Year in review 2021

January

Medical Center staff receives COVID-19 vaccination

Osceola Medical Center Family practice provider Amanda Tembreull, MD, and ED Nurse Angie Paulson, RN, rolled up their sleeves for Pharmacist Justin Himes, PharmD, as he administered their vaccinations against COVID-19 at Osceola Medical Center last week. Following CDC guidelines, health care workers and long-term care residents have been getting vaccinated.  

Osceola School Board approves students returning to building

Analytics determined if Osceola students are to be face-to-face or remote learning. The School Board approved the learning model matrix learning. The School Board approved the learning model matrix guideline proposed by the administration based on the number of new positive cases in Polk County along with 2% of positive cases among students/staff over a two-week period. 

“Everyone wants the kids to be back in the building,” said Superintendent Mark Luebker. Jan. 11 will be the first day for students in grades 6-12 back in their buildings since November.

Dr. Schletty retires after 45 years

Steve Schletty retired last year after nearly 45 years of being a dentist. He shared his thoughts to the Sun on retirement and the Osceola area. 

“After 44+ years I retired from dentistry. In June of 1976 I graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and one month later I opened my dental practice in the recently vacated Farmers Mutual Telephone Company that was built in 1925. That means that since 1925 only I and the telephone company have occupied this Osceola Mainstreet business over the past 95 years!

I officially retired the end of October 2020 and my dental practice and building was sold and transferred.”

February

Trollhaugen announces expansion amidst busiest year ever

The 2020-21 season for Trollhaugen is going to be memorable in more ways than one. The popular outdoor recreation area announced last week plans of expansion and renovation amidst a year unlike any other. 

Marsha Hovey, Marketing Director, explained these plans have been at the top of the wish list for owners Jim and Laura Rochford. 

The expansion project will go in three phrases. The first phase, starting this summer will remove the two-person chairlift and replace it with a four-person chairlift. 

Meanwhile, work will commence on the clearing of three new trails on the east side of the “Summit Area”, which will also include the installation of new snowmaking infrastructure. 

The summer of 2022 will see the clearing of the new trails on the east side of “Summit Area” along with the installation of the snowmaking infrastructure of the expanded area and installing lighting to the expanded area. 

The final phase for the summer of 2023 will see a three-person chairlift at the “Summit Area” to service Summit and the new trails. 

Saints earn 2 wrestling titles

Gaffey State champion at 285 lbs.

Kole Marko State champion at 152 lbs.

March

Paul Elfstrom named Fire Chief

Paul Elfstrom’s life has revolved around Osceola.

He grew up in Osceola. He works for the Osceola School District along with owning Osceola Towing for the last 22 years. 

He can add one more title to his connection to Osceola: Last month, he was elected as Fire Chief, replacing Don Stark.

Elfstrom has been a 30-year veteran of the Fire Department who rose through the ranks as he spent the last four years as Assistant Chief. 

As the news spread about Stark stepping down after 14 years, Elfstrom explained it was an easy decision to move up the ladder.   

Is river region to become National Heritage area? 

Local volunteers have been working for years to make the region a National Heritage Area. In that process, a rather significant development occurred recently. 

The National Park Service, which oversees the National Heritage Area program, approved the North Woods and Waters (NWW) of the St. Croix National Heritage Area’s feasibility study last month after determining the plan meets all of its criteria. 

If approval were granted, it would join 55 other designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country. The closest ones are the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in Iowa, the Northern Plains National Heritage Area in North Dakota and the Motor Cities National Heritage Area in Michigan.   

April

Grimes nominated for 3 international songwriter awards

The Osceola native found out last year that she received three nominations for the 2021 International Singer Songwriters Association (ISSA) awards in the category of Female Rising Star, Female Songwriter of the Year and Female Emerging Artist of the Year. 

The ISSA was founded to support and serve independent artists, and to encourage aspiring and professional singers and songwriters in all genres of music worldwide.  

The nominees get narrowed down to the top 15 in each category (there are 45 nominated in the Rising Star category). Judges will then spend the summer picking out the winners in each category with the winners being announced August 7. 

