'We don't go into journalism to be popular. It's our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.'
- Helen Thomas
NLX: Twelve years later, taxpayers still supporting the train to nowhere
PiCK News Editor Ailene Croup
This editorial was written in response to an editorial which appeared in the StarTribune on March 23, 2019
In 2007, as editor of a weekly newspaper in East Central Minnesota, I began covering Northern Lights Express (NLX) before it even had a name.
It began with a group of counties, between Duluth to Minneapolis, who were intent on providing rail transportation to an area where it had been a proven a failure 25 years before.
The counties, represented by appointed commissioners, began contributing tax money from their residents. They even hired lobbyists to sell their idea to legislators. Five thousand of those tax dollars were used to hire a group to name “the train.” Thus, NLX was born.
It was the beginning of millions of federal and state dollars being spent on a form of publicly funded transportation which would never serve most of the counties who paid those yearly dues.
The board of county commissioners who took on the name NLX Alliance, waxed and waned. Three of them have died over the 12 years the Alliance milked tax dollars from the Minnesota counties of St. Louis, Lake, Pine, Isanti, Anoka, Hennepin and Douglas, Wis., the cities of Minneapolis, Duluth Superior, Sandstone and Cambridge.
Anoka was the first to withdraw from the Alliance, not wanting to take on another fiscal burden like Northstar Rail.
Pine County was next when residents petitioned its board to remove support from NLX. Isanti County backed out and Cambridge came in.
NLX lobbied to have the state laws changed to allow native tribal bands become members of joint powers, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe became paying members.
Small, struggling towns like Sandstone, even took their precious tax dollars and sent representatives to Washington, D.C. to press their point. They wined and dined Talgo and had fireworks to impress all with the the vague possibility of a train cleanout station in the small town. Now they are on the Alliance yearly budget for $1,500 per year.
The Alliance hired feasibility studies, consultants, planning and engineering firms, federal and state lobbyists.
A new state agency, the passenger rail division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was created for NLX to the tune of $500,000 per year, though they produce nothing and oversee nothing. Minnesota’s yearly omnibus/lights on bills have continued to fund MnDOT’s passenger rail bureau.
Surveys were taken and performed. However, central Minnesotans weren’t part of the survey unless they happened to be in Minneapolis. If memory serves me, the survey was done at the Mall of America.
All of the spending began with the TEMS (Transportation Economics Management Systems, Inc.) feasibility study.
Keep in mind, when a company or individual is hired to do a survey or report, they aren’t asked to prove why something can’t work, they are hired to find ways to massage information to prove it can work.
President of TEMS, Alex Metcalf, presented a beautifully designed, costly report on what would be needed to take the idea from drawing board to the ground.
In order for the Alliance to get approval from the Federal Rail Administration, they would have to prove the need and the speed.
The need was supplied with these numbers - 4 million visitors each year to Grand Casino Hinckley, in Pine County.
The speed - it must prove to be a faster trip than the freeway could provide from Duluth to Minneapolis. Thus, the speed would have to exceed 70 m.p.h. by quite a bit, considering there would be stops along the way, curves and that big slow down in Superior, the L-curve. The study said it would take speeds of 110 m.p.h.
The price to put NLX on the tracks would go from $350 million in 2008 to $1 billion in 2013.
Costs included many crossing upgrades of $15 million or more each. Double tracking, at $1 million per mile, to allow freight to also run on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) tracks. Special trains that could tilt with the curve of the tracks would also be required. Track leases would have to be acquired from BNSF, the tracks where NLX would operate.
The taxpayers continued to pay for surveys and plans and engineering in the millions of dollars. When there was favorable support at the state and federal government level, and the promise of “funding,” the boardroom at Pine County Government Center would fill with agencies, public and private for the monthly NLX meeting.
Choosing a route through or around Hinckley brought residents to community meetings where they learned their land, including family farms could be taken by eminent domain for this transportation project so it could stop at the casino.
Dr. David Levinson spoke to the community at that time, informing them that passenger rail does not make enough money to pay for itself. It is subsidized by tax dollars.
Levinson held the Richard P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation from 2006 to 2016. He served as faculty in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota and was noted as a prolific transportation researcher. He specialized in rail transportation.
