BY NIKKI MEYER
The heart. A muscle we rarely think about. And yet, it begins working long before we are ever born, and it continues working—every second of every day—until we take our final breath. It works without our permission, without our conscious direction, and without much thought at all on our part.
That is, unless your heart doesn't function the way it should. Then, you think about it a lot.
Vlad and Logan Aksenov think about a heart beating every single day. Usually many times a day. Their two-year old daughter, Alaina, is among those whose heart didn't quite form right. Hers doesn't pump blood as efficiently as it should. That means that oxygen isn't being delivered in her body as well as it should be. Fluid can back up in the lungs and other tissues.
Alaina has already had numerous open-heart surgeries. Just this summer, her cardiologists in Omaha, Nebraska performed a surgery to try and help increase the output abilities of her heart. Hearts that size are small. Surgeries of that sort are tricky. Complications ensued, and Alaina spent nearly a month in the hospital.
Around the time Alaina was finally able to return home to Welcome, her parents welcomed her baby brother, Evan, to the family.
Despite her previous complications, Alaina was doing well upon returning home. However, at the beginning of October, she started getting groggy and refusing to eat. She just wasn't herself. As any parent of a child with health issues knows, brushing off out-of-the-ordinary behavior as a minor incident is almost impossible. Vlad and Logan took her to a cardiologist is Sioux Falls.
Heart failure. The words that buzzed around Vlad and Logan's head for days. At only two-years-old, their baby girl was diagnosed with heart failure.
Alaina was put on several medications and kept in Sioux Falls for several days to stabilize before returning home. The Askenov's were told that the doctors would discuss her case at an upcoming cardiology conference on Monday, October 15 in order to determine the next steps.
Just a few days before the conference was to take place. Alaina took a turn for the worse. She was airlifted to Omaha where a 2x3cm blood clot was discovered in her heart. Her small, toddler heart that is not strong enough to withstand the surgery to remove the clot. She likely would not survive coming off by necessary bypass machine. Alaina was instead put in a heparin drip to help clear the clot while her cardiologists wait for her condition to improve in order to determine what comes next.
While Vlad and Logan are fortunate enough to have full-time jobs—Logan is a nurse manager with Prairie River Home Care and Vlad a truck driver for British Petroleum—the costs for traveling, lodging, time off for medical appointments and hospital stays, and medical bills are adding up at an alarming rate.
A benefit for the family has been organized and will take place on Sunday, December 9 at the Eagles Club in Fairmont from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. The menu includes a hog roast and a silent auction will be held. Contact Shae Pierson at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to make a donation.
Two of the students participating in Esports at Truman High School.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Truman High School (THS) is now home to an Esports league, part of a new trend sweeping the country. Twenty students have already signed up and begun practicing.
“We had a PLC (Professional Learning Community meeting on Wednesday afternoons) and one question was How do we get kids interested in doing well in school?” Inspired by the changes happening at the school, and by a recent trip with his son to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, THS teacher Jim Utermarck proposed an unlikely answer: Esports.
“The next day I brought [the idea] up to my first hour class—the 9th graders—and right away a couple of kids who have never been involved in anything were like Let’s do it Mr. U,” Utermarck said. By 3rd hour it seemed the whole high school knew about the idea, and loved it.
Esports involve multiplayer team competitions using video games. Yes, Esports in high school means groups of kids playing games on computers. Organized competitions have long been a part of the gaming community, with participants from all over the country and even the globe being able to compete with one another in the same forum at the same time, thanks to the internet. Fans even pack stadiums to watch games unfold live. Now, the activity is being organized into a league available to high school students. Utermarck sees this as a good thing.
In order for students to participate in Esports, they must meet all of the Minnesota State High School League requirements for eligibility. “I have a student in 7th grade who was floundering. We brought in Esports and he owed me 15 things and he had those things in within a week. [The students] are getting their work done so they can do Esports.” Utermarck stated. “I think the thing that has worked really well is that these aren’t always the kids who are in other sports.”
Utermarck also commented, “When you’re a coach you seem to have a different relationship with kids in school. So now I seem to have a different relationship with some of the kids who would never be out for football or basketball or baseball or golf, but they’re out for Esports. And I think they respect the fact that we’re trying to give them other opportunities.”
The current league at THS is informal. Utermarck said they will likely join the High School Esports League (HSEL) later this year, but first he wants to give the kids a chance to practice and figure out which teams will work well together and playing what games. Fortnite and League of Legends—two games that can be played for free—are the primary focus at this point.
Utermarck commented, “I remember back in the day going Well what are you ever going to do when all you do is sit home and play video games all day?” The world is changing, and now the answer to that question could be that you make upwards of $500,000 a month, like 27-year-old professional Esports player Richard “Ninja” Blevins. Nearly 12 million people follow Blevins online, and close to 60,000 watch each of his game streams live. Even some colleges are now offering large scholarships to gamers.
“The key is that they’re all working together. These games—they have to be six teammates. They learn strategy, they learn how to work together. It’s really cool,” said Utermarck.
While Utermarck owns up to having played Madden back in the 90’s, he is not a gamer today. “I will tell you that 27 years ago when I started teaching I never, ever, ever thought I would be teaching or coaching Esports. But times change.” Right now Utermarck opens the computer lab—or Esports lounge, as it’s been informally renamed by the students—before school, over the lunch hour, and after school, depending on the day. “They have to eat lunch first, though,” Utermarck laughed. “The first day they were there during the lunch hour after like five minutes. Now I don’t open it until 12:45 (15 minutes after lunch has started).”
Down the road Utermarck envisions all-day events and tournaments happening at the school. He also plans to put the students’ fees toward equipment as much as possible. He sees this as an opportunity, and one that he is thankful the administration supports. “It’s been phenomenal. Someone asked me What are you doing it for? It’s to give our kids in Truman as many opportunities as possible. Whatever I can do to give the kids an opportunity, I will.”
