BY NIKKI MEYER
It all started with a Sharpie, a walk on the beach, and a handful of rocks.
Megan Murphy lost both of her parents in her early 20’s. She would often walk along the beach at Cape Cod looking for pieces of sea glass or heart-shaped stones, which she took as signs from her parents. She said, “Through this process I realized that,” what she was looking for, “wasn’t messages from somebody else, it was something that I already knew.”
She said that during her walks she started noticing other people on the beach who, “had the same expressions as I did on my face. That they were maybe introspective or looking for something, contemplating life.”
Then one day when she was leaving to go out on a walk, she saw a permanent marker on her counter and grabbed it. She wasn’t really sure why. But then, when she got to the beach, she said she, “looked around to see if anybody was watching me, and I started writing messages on the rocks.”
Murphy left notes on five rocks that day, wondering the whole time, “What am I doing?”
That night, a friend texted her to say that, out of all the rocks on the beach, she had found one with a message written on it. Murphy didn’t take credit for the rock, but her friend told her, “If you did drop this rock, it made my day. I was having a rough day and the message just meant so much.” And Murphy thought, “Ok. I have something.”
That was the beginning of the Kindness Rocks project. After some pictures and a hashtag on social media, the movement took off.
From Cape Cod, kindness rocks have traveled all over the world, including here in Martin County, thanks to Wendy Ziemer.
“As a kid I loved rocks,” said Zeimer. “Even as an adult. I just love to pick up rocks and see different shapes—like clouds.” Her daughters shared her enjoyment of rocks and getting to paint them. She said she had seen some things about painted rocks and finally a relative on Facebook invited her to join the Marshall MN ROCKS group. “I started doing all this research on it and I saw there’s such a thing that you put rocks out with messages for people to find and share.”
Ziemer liked the idea, and that summer she and her daughters started collecting rocks while camping. They painted a total of 99 rocks during the summer, and then “over the course of a couple of nights we went around and put rocks out and then we introduced the [Fairmont, MN Rocks] Facebook page... and it kind of just spread. It was amazing how it just spread.”
One of things Ziemer really enjoys about the project is that, “it’s inexpensive for people to do, and it gets you out and about. In Fairmont we have so many beautiful parks and people don’t always take advantage of them. I would like to hope that people have gotten out and about more because of the rocks. I see people out, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Ziemer also said, “It’s fun too, when you hide a rock and you see somebody pick it up.” She also said, however, that knowing a rock has been found isn’t the point of what she and others are doing. “There’s just so much negativity about everything,” she said. “My goal was just for people to be nice and to get out and about and to pay it forward... to bring a smile to someone.”
Rose Whalen, who frequently posts to the Fairmont, MN Rocks group, agrees with Ziemer. Whalen, who actually lives in New York, got introduced to the Kindness Rocks movement four years ago when she want to have a mammogram. She said the waiting area she was in after changing into her hospital gown was, “very nice. They had plants, there’s a fountain, soft music, soft lighting, and there on one of the tables, next to the magazines, was this rock, and it was really pretty.” She said on the rock was a message about posting on Facebook that she had found the rock, “and I fell in love with the idea. They left it in a place where I thought was awesome because you’re nervous and you’re going to get something done that you don’t really want to get done, and it just made me feel better. Finding that rock. It was really sweet.”
Whalen, who posts pictures of her many creations, used to paint “before I had children. I painted a lot.” At that point in time she was painting on canvas. And, as often happens, that hobby fell to the wayside when she became a mom. “I never thought I’d paint again,” she said. Now, she paints all the time, hiding the rocks with her grandchildren.
Whalen and Ziemer—who have never met in person—both like to use a rock’s natural properties as part of their painting. “A lot of people like to change [the rock] to make it a very flat surface,” said Whalen, “but then it’s not a rock anymore! I’ll take them lumpy or bumpy or with holes or a crack in them and I incorporate that in the art.” Ziemer said that her family’s favorite rock is one her daughter found that she thought looked like a stick of butter with a bite taken out of it, which she then painted yellow with the word "Butter" on it.
Whalen also said that, “sometimes rocks are just so beautiful I’ll just put words on them and then clear coat it so the rock itself is in the background.” Just like how Murphy started that day on Cape Cod.
Another big source of inspiration for Whalen? “My grandchildren ask me.” They are also her rock hunting, painting, and hiding partners.
Both Zieimer and Whalen say they just use the cheapest paint they can find for decorating their rocks, which is a little bit amazing considering some of the works of art they create with them. Different people use various types of clear coats to protect their final products, and Whalen said that of the ones she’s tried she likes using a sponge brush and three-six coats of Duraclear high gloss varnish. Picture This! Scrap That! in Fairmont has also started carrying Pesca markers especially for rock painters.
Finding rocks to paint doesn’t seem to be an issue for Whalen or Ziemer, who keep their eyes peeled any time they are outdoors. Ziemer even has someone who collects rocks on vacation and brings them back to her.
Finding places to hide them isn’t an issue, either. In fact, they both get plenty of help with distributing the rocks.
Whalen, who was invited to the Fairmont, MN Rocks group by a local member, has recently sent a package of rocks to Minnesota to be hid around the Fairmont area. She’s also had people take her creations as far away as most of the states in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, England, and even Scotland.
Ziemer has also sent rocks out of the area. Last summer the Fairmont High School Band took a trip to California and along with them went a bag of rocks. And recently, a rock with the Fairmont, MN Rocks Facebook page info was found in Guatemala.
Whalen said she was impressed with the level of participation she sees from the Fairmont area, which is a lot higher than other groups she’s in that have far more members.