‘It’s a wonderful river’

Walter Mondale passed away in April at the age of 93.

Mondale was a former Vice President, former U.S. Senator and a lifelong Minnesotan. He was also a supporter of the St. Croix River, “(The St. Croix River is) sort of a spiritual center for me,” Mondale said, in a 2017 interview, highlighting 50 years of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. “My wife and I got married because we went down the river together, and a few years later we bought a house on the St. Croix in Scandia. I still sit there and watch the river go by and think of her …It’s a beautiful thing that can’t be matched.”                                                                                 

June

Chiefs claim top spot at Middle Border Conference     

Middle Border conference champions! The Osceola Chieftain baseball team earned the crown last year when they beat the only team that could catch them, the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks. Osceola entered the showdown game with the Blackhawks with an 11-1 conference record, with their only loss a 1-0 setback to Amery on May 11th. B-W entered the game at 9-2. Osceola had defeated Baldwin-Woodville 3-2 in a nine inning game on May 17th. Besides facing a quality opponent, the two teams fighting it out for the top MBC spot had to fight another element; the heat. Game time temperatures were in the mid 90’s for the opening pitch and swelled to the upper 90’s during the game.                   

July 

Crop outlook is good despite dry conditions 

Last summer, Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota experienced the nationwide trend of unusually warm temperatures and low rainfall. 

As the drought became more prominent, the attention in this area turned to agriculture. Portions of Polk County Wisc. are currently in the first two stages of drought, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s U.S. Drought Monitor. 

These stages are “abnormally dry” and “moderate drought,” respectively. Just over half of the county is in one of these two stages, while the southeastern portion of Polk County remains technically drought free.                                   Across the river in Washington County, Minnesota, the situation was slightly worse. 

The entire county was listed as either abnormally dry or in moderate drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly summary said while the lower Midwest recently received heavy rainfall, the upper Midwest was still very much in need of moisture.       

HWY 243 bridge slated for reconstruction

State Highway 243 spans a total distance of 1.5 miles.                                                That makes it the shortest regularly-signed highway in the state of Wisconsin, although only the 14th shortest highway in Minnesota. 

The brodge across the St Croix river that takes up a good portion of that mile and a half is set for reconsrcution in 2025.

 The bridge was built in 1953, and carries approxametly 2 million cars between Minnesota and Wisconsin every year.       

Jasperson to retire from Sun sports coverage                                                                                                                            

The spring season of 2021 was Jaspersons’ last — after 15 years dedicated to Osceola and St. Croix Falls sports, Ron and Jo have decided to retire.                

“Sports were my life from the time I was old enough to throw a ball or catch a ball,” Ron said. “Some people said I never could catch too well — but I just love sports.”                                                                                                                   

Ron was born and raised in Osceola. He grew up playing as many sports as he could get his hands on. He went to college in Superior, Wisc., where he also ran on the cross-country team. 

After college he returned to Osceola and has been here ever since. 

They came to newspaper coverage through their children’s sports teams. In 2006, when their youngest daughter was running cross-country, another parent who covered the team for The Sun decided to move on, so Ron reached out to the paper.                                                                                                             

“I contacted The Sun and said, ‘hey, here I am,’” he said. “I covered cross-country in the fall and the following spring the Sun came to me and asked if I’d be interested in expanding and covering some of the spring sports. Eventually it evolved into fall, winter and spring sports.”  Jo tagged along gladly from the start, camera in tow.                   

Local businesses struggle with employee shortage                                

Businesses on both sides of the St. Croix River are reflecting the national trend of employee shortages. In April, 2021, nationwide job openings rose to 9.3 million, the highest number since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking those numbers twenty years ago. 

There is broad speculation about what’s causing the shortage in workers. Many pointed to the extra $300 a week in federal unemployment assistance spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. The benefits continued to be available; although as of August 3 over half of U.S. states have decided to end the assistance early.