Esports at THS is open to all students in grades 7-12 who meet eligibility requirements.
Melissa (Roloff) Etter completed the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world.
BY NIKKI MEYER
A record-breaking 105,000 hopefuls entered their name into the pool to be selected for registration for the 2018 New York City (NYC) Marathon—the largest marathon in the world. Approximately one in seven people had their name chosen. Truman graduate Melissa (Roloff) Etter was among the lucky few that did.
The 26.2-mile trek in NYC first took place in Central Park on Sept 13, 1970. It has changed greatly since it started, and the race—which included more than 50,000 runners this year—now starts on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, winds through five boroughs, crosses five bridges and more than 300 intersections, and finishes, appropriately, in Central Park. The event is a city-wide celebration and the loudest cheering zone, along First Avenue, boasts an average of 7,500 spectators lining each block.
“I just applied on a whim,” said Etter. “We have a cousin from Truman—Michael Coleman—that lives in New York and he jokingly said one day, ‘Oh you should run the New York City Marathon’ and I’m like I’ll never get in to that. And I just put my name in. You can either be super fast, or it’s a lottery and I got in on the lottery on the first time.”
How it All Started
Etter wasn’t always a marathon runner. In high school she ran short distance races, but gave it up after graduation. Then, when her two boys were young, she started running again. “I went with my cousin (Stacy Backstrom)to Florida to watch her run a half marathon and I thought, If she can do that I can do that, and that’s when I actually started running.”
Etter ran her first 5K with Girls on the Run in Mankato in 2011. It was at the 2015 Mankato Marathon Expo, however, when she got hooked. “They had the medal there for Grandma’s Marathon. It was the 40th anniversary —it was an awesome medal—and I was like I’m going to do a marathon.” She said, “In the back of my head I was like I really want to do this, but the medal—that was it.”
In early 2016, Etter began her training for Grandma’s. “I ran before it, but about four months before is when you start following a training plan.” She uses the book Run Less, Run Faster as her guide, which includes running three days a week and doing cross training two days a week.
The race took place on June 18, 2016—a sweltering day in downtown Duluth, MN. “They had black flag warnings out during the middle of the race. It was horribly hot that day.” Etter’s goal was to finish in less than 4 hours and 30 minutes. She came in just a few minutes over that mark, a finish she felt very good about considering the weather.
Then in January 2017, she upped the ante and did the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World with cousin Stacy. The challenge involves running a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday. “We did a girls weekend. Stacy’s mom and sister and my mom all came along,” said Etter. “We all did the 5K and the 10K together. We actually just walked it. Unfortunately the half was canceled due to severe weather storms, but we went out and ran our own, along with a lot of other people.” Participants who complete all four events earn a total of six medals, and Etter said they were not going to take their medals without completely the full challenge. “Sunday we did a run/walk together for the full marathon.” Etter said, “It is nutty—trust me, but I would do it again! It was fun to do it with someone and, you know we weren’t competitive. We did it to accomplish it; we did it to do it.”
Following the Dopey Challenge, in February, Etter ran another marathon in Phoenix, AZ. She ran a PR (personal record) of 4:09 in that race. In October she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Then a year later, in October of 2018, she ran in the Chicago Marathon. Etter said she’d also done a lot of half marathons and 10K races in between the big races.
The Rewards of Running
What motivates someone to spend so much time pounding the pavement? “I literally get time to myself,” Etter said. “Everything is shut off except for me and my music and I have done everything from total quietness to solving the world’s problems to solving my own problems to solving the world’s problems to solving my own problems to thinking about the next day. It is totally just me-time. There’s no one else bugging me. There’s no phone calls—nothing. It’s just me-time.”
A marathon: just a runner and her thoughts—and 55,000 other runners, and upwards of a million cheering fans, if that marathon happens to be the TCS New York City Marathon.
The lottery drawing for the NYC Marathon took place on February 28, with winners being notified via email. “They do not email you as soon as your name is drawn. However, there is also an insurance policy you can take out so that if anything happens you do get your refund back. So I had gotten an email that my insurance policy had been activated and I thought Well that’s really weird. So I waited and waited and waited.” No email came through. That’s when Etter decided to get a little sneaky. “I was at work and... I ‘illegally’ at work logged onto my bank account on my phone—we’re not supposed to be on our phone—but I logged onto my account and I saw that the money had come out of my checking account so that’s how I found out.” She said the email finally came that night. “It was so exciting. I’ve never been to New York and I was super excited to go to New York and I was super excited to run the New York City Marathon and—it’s the world’s largest marathon.” Etter also spoke of the inspiration she drew from Shalane Flanagan, who won the TCS New York City Marathon last year, becoming the first American woman to win the women’s race in four decades. “To know that she had run it was great.”
Etter flew out to the NYC Marathon with her husband Dave, sons Anthony (20) and Josh (18), along with Anthony’s girlfriend Allie, and Etter’s mom, Susan. The family got to tour the city for a few days before the race on Sunday. Finally, the main event arrived.
With 55,000 runners, not everyone gets to start at the same time. “You put in your time—what your estimated time is, and I put in right around four hours. Luckily I got in the second wave.” For the race, Etter said the elite women go out first, then the first wave with the elite men and the “really fast people” followed by three more waves of runners. The longest time in the second wave is right around four hours, Etter said. Before you can start the race, however, you have to get to it.
“At 5:15 in the morning I hit the subway. I then took that to the ferry, and I rode the Staten Island Ferry over to Staten Island. I then got on a bus and took a bus over to the start line, to go through security and to sit for about two-and-a-half hours to wait for my corral to open up. It’s a process to get over there.” Etter crossed the starting line at 10:33 a.m. “which is really late for a marathon.” She estimated others didn’t get across until almost noon. “It’s a very long day for a lot of people.”
Etter said that once it started, it went fast, however. “It was a beautiful morning, beautiful day. You couldn’t have asked for better weather.” The first two miles of the race are across the bridge back into the city, where the excitement really ramps up.