He said the environmental impact of putting a train on the tracks was significant, such as the proposed multi-billion dollar rail line in California, which would leave a carbon footprint for 150 years.
The NLX project was finally turned over to MnDOT in 2016 but the Alliance continues on as a lobbying group supported by tax dollars from participating counties and cities. The Alliance consists of and is now funded by Hennepin County Rail Authority, the cities of Duluth, Minneapolis, Cambridge, Sandstone, Superior, Wis. and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Through the years, private partnership with NLX was under discussion but it never came to fruition.
The model for NLX has gone from high-speed rail to a less stressful ride from Duluth to Minneapolis where riders can tally “billable hours.” Or, a ride to college for students.
Levinson said it would take many hundreds of riders each day and many, many trips daily for NLX to even pay for itself.
The poor counties of central Minnesota do not need another transportation tax to take riders to Target Field. The rest of the state should not be responsible for subsidizing this luxury either. Northstar rail is the lesson with taxpayers subsidizing $18 - $22 per rider since it was put on the tracks.
NLX has nothing to offer East Central and greater Minnesota other than the promise of higher taxes for subsidized transportation that does not serve them.
Permits and fees and fines 'Oh My'
Ailene Croup for PiCk News 2019
“What’s behind the county wanting to control zoning?” readers ask.
Simply, it’s a way to legally take taxpayers’ money. As much as they raise the levy each year - 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent - it is never enough for the county board’s appetite.
Pine County is one of about 30 of the state’s 87 rural counties that have no county zoning.
It is also one of the larger counties by size and one of the smallest by population.
But, if you want to act like a metropolitan county, expanding the size of government under department heads rather than elected officials (auditor, treasurer, recorder, etc.), you have to have a way to subsidize the high salaries and the expanding new departments. It’s a way of maintaining control and power at the county level. The over-reaching power is gained by creating laws that impose fees, require permits and levy fines for non-compliance.
There is only one word to describe these actions of absolute, oppressive power. It is tyranny.
It is hard for taxpayers to get ahead. Any kind of raise in pay is snatched up by federal, state and county taxes. The county is working toward keeping you poor and unable to better your position in life, all while they promote themselves and approve raises to their 6-digits salaries.
It’s “what the market can bear.” That phrase is used to explain taking every dollar you bring home.
Pine County Commissioners are showing they want what every other government jurisdiction above them wants - a piece of the permit/fee pie.
Just one example in Pine County is Countryside Campground in Sandstone Township. For their liquor license, yearly, they pay the State of Minnesota, Pine County and Sandstone Township for their liquor license. Everyone gets paid. Why? Because they can.
Caleb Anderson is holding zoning meetings regularly around the county. It is supposedly meant to get input on a zoning ordinance that townships can choose whether they want to “opt-in.” I advise caution. Attendance at these meetings is being reported as “interest” in zoning by the townships.
There is also a fairly new county zoning department which will require money to hire new employees to monitor your compliance of county zoning regulations.
But, the attendance belies the reason for residents’ and township officials’ attendance at the zoning meetings around the county. Those officials were asked to give input to the zoning ordinance even if they were not going to “opt-in.” The townships’ officials fear countywide zoning will be forced on them without their input.
The latest idea brought before the zoning department by Caleb Anderson is putting meters on rural residents’ wells, enforcing heaters on holding tanks and monitoring the number of times your septic tanks are pumped.
Don’t get comfortable with the “opt-in” option. Just because you can hear the rattle doesn’t mean the snake won’t attack.
Letters to the editor are encouraged and welcomed by PiCK News. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity. Letters must be signed with an address and phone number included to verify the sender. The phone number will not be published, only the sender's name and city. Letters determined to be libelous, defamatory or inaccurate will be rejected.
No gold stars for Windemere Town Board
A basic principle of business economics is to increase the efficiency of overall production and output. Specialization increases efficiency. One cannot do everything by themselves, nor should they. Outsourcing services is not a fear. Welcome it openly especially when the elected duty is spending tax dollars, a limited resource from the people spent with great forethought and factual knowledge.
