were also reportedly called out to aid with rescues in Martin County. Truman’s Kitzerow Repair & Towing reported a two and a half hour trek home from Granada after being called out by MnDOT and the State Patrol to help clear the Highway 15. Upon making it home to Truman, owner Josh Kitzerow said he found the “end of Ciro [Street] gone,”—swallowed up by the snow.
Madelia also experienced a high volume of traveler emergencies. The Madelia Fire Department reported assisting 52 people who were stranded overnight at the Faith and Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church Parish, ELCA. On the department’s Facebook page it states, “What [started] as an initial call from Krystal at La Plaza F!esta about stranded guests at 3 p.m., to assessing the number of others at various points in Madelia waiting out the storm, we created an emergency plan that began with setting up the location and calling in firefighters to staff it. Total Lawn Care & Landscape, cleared snow without asking so we could get in, and by 4:30 the shelter was operational and accepting guests.” Residents contributed food, the Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic and Living Meadows at Luther - Madelia for supplied bedding and the Madelia Police Department and Maloney Enterprises brought rescued travelers into the church for safety.
In St. James, the St. Cloud Huskies hockey team spent the night at the Watonwan County Jail after getting stranded in a drift outside the town on their way home from Omaha, NE.
Plows finally began braving the roads once again on Monday morning. Just after 6:15 a.m. the Martin County Sherriff’s Department reported, “I-90 from east MN to Worthington is still closed. Many county roads are still closed as well. Plows have been out clearing roads, but whiteout conditions are still possible and large snow drifts have formed.” At 7:20 the Olmstead County Sheriff’s Department stated, “Travel is still not advised in Olmsted County; many roads are impassable and we are under a windchill advisory.” The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department echoed the message just after 8 a.m. “County plows have been out for several hours trying to get at least one lane open on County Roads. Their progress is being slowed by vehicles that got stuck yesterday or overnight in the middle of the roadway. Plows are trying to navigate around them. Public Works hopes to have traffic moving on all county roads by this afternoon.”
To the south, the Des Moines Register reported around 11:15 a.m. “Interstate Highway 35 has been closed for more than 24 hours and Iowa Department of Transportation officials predict it won’t reopen until Monday afternoon.” The article states that due to drifting snow and limited visibility, as reported by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the gate system was activated at the U.S. 30/I-35 interchange, forcing vehicles to exit at U.S. 30. More than 100 miles of the road was closed down, and “hundreds of semi trucks have since lined up on the sides of roads and filled parking lots around Ames waiting for the route to reopen, Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig said Monday morning.”
The snow was so deep and drifted in places that it had even caused a Union Pacific Train to get stuck in a reported 200 feet long, eight foot high snow drift in Freeborn county, along with the engine that came to help free it. Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management (MHSEM) reported seven people were stranded aborad the trains and had to be rescued by the National Guard using its small unit support vehicle (SUSV).
Of Sunday’s blizzard the National Weather Service said, “On Saturday, February 23 and Sunday, February 24 a very powerful winter storm brought whiteout conditions across much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. A narrow band of heavy snow fell from central Iowa, through southeast Minnesota, and up through northern Wisconsin. Several locations within this band saw over a foot of snow (orange shading). Very strong winds developed as the snow was ending Saturday night and these winds continued through Sunday. Many locations had wind gusts of 50 mph or stronger.” Martin County was included in those areas with wind gusts reaching at least 49 mph. St. Paul recorded speeds up to 62 mph. “This led to significant blowing and drifting snow, making travel very difficult or impossible. Most roads in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin were impassable, and hundreds of motorists became stranded in the blizzard. Portions of Interstate 90 and Interstate 35 were closed for over 24 hours in south central Minnesota.”
According to MHSEM more than 600 motorists were rescued in reporting southern Minnesota counties over the weekend, which doesn’t include Blue Earth, Red Wing or Goodhue counties, which did not provide rescue numbers as of Monday at noon.
A sentiment echoed over and over again from various reporting agencies was that all unnecessary travel should be avoided any time travel advisories are issued and that motorists should check https://hb.511mn.org before traveling. Calling your local dispatch for road conditions bogs down an important system that is needed to deal with emergencies. The MN511 app can also be downloaded on mobile and other devices. Travelers should also keep a winter emergency supplies in their vehicles.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Grain bins are a common sight in our area. Some are used for holding grain, and some have outlived that purpose and sit empty or are used for storage. One special grain bin at the home of Darin and Val Pesta, however, has been re-imagined into something completely different: the Let’s Stay Home bin boutique.
How does a grain bin get transformed into a space for shoppers? Val Pesta explained, “I was working at MCW and our daughter, Kait was volunteering there also. She started to have some health concerns and was having a lot of absent seizures that we had to address. I decided to leave my wonderful job and amazing friends to just stay home with Kait. She needed me with her.”
Fortunately doctors were able to get Kait’s health issues under control, however Val still knew that she needed to be available. “Staying with her was my number one priority,” Val said. “But,” she continued, “we needed something to do.”