“You just go through the five boroughs,” Etter explained. Every area has their own little neighborhood and their own thing that they do for you. Some of them had bands—actually there were a lot of bands. Some of the firemen and police were out there... You got to see the heritage (of the different neighborhoods) and stuff like that. It was awesome.”
The Struggle is Real
Even the excitement of hundreds of thousands of cheering people wears off as the miles wear on. “I think you get to the point where you’re just so zoned out,” said Etter. “It’s a hilly course with some challenging bridges.” However the hardest part of every marathon, according to Etter, is the mental battle. For her, that battle really starts to rage about two-thirds of the way through.
“About mile 17 or 18 it starts to get difficult, and by mile 21 you just want to be over it—you just want to be done. There’s truly something about mile 20, hitting that wall—it’s a true fact, let me tell you.”
It becomes more of a mental game at that point. I know that I can physically do it, it just whether or not I have the desire to finish that race, which obviously you always do but sometimes it’s more of a struggle than others.”
There are smaller battles along the way, too. Etter utilizes almost every water station, though she doesn’t stop at them. She grabs her cup and keeps on moving. “Stopping is hard... In fact, one time (at another marathon) I had to have someone time my shoe for me. I couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoe. I was like I’m sorry I need you to tie my shoe for me. I just asked some random person.”
The Light at the End
Etter’s family met up with her at strategic points in the race, around miles 18 and 22. “Having my family watch me at a race was just awesome. My kids have never been to a race before so that was fun. I met up with them twice. That’s what kept me going. I was super excited to know they were there.” She said it was the highlight of “the biggest race of my life.” She said, “it’s always fun to see someone you know. To see the kids cheer for me was awesome.”
Finally, the end was in sight. “No matter what race you do that final mile there’s crowds everywhere and you just know you can do it... I push myself too hard, I think, at the beginning of that last mile, so you really hope you still have the energy to finish, but... (when you hit that final stretch) it’s just the rush of knowing where that finish line is that you’ve actually completed the race is just great.”
And then came the act of actually crossing the finish line—as Etter called it, “the exhilarating moment of knowing that you’re done.” She was officially a finisher in the world’s largest marathon. However, she still had to get out of the world’s largest marathon—her and 55,000 other people. “you just have to stop. You’re body wants to keep going but there’s nowhere to go,” Etter said. “This race was so crowded you literally had to stop (at the finish line)... or you ran into somebody.”
The finishers’ chute was another two miles long and took Etter another 30 minutes to accomplish. Etter didn’t mind much, though. “Walking is very good, so normally I do try to walk around a lot.” After finally making it through the finishers’ chute, she met up with her family and walked to the subway, rode the subway back to the hotel, took a quick shower, then they all went out for supper.
“I don’t usually sit still much after a race. It really helps the next day.” She said she felt fabulous the next day as they finished their tour of the city. “It was my sixth marathon so my body’s a little more used to it. Obviously that first one was worse.”
The family had an eventful return home due to delayed flights and missed connections, finally making it home on Wednesday. Etter took a few days to wind down and recover, using things like staying hydrated, Epsom salt baths, and compression socks. She said she planned to hit the gym again earlier this week.
So how do you follow the world’s biggest marathon? By signing up for another marathon. Etter said her next one will be in May.
Melissa and her husband live in Mankato, where she works for Scheels doing special orders, data entry, and as part of the web team. She is the daughter of the late Scott Roloff and Susan (Kietzer/Roloff) Hunstand. Her grandparents are Gary and Gwen Roloff and Hartwin and Iona Kietzer, of Truman.
TPS student Ashley Mendenhall recently put her artistic skills to work on an area of wall outside the auditorium. The completed piece is also shown above.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Truman Public Schools (TPS) is working hard on creating a positive, supportive learning culture for students to enter each day.
Students in grades 5, 7 and 9 have had or will have the opportunity to attend a one-day retreat, organized by Youth Frontiers.
The upcoming 5th grade retreat will have Kindness as its theme. The three main goals of the event are: understand why and how to make kind choices; enhance empathy skills to understand how words and actions affect others; acquire conflict-resolution skills to safely respond to situations of bullying.
The 7th grade retreat focused on Courage, and had the goals that included: identify personal fears and understand that everyone has them; commit to acting with courage to make your school a better place; deepen relationships with classmates to break down social barriers.
The 9th grade retreat centered around Respect. The event goals were: help students realize they matter, others matter and what they do matters; understand that disrespectful behavior is harmful and engage bystanders to stand up; identify ways to improve the culture of respect in your school and community.
The retreats were held with three other schools participating as well: Madelia, Lake Crystal and Maple River. One of the other goals of the retreat was to get students out of their comfort zones and give them opportunities to interact with students from other local schools, particularly students who look different than the majority of those who roam the halls at TPS.
“It’s our desegregation dollars that pay for these,” said Superintendent Lisa Shellum. “Our kids here, who are primarily white, get to go spend time face-to-face with the Latino kids from Madelia.”
“Our kids were divided up,” said social worker Deb Schneider. “One of the nice things about the retreat is that they weren’t with other kids from the same school. They got to interact with other students that maybe they’ve only ever encountered through sports.”
High school juniors and seniors also got to act as part of the leadership team for the events.
"We are raising the bar and preparing them," said Shellum. "Kids are starting to buy in."
Teacher Sarah Garcia stated that she was hearing positive feedback from both students and parents on the direction the school is going.
"They need to believe in themselves," said board member Allison Klassen. "They do," agreed Shellum. "There is a lot of low self-image here. We need to be challenging them more, and we're doing that."
The Truman Community Choir has been busy rehearsing for their second annual Christmas Cantata. Last year approximately 32 performers from Truman and surrounding areas gathered together to herald the coming Christmas season with a performance that was attended by upwards of 100 people, according to director Mark Nass. This year, however, the Christmas cheer may not be coming.