Long at odds is Windemere Township’s road maintenance. One example is the hefty expenditure of gravel reclamation from ditches. This begs an answer to why it was necessary IF the gravel roads were properly maintained in the first place. There are more figures from Windemere's Board approved expenditures and model that will bankrupt Windemere or taxes will need to rise sharply. Figures do not lie.
It is time for a change.
Change requires inspiring leaders with open-minds and independent-thinking problem-solving skills. Respected leaders are willing to challenge things as they are. This builds trust in judgments and perception of those judgments. Find the courage to build confidence and strength and step out of the outdated model. Until then, there are no gold stars for foreheads.
Parenting not for faint of heart
Ailene Croup for PiCK News, July 2018
I rarely post and occasionally respond, is my rule of thumb for social media. Too many disrespectful unruly children.
Unruly children should be seen and not heard. I’m not worried about whether that offends you.
There is a time to assert yourself as a parent and it should be before your child decides they have the upper hand. A minute later, they’re adults. There isn’t a lot of time to train them to be responsible adults.
You don’t want to become the parent who proudly holds their adult offspring up as the social media stalker with 30,000 likes today. Their adult child has just posted: “Anyone over 30 should just shut up.”
Parents need to take the reins back and become responsible parents.
The first word my children repeated was ’no.’
Why do parents avoid that word? Fear? Of what?
Often their response is “I want them to be able to express themselves.”
Talk about lazy parenting. You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend.
Get in the fray. Get your hands dirty. Parent.
You must separate yourself from the familiarity of friendship to establish limits and respect. You have a job to do. Parenting means saying no, frequently. Set boundaries and establish consequences and follow through with them - that’s the hard part.
No is the kindest word you can teach your child. It protects them from things that will hurt them, and teaches them to protect others. “No, you can’t go to that person’s house. I don’t know them.” “No phone until you apologize. You made fun of that person and hurt their feelings. Go to your room and think about how hurt you’d be.”
Don’t leave parenting to schools. The government will not raise your children to be respectful, kind or responsible. Institutional parenting has created the mess the world is in today. Kids don’t work because they know they can live off the system. They fill the prisons and jails because they steal and shoot, snort and smoke the profits of their illegal actions. Still, they don’t hear the word ‘no.’
Eminent domain should never be Pine County's first choice
This is a summary of Jim and Wilda Obey’s most recent offer and several statements made by me to the Pine County Attorney’s office since May 15.
The “less intrusive approach” option (below), offered by Jim and Wilda Obey, is their most current offer, which was presented to the Pine County Attorney on June 4. As of June 14, I have yet to receive the County’s response to this offer or answers to my questions. I can only assume the offer was rejected and that they don’t feel it is necessary to be helpful by answering these critical questions.
As a side note, Jim and Wilda Obey had presented other options to the Pine County Attorney since the board meeting on May 15. Pine County expressly rejected all such offers with the County’s only “counter” being an increase of $1,200 in the payment to Obeys. Otherwise, there was no change in their demand for removal of the gate and for forcing Obeys to turn their private property into a county road.
We hope to get out the word about the Obeys and how Pine County Commissioners and the Pine County Attorney are unfairly treating the Obeys. It is also becoming more and more suspicious that the Pine County government is using eminent domain for personal gain.
Perhaps, the Pine County Commissioners and Pine County Attorney should have revisited the Pine County’s mission statement prior to forcing Jim and Wilda Obey to sell their land to the Pine County Government:
Pine County’s Mission Statement: “To provide quality services to the citizens of Pine County in a cost-effective, courteous and efficient manner.”
It seems too easy for the Pine County government to throw its taxpayers’ dollars at individuals, forcing them into something they don’t want, as the Pine County Commissioners are attempting to do here to Jim and Wilda Obey. The Obeys’ land is very special to them and has a lot more than just monetary value. That is the reason they chose to conserve and protect it in a Minnesota Land Trust.
How would a county commissioner or county attorney respond to their constituents if asked this question: Do you believe that the government should exhaust all other and less intrusive options when it comes to invading a person’s property and their private rights, while trying to accomplish what the government feels is necessary?
Jim and Wilda Obey, and I’m sure the commissioners’ and county attorney’s constituents, hope the County officials answer in the affirmative when dealing with them. If not, the constituents of Pine County should think hard about who they are electing to run their government.