 Neither Minnesota or Wisconsin are among those states — both continued to provide the extra money until the current expiration date of September 6. 

 In Minnesota, unemployment paid half of an individual’s weekly salary, up to $740, according to MinnPost. With the extra $300 tacked on, that makes the maximum weekly salary of someone on unemployment in Minnesota $1,040. 

The payments are based on an individual’s prior salary, which means unemployment checks for most Minnesotans are much less than that.  

Another possible explanation is a broader shift in the mentality of America’s workforce. 

For all the tragedy the pandemic brought, it gave many American workers a glimpse of what it’s like to have more time to spend at home and with family                       

Small plane crashes near L.O. Simenstad Airport in Osceola                                                                             

A small plane crashed in a soybean field not far from the Osceola Airport on Monday evening, August 9 at around 6 p.m. 

The Polk County Sheriffs Department responded to a call about the crash. The pilot, whose name is being withheld, was transported to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. for non-life threatening injuries. 

He was the sole occupant of the plane at the time of the crash. 

“The pilot was OK, he had a few lacerations,” Said Osceola Volunteer Fire Chief Paul Elfstrom. 

The plane malfunctioned shortly after take off, leading to the crash.

“The pilot had to make a split second decision when he took off and the engine stalled,” Elfstrom said. 

“He swung to the right and had to make a decision of going over or below the power lines. He took below, which was good, and he was lucky to land in a bean field.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are currently investigating the crash. 

Elfstrom said landing in the field probably saved the pilot’s life.

“The bean field saved him,” he said. “It slowed him down.”                              

 

September                                                                                                                                       

Village board officially dedicates Vets memorial

The Osceola Village board has officially designated the newly completed veterans memorial just east of downtown Osceola as the St. Croix River Valley Veterans Park. 

Local resident and Osceola schoolteacher John Jenkins began the project over a decade ago, but after his death in 2016 Larry Jepsen took the reins. Jepsen and a team of other volunteers completed the project earlier this month, just in time for the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. 

A ceremony was held on the anniversary to commemorate the memorial, and the village board made the official dedication at their most recent meeting. 

“It was a long process, being started by John Jenkins and finished by Larry Jepsen,” said board member Deb Rose. 

“Like every great baseball team, you need a great starter and a great closer. And we were fortunate to have that. This is something that’s going around for a long time and it fits very well where it is. Just the number of people involved that got it from start to finish is great.” 

Jenkins began thinking about the project shortly after September 2001. 

“Mr. Jenkins, being a history teacher, I was so surprised at the passion that came out of him to make sure this was going to happen,” said board member Joel West. 

“The last few times I visited him in the nursing home he talked about it a lot, and he knew it was going to happen. It was just going to be a matter of the right people in the right place at the right time. He couldn’t carry the torch anymore. It was really hard to see someone that has these dreams and aspirations suddenly fade out of the picture, so I’m really glad to see it happen, and it’s exactly what we needed in town.” 

West went on to say he hopes the memorial is a good reminder of how important it is to keep veterans organizations going in Osceola. 

“We have a hard time keeping a legion in town, we have a hard time keeping a VFW in town,” he said. 

“Young people are not interested as much as we would think to be members of a Legion or a VFW. The dynamics of those groups have changed a lot. And with Osceola growing, this memorial was fitting to reflect on all the names that are on those stones.”                 