“Last year we had a ton of fun,” said Nass. “This year I don’t have as many singers as I had because, you know... life happens.” Only 15 or so people have been regularly attending practices, which started in early September. “If we don’t get more singers this week then we’ll have to cancel the performance.”
Nass said a variety of people made up last year and this year’s group. Some are people who used to sing in their church’s choir when their church had one, and others just enjoy singing. “We’ve even got a few high school students this year,” Nass said. He said anyone currently in 9th grade and above is welcome to join, provided they show up ready to sing!
The group practices on Wednesday nights from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in the auditorium at Truman Public Schools (TPS). While there are only about five rehearsals left, Nass said that participants don’t have to be able to attend all of them, as cds are available with the entire performance on them. “The cds are really nice” Nass said, stating that participants use them at home, in their vehicle, or download them to smartphones and iPods.
Nass said that the biggest requirement for joining the group is “you enjoy singing!” He stated, “we’re not professionals. It’s a fun community outreach that spreads the message of Christmas and the season.”
This year’s performance is “NOEL: Night of Everlasting Love” which is a collection of timeless Christmas classics with some new twists to the arrangements. The entire event should last around 45-50 minutes, with a 10-15 minute break in the middle.
The choir is in need of both male and female singers for all parts. If you are interested or have questions, contact TPS band director Dave Stordalen by calling the high school at 776-2111 or via email at email@example.com.
Tim and Lois Bird on their Dream trip to Alaska, made possible by the Dream Foundation.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Information submitted by Tia Schweiss
On Monday, February 19, 2018 former Truman resident Lois Bird and her family sat together in a hospital room, waiting for the oncologist to deliver the results of a series of tests she had undergone, include a PET scan, mammogram, ultrasound and MRI of her head. It had been a year and a half since her health had become an issue. The minutes ticked by, feeling like hours, as everyone anxiously wondered Is the cancer back?
It was the summer of 2016 when Lois first started battling constant bronchitis and pneumonia-like symptoms. Despite seeking treatment, she just wasn’t getting better. Finally, doctors decided to do further testing to get to the root of the problem. By that fall, Lois had been diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung cancer.
Lois went through intense rounds of radiation and chemotherapy to attack the cancer in her lung. There were good days and bad days, but she pulled through and doctors watched the cancer shrink. Then, in the summer of 2017 a lump appeared on her upper left shoulder blade. The oncologist determined it was cancer, and they quickly biopsied the spot to remove the threat, believing they had caught it in time.
And yet, little more than six months later, more spots had appeared on her back, and they were back at the hospital. Waiting.
Dr. Thome, her oncologist, entered the room and delivered the news that hit like a ton of bricks. Not only was there cancer, but it had moved from Stage 3 to Stage 4 and had metastasized. In addition to spots on her lungs and back, the tests also found a tumor the size of walnut on the right frontal lobe of her brain. More spots were located in other areas of her brain and throughout her body.
Despite her prognosis, Lois and her family were not about to let cancer win. A few days later, on February 22, she met with Dr. Smith, a radiation oncologist, to discuss her plan of attack. After weighing the different options and their risks, Lois chose to undergo 12 intense rounds of full brain radiation and radiation for the spots on her back. It was a grueling process, both physically and mentally, and at times her family was concerned they were losing her.
On March 13, after her final radiation treatment, Lois proudly marked the end of that journey. The hospital kept a special bell specifically for the occasion, which Lois rang with her family by her side, surrounded by the sounds of applause and support from the staff, family friends and other cancer warriors who had joined her for her celebration.
A week later, Lois and her family met again with Dr. Thome to discuss the options moving forward. In the end, Lois chose to engage in hospice care to live the best life she can in the comfort of her own home. She is now using medical cannabis to help reduce the swelling in her brain and seizures, and to help her be less reliant on opioid pain relievers. Her family feels these choices have been a real blessing to them all, as she is still able to enjoy time with her children, grandchildren, family and friends. This summer she was still able to garden and she does as much as she can independently to help keep her strength up and her mind fresh to continue her fight.
Lois is currently only 56 years young. Seeing the path before her, Lois’ daughters wanted to make sure that their mother was able to live the rest of her life to the fullest. They set out to orchestrate one last vacation for Lois and Tim (a.k.a. T-Bird), her husband, while Lois still had the physical and mental ability to travel.
With the help of the Hospice Team the girls were introduced to the Dream Foundation which serves “terminally-ill adults and their families by providing end-of-life Dreams that offer inspiration, comfort and closure.” (www.dreamfoundation.org/#). With the help of her daughters and hospice team Lois filled out an application for her Dream. The application process involves some financials, but mostly the applicant telling their story and why they should be chosen. Applicants also get to describe two Dream choices.
In August 2018 Lois’ hospice team was thrilled when they got to surprise her with some exciting news for a change. The team gave Lois a gift basket full of items to keep her comfortable on the trip she was about to take to Fairbanks, Alaska.
. The Dream Foundation was making her Dream a reality.
From August 28-31, 2018, Lois and T-Bird stayed in the heart of Fairbanks. They were within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions, and were able to visit local museums, nature areas, the church were Tim was baptized and, of course, they dined on some fine cuisine. The couple said that lots of sightseeing and spending time together made the trip one they will always remember. That, and the hard work Lois’ hospice team and doctors put in to make sure that Lois could make the trip comfortable. Lois is one of the first hospice patients in our area to become a recipient of the Dream Foundation, and her family is forever grateful.
Lois continues her fight with cancer with a positive mind and strong heart. However, given her age, many benefits are still not available to her. Three years ago she had to give up her job due to her cancer. Lois spent more than 30 years, between Truman Senior Living and Lakeview Methodist Home, helping take care of people in nursing home and hospital settings. Her family is now taking care of her.
Some of her concerns during this battle have been loss of memory, having to rely on others to help her with tasks that she was once able to do independently and preparing for the unknown. She does her best to use her time to her fullest and live in every moment.