A Less Intrusive Approach
The County could end this forceful taking of Jim and Wilda Obey’s private property by agreeing to the following, which is a lesser intrusive option for the County to pursue:
1. Foot travel access (no county permit required) onto the Obey’s land from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, or similar to other park hours. (This public access over private land does not need to add additional government staff, since permits aren’t required.)
2. As for forestry management and timber harvesting, the County will have a key to the gate with perpetual unrestricted use for such purposes.
3. The County pays $7,500 to Jim and Wilda Obey – less than what the County was willing to pay the Obeys with taxpayers’ dollars. For calculating savings to the County with this offer, the County should factor in what the eminent domain action and damages will cost Pine County (and, thus, the taxpayers). Most importantly, as the Obeys are already granting county access for forestry management and timber harvesting, there would be no financial benefit to the county in proceeding with condemnation. To do so would be a significant financial expenditure for the county taxpayers without any recoupment.
At the present time, the Pine County Commissioners need to answer to their constituents about whether they will agree to this lesser intrusive option. It is an option that would eliminate a government forced sale of a private landowner’s property in order to allow the County to evaluate over a period of time whether such an arrangement could end up being satisfactory to the County. If the County later determines that it is absolutely necessary to allow uncontrolled vehicular access to the public over Obeys’ private land, the County and the Obeys can renegotiate at such future time.
Regardless, the County will ALWAYS have the right to proceed with a condemnation action against the Obeys (or other private landowners) at a future time, if they so desire. So, why not try to work with the Obeys instead of just offering them more taxpayers’ dollars and/or expending taxpayers’ dollars on court actions and damages in forcing the Obeys to sell their land?
County’s Request – Public Access to Memorial Forest
Public access is accomplished by Mr. and Mrs. Obey granting access to the public over their land without county-mandated permits. Since the Obeys are being forced by the County to open their private land to the public, the Obeys simply request that any public going over their private land do so by foot-travel only. By agreeing to this proposal, the County neither impedes the present rights of the public nor does it give greater rights to anyone else. It remains fair to all the public and fair to the Obeys and, most importantly, it would be a mutual resolution.
If the public is allowed to access the forest over Obeys’ land, they can use it just as anyone uses it now. Again, there are no special rights to the public land the County is granting to the adjacent landowners if only foot-travel is allowed over Obeys’ private property. It is merely a condition of Jim and Wilda Obey for allowing public use of their private land. No negative impact to the public and no rights of the public are lost or limited if the County agrees to work with the Obeys’ proposal. The County would GAIN an additional public access to a forest over the Obeys’ private property.
County’s Request – Access for Forest Management and Timber Harvesting
Second, the County’s access to the forest, for forest management and timber harvesting purposes, is accomplished by the Obeys giving the County a key to the gate for perpetual, unrestricted use whenever they want for forest management and timber harvesting purposes. The County could access the forest over the Obeys’ land perpetually, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
The issue of safety for adjacent landowners is a concern voiced by Jim and Wilda Obey, and a valid one at that. The impact of an ungated, public road over the Obeys’ land is a factor they feel must be considered, since condemnation would be taking such protection and control away from them.
The gate was erected at the direction of, and is solely controlled at all times by, Mr. and Mrs. Obey. The Obeys do not want to give up control or lose the protection it has provided – not just for them, but also their neighbors. They have established great friendships with these neighbors that will be affected by the County’s forced removal of this gate. Also, the public road proposed by the county would be only 300 feet to 400 feet away from their home.
Criminals, with uncontrolled, vehicular access to the public and private properties east of Obeys’ land, know they can commit crimes in this low visibility area and escape with enough time before law enforcement is able to arrive. This is not a criticism of our honorable police force, rather a reality of the location of the police force relative to this area and the unlikelihood that this area will be regularly patrolled. The nearest paved road to the gate on the Obeys’ land is two miles away.