One Fairmont member who frequently posts is Truman resident Cairne Eytcheson, who frequently goes out looking for or stumbles upon rocks with her grandchildren. “We just happened to find one in Fairmont,” Eytcheson said. They were immediately hooked. Her grandchildren have found and hid rocks a lot of different places, and have even painted a few themselves. The family is the picture of what Ziemer had hoped for when she started the Facebook page. “If I say Should we go rock hunting? I’ll usually get a Yes!” Eytcheson said. One of her favorite memories is from last week when her granddaughter, Esme, hid a rock at the movie theater and then watched as another boy found it. “Grandma! Somebody just found my rock!” she said. Eytcheson was able to take the boy’s picture and then tell his family how to find the picture on Facebook.
The Kindness Rocks project has gone farther and wider than Murphy ever could have imagined the day she dropped those first five rocks. In an NBC Today interview, she said, “In order to create a movement like this, there has to be so many people that have taken up the cause. I look at my role as a support for them, because without them it’s just me walking along the beach dropping a rock here and there, but together we have a big collective voice.”
The project has also had benefited not just the rock finders, but also the rock artists/distributor. “I didn’t think I’d ever paint again,” said Whalen. “I didn’t have a reason to. If these were canvases, what would I do with thousands of canvases? ... It brought art back into my life.”
Ziemer, who notes, “I’m not a painter by any means,” tells others, “You don’t have to have talent. Just paint a word!” For her—having started without “high expectations”—it’s been amazing to see people get so involved. “It was just something we thought we would give a try. I didn’t expect it to be huge.” Despite her expectations, the number of people encountering kindness rocks continues to grow.
“The very first post there was a gal who... said she was going through a down period in her life and... that it made her feel good. I thought Right there’s the success. That was my measure of success. It just touched one person and that’s all I was really looking for.”
BY NIKKI MEYER
“There is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they’re studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands-on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and then transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.” Dr. Howard Gardener, Harvard University Professor (1997 Edutopia interview)
As the staff and administration has worked to adjust to its new trimester schedule and assess student needs throughout the year, Truman Public School has identified a need among its students: better study skills. Heading up a brand new class for students in grades 7-9 is English teacher Sarah Garcia.
Garcia is utilizing the SOAR Learning & Soft Skills Curriculum (aka SOAR Study Skills), created by Susan Kruger, M.Ed. and Brian Willer, M.Ed. Kruger believes, “No student should ever feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ or ‘smart enough,’ simply because they were never taught HOW to learn!” The curriculum’s four guiding principles are built around Structure, Originality, Aptitudes, and Relevancy.
With SOAR, students are taught first that the question isn’t "Are you smart?” but rather “HOW are you smart?” The course leans heavily on the works of Dr. Gardener, who mapped out the theory of Multiple Intelligences—the idea that, in short, there is not one singular kind of intelligence that can be accurately mapped out by an IQ test. Gardener instead posited, eventually, that there are eight types of intelligences: spatial (picture/visual smart), bodily-kinesthetic (body smart), musical, linguistic (word smart), logical-mathematical, interpersonal (social smart), intrapersonal (self smart), naturalistic (nature smart).
“What I want is that students recognize their true abilities regardless if it lies in my verbal area,” Garcia commented. “Knowing there is a whole world of opportunities built around what they are good in or have an interest in will build confidence that leads to success. When students are confident, it is easier to learn because they know they can, and also they recognize how that skill or knowledge fits their picture of success.”
Garcia said that at first there was pushback from some students, but most have started to see the benefit. “One student actually said to me, I didn’t know I was smart in these areas.”
Once students are given an awareness that there isn’t one singular way to be smart, they are given tools—‘soft skills’—to help them shine in their learning environment and in life beyond.
The term ‘soft skill’s is credited to Dr. Paul Whitmore and John Fry, who presented three papers to the Defense Technical Information Center, which provides research and engineering information for the United States Department of Defense (DoD). The US Army had been investing heavily in training procedures that utilized technology to improve workflow and learning efficiency, and the work of Whitmore and Fry birthed the idea of “soft skills”, which later moved from use in the Army to use by the general public.
Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. Typically, you’ll learn hard skills in the classroom, through books or other training materials, or on the job.
Examples of hard skills include:
Proficiency in a foreign language
A degree or certificate
Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that are much harder to quantify. They may be known as ‘people skills’ or ‘interpersonal skills.’ Skills that SOAR include, among others:
According to a StudySkills.com article, an assessment of 500 businesses in Oakland County, MI revealed that 91% of the top needed skills are soft skills, not technical ones. (https://studyskills.com/spedadhd/learning-and-soft-skills-empower-special-education-students/)
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” Garcia admits that with this first go-round her main focus has been on the organization skills. Students are presently learning how to organize a binder with papers for all of their classes, rather than having separate binders for each class. Next they will work on organizing their space—especially their locker and backpack, though the course also covers spaces outside of school—followed by organizing their time.
Garcia said organization was one of the big red flags that prompted the study skills course. “We were hearing a lot of students who didn’t have a foundation of note-taking or reading strategies. Kids complaining they turned it in and it got lost, or ‘I know I did it but I don’t know where it went.’ They typical things we’ve all heard over decades of teaching, but it was more than just the one or two kids.” She said some issues, like reading and paper-writing skills, are addressed in other classes, and the study skills course is helping to reinforce the concepts and gives students a way to tie it all together.
Organizing naturally goes hand-in-hand with Setting Goals. Once students have established their priorities and goals, they are able to organize their time and space in such a way as to make achieving those goals much easier.
After students have focused on relating to themselves with setting goals and organizing, the SOAR course takes them through relating to others through Asking Questions. Information is provided on how the human brain functions and how to use that knowledge to remember what you learn. Asking Questions is a means of storing and organizing information in your long-term memory so you can access it later.
When asking questions, SOAR covers:
How to work with teachers
How to read textbooks
How to write papers
How to study and take notes
How to take tests
Finally, SOAR leads students through tracking their progress, include grades, goals and recognizing their achievements. Garcia said that as a whole the staff and administration are working on giving students more visible recognition in the school.