Lois’ family says their mom is, “one of the most generous and kind-hearted gals you’ll ever meet. She’s known for her positive attitude and willingness to help others in need.” However, they also note that this battle has taken a toll on their mom and their family both physically and emotionally. Medical bills and every day expenses continue to pile up. On Saturday, November 3, a benefit will be held for Lois at Grace Lutheran Church in Fairmont 4 p.m.-8 p.m. The money raised will go towards Lois’ medical bills and daily expenses. Family and friends will be providing a meal of pulled Pork Sandwiches and sides, and a silent auction. Lois plans to be at the event with family and friends to show her gratitude and thanks to all her supporters.
Lois is the mother of three daughters and one son; Erica (Gordy) Diekmann, Tia (Larry) Schweiss, Amanda (James) Johnson, and Michael Johannsen. She also has nine grandchildren.
With the addition of the new sign, installed on Saturday, October 20, 2018, the the new bus shed is complete. Some landscaping around the building is the only remaining project.
BY NIKKI MEYER
My phone kept ringing. I wouldn’t answer it.
“I don’t answer it, unless it’s a driver,” said Truman Bus Service, Inc owner Ron Lenz, whose phone kept waking him up sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. “It was an unknown number, so I didn’t answer it. Then my wife heard the dogs barking...” Waiting at the door was deputy Matt Owens. “You’d better get Ron up,” he told her. “The bus shed’s on fire.”
We’ve got to breach the doors.
It wasn’t long before Lenz, whose day normally starts at 3:00 a.m., arrived at the bus shed. “I stood there and watched them,” he said. Truman Fire Chief Dave Bentz told him,“We’ve got to breach the doors.” Power to the building had already been cut, and fire department needed to use a forklift to manually raise the doors. “Yeah. Whatever you’ve gotta do,” Lenz replied.
The fire department got the bus out that was burning, but the insulated shed had gotten so hot that anything made of plastic had melted. “Lens covers. Roof hatches. Wiring—it all melted. It was bad,” Lenz said. His dad and his brothers, also bus company owners, joined him. They all just watched.
We’re not going to make morning routes.
“I called Ginny, the superintendent,” Lenz said. “I told her, ‘We’re not going to make morning routes. I don’t know when we’ll be back on, to be honest.’ I had to get a hold of all the drivers to say we weren’t running.” The company was still able to run its Granada routes, and Ron’s brothers brought vans from the family’s companies in Madelia and St. James, so the five van routes also ran.
It’s not what you know in life, it’s who you know.
A supplier had buses lined up for Lenz, but they would have to be retrieved from Monticello, MN—two and a half hours away. “Then Curt Luetgers from Minnesota Motor Bus (in Fairmont) called,” said Lenz. “Word gets around fast.” Lenz explained that the people who own the bus company that serves Fairmont also own buses that service Marshall and Jackson. “Jackson dissolved their contract, so nine buses were sitting there doing nothing.”
The Hey brothers, who owned the buses, were contacted about leasing some of the buses. “We got drivers together, took a van to Jackson, brought six buses back and ran afternoon routes,” said Lenz. “I always tell my kids: it’s not what you know in life, it’s who you know.”
You think you’ve seen everything.
“I’ve been doing this for 41 years,” Lenz said. “You think you’ve seen everything...” As it turns out, the cause of the fire had been seen a number of times before. “It’s a fairly common thing, in Minnesota at least—maybe nation-wide. A power cable for the batter runs through the chassis from frame and towards the starter and there’s a rubber grommet that surrounds that hole that goes through the chassis and it wore off and then wore through the cable and sparked and caused the fire.”
A summary from the Second International Conference on Fires in Vehicles (September 2012, Chicago) notes that “approximately 60% of all of our bus fires begin in the engine compartment,” and that, “grommet failure which causes wear on insulation of wires, and failure of other electrical components because of design or other installation problems, are fairly typical examples of this fire starter.”
It was controlled mass confusion.
Lenz’ insurance agent, Jeff Frey, from Profinium Insurance, was out of town when the fire happened. “I called up Jeff and said, ‘You’d better get back here ‘cause I need you.’” One insurance adjuster came to handle the building. Another came to handle the vehicles.
It was the very beginning of the school year, and Lenz was too busy to think about trying to handle all of the decisions and coordination he knew would need to happen in order to get affairs taken care of and a new building constructed. Lenz’ father is the president of the company, and Ron told him, “Dad, I need you to run with it.” Ron was clear on the fact that they would be using all local contractors to do the work, and that he wanted his dad to handle everything.
We’re going to be doing business.
The night of the fire, Jake Ebert, a member of the Truman Fire Department and one of the owners of SCS Construction and its building just across the street from the Truman Bus shed, met with Lenz. “I think he was afraid it was his building when the page when out,” said Lenz. “He came walking across the parking lot and I said, ‘Jake, hang tough ‘cause we’ve got to build a building here.’ He said he didn’t come over to do business and I told him, ‘Well, we’re going to be doing some business, so I suggest you coordinate with the adjuster and Jeff and make it happen.” Lenz gave Ebert a list of the local businesses he wanted involved in the demolition of the destroyed shed and construction of the new building.
It was a tough, tough year.
“Some of those guys when they were putting up the building—I felt sorry for them because there were some pretty cold days. But they hung right in there,” Lenz said. The company waited for engineering plans to be approved, zoning issues to be sorted and insurance wrinkles sorted out. In the meantime, the buses sat outside in the cold. “You can tell the difference between a stored bus and a bus that sits outside,” said Lenz. According to him, the shell was completed in January.
“Greg Leiferman (from G&D Electric) came and ran temporary power so we could still plug the buses in while they were outside,” Lenz stated. “Finally the excavating was done and the footings were poured and then they got the shell up and we could put the buses inside.” Leiferman ran more temporary power into the building. “Greg took care of us real well.”
Lack of a building left more than just the buses displaced. With the drivers’ lounge gone, Lenz looked for an alternative option. “My brother Tony brought in a camper. It’s not bad when it’s warm, but it didn’t heat real well in the winter.”