If the County still plans to proceed with forcing the removal of the Obeys’ gate and turning Obeys’ private land into a county road, there are several issues that should have already been discussed and questions that the Pine County government should have answered regarding the feasibility or environmental impact of this decision. Why is this important? No effort has been made by the County to show the Obeys the County has considered or properly evaluated the feasibility of an unrestricted vehicular access for the public. Or, how it would affect the Obeys’ land if the County forced the Obeys to remove their gate, take their private property, and “punch” a public road through it.
Brian Taurinskas, Pine County landowner
Minnesota & Wisconsin Attorney-at-Law
From the editor's desk: The insurance story
Ailene Croup for PiCK News, April 2018
Pine County Commissioners do not want county paid health insurance for themselves after retirement.
County Administrator David Minke told me this when I met with him Monday morning at his office.
My insurance story was based on a document Minke created and gave to Pine County Commissioners and those in attendance at a March county board meeting plus information and explanations from a municipal insurance agent.
The document began with this sentence: “Commissioner Chaffee has been reviewing options for his and his wife’s health insurance as they consider retirement and work with Medicare.” The Chaffees are both county employees. She is not eligible for Medicare and he will be.
The board discussed it. Minke said the Chaffees have a time line to meet.
The first three options are already available to the Chaffees. The new fourth option is not.
As an employee, the commissioner is eligible for the family plan which requires that he pay a portion of the premium. The fourth option would pay for the commissioner’s Medicare medical and prescription supplement and would pay the full premium for his wife when she retires. The Chaffees would pay no insurance premiums with the fourth option. But the county would have to change its policy for this to happen. This option would end when Commissioner Chaffee loses his eligibility. That was not covered. It also states that the board might want to consider a time limit on the coverage.
The document ended with Action Requested - Consider health insurance policy.
The board did not vote for or against the policy change request.
Minke told me Commissioner Steve Chaffee only wanted to save the county money when he brought this new request.
I used the information about the commissioner and his wife looking at health insurance coverage as they consider retirement and the new option 4 which has no time limit on the coverage.
I looked for a professional opinion and help with deciphering the options - an agent who works with municipal insurance.
At the end of my meeting with Minke, he made this statement, “My commitment is to be as transparent as possible with information I have.”
For the purpose of accuracy, I’m asking that the county, and Minke, be clear about the information they distribute.
Documentation supports possibility of Windemere's annexation
Ailene Croup for PiCK News, March 2018
I live in Arlone Township in Pine County.
Would any municipality want to annex us? Probably not. We don’t have a huge levy or fund balance and there are no beautiful lakes with lots of high-end, taxable properties.
I like living in what used to be known as Turpville because there was a turpentine plant here after the Hinckley Fire - big business back then.
I was recently informed that Windemere Township, which is on the northern border of Pine County, has an enormous bank balance for a township in a very poor county. The healthy, multimillion dollar bank balance, which has been well-managed, grows yearly. Even the upcoming paving project won’t make much of a dent in the reserves.
How attractive would that be for a nearby city?
According to a story in the Duluth News Tribune from 2015 the city administrator of Moose Lake in Carlton County, said the city is toying with the idea of annexing Moose Lake and Windemere Townships.
The city of Moose Lake also completed its long range Comprehensive Plan in 2015. It outlines the government’s goals in the areas of utilities, infrastructure, agriculture, natural resources, recreation, transportation and housing, etc. One of the eight land use objectives in the document states: “Work with Moose Lake Township and consider orderly annexation with Moose Lake Township.
Moose Lake city doesn’t even touch Windemere Township. Moose Lake Township borders both Windemere Township and the city of Moose Lake.
The city even paid to have a feasibility study done by Northland Securities concerning annexing Moose Lake Township.
The city of Moose Lake published:
“Notice of public hearing on the tax implications of consolidating the city of Moose Lake and Moose Lake Township for the city of Moose Lake Minnesota”
Notice is hereby given that the City Council (the “Council”) of the City of Moose Lake, Minnesota, will hold a public hearing on April 11, 2018, at a meeting of the Council beginning at 6:00 pm, at the City / Town Hall in the City of Moose Lake, MN, relating to the tax implications of the City of Moose Lake and Moose Lake Township consolidating.
Following a presentation by Northland Securities, public comment and questions will be welcomed. All interested persons may appear at the Moose Lake City Council public hearing and present their views orally or in writing.