Students will have completed the class by the end of the trimester, and Garcia said that the current plan it to offer it again first trimester of next year for all incoming 7th grade and new students.
BY NIKKI MEYER
If there is a local family who has had more than their fair share of brain-related issues, it’s arguably Josh and Becca Johnson.
Josh and Becca (Fiebelkorn), both Truman grads, just celebrated six years as a couple in February. They were married on August 6, 2016. Neither ever dreamed the challenges they would face in their first 18 months of marriage.
In July of 2017, Becca said she was at home one evening when, “It was like somebody flipped a switch.” She said suddenly, “I got so tired it was beyond exhaustion. It was the most tired I’ve ever felt in my life.” As it was summer and Becca is an art teacher at GHEC, she decided she would just go to bed.
She said after she fell asleep that it was 20 hours before she got up again. “I could wake up, but... I would wake up and just fall right back asleep. I slept 20 out of the next 24 hours.”
The time Becca did spend awake was not good. “I felt nauseous and very dizzy—I was bumping into walls.” Becca said she spent the next 10 days experiencing those symptoms. “I did have a headache, but it was not an excruciating headache... I thought I had the flu.”
Finally Becca felt her condition had gone on long enough that it was time to go see a doctor. On July 3 she met with a physician, who decided with the impending holiday and the length of time Becca had been sick that it would be good to go ahead and do a CT scan.
“I didn’t even make it out of the CT room,” Becca said. “The imaging was already up on the screen and I could tell something was wrong. The techs were pointing at the screen and my primary [physician] went into the viewing room.” It wasn’t long before Becca got the news. There’s a spot on your brain and it’s bleeding she was told.
Becca said she later read her case notes and found out, “they thought I was going to stroke out and have an aneurysm and die. I was a ticking time bomb—they were very concerned.”
She was taken to the ER to do an MRI. Becca wanted to call Josh and was told, “there will be time for that later.” She said she later found out Mayo Clinic in Rochester had already been contacted and the hospital was prepared to transport her there by ambulance.
Ultimately the couple went home and packed and then drove over in their own vehicle. A cerebral angiogram was scheduled for the next morning, and a repeat MRI was completed.
The angiogram, which was done by inserting a small camera into an artery in Becca’s groin and then threading it up to her brain, revealed no aneurysm. The staff informed her that she had experienced a spontaneous bleed, and that it thankfully was in a low-pressure vein, as opposed to an artery, “which is why I didn’t instantaneously die.” She was also informed that the bleeding appeared to have stopped by that point.
Becca now has a very slight facial droop on one side. What bothers her more, however, is the difficulty she now has with mental math and certain multi-step processes, like trying to follow a recipe. “If I read a step and I look away from the recipe and then try to recall what I just read it kind of goes out of my mind. I have to keep my finger on the recipe, grab the thing that I need, and then look right back because I’ll forget in that amount of time.” She still hasn’t pinpointed exactly what the function is that her brain struggles with, noting she can do other multi-step processes just fine.
Becca had a history of syncopal events (passing out) even from before her brain bleed was discovered, though no link between the two or cause of her bleed has yet been discovered. She’s had a number of episodes passing out since, with three repeat ER visits for imaging and scans, including another trip to Rochester.
Her last Rochester visit was after passing out, when she also noticed, “my facial droop seemed to be worse,” and she had, “kind of like that drunken dizziness feeling like I’d had before so they thought that there was a bleed again.” She said the imaging didn’t reveal any new bleeding, however, and she returned home. That trip involved her second
cerebral angiogram and third MRI.
“Most days I’m just fine,” Becca said. But the lingering effects are still there. Another big one for her, given her profession, is grading papers. “If something is in a packet form... if I flip to the second page I can’t remember what’s on the first page for a score. I have to write it down on the second page, or tell somebody Hey, remember this number real quick.”
As if having a brain bleed on the back of your mind—literally—wasn’t enough, the Johnsons experienced another life-altering incident six months later.
It was approximately 3:15 p.m. on January 19, 2018 and Josh was driving a work truck on his way to one of Helvig Farms’ barns. He wasn’t far from home, and though the recreation of the incident indicated he slowed down at the intersection of 250th Avenue and 230th Street, Josh failed to see and yield to the westbound Silverado headed his way. Josh pulled out in front of the truck and was struck in the front passenger corner of the vehicle.
“We’re just assuming the vehicle was in a blind-spot, like in the pillar between the windshield and the passenger window,” Becca said. “He crossed over and... both front ends got hit. It whipped Josh’s truck around so quickly, and because he didn’t have his seatbelt on he was ejected out the passenger window.”
Out the passenger side is a more accurate description. “He didn’t just go out the window,” Becca said, “he took off part of the door. He ripped the whole door—like from the top it was bent down.” She said she later saw the pictures and, “he completely destroyed the door because of the way he exited.”
Initially, Becca didn’t know the extent of Josh’s injuries. Josh’s boss called her at work at about 3:45 and said she needed to get to the hospital because Josh had been in an accident and he didn’t know how bad it was.
She later found out that the EMTs at the scene didn’t even recognize Josh at first. They looked up the vehicle’s registration to help confirm his identity once someone thought it might be him.
The EMT team arranged for a helicopter as quickly as possible. They were informed Mayo 1 was at least 40 minutes out. Becca said she was later told that Truman Ambulance Director Jessica Clow said You’re going to have to do better than that because he’s not going to make it. An alternate chopper was located and instructed to fly to Mayo in Fairmont.
Josh was taken to Fairmont where he began receiving blood transfusions and other treatment while waiting for the helicopter to arrive.
As Becca arrived at the hospital, she saw the helicopter outside. “Out loud I said That better not be for you, Joshua.” That’s when she got nervous. Things only got worse when she arrived at the reception desk and after identifying herself was told the staff needed his birth date and address. “That told me that Josh was not speaking then. That’s when... I started to panic.”