The lack of tools and workspace were some of the toughest challenges for Lenz. “Curtis Jones was nice enough to let us use the wash bay out there when we needed to, whether to wash the vehicles or to work on vehicles. But sometimes we needed a pit so we’d run a bus up to St. James and our shop up there or we’d go to my brother Galen’s in Madelia and use their shop. So we had access, but we had to travel for everything.”
Lenz found himself running all over and at a standstill all at the same time. “We didn’t have any tools—air jacks, air compressors, we didn’t have anything. We had to wait until the shop got done before we could buy any replacement tools because, what’s the point? We didn’t have any place to put them. We had to wait on all that.”
While the shell of the building was up in January, the work bay—a separate dedicated area in the new building—wasn’t usable until April. “Sure is nice to have a shop again.”
It was starting all over again.
“You’re spoiled in your routine and then you’re taken out of your routine and, Boom. What do I do now? Where do I go with this?” Lenz said. “There were a lot of headaches, but we got past it.”
“The insurance company treated us good,” Lenz said. He noted the two parties weren’t without disagreements during the process, but in the end he was satisfied.
“We had the place paid for a long time ago, but then we decided that since we’re building new that we’re going to add on to it and make it better.” One of the new features includes the 40’x60’ shop with a wash bay and work bay. “Greg put all of bus plug-ins on timers now,” stated Lenz; another new feature, “They go on at 3:00 a.m. and off at 6:00 a.m. It’s really slick. It works out nice so I don’t have to worry about it now.”
The new timed plug-ins were one of a number of ideas Leiferman, and others, had. “Sometimes you have an idea for something and then you have a contingency and then you go above that contingency because you say, ‘Well you know we could do this,’ and you say, ‘Yeah, we might as well do it as long as we’re there,’” Lenz laughed, noting he now has a building payment for the first time since 1994.
Everybody did really well.
Lenz credits his employees, contractors and the school districts for making everything continue to happen as smoothly as it did. “The drivers all hung together. They’re really good. We have loyal employees, we really do.” Those employees are no longer using the camper as a lounge; their now-larger lounge was among the items added to the new building.
“The cooperation between our company and Truman Schools and Granada is second to none.” Lenz also stated that “parents were real understanding that first day. We went off without a glitch that afternoon.”
Lenz said the family company spent well over $300,000 with local contractors. “We’ve always used them and get along well with them and that’s how we support locally.” He noted that even the city was willing to redo some utilities on the north side of town to make the new building work.
“I feel things are going well,” Lenz concluded. “Things are going smooth.”
Meeker Faces Up to 85 Years, $1.25M in Fines for Drugs, Murder: Meeker, Williams Charged in Death of Mariah Miller
BY NIKKI MEYER
Troy Meeker of Truman, age 51, is facing up to 85 years in prison and more than $1.25 million in fines. Meeker, along with Dominic Tercel Williams of Welcome, age 26, has been charged in relation to the August 2018 overdose death of Mariah Lynn Miller, age 24.
On Tuesday, October 16 Meeker was charged with 1st degree drugs with intent to sell and 3rd degree possession - over 10 grams after officers raided his antiques shop in Truman, finding approximately 18 grams of methamphetamine.
According to a Complaint filed by the Truman Police Department, on August 19, 2018 at approximately 9:31 a.m., law enforcement officers were dispatched to a residence on West Ciro Street, in Truman, belonging to Meeker. Meeker reported a deceased female, Miller, who Meeker stated had been staying at his residence on and off since August 9.
Meeker stated Miller borrowed his vehicle on Friday the 17th, returned the morning of the 18th and was “acting weird.” Meeker stated Miller was known to take opioids and methamphetamine, and that he believed she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Meeker stated he left his home at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. on the evening of the 18th. Miller was lying on the floor, and he handed her a sheet to cover up.
Meeker arrived home around 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and went to bed. When he woke up in the morning, around 9:00 a.m., he discovered Miller was deceased.
When officers entered Meeker’s residence, an area in the basement of the Bullseye Antiques building, owned by Meeker, they found that the area showed signs of being recently cleaned. Drug paraphernalia was found, though none used.
On August 20, Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force (MRVDTF) interviewed Dominic Williams. Williams, age 26, stated he gave Meeker a ride to Fairmont on Saturday the 18th. At the time Meeker told Williams that Miller was sick. Williams dropped Meeker off at the home of another undisclosed witness that evening. Williams said that later that night Meeker told him over the phone that Miller had died.
On August 21, agents spoke with the witness at the home Meeker had visited on Saturday after Williams dropped him off. The witness said that Meeker told her Miller was dead and he would need to dispose of her body.
Williams later indicated to the witness that he had removed all drugs from Meeker’s residence. He also stated that he and Meeker had discussed how to dispose of Miller’s body. Williams denied cleaning up anything for Meeker in a conversation with law enforcement.
On August 30 Meeker stated to the witness that he knew by 2:00 p.m. on the 18th that Miller was overdosing. He also said held Miller as she died and told Miller she was dying and that there was nothing he could do for her.
Another witness stated that Williams and Meeker were both using methamphetamine on the night of Saturday, August 18th. The witness stated that Williams instructed her to drive his vehicle to elsewhere in the county, and that later Williams and Meeker met her there. Williams told the witness that Miller had died and that they had cleaned the area and moved Miller’s body.
Another witness indicated she had a conversation with Meeker in the presence of his mother, Darla Meeker. During that conversation Meeker stated, "I killed that girl."
Authorities obtained an August 22 Facebook Messenger conversation between Meeker and his mother, in which Troy Meeker stated, "They'll arrest me for 3rd degree murder..." His mother responded with, "who cares she's just one more ****"
Meeker was known to have exchanged drugs for sexual relations.
The autopsy performed on Miller did reveal methamphetamine in her blood and a final anatomic diagnosis including methamphetamine toxicity.