Posting date: February 16, 2018
The 2017 Minnesota Statute 414.041 Consolidation Municipalities can be viewed at this link
Most citizens don’t understand orderly annexation. Here is some information and a link to the orderly annexation statute
Here are a couple important parts from:
Minnesota Statute 2017
414.0325.Orderly Annexation in Designated Unincorporated Area
Subdivision 1. Initiating the proceeding. (a) One or more townships and one or more municipalities, by joint resolution, may designate an unincorporated area as in need of orderly annexation. One or more municipalities, by joint resolution with the county, may designate an unincorporated area in which there is no organized township government as in need of orderly annexation.
(g) If a joint resolution designates an area as in need of orderly annexation and states that no alteration of its stated boundaries is appropriate, the chief administrative law judge may review and comment, but may not alter the boundaries.
Subd. 3. Relevant factors, order. (a) In arriving at a decision, the chief administrative law judge shall consider the factors in section 414.031, subdivision 4.
(b) Based upon factors in section 414.031, subdivision 4, the chief administrative law judge may order the annexation:
(d) The chief administrative law judge may alter the boundaries of the proposed annexation by increasing or decreasing the area so as to include that property
A successful annexation of Moose Lake Township would mean Windemere Township will abut the city of Moose Lake, making them ripe for annexation.
For anyone who may need confirmation that annexation of Windemere Township is being considered by the city of Moose Lake, they only need to read the story in the Duluth News Tribune, Moose Lake’s Comprehensive Plan and the Moose Lake Township feasibility study, or just go to the public hearing on April 11.
You may think it can’t be done because Moose Lake is in Carlton County and Windemere is in Pine County. Just remember, Kansas City is in both Missouri and in Kansas.
Was it too much to ask?
Ailene Croup for PiCK News, Sept. 20, 2017
I shouldn’t be awake at this time of the night. I’m watching The Vietnam War series Part 3.
My children, dressed in their BDUs appear in my mind. This has never happened before. I realize it’s because of the county board meeting I had attended yesterday morning.
Veterans calmly sat and listened to the board tell them that the full time secretary they wanted in the veteran’s service office wasn’t necessary because there had always been a part time, shared staff in that position. They asked that a separate place to wait and talk to the veterans services officer be built into the new county offices soon to be constructed and occupied by county veterans service office (CVSO).
Soldiers are under fire off to my right where Peter Coyote is talking about the mounting casualties in 1964, and Westmoreland is asking for another 200,000 soldiers.
I recalled the veteran outside the courthouse talking about the Tuesday board meeting where they’d asked for so little and had been met with the board’s resistance. He said he didn’t think it was right for veterans, many with PTSD, to be waiting in the same room in the welfare office with children. They just wanted a quiet waiting area with veterans who understood them.
“To everything turn, turn, turn…there is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven…” is playing in the background and the sky is getting lighter outside my window. I’m hoping I can soon turn off the visions, the sounds, the tears.
The stigma of veterans having to wait in a room shared by those asking for welfare and to have the CVSO being supervised by health and human services instead of a fellow veteran seemed like such a minor request. It was also met with resistance from the board.
Veterans said they were not going to the CVSO to accept whatever assistance the county could offer. They had earned this service - medical attention and retirement benefits, someone who would listen to their combat stories and understand. It was promised to them as soldiers.
The mother of Mogy Crocker, a soldier at Fort Dix in the ’60s, is relieved because the looming question of whether her son would be drafted or would enlist was decided.
Today President Trump said the would wipe the aggressor, North Korea, off the map if they continued to threaten the United States and its allied friends.
I can only feel grateful my son, Jeff, is no longer stationed on the border of North Korea. There are other sons there. Tears fill my eyes.
January 16, 1991, my daughter Theresa who was stationed in Berlin, Germany, called late that evening. She wished me a happy birthday. The more important message - she would most likely be deployed to Kuwait for Operation Desert Storm.
Demonstrators are marching and protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Leapfrogging troops…moving artillery and troops by helicopter is something new in Vietnam. “It’s going to change the way we do war.”