 Local artist Grimes releases 1st album 

Samantha Grimes got back into the music scene just time for the pandemic. Grimes grew up in Forest Lake, Minn. and started playing guitar when she was five. She played in several bands as a teenager and briefly toured the tristate area before taking a temporary hiatus in her music career. She picked music back up in around 2016 and has been refining her style and sound over the course of the last few years. Her current band is made up of herself, drummer Nick Engelhart and bassist Jon Larson. “I finally got a band and got everybody down pat with my music and then the pandemic hit,” she said. “So we couldn’t perform.” The band transitioned to virtual concerts and live streaming events just like everyone else, and did their best to weather the storm. Not too long into the pandemic Grimes got an email from a fan, asking how the band was handling COVID. “I had no idea, but it turned out this guy was starting his own record label,” Grimes said. The man who reached out was Rick Bacchus, the Chairman and President of Operations for Return Records, which signed a distribution deal with Sony music company The Orchard shortly after contacting Grimes. Grimes signed a record deal with Return Records this spring. So far they’ve produced and released two singles with three more to come in 2021. The project will come to a creshendo in the first quarter of 2022 with the release of Grimes’ first album. The deal has been a bit of a whirlwhind to Grimes, who said she’s exstatic to be able to widen the reach of her music. “For so long my music has only been in the Twin Cities,” she said. “And it’s just crazy that right now the UK, Ukraine and Germany are our number one listening fan base. It’s surreal.” Grimes’ music is most often refered to as blues and alternative rock. Grimes doesn’t mind the label, and said her sound has changed a lot since she began playing.               

October  

Housing Authority marks half century  

“Action began last year in October on the 30-unit low-cost housing for the elderly project in Osceola. The $465,000 project will be a one-story building of 30 units.” 

The apartments opened in 1971 and the complex is marking its 50th Anniversary this year.     

The story in the Sun said work on the project began in the spring of 1967.Angela Anderson manages the building for the Osceola Housing Authority and explains the facility is public housing with income-based rent, subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

Residents pay 30% of their income in rent. Utilities are included with the rent. The facility is non-smoking.Anderson says the majority of the residents at the complex are the near elderly, elderly and disabled.                                                                                       

All apartments are one-bedroom units. There is a common area and larger kitchen for gatherings, laundry facilities, parking for residents’ cars and a back yard and deck.

Anderson has served as manager of the building for 22 years. She is retiring in December and Sherry Campeau is replacing her as manager.   

Village greenlights new development of hospital site     

Over 14 years of discussions about what to do with the former Osceola Medical Center building in downtown Osceola have ended. 

The Osceola Village Board has entered into a development agreement with Gaughan Companies of Forest Lake, Minnesota to develop the approximately 4.2 acre site of the former hospital, located at corner of River Street and E 3rd Avenue. 

The agreement, approved Oct. 12, 2021 calls for a new 85-unit mixed density residential development with a commercial use on portions of the first floor. Improvements to the site will include new parking (surface and below ground), new access roads, landscaping, river side green space, stormwater mitigation and general site improvements

The developer has stated that the cost to develop the site is $15,827,146.                                                                                                  

November

Historic Farmington GATR site raised 

Town of Farmington residents and local history buffs said a quiet goodbye to a piece of local military history last week.T

he concrete building that formerly housed a Ground Air Transmit Receive (GATR) radar installation, a Cold War era military structure, was razed late last November in advance of some long-planned town park improvements.

Local crews from J&S General Contracting were hired to do the work and posted video of the building’s final moments on social media.

Farmington Town Clerk Debbie Swanson said the township has decided to use its $194,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward the effort. The federal funding is a COVID-19 economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.

In addition to replacing the GATR building, the township plans to install picnic pavilions, add two more softball fields, improve the storage shed/concession stand and playground equipment, and possibly add some land to the site.

Swanson said the township has formed a nine-person advisory committee to help steer the project. 

The township has been eyeing improvements to the park since at least 2012.

Nostalgia notwithstanding, the GATR building had been in disrepair for quite “It was a unique old building,” Swanson said. “Boy Scout groups have cleaned up around it several times, but the building itself was long past its usefulness.”

Along with the nearby Osceola Air Force Base, the GATR building was once part of a network of 28 radar stations built during the Korean War. At its peak, the former U.S. Air Force Base was home to the 674th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron and employed 95 military and 27 civilian personnel, with an annual payroll of around $1.28 million. 

The GATR site was gifted to the township in the early 1970s for $1, with the requirement that it be used for a public purpose. As a town park, the site has been a home to graduation parties, community picnics and softball tournaments for decades.                                                                                                      

Simmon Drive project not happening in 2022

“Substandard in every way.” 