Becca got to see Josh briefly before he was airlifted. He was conscious, but not coherent. He was also intubated. “Josh remembers none of it, thank God.” Becca said. “He was just bleeding everywhere.”
Becca remembered as she said goodbye that Josh was wearing a “surgical cap” on his head. She didn’t know at that point that he had a traumatic brain injury. “I touched toward the top side of his head and all I felt was squishiness and I thought the whole top half of his skull was basically caved in... it did not feel like a skull...I about collapsed.” She later found out it was just swelling from his injuries.
When Becca arrived in Rochester she found Josh had been moved from the ER to the ICU and had about 20 different teams of people assigned to him. “Not 20 people, 20 different teams. There’s respiratory, there’s trauma, there’s blood, there’s neuro... He had basically all hands on deck to keep him alive.” She said she didn’t need directions to his room because she could see one with a mass of people outside and immediately knew it was him. “I knew exactly where to go. Nobody had to tell me.”
Josh was even more swollen then when Becca had last seen him. A doctor sat her down and went over Josh’s known injuries from head to toe.
Becca later posted on Facebook: “Josh was in a horrible accident this afternoon. He was airlifted to Rochester. He has an open skull fracture on his forehead, a baseball size lump in the side of his skull. Fractures down his back, possible neck fracture. Both shoulder blades are broken. Lots of scrapes. His right leg was so mangled all blood flow was cut off so they needed to get him in for surgery to save his leg. His upper and lower jaw are both broken. They may be drilling into his skull to release pressure. We are unsure about his brain activity other than he was making noise on the scene but didn’t make sense. He is on a ventilator and heavily sedated. Currently, he’s in surgery but I was told he will be here for quite sometime.”
A total of 10 vertebrae were broken. Several teeth and his sinuses in his skull were also broken. Becca said she was told that though his leg would get attention first in order to save it that they would also be monitoring the pressure around Josh’s brain and that if the needed to drill into his skull and do two surgeries at once that they were prepared to do so. It did not come to that.
Josh had three surgeries on his leg in the first week. His intestines were also scoped at one point.
Becca said that his brain injuries were a watch-and-wait game because of Josh’s lack of consciousness. “He was able to wake up on his own and open his eyes that following day... That Saturday, in the morning, I was talking to him and he responded really well to the sound of my voice,” Becca said. “He did better with me than with the doctors.”
She said Josh has no recollection of his stay in Rochester, but she got good and figuring out what he needs were. “I could tell when he was in pain or if he was scared. He seemed scared and probably in a lot of pain at first. He couldn’t speak because he had a breathing tube.”
Josh was also strapped down for his safety at that point. Sometimes he seemed lucid, other times “his eyes were all glossed over,” Becca stated. “So we couldn’t really get a good assessment on what he could comprehend and what he could understand.” She also said sometimes he would follow commands, like squeezing someone’s fingers, and other times he wouldn’t. His pain medication was also a factor they couldn’t control as it also could affect his behavior.
On Saturday, January 20 Becca posted. “Update: surgery went good for his leg. It’s two long open incisions that is temporary because they will go back into his leg with a bunch of metal at a later time depending on how everything else goes.
Last I saw him, he was shaking a lot like he was freezing. He was biting on his breathing tube a lot and when they ask him to stop he does relax his jaw. No other movement or responding to commands yet. They stopped his pain meds to get him to hopefully wake up enough so they can get a neurological assessment on him. Basically, they’re gonna see if he is aware of his pain or his tubes to see if he is aware of what’s going on. He will be in for many surgeries and a long stay. He may stay sedated for a few days.”
On the 21st Josh’s breathing tube was finally removed. Josh was able to communicate that he knew Becca’s name and that he was in the hospital, but he didn’t know what hospital or why he was there. Becca posted that day “His first reaction to the accident was him saying Did I hurt anyone?” Josh continually fell asleep or into unconsciousness and had to repeat the same conversation multiple times that day.
“It literally depended on the minute,” Becca said. “He would wake up and say something that would just be totally normal, and then he would fall asleep within 10 seconds. He couldn’t hold a conversation... then he would wake up and not know who I was.” She said when his eyes would close, “it would wipe completely away. He had no idea what was going on.”
During his ICU stay Josh was never left without another person in the room. Someone had to be called each time he woke up to evaluate and document him.
On Monday, January 22 Josh had a feeding tube inserted. On Tuesday he had his second leg surgery. Doctors decided he would need a skin graft on his leg. That night he spiked a fever and for a time no longer recognized Becca, insisting she was instead a family friend.
On Thursday Josh received his skin graft on his leg. He also had his feeding tube removed, and for the first time was able to remember something after falling asleep. His lab cultures showed no sign of infection. Josh was also able to leave the ICU that day.
On Friday Josh began speech therapy. Becca said it was interesting, with a very mixed performance by Josh. She posted, “He did pretty well with it considering, but has a long way to go. Very simple commands are perfect, but he doesn’t understand when you put together more than one command. For example, touch your chin is understood and followed, but touch your chin then your nose, is not. He tried writing for the first time, and that was so so... The doctor said he is ready to begin therapy next week to start learning how to think. Yes, learning to think. He is showing that he is thinking by pausing to answer direct questions but he needs to re-learn strategies to complete his thinking.”
That weekend Becca worked with Josh on things like practicing drinking, especially since Josh was hungry but didn’t want food. She posted that day, “I never fully understood what it meant before when people had a brain injury and had to re-learn to walk, talk, and go to the bathroom. I get it now. He understands he needs to go, but doesn’t know how to make his brain let that happen.”
The stay in Rochester continued to be a roller coaster ride. Becca posted early in the week, “Getting home is our ultimate goal, but it’s beginning to hit me how long it may be until we can get there. I’m trying to accept the fact I will at some point possibly be home without my husband. I’m also trying to figure out logistically how him being home is even going to happen.”