U.S. combat veterans in Vietnam averaged 240 days of combat in a year. They would “leapfrog” by helicopter from one battle to the next. WWII combat veterans averaged seven days of combat in a year.
My son and daughter, John and Jen as radiomen would have been out front relaying information to the troops behind them. My son Christopher would have been supplying medical aid and equipment.
The board denied the Pine County Veteran’s request with a motion to keep the secretary’s position part time and shared with other departments. Was this too much to ask?
The veterans service officer, who goes out to visit veterans who can’t make it into the office will now be under the supervision of a health and human services supervisor.
There was no decision on a separate entrance and waiting area for veterans in the new building. Was this too much to ask?
“We have earned this,” said Vietnam Veteran Jim Best, a fellow school mate of mine who was awarded four Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars.
Then the board approve a preliminary levy increase of almost $1 million. A full time veterans secretary would have cost $32,000 a year. Was this too much to ask?
Roy watched from the hill
Ailene Croup for PiCK News, August 18, 2017
I’ve had the great, good fortune of attending two 50-year class reunions this year in Pine County, first at Hinckley and this past weekend at Sandstone.
We were never planted anywhere during my school days. I attended six schools, finally graduating from Goose Creek High School in South Carolina. But, that is a whole other story.
Sandstone was a world away when we moved from Minneapolis to a very rural setting in Pine County. I was dragged there, as 12-year-old girl, kicking and screaming. I think I even said something like, “Just leave me here. I don’t want to go. I won’t know anyone.” Then, “There’s nothing to do out there.”
There was a remedy for that pretty quickly. We settled into a routine of farming, milking cows and making hay. School provided the social contact and became ultimately important for this transplanted teenager.
The four years I attended Sandstone High School left a lasting impression and permanent memories - some comforting, some unsettling.
This past weekend provided a better look at the past and acceptance of how the present is fleeting. We made the most of every minute.
Some of us gathered at the all-class reunion on Friday and we exchanged 50 years of joy, heartache and hugs like we were just coming back after summer vacation. Thanks for the nudge Pete (VanDerSchaegen). There were classmates as far back as 1952. I made lots of new friends such as Al and Louise. The all-class reunion was a way to meet and make new friends. Was Diane (Anderson) Ausmus really the youngest person there? This is how rumors start.
Many classmates stayed in the Pine County area or, like myself, felt compelled to “return to our roots” and moved back.
In rural Minnesota, reunions are planned around the town’s fair to attract as many classmates as possible who may be visiting family during that time.
The reunion experience would not have been complete without a 50-year reunion float in Sandstone’s Quarry Days parade. Usually, the mode of transportation is a hay wagon with chairs. Ours, thanks to local classmates Greg and Judy Wickstrom, went a step further and was decorated with basketball shorts and cheerleading jackets from the 60s (purchased at a garage sale for a quarter). It sported our school colors - purple and white.
As we rounded the corner on Commercial Avenue and were making our way to Old Hwy. 61, up on the hill to our left was our old school. Wheelchair-bound classmate, Roy Ubl, waved to us from the old school, affectionally known as The Rock, and our float came alive with emotion and cheers. We were sad but happy all at once. My mind’s eye conjured up a picture of a handsome 13-year-old boy who shared a crush with me in seventh grade. I’m thankful to have known him. He made my first year at that school something to look forward to. Happy Birthday, Roy.
As we neared the end of the parade route and the bags of candy were almost gone, I realized one thing - Maureen is a terrible candy-thrower.
The reunion dinner that evening was spent conversing with Laurie and Lola (sorry you couldn’t be there Ken) and Kathy. At the next reunion, five years away, we will pick up where we left off. We will always remember our classmates as the young vibrant friends of 1967. It’s a magical thing to look at your classmates and see them as they were 18,250 days ago. God Bless you all and a special thank you to Bobbie Jean and Dave for gathering the group which was scattered from the east to west coasts.
I’d like to pass on what I’ve learned to teenagers everywhere - from someone who was you - be carefree. Talk face-to-face with your friends. When you’re afraid, uncomfortable and unsure we all were, and that will change. Everything you do as a teenager, how you handle problems, how you love and how you interact with your friends counts. Listen more, talk less. Be a friend, expecting nothing in return. Be truthful.