Meeker was initially charged with murder in the 3rd degree and manslaughter in the 2nd degree.
Williams was charged with aiding an offender in murder in the 3rd degree and aiding an offender in manslaughter.
Then, according to an October 16 statement of probable cause, while in custody, Meeker made two phone calls to his mother, Darla Meeker. In one of the phone calls, Darla Meeker explains she had allowed two people into his antiques shop, where Miller was found. Meeker became upset and told his mother they were drug dealers and not to let anyone else in the shop. Darla stated the two people found his "toys" and brought it over to the neighbors. Meeker then told her, "There is still an ounce of f***ing dope in the place... If the cops go in with a dog they will find it in ten seconds."
The MRVDTF obtained and executed a search warrant for the building on October 12. Located on the premises were:
- Baggie containing white crystal substance
- Glass methamphetamine pipe with residue
- Container with crystal residue inside
- Canister with crystal residue inside
All of the items field tested positive for methamphetamine. Also located on the premises were various drug paraphernalia items.
Meeker has a criminal history of a felony drug sales conviction from 2011 and a felony controlled substance conviction in 2012. He also has pending drug possession/sales of methamphetamine charges in Blue Earth County from 2017.
Meeker has also admitted to selling/possessing methamphetamine at his store on Ciro St. as recently as August 2018.
Meeker appeared before the Honorable Michael Trushenski in a Martin County courtroom on October 15, 2018 for a Rule 8 Hearing regarding the charges concerning Miller's death. Williams appeared on Tuesday. Meeker will appear for a Rule 8 hearing regarding the drug charges on October 23.
If convicted on both the murder and manslaughter counts, Meeker could face up to 35 years in prison and $30,000 in fines. The two drug charges could bring an additional sentence of up to 50 years and $1.25 million in fines.
Williams could face up to 17 and a half years in prison and $30,000 in fines.
BY NIKKI MEYER
I took a trip to Granada recently. It was windy outside, and as I sat in my vehicle with the window down, the occasional sound of creaking, clanging metal could be heard—pieces of a destroyed garage wall banging against itself. The sound of life changed in a matter of moments.
I actually didn’t go to Granada for the purpose of inspecting the damage, but heading south into town on 260th Avenue revealed broken branches and naked stumps where trees once stood, and I was quickly reminded that the town had been hit by weather. Much of the mess had already been cleaned up, yet houses and outbuildings still showed signs of the high winds that swept through town. Nearly two weeks after the event, the damage, however, seemed almost minimal considering a twister had touched down. That was, until I turned onto Meagher Street.
On the south side of East Meagher Street, part of the fence surrounding the elementary playground lay in a twisted pile, orange caution tape strung around it. On the north side, a somewhat mangled boat and trailer sat in the yard of a house whose garage was missing pieces of fascia and had a crumpled downspout dangling off the visible west side. Photos online revealed the boat and trailer had been upended into the yard, against the house. Behind the house, in the football field, were damaged bleachers and a scoreboard that no longer sat on its posts. Even that damage, however, seemed minor compared to the neighbor to the east.
313 E. Meagher Street is missing. Nothing remains but a cement foundation, small front porch, and a railing where presumably steps went into the house from the garage. That, and an American flag that now stands watch over the remnants of the porch are all that indicate where the home once stood.
“That house is gone,” said John Balcom, who owns a rental house further east, on Sparks Drive. “Nobody knows where. I found a piece of it in my yard. They found the roof over at the fertilizer plant.” An entire home. Obliterated. “Thankfully she wasn’t home when it happened.”
A mailbox bearing the names Gary and Mary Shumski sits a few houses further east. Google Maps shows large, green trees surrounding the house and its neighbor. A few large bare trunks are all that remain of them. The family clearly has a sense of humor however, having taken the liberty of painting a large face and “Go Vikings” on the house’s boarded up windows.
“We’re trying to keep positive through this process,” owner Mary Shumski said with a laugh. “We are lucky. Very lucky. Timing was on our side.”
Shumski recounted the day the twister hit. “I was on the phone with a girlfriend and I was coming into Granada and I looked to the west and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to get some rain. Let’s hang up—I want to beat the rain home.’” Shumski said she barreled through town to get to her garage. She didn’t make it.
“When I got to my driveway the tornado hit.” Shumski’s driveway isn’t short. “I went and went and parked in front of my little garage, and then the back window of my vehicle blew out.” She stated she knew immediately it was a tornado. “When the window blew out, I felt relief. There must have been a lot of pressure on the vehicle and I didn’t realize it.”
Despite the explosion of glass, Shumski was able to safely get out of her vehicle and lie down. “It made my realize how fast your mind thinks,” she said of the few moments she spent on the ground. “My mind said ‘Cottonwood tree’ and my body said ‘Run.’” The family took down 13 mature trees in the wake of the funnel, one of which surely would have crushed her if she hadn’t moved.
Shumski survived the storm unharmed, though her house did not. “I used to try to explain what windows blew out and now I just say we have two left.” Still, she feels nothing but fortunate. “Had I been five second slower I would have been in front of the home that disappeared.”
Gary and Mary are now staying in a hotel while they wade through the insurance process. “When we left our residence to go to a hotel, the only thing I was concerned about was our pictures and our children’s memorabilia. Everything else can be replaced.”
On the West side of Meagher, another resident, Lori Pohlman, also faced a harrowing experience. The top of her house was ripped off, almost as though a jagged saw blade ran right across the roof line. Only the chimney and a small portion over an enclosed porch remain. Outside, a fence gate stands open in the yard, no longer attached to anything but the pole holding it up. The corn in the field behind it lies bent to the ground.
“She was home when it happened,” said Shumski. “I ran into her that night.” Amazingly, Pohlman sustained no serious injuries.
Other residents in town have taken the same view as the Shumski’s, trying to find the positives—or at least some humor—in the gloomy situation. One has a sign reading, “Made U Look,” with a face on it, and another states “Don’t Blame Trump,” perhaps a nod to those throwing shade on the president for Hurricane Florence.