She said the stay was hard on both of them. Josh would get very agitated and angry. He would try to get out of his bed. He even hit Becca a few times. “He’s not a violent man at all, he’s never even been in a fist fight in his life,” Becca said. “But I got punched. I got yelled at. He was screaming for people to kill him. He thought everyone was trying to kill him... He basically needed a sitter at all times.”
Becca was told Josh would need to go to one of the highest level care facilities available in the state. She chose Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul.
Becca said Josh started to regain memories during his two weeks being in Bethesda, though he has since forgotten things about his stay that he used to remember. Each day was spent in intense sessions of speech, occupational, and physical therapy while the staff continued to monitor Josh’s overall progress.
When Josh left Bethesda, Becca said, “We were told were going to be discharged with a nursing staff person who would be there 24 hours a day. I don’t know what happened with the discharge paperwork, but that didn’t happen.” Becca stated she was mostly caring for him anyway since he cooperated better with her. Even though she was told he would need 24-hour care and she couldn’t do it all, “which I knew that, but we did end up going home with out anybody,” Becca said with frustration.
“I needed to get medical equipment, so I drove him home myself. We had to stop in Mankato and we spent an hour and a half—he had to sit in the car, because he couldn’t walk... He had to sit in the car by for an hour and a half while I was inside trying to figure out medical equipment, insurance, calling between three different facilities. I was a very angry wife just trying to get him home because he was in pain out in the car.”
Once the Johnsons finally made it home the struggle continued. Their bedroom and bathroom are on the second floor, and Josh was insistent on using both. Becca had to constantly help him up and down the stairs, help him with all normal life functions, do his wound care, and get him to therapy every other day.
“I didn’t go back to work for one week, and then I had to leave him home, and that was scary, because his brain was not healed enough. I was worried that he would go Oh look! Power tools. and start using them or that he would fall. He couldn’t get off the couch sometimes.”
Things slowly got better as the days and weeks wore on. Josh was spending three hours at the clinic doing therapy every other day, and Becca was working half days and being gone completely other days.
“He had to learn how to think, how to reason, and how to make sure that he can live life. When they talk about people having to re-learn how to walk and talk, it’s not always physically. I always used to think that if you have to re-learn how to walk you’re physically teaching your muscles what to do. You’re actually, for Josh’s situation, you’re learning how to make your brain think. What are you trying to do? You’re trying to walk. What do you have to do? Well, let’s start with standing up. He would not know what he was doing that quickly.
Stand up? Now what are we doing? Take a step? Well how do I do that? He had to learn how to think in that way.” Becca said that one day they spent an hour with Josh learning how to stand.
Other therapies included things like learning how to put on pants, or make toast. “They had a real toaster in front of him and real butter and no instructions. Can you make a piece of toast? And they would have decoy things in front of him, like things that didn’t belong in a kitchen. He was like Do I have to use all of these? And they were like You just have to make toast, Joshua.”
Even with all of the struggles, Josh made amazing progress. “He progressed so fast, he healed so fast he actually had to be on a heart medication because he was tachycardic, meaning his heart was pumping too hard. He was healing so quickly and he did not want to sit at home. He just wanted to get back to work because he is a farmer and didn’t want to miss planting season, which he did, but he just wanted to be back at work.”
Josh definitely will say that Becca has had the worst consequences of his accident, not him. “I’ve always said I didn’t go through that much during those two months. She went through it all, ‘cause she remembers everything. For me, I hardly remember anything from the first two, two-and-a half, three months of recovery, because I was so gone. To hear her tell me stories and to know I was that far gone—I have no clue. I lost two-and-a-half months of my life. I healed during that time, definitely, which was awesome, but I don’t remember anything.”
What he does remember from those early days was, “feeling alone. Not being alone, but feeling alone. Whenever Becca wasn’t there I was just losing my mind. I just wanted her there,” Josh said, tearing up.
Though he later required a surgery to fix his rotator cuff— “that was probably the worst part for me because I actually remember it,” Josh said—and still has a limp due to the damage in his right leg, Josh’s body has largely returned to his pre-accident condition. “He’s been back at work for a while now and you wouldn’t know he was in an accident,” Becca said.
Josh’s brain, however will likely never be the same. “I kind of thought brain injuries were fake, like they didn’t really exist,” Josh said. “I thought people just needed an excuse for things.” His accident has changed his mind on that, literally.
“When it’s real, it’s so hard to explain. It’s just little things you go through. It doesn’t go away.”
Josh often finds himself struggling to recall words. “I can’t find words anymore. I have to describe it and hope to God people can figure out what I’m trying to describe,” he laughed. Names of people give him a hard time as well.
And then there are his emotions, which like to take over without Josh’s permission. He said he went though a period where is was really jealous all the time. “And I’m not a jealous person.” Then he went through several months of struggling with suicidal thoughts. “I wouldn’t say I was suicidal, but I had more thoughts about that than I ever had before in my life.” He said he often felt like, “This world would be so much better without me and the hassle I’m putting people through.” He said it was a “weird moment” going through it all. He understood why the doctors regularly asked him if he needed any mental help. “I wanted so hard to get through it myself, and luckily I was able to, but I can definitely understand why someone wouldn’t be able to.” He said the guilt of being the cause of the accident weighed on him really hard as well.
Lately it’s anger that likes to run amok in Josh’s head. “It’s feeling very short tempered. I know it’s not real. And I know I’m not upset. So the people I’m around the most I’m always telling them I’m not mad at you. I’m not upset about anything you’re doing. I just can’t quite kick that one yet.”