“My niece, Taylor came up with the name. It stuck...and was perfect for us.”
Even before Kait’s health issues had started Val was busy having fun selling women’s clothing from the “loft” on the second story of their farmhouse. She utilizes Facebook Live videos to give shoppers regular virtual shopping experiences. The practice continued as Let’s Stay Home was born.
“Our customers were great,” Val said, “but we wanted more space for them to come out, visit and try the clothes on.”
She noted that the property has other buildings, but that they were all too old to be useful for what she envisioned. Then she thought about the grain bins they used for storage. Their metal construction was sturdy and weather-proof. “That was the answer and what we decided to use.”
Val contacted her former brother-in-law Paul Haga. “If anyone could do this challenge, it was Paul!” Taylor, who is also Paul’s daughter, designed the setup, and in only three weeks her dad brought it to life. “He created a wonderful little boutique and it is exactly what we wanted,” Val said. The bin came complete with Val’s one request—two dressing rooms.
The Pesta’s goal was to have their first open house before Christmas, which they accomplished thanks to the help of a dedicated crew. “Darin should get a husband of the year award,” said Val. “Especially this year. I broke my arm in January and he and Kait have had to do all of the hard work in the boutique. My daughter-in-law, Henni, and Kait tagged every piece of clothing. My daughter Cortnee came to help this last weekend, too.”
The grain bin boutique opened its doors for the first time on December 2.
On the outside, the bin still looks like a bin, with the exception of a new door and window. Stepping inside shoppers are greeted with the smell of coffee, a fun atmosphere and handcrafted love. “I love the rustic, raw farmhouse feel,” Val shared.
The walls of the boutique contain a number of bars for displaying regular and plus-sized women’s clothing, along with a few kids’ clothes for the “Me and Mini Me” wardrobes. The boutique also stocks some candles, Mix.o.logie perfume in both men’s and women’s scents, LipSense cosmetics, Enso silicone rings, handcrafted jewelry, and Cello pull-on jeans. “Those are our best sellers!,” said Val.
The “handcrafted love” is an important part of the boutique. “Kait makes all of the pillows in the boutique and she is loving doing those. She has also received a few special requests from customers.” Paul’s participation in the bin continues also. “[He] and [his partner] Amy also make wonderful items that we sell in the Bin. They are both very creative.”
This coming weekend the bin will add yet another local vendor—Kenna’s Krafts, run by McKenna Taylor of Trimont. “She makes adorable, hand crafted earrings. We are excited to add her beauties.”
Right now the bin is open one or two weekends a month. Val said the live shows on Wednesdays will continue for those who aren’t able to make the trip out. Items can be purchased from the shows and then shipped to the buyer.
This coming weekend, February 22-24, 2019, the bin will be open on Friday from 5-8 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. assuming the weather cooperates. Shoppers can also make appointments to visit the boutique outside of the open houses.
Val said the goal of Let’s Stay Home is “to carry fresh, cute and affordable styles for our area.” Though they are little, “and we like it that way,” Val does hope to continue to expand parts of the boutique. “So many people have talents! In our area those can be hard to display. We hope to add on to the other grain bin and make the boutique bigger and add more items, such as more home goods and upcycled furniture.”
You can find the Let’s Stay Home Boutique on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/letsstayhomeboutique/ The bin is located at the Pesta’s home 2836 240th St. Truman.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Connie (Miller) Meier first moved to Truman when she was nine years old. She grew up on a farm in Fraiser Township before her parents, Loren “Happy” and Gladys (who later married Ernie Leimer after Happy passed), purchased the Coast to Coast store, in 1969.
After graduating from Truman High School, Connie went on to Mankato State University and then Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff pursuing a degree in Business Education. She soon learned, however, that teaching Business in a classroom full of high school students might not be the right career path for her.
“I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to teach steno—I was more into accounting and business law,” Meier said. About that same time many small town schools were closing and Meier said the job market was shrinking.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I wasn’t going to teach. I took a break from college and got a job at Bank Midwest as a teller.” Fortunately for her, Bank Midwest helped employees pay for college tuition. Meier took advantage of the benefit and enrolled in night classes through MSU, taking business classes in Fairmont.
Meier earned her degree in accounting in 1989 and her CPA license in 1990. She began working for Al Zeitz and Craig Deist at their CPA firm while she finished her school. In total she spent 20 years at the firm, plus an additional five years with Craig after the firm was sold to AgStar Financial Services and he worked for them.
Most recently Meier worked for Steve Piece until his passing, and then with her daughter, Sara, when she took over the business.
Then, last August, Meier decided she was ready to be her own boss. “So far I am really enjoying it,” she said. “I have a lot of skill and experience to offer my clients, and I appreciate reaping the rewards of that expertise.”
One of the aspects of her new business that Meier appreciates most is getting to know her clients. Meier said, "I much prefer getting to know my client’s individual tax situation so that I can offer them advice.”