The damage is extensive and the insurance process long; families will be displaced for a while. Balcom stated his renter had to move; he had worked to get her aid from the Red Cross, but the house will take some time to repair. Dan and Sheila Denton and their family are in the same situation. “We are lucky to be renting Dan’s mom’s house in Fairmont,” said Sheila. She expects it will be six to eight months before they are able to move back home.
Sheila’s husband sustained probably the worst injuries in town when their front window exploded into the house. “He ended up with about a two inch hematoma on his arm,” said Sheila, “and then he had several lacerations on his chest and on his stomach.” Dan received seven stitches as a result of the incident. He was facing the front of the home, warning his wife about a tree coming down on the house, headed straight for where she was standing in the entryway. The Dentons also lost part of the roof on the back of their home.
“You know, you walk outside and have that initial shock of, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like a war zone out here,’” said Denton. “But then you find that all the people are accounted for and all the animals are accounted for and everyone is ok.”
It is in times of crisis that the value of living in a small town truly shines. Shumski said that after the storm, “[The community] rallied. They really rallied. It’s amazing how people are just so willing to help.” Shumski, herself a retired EMT, went out and walked her neighborhood as soon as the storm had passed, making sure no neighbors were in need of immediate assistance. Her husband made it home shortly after the storm, and friends weren’t far behind. “Many people showed up with rakes and chainsaws. Food. Water. Ice. Things just appeared. It was just so humbling.”
Denton, an emergency medical responder (EMR), also began going door to door as soon as her daughter—Truman City Administrator Bethanie Ekstrom— and son-in-law arrived and were able to take Dan to the ER. “And then Josh Kitzerow, from Truman, called me and said, ‘What do you need?’” Truman Fire and EMS was dispatched to help scout the town, with the extent of the damage and injuries unknown.
“The outpour was awesome,” said Denton. “We all live in small communities and you know people by their faces, but to call them by names and stuff—some of them you can’t.” Being on a first name basis wasn’t a requirement to give or receive help. “Nobody had to call anybody and say, ‘Hey can you come help?’ We had so much help. So many hands. Trees. Yards. The food. This is why we live where we live.”
Granada mayor Darren Maday—who lost several grain bins next to the train tracks in the middle of town—echoed Shumski’s and Denton’s sentiments. “Nobody has come forward saying they need any extra assistance. I think for the most part everybody is doing alright.” The town—bolstered by the assistance of many other local communities, and the Red Cross—is hanging together. “We’re pretty lucky.”
Even after the clean up phase has passed and life has gone back to the new normal, residents are still looking out for one another. Jill Mathiason posted on Facebook recently: Jeff was out combining in a field 3.5 miles northeast of Granada yesterday. He came across enough siding, shingles, and insulation to build a small outhouse! All from homes damaged in Thursday’s tornado. To all our friends and neighbors who sustained damage: I’m so sorry! He also found this cute little banner. If it’s yours, or you know who it belonged to in Granada, we’d love to give it back to you! (The banner reads: Welcome. May you Live well, Laugh often, Love much.)
The town may never be quite the same, but the community remains the same: strong and united.
“We’re alive. We’re here to tell about it,” Denton stated. Shumski agreed. “Life is for the living and we are alive.”
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Bidding for the 160-acre parcel donated by Roger W. Jones of Sperryville, VA to Truman was congenial, according to City Clerk Monte Rohman. Seven bidders were involved in early action at the auction hosted by Wingert Realty at the Truman Community Building on Friday, September 21. Two bidders ruled the action, and the final winner was Sanders Farms of Truman.
The parcel of 151 tillable acres located five miles east of Truman in Nashville township included a nine acre building site and eventually sold for $9,406 per acre, Rohman said. The total sale was just over $1.5M. It had been evaluated at $1.2M.
Rohman said the windfall opens up an opportunity for Truman to develop a new suburb on the east side of town.
"We need some new lots," Rohman said. The $400,000 infrastructure costs, including sewer, water and streets, would allow for the development of about a dozen new homes. In turn, the sale of those lots would repay most of that initial investment made possible by the Jones sale within ten years, Rohman said. He hopes the infrastructure will be in place within a year.
Other options for the Jones windfall are still on the table, Rohman said, though there has been some discussion about help ing to fund the new deck for the city pool.
"I think that remains for the Council to decide. So, at this point we just need to discuss that further," said Mayor Lynn Brownlee.
The Truman City Council agreed on Monday night to hold a work session next week to look at other projects and opportunities that may ultimately benefit directly from the Jones donation.
"We are eternally grateful for this huge gift and we all appreciate it, as does the City of Truman," Brownlee said.
According to Brownlee, Jones was a 1953 graduate of Truman High School. Brownlee said Jones approached her some time ago about making a donation to the city.
"He called me two or three years ago and was asking what kind of things, projects that Truman might have," Brownlee said. "I had no idea at the time what he was talking about. So I had mentioned that we were wanting to replace the slide down at the swimming pool, and he kind of chuckled at that. He went on to tell me what kind of donation he was considering. It was far more than what we would need for a slide."
The auction was very well managed by Wingert Realty, Brownlee and Rohman both commented. "They've been working on it for some time. That's who Roger wanted us to work with," Brownlee said.
Jones first purchased the property in the 1980s with a partner, whom he bought out in the 1990s. He made his fortune in investments and an East Coast ski resort, Brownlee said, but still returns each summer to conduct an ornithological tagging project on the American Kestrels in Martin County.
"He bands kestrels. He has all these little houses where kestrels nest, and so then he comes back every year and bands them and tracks them."
The kestrel houses are in the Truman area.
"He's made investments and he had a ski resort out east and he's just done very well in life. He's retired at this point."
Jones' father, Casey, was the long-time manager for Truman Farmers Elevator, Rohman said. His mother was Evelyn Jones.