Josh also can’t taste or smell anymore. “I can taste sweetness, and I can taste salt. I can’t taste much beyond that.” He said he does have memories of what stuff should be like and he can enjoy some foods based on that. But not fish. Josh didn’t like fish before, and he still doesn’t. He knows, because Becca had him try it again after his accident. “It still tastes like the lake it came from. That still came through.”
Josh said, “The smell is the biggest thing. If I smell something it’s like a highlight of my day where I’m like I smell something. I don’t know what it is, but I smell something,” he laughed.
If there was anything good in his accident, Josh will say it’s Becca. “I was so blessed to have a wife hat could take the time, and have a school that helped her, so that she was able to be there with me the entire time, because alone would be so hard in those moments. So thank God she was there with me.” He said she was his advocate. “She did so much for me that I couldn’t do for myself.”
Seven months after the accident Josh completed his last therapy session.
In January, Becca reflected back on the past year of their and all the family had been through. She wrote, “It’s been a year since Josh Johnson decided to scare the hell out of me and test my strength. The accident doesn’t seem real sometimes, more like a dream. Then I recall all those first moments and I know it was very real. Getting the news, saying goodbye before the helicopter, watching you open your eyes for the first time, helping you manage pain and stay calm when you didn’t know where you were or who people were, four surgeries with another later and one more soon to come, countless therapy sessions, and watching you bust your butt to get back home and working again. I love you, Babe, and I’m so happy you’re still here.”
BY NIKKI MEYER
Krahmer, Shaffer & Edmundson, Ltd (KSE), represented by THS grad Derrick Greiner, was present at the March 18, 2019 Truman City Council meeting as the council reviewed their proposal for services as the City’s attorney. The council reviewed the proposal sent by KSE and asked Greiner several clarifying questions. It was stated that there were no conflicts of interest between the two parties, and the council voted to accept KSE’s proposal, with Greiner designated as the lead attorney for the City.
Greiner stated that working with Truman as a municipal client, “was something I had always had my eye on, particularly since starting in private practice [at KSE] in 2017. I knew at some point it might be coming open and really thought that it would be a good fit.” Greiner started life on a farm just outside of Truman, with his family moving to town when he was in elementary school. He graduated high school in 2008.
Greiner said, “being from Truman I think it was a nice fit to have an idea of some of the issues that are going on and being able to dive in and help.” He feels one of his strong points is his, “interest in seeing Truman succeed and being able to be a part of that in this fashion.” Greiner also stated that the firm is looking to, “hopefully pick up some additional municipal clients as well” down the road.
Greiner didn’t originally see himself working in law. His first degree is from Winona State University / Minnesota State University – Mankato is a Bachelor of Science in Teaching – Business Education. He stated that teaching, “was always the plan.” However, the summer after graduation he hadn’t secured a permanent teaching job. While he was doing substitute teaching he, “got a call from a temp hiring agency that I had dome some work for in college. They had a two-week administrative receptionist position at a law firm and so I did that.” As things sometimes do, “one thing led to another and next thing you know I was in law school.”
Greiner graduated cum laude from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul in 2015. He then went to work as a judicial law clerk for Judge Douglas Richards in Faribault County. His practice areas include tax, real estate, estate planning and administration, ag law, and business law.
Greiner concluded, “We’re really excited for the opportunity and look forward to working with the council and the City and all of its citizens.”
Greiner is the son of Vickie and the late Rick Greiner.
BY NIKKI MEYER
A large percentage of people living in metro areas don’t own their own vehicle; they don’t need to. Public transportation is often available via rail or bus, and if those options don’t work odds are pretty good you can catch a ride from a taxi or a driver with one of the two big ridesharing services, Lyft or Uber.
Head to smaller, rural areas however and your options for getting from point A to point B without owning your own set of wheels get a lot more limited. The rails running through Fairmont aren’t meant for passengers. You won’t find bus stops in any town in Martin County. And taxis certainly don’t roam the streets.
Jason Mau, and others like him, saw a need for faster, easier transportation in the Martin County area. However, according to Mau, the big ridesharing services haven’t extended their networks very far outside of major economic hubs. “It took Mankato a long time just to get it. They opened it up and it’s....okay... but down here you can’t get it.”
Mau decided to imitate the two big companies and start his own ridesharing service. “It was called Taxi Share, in the beginning. And everybody liked what we were doing. A lot of people were getting rides and calling us the fast taxi or the fast ride.” Mau said the company’s average response time is 10-15 minutes. “So, my business is called Fairmont Area Taxi Share," but rearrange the first letters and... "now we’re registered under FAST everywhere else.”
What exactly is ridesharing? If you were to combine the ideas of carpooling and taxis, that would be pretty close to ridesharing. Ridesharing allows drivers who own their own vehicle to make money driving people around. However, it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Some drivers choose only to work during the busiest times of days, or to pick up passengers as they commute from their day-job back to their home. Drivers simply mark themselves as available via their company’s smartphone app whenever they are ready for passengers. When they are done, they mark themselves as unavailable again. Ridesharing lets drivers operate when and where they want to, and gives passengers more options, often at cheaper prices. The number of available drivers for a ridesharing company isn’t limited to the number of permits it can get or cars it can afford to own, like a taxi company may be limited.
Right now Mau organizes about seven FAST drivers, though he’s always on the lookout for more. Drivers are currently required to have a 2007 or newer vehicle, a good driving record, and must be able to past a background check, for starters. FAST hubs in Martin County, though has transported passengers as far away as Mankato and Sioux Falls.
When FAST first opened, about three years ago, rides were booked over the phone and the company was averaging 10-12 runs per day. Later, the FAST Ride Share Facebook page launched and gave riders the option of booking online, and now FAST sees an average of 75-100 runs per day. “A few Fridays ago we had our busiest day ever with about 125 runs,” Mau said. And coming up just on the horizon, the company is hoping to launch a new app by April 1st. The free app will allow riders to book and pay directly from their smartphone, making the process easier than ever.