That was the answer Osceola Village Administrator Ben Krumenauer gave to the Osceola Village Board when asked how the Simmon Drive project was progressing. 

A half mile of the road, which is shared between the village and the Town of Osceola, is in need of replacement and an agreement on the project continues to be elusive. 

The town board sent a letter to the village in October saying they would give $16,090.92 towards the project. The cost of the project is $581,373.69. 

The grant total for the project was $296,587.50, for up to half of the cost of the project. The village applied for and received a local roads improvement program (LRIP) grant to pay up to 50% of the project, including design. 

The village proposed taking 67.24% of the project cost, paying $390,915.67. After the grant is taken into account, the village would pay $191,490.23. In the proposal, the town would pay 32.76% of the cost, paying $97,162.07.

 After the LRIP grant, the town would pay $93,295.96. At the November 2021 Town of Osceola board meeting, the board indicated the offer of $16,090.92 was their final offer. 

During his presentation at the village meeting Nov. 9, Krumenauer told the board the project would not be done in 2022 and talks would continue to try to get the project done in 2023. 

He said the project not happening in 2022 was “unfortunate” and said he was “still hopeful” an agreement could be reached for the project to occur in 2023.                               

Ross resigns from Chamber                                                                                                

Germaine Ross has resigned as executive director of the Osceola Area Chamber of Commerce after seven years in the position.

Ross announced her resignation to members in an email. “It was a very tough decision but the time seems right for both the organization and for my life. I am so proud of the work we have done together and even more so knowing I am leaving Osceola in a great place,” she said. 

“I cannot express how much JOY I experience when I get to see the many projects, events and activities that we have launched over the years continue to get stronger and better each year,” Ross said in her email. 

“I have especially loved helping young people get involved in making their community a place they want to be…This leadership transition time is an opportunity for the next generation of leaders to take the reins.  

December  

 Initial site review for residential development

The Ramada Company and Nechama LLC recently requested review from the Village of Osceola and approval of a residential development within the village. 

The site proposed will include a large 3-story residential complex with adjacent garages, landscaping, parking, trail and general site improvement located at 130 Ridge Road.                                                                                                   

According to a report submitted by The Ramada Company to the Village, “The Housing Needs Assessment for Osceola indicates there is a need for 95 rental housing units by 2025 and an additional 41 units by 2030. 

As part of the more detailed market analysis, The Ramada Company and its CEO,Steve Liefschultz, hired Maxfield Research and Consulting, LLC to evaluate the market demand. Maxfield Research estimated a total rental demand of 484 units. 

The development proposed will capture 14.8% of the demand for rental housing in the Primary Market Area.                                                                                                

 

Cascade Falls Trail Head to remain closed until further notice

Due to structural concerns with adjacent properties, the Village of Osceola posted a public notice Nov. 18, that the Cascade Falls Trail Head will be closed until further notice. 

The immediate closure includes the upper deck, stairs and lower landing, and all access to the immediate area. 

The public notice states, “While the Village does not anticipate any issue occurring, the safety of our community and our visitors are paramount.

“The notice shall prevail until such a time that Village representatives are assured the area is safe.”

During the Village of Osceola Village Board meeting that was held in December, Osceola Fire and Rescue reported that department officers gathered on the evening of Nov. 18 to review response plans based on information obtained with regard to property at 101 N. Cascade Street. 

The report indicates that, “structural integrity had been compromised in the prior week. Due to location, topography and other exposure risks, potential response plans and actions were discussed.”

“Concerns still remain with regard to risk mitigation around gas and electric utilities pending the extent of structural compromise. The incident highlighted a need to better communicate at the department level when there are significant factors that are unknown. Collaboration on roles and responsibilities – and verification in a timely manner is important to all parties involved.”

According to Village Administrator Ben Krumenauer, “The village received a heads up that the property had suffered structural issues. Out of an abundance of caution the Village decided to close access to the staircase and the lower landing.” Krumenauer stated. 

“Nobody likes to see these things happen. We want to see the building repaired successfully and the Village will help support the process in appropriate ways.”

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