Though Meier has been on her own since August, she’s finally getting ready to settle down in a new office. Though she’s been grateful for the extra flexibility she’s had to deal with some family situations, she is ready to take on tax season ‘full steam ahead.’
Now that it’s tax season and I need to meet with a lot more clients, Ameriprise has generously offered me the use of an office in their new building at 1961 Stella St. in Fairmont.” She notes to be careful when looking for the building, though. One side has a Stella St. address, and the other side has an Albion Ave. address.
While Meier does all of the typical tax season preparations that income-earners need, she also offers tax planning services. “I’ve developed a particular knack for working with farmers. They are one business that has a lot of options as far as when to sell their grain or livestock, and prepaying expenses. I do quite a bit of tax planning for farmers in November or early December after the crops are in.”
Meier also offers payroll services. “For some clients I actually prepare the payroll check and/or direct deposit, and for others I just do the quarterly reports and W-2’s,” she said.
Part-time small business accounting, which involves “posting deposits, checks, and debits and reconciling the bank statement” is another area in which Meier is proficient.
While many of Meier’s clients followed her when she struck out on her own, she is still looking to see her business expand. She notes, however, that, “I don’t want it to get so large that I don’t know my clients. I want to know who my clients are, what their goals are, and try to help them achieve those goals through tax planning.”
Connie is married to Lonnie Meier. They make their home in “the old Bock place” just north of Truman on Highway 15. Connie can be reached at 507-848-0720 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For now she is available in her office by appointment only.
Walter, a not quite two-year-old St. Bernard owned by Laurie and Brad Sherman, makes a visit with some students at Truman Public School. Laurie works at the school and has been bringing Walter in regularly over the past school year, training him as a therapy and comfort dog.
BY NIKKI MEYER
"I've known Walter ever since he was born," said Kayla Graplar, an 8th grade student at Truman Public School (TPS). "He is adorable. He is kind. He is loving... He helps kids that need help. I wish he could be here every day."
"It's like he knows when somebody's sad or when somebody needs him," agreed special education teacher Tina Raske.
When Laurie Sherman first brought Walter, her St. Bernard, to school he was small enough to carry around. Sherman, the Title 1 Math teacher at TPS, also helps coach track and field. She'd bring her puppy with her to practice, and occasionally he came to school for special events like the elementary Track and Field day.
And, of course, most everyone who met him fell in love with him. Students would ask Sherman to see him, to pet him, to hold him, and to have their picture taken with him. "The kids were always asking to have their pictures taken with him. So I figured they'd probably like to see them," Sherman said, referencing a section of wall outside the cafeteria that is lined with pictures of Walter and the students at school.
Sherman didn't start out with the intent of owning and training a therapy dog. When she brought Walter home in the spring of 2016 he joined Whiskey, a nine-year-old St. Bernard.
"I kind of learned from the first one," Sherman said. Whiskey wasn't as good with other people and animals as she would have liked. She said she wished she'd done more training with him. So when they brought home Walter, that was her goal—to get him more exposure to others.
The students at TPS were more than happy to help Sherman socialize Walter.
"It was Mrs. Shellum's idea," Sherman said, explaining how Walter came to be a regular part of the school. No longer a puppy—weighing in at solid 130 lbs, Walter now spends all day at school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Sherman logs his visits, and soon she will apply for his official Therapy Dog designation. Walter will also have to pass a skills test as part of the process.
Sherman and Raske have adjoining rooms on the Specialty Floor at TPS. On the days he goes to school, Walter is able to move freely between the two rooms. Sherman takes him out for a walk at lunch, and also takes him to visit various classrooms during the day. "I try to get to the elementary rooms especially. The kids love to just lay on him."
And that's what Walter is especially good at—being warm and fluffy and still and available. Walter exudes calm, a special trait for a dog that won't be two years old until March. He also seems to have a sort of sixth sense.
"It's like he knows what somebody's sad or needs him," Raske said. "At 7:30 this morning I came in and walked in the room and he was laying on the floor and he knew my day hadn't started out well and he was right there. There's lots of other days when I walk in the room that he lifts his head and he looks at me and he lays back down. But today, he knew was one of those days."
Raske continued, "It's the same way with kids. He senses when kids need him. We've had kids that really struggle with their emotions and getting their emotions under control and all it takes is for Ms. Sherman one time to bring Walter up next to the student and from then on it's like [Walter] can sense that about them."
When a student is struggling and Walter is around Raske said, "he'll get his nose in there to get their attention to try to bring them back down."
Sherman plans to continue to bring Walter to school on a regular basis. She has also contacted someone at Heartland Senior Living about the possibility of bringing Walter for visits this coming summer.
Sherman is happy with the way things have turned out with Walter. She feels he has been a great resource to have for the students at school. "We have kids that will say, 'I need a hug from Walter to make my day better.' It's really special."