The cost of a trip is based on $1.15 per mile. A trip from Truman to Fairmont is a minimum $13 charge.
Mau said it’s been interesting to see where riders are coming from/going to. “That’s one thing that amazes a lot of people. About 15% of my business is people from the bars, but 85% is not.” The biggest chunk of that other 85%? “The place we do the most business is we take people to WalMart—employees and customers.”
Mau said the other biggest chunk is taking people to the doctor. FAST now works with Mayo to help transport patients who have no other means of transportation. “We do that 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” MRCI and Martin County Human Services also frequently utilize FAST’s services.
Mau feels that a ridesharing business isn’t just convenient for passengers, it’s also filling a big need in the community. “We’re taking people off the road that would typically go buy a car and not have insurance on it, or who don’t have a license, because they have no other choice. When people need to get to work at 5 o’clock in the morning, there’s nobody else out there.”
The need for transportation to work is an area FAST is looking to offer more services. Right now the company is working on setting up an agreement with Kerry Ingredients & Flavours in Blue Earth. Essentially the company will offer a ridesharing van for employees to get to work in the morning and home again in the afternoon. FAST will arrange for payment from Kerry, and employees will be able to have fees deducted straight from their paychecks, simplifying the overall appointment and payment process.
The success of the ridesharing business has led Mau into other ventures. “I’m a service guy. People ask for something and I try to figure out a way to make it work.” One thing he’s been asked about is party buses, which he now can provide, utilizing and agreement with another company, for groups of up to 44 people.
Mau said that’s also how the FAST Travel Agency came about. “I like to travel. I’ve been to about 30 countries and every state except Hawaii.” Mau said he looked into and decided to become affiliated with Travel Quest.
As if that weren’t enough, FAST will soon offer a courier service. “What we’re going to do is go 60 miles from Fairmont. We’re going to offer anywhere from 1-day to 2-day.” Mau said earlier that day he’d been to Mankato on a run for a local business. “Right now you want to mail something through the post office, it takes 2-3 days. It leaves here and has to go to Mankato and then it has to the Cities before it gets back down here.”
Along with offering to deliver small parcels, Mau said the courier service will be able to serve papers and have mobile notary capabilities. Food and grocery delivery will be possible as well. “You want a pizza delivered? We’ll deliver a pizza.”
Right now FAST Ride Share and FAST Travel Agency can be found on Facebook. Rides can also be booked by calling (507) 236-1241. For a Spanish-speaking dispatcher call/para un despschador espanol por favor llame 507 736-7032. $5 ride tokens are also available for purchase.
Truman Superintendent Lisa Shellum sits with Tina Raske, current special education teacher, who will also take on ECSE (early childhood special education) in the coming school year; Sara McMonagle, new Special Education Director for next year; and Myra Heckenlaible-Gotto, new school psychologist for next year. McMonagle will mentor Shellum as she works toward her SpEd Director license.
Updated March 8, 10:10 a.m.
BY NIKKI MEYER
“At bigger schools you’d likely see something like this,” said Truman Superintendent Lisa Shellum, “but I don’t know of another school out there our size that’s doing what we’re doing.” And Shellum has a lot of contacts.
Since the end of 2018 Shellum and several others have been hard at work creating a new structure for the Special Education (SpEd) services at Truman Public Schools (TPS). The change comes after the Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC), of which Truman (ISD 458) has been a member since the co-op’s 1973 creation, moved to purchase and renovate the former Lincoln Elementary School building in Fairmont at an estimated cost of nearly $11 million dollars. As of July 1, 2019, Truman will no longer be a member of SPEC.
By law every school district in the state is required to provide certain special education services to qualifying students. Many small schools, however, do not have enough students with needs to afford hiring the necessary staff. Instead, they may join or purchase services from a special education cooperative. So, for example, instead of trying to find, hire, and pay for someone to come for a few hours twice a week to work with the one or two students who need occupational therapy, the cooperative hires an occupational therapist and the member schools are able to contract for the amount of occupational therapy they require in a given school year. The cooperative then bills the school, along with receiving money from the district in others ways as defined by the state, to pay the service providers.
Currently SPEC has its administrative offices in Fairmont and leases the former Winnebago Elementary School for use as an Alternative Learning Center (ALC) by special education students who are level 4, meaning those whose IEP (individualized education plan) stipulates they are best served by spending 50% or more of their school day in a learning environment outside a traditional school. Last spring SPEC’s director, Dr. Sarah Mittelstadt, made presentations to the member schools on the possibility of purchasing the Lincoln building, which would be large enough for both classes and offices.
After reviewing Mittelstadt’s numbers, the Truman school board voted against the purchase. Shellum concluded at the time, “It would have taken a great majority of [Truman’s] lease levy authority dollars for the next 20 years, plus upwards of $10,000 a year out of the general fund... staying with the co-op wasn’t fiscally responsible to our own district and taxpayers, considering we currently only have a handful of students who attend.”
With Truman as the lone “no” vote, SPEC offered the district $50,000 to withdraw from the co-op, allowing SPEC to move forward with the purchase. Truman agreed to withdraw as a voting member district.
After the vote to withdraw at the end of the school year, then-superintendent Dr. Virginia Dahlstrom and the members of the board began looking at other possible providers for SpEd services. As Shellum transitioned into the role of Superintendent, she also completely reorganized the classrooms inside the school in anticipation of the direction the district would be moving when it came to special education. A ‘Specialty Floor’ was created, which houses the SWIS (School Within a School) program, Title I programs (and Title I teacher Laurie Sherman’s therapy dog), the Special Education room, and a Sensory and Therapy Room. “We take care of our own,” Shellum stated. “We’re getting to keep [kids who previously went to the ALC] here in our school building and have a closer and more positive relationship with them.”
In December Truman got the response that it was “too big” to be absorbed by existing staff and “too small” to warrant hiring additional staff at the educational district first approached in May. Tom Melcher, the Director of the Program Finance Division at the Minnesota Department of Education, suggested after looking at the SPEC withdrawal agreement specifications that Truman go back to SPEC and get the same services as it had as a member district. The withdrawal agreement states, “Truman shall be considered a non-member district for any services purchased from SPEC after the effective date of withdrawal.” Members of the Truman school board met with SPEC representatives, however in late January Mittelstadt notified Truman, “We decided it would not be possible for us to provide any services for Truman for 2019-20; we just have too many unknowns to make commitments.”
Though Truman had approached the two educational cooperatives, other possible plans were also in the works while waiting for answers from the co-ops. Inside of a month Truman independently secured agreements with providers for every service the district and its students require which are not currently provided by TPS staff. “Being able to pull all of this together for a school our size is amazing,” Shellum said. “We are basically our own co-op.”
The new framework for services comes with multiple benefits for the school. First, the cost of services is in-line with what Truman was paying through SPEC, though the school will see an increase in the amount of time providers are spending with students. Most notably, speech and language services will go from 2.5 days per week to full time, with new pathologist Allison Seeman also acting as a literacy coach for small groups and as a social/emotional group leader for students. Shellum will be working toward her Special Education Director licensure, with Sara McMonagle working in Truman 2-3 days a month as director and mentor to Shellum. School psychologist Myra Heckenlaible-Gotto will hold office hours once a month and perform not only student evaluations but also act as a student group leader and provide staff support for academic needs.
The district will also recapture money that the state previously sent straight to SPEC, and is able to acquire funds that were previously lost to the district, which will have a positive effect on the district’s general fund. Truman will hold all of the teacher contracts and thus be able to claim all of the aid that previously went to SPEC for the instructors. In the past several years SPEC has also been claiming three-year-old students that were in Special Education and the district was not receiving this money. SPEC has been slowly transitioning this over to all SPEC member districts, so Truman will also be able to claim and keep 100% of this aid. The change in the inflow and outflow of funds will have a positive impact on Truman’s financial plan, about which Shellum stays very mindful and positive.
“We have so many good things going on here in Truman and we don’t want to miss opportunities to improve our students’ education while saving taxpayer funds,” Shellum stated. She has also looked at opportunities for general education programs that could both increase offerings and see cost-savings. “I take opportunities to connect with our area superintendents, inviting conversations about how our districts can work together.” Shellum and the board have secured a meeting with a neighboring district to begin discussions on potential future educational opportunities.
Truman’s enrollment continues to rise, with the school gaining several new students since the start of 2019. Enrollment in the 3 and 4-year-old preschool classes, as well as the pre-school census, indicate strong numbers for incoming classes. “That speaks well to the quality of education we are offering,” Shellum said.
From Left to Right – Martin Luther Athletic Director Tom Taylor, MLHS seniors Isaac Johnson and Sierra Geistfeld, GHEC senior Rachel Stauter, GHEC Athletic Director Erin Danner, TPS Athletic Director Kayla Anderson, and TPS seniors Lydia Studer and Clay Gieske.
The AAA award is used to recognize and honor high school seniors who have excelled in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in fine arts. Each high school is allowed to select one male and one female student to receive the AAA award. This year there were five recipients from our three schools.
MLHS recipients are Sierra Geistfeld and Isaac Johnson.
Isaac Johnson, son of Brent and Heidi Johnson, has participated in choir where he was a section leader, as well as solo ensemble and drama. He is in his church’s praise band, basketball in which he is a captain, golf, baseball, and trap. He was a participant in the “Top 100 basketball camp” this past summer which is a coach’s only invitation camp. He carries a 3.0 grade point average which includes a construction class that meets before school. Next year he plans to attend Alexandria Technical School and pursue a degree in carpentry.
Sierra has participated in band, pep band, choir, drama, volleyball, and basketball, student government, as well as singing in her church choir. She has a 3.94 GPA while taking over five AP, PSEO, and college level courses. Next year, she intends to go to college and is considering a career as a veterinarian technician. Her parents are Bruce and Chris Geistfeld.
Rachel Stauter is the daughter of Rob and Lynda Stauter. Rachel has been on both the GHEC high honor roll, and regular honor roll. She has participated in Band and Choir, been a member of the Theatre Arts productions the last three years, and has played volleyball, basketball, track, and been a cheerleader. Rachel has a been a member of National Honor Society and a Student Council Representative for her class since she was a 7th grader. Next year, Rachel plans to attend the University of Northwestern in St. Paul where she plans to play basketball, and will pursue a degree in Elementary Education.
Lydia Studer, daughter of Chris and Courtney Studer, has shown positive qualities in all three aspects of academics, fine arts, and athletics. She stands out among her peers due to her dedication and pride she puts into everything she does for our school and community. Lydia has been involved in Knowledge Bowl, student council, Youth in Government, math contests, band, FFA and school plays, as well as her participation in volleyball, basketball and softball. She is looked up to as a leader by the student body, as demonstrated by her hard work and dedication for maintaining high honors all the way through high school. She was inducted into the National Honor Society her junior year, and servers as TPS’s FFA President, Student Council Secretary and Class Vice President since 7th grade. Lydia plans on attending Iowa State next fall and majoring in Animal Science.
Clay Gieseke shows positive qualities in academics, athletics and in the social life within high school. He is part of our National Honor Society and shows his leadership qualities by being the Class President since 7th grade. Clay volunteers his time with many activities in the school and community. Some of these examples are FFA, church groups, 4-H, band, Knowledge Bowl, school plays and his participation in football, basketball, baseball and trap. He also helps raise money for organizations within our community. Clay plans to attend Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown and majoring in Agriculture Production this coming fall. He is the son of Peter and Amy Gieseke.
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 email@example.com. For now she is available in her office by appointment only.
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