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The top 10 stories

of 2020 in Faribault County

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Dec 27, 2020

Even the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth was sporting a giant-sized mask during part of the year due to the state’s COVID-19 mandates.

No. 1 – COVID-19 affects life in Faribault County

Perhaps no one thing has dominated our news in Faribault County since World War II like COVID-19 did in 2020.

There were no fewer than 65 stories in the Faribault County Register dealing with the effects of the pandemic and the restrictions created to contain it.

From the first story about local reaction to the coronavirus in the March 16 issue, there were usually several stories in each edition of the Register which had at least some reference to COVID.

Some had to do with the response of local governments dealing with shutdowns or holding virtual meetings. Others had to do with schools deciding to go with distance learning, or hybrids models, and stories about the governor calling off high school sports – right in the midst of state tournaments in some cases.

Many local organizations had to decide about having town summer celebrations and the county fair. Our stories dealt with reactions to all this shut down, and we even devoted our annual Community Focus magazine to coping with COVID.

Then came all our stories about the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act monies flowing into governmental bodies in the county, and how they planned to spend all those large sums of funds to help local businesses and agencies.

And, of course, through it all, we tried to cover the number of COVID-19 cases in Faribault County, which stayed low for quite some time. We had a story in our April 3 edition that the second case had been reported in the county. The first death was not until Nov. 24.

But, despite Faribault County’s relatively low case and death rate, COVID-19, like everywhere else in the U.S. dominated the news here.

That includes this week, with some photos of the staff at UHD in Blue Earth receiving the first of the new COVID-19 vaccine shots.

No. 2 – The city of Blue Earth administrator shuffle

In 2020 the city of Blue Earth hired not one, but two city administrators.

In 2019 our No. 4 story was the fact that city administrator Tim Ibisch had resigned and was going to Kasson.

In our Jan. 27 issue we reported there were 12 applicants. In the Feb. 10 issue the city had chosen four to interview, but one withdrew so our Feb. 24 issue reported Kim Moore, Mary Kennedy and Devin Swanberg were interviewed.

On March 2 we reported the council chose Moore, and she started well before her official April 1 contract date.

However, the June 1 issue of the Register reported Moore had resigned. The next week the story was that the council had offered the job to Mary Kennedy, who was currently the CEDA economic development specialist, and had been their second choice back in March.

On July 13 we reported Kennedy was settled in as city administrator, and her sister, Amy Schaefer was the new CEDA EDA specialist for the city.

No. 3 – Local election results in the county

Of course, the big election news across the country was the presidential contest, but there were plenty of local contested elections in Faribault County as well.

With long-time county commissioner Tom Warmka announcing his intention not to re-file, three persons did file, causing the need for a primary election.

Bruce (Charlie) Anderson and Dennis Koziolek won the right to advance to the General Election, with Anderson winning election to the County Board.

Incumbent Bill Groskreutz won re-election over challenger Steven Linde.

In other election contests, Blue Earth resident Jim Hagedorn won re-election to Minnesota’s First Congressional District seat, over challenger Dan Feehan. And Elmore mayor Bjorn Olson won election to the Minnesota House District 23A seat over Patricia Fahey Bacon.

Both the Blue Earth Area and United South Central School Boards had contests for board members. For BEA, Ted Armon, Lindsay Mensing and Jeff Eckles won, while at USC it was Brad Heggen, Michael Schrader and Chris Lutteke being elected.

Another interesting race was for mayor in Winnebago, with no one filing. There were 302 write-in votes with Scott Robertson receiving half of those. He will be sworn in as Winnebago mayor in January.

No. 4 – Corn Plus sold to Canadian company

The news of the Corn Plus ethanol plant in Winnebago closing was our No. 1 story of 2019.

Now, in 2020, news of the sale of the plant to Greenfield Global, Inc., was announced in our Oct. 26 issue of the Register.

Greenfield Global is Canada’s largest fuel ethanol producer. The 48 million gallon per year ethanol plant in Winnebago is Greenfield’s first fuel ethanol plant in the U.S.

Founded in 1989, Greenfield currently owns and operates four distilleries, five specialty chemical manufacturing plants, and two next-generation biofuel and renewable energy research and development centers.

The news was welcomed by Winnebago city leaders. No start-up date for the plant has been announced.

5. – Both BEA and USC referendums pass

In 2019 our No. 2 story was that the Blue Earth Area School District’s request for an excess levy tax referendum had narrowly failed to pass in a special November election.

Now, at the 2020 November General Election, the BEA excess levy referendum question on the ballot passed 2,308 to 1,905.

The amount requested had been lowered from $900 per student in 2019 to $700 per student in 2020.

Between the two elections, the BEA Board had made $1 million in cuts to the budget. Also, a special committee had been organized to get out information about the referendum this time.

In the United South Central District, their referendum question was to continue a current rate of $1,180.49 per pupil, which was set to expire after having been in existence for the past 10 years.

The measure prevailed 1,589 to 1,332.

No. 6 – W’bago Adolescent Treatment Center closes, becomes home to Genesis Classical Academy

It was bad news at first, then turned into good news.

In our April 13 edition, a story announced that United Hospital District was going to close the Winnebago Adolescent Treatment Center (WATC), mainly due to loss of revenue due to COVID-19.

It was another big blow to the community of Winnebago, following the closure of Corn Plus.

Then the July 6 issue of the Register had a story announcing UHD was selling the WATC building to Genesis Classical Academy GCA) of Winnebago.

A followup story the next week told how the staff at GCA was excited with their home. Previously they had been using space at the Parker Oaks Care Center facility.

The private school had been looking at moving into the former Winnebago Public School building, owned by the city of Winnebago, but those plans fell through.

GCA did open up for the school year in the fall in their new building on the west side of Winnebago.

No. 7 – Changes in principals at Faribault County schools

Last year, stories about Blue Earth Area hiring Mandy Fletcher as superintendent, losing principal Melissa McGuire, promoting assistant elementary/middle school principal David Dressler to fill McGuire’s middle school/elementary principal spot – and finally hiring Conan Schaeffer to fill Dressler’s previous position – was our No. 5 story of the year.

Now this year, the saga continues. As part of their $1 million in cuts, the School Board eliminated the position of high school principal. High school principal Greg Ewing could have moved to another position at the school, but opted to resign instead, covered in a story in our May 18 issue of the Register.

Dressler now carries the title of principal, Schaffer the title of K-7 assistant principal.

Meanwhile, at United South Central, a story in the June 29 issue related how high school principal Kelly Schlaak announce her retirement after 34 years.

In the July 27 issue, it was announced the USC board had chosen Julie Stauber to be the new principal at USC this year.

In November we ran a story that Diane Edwards had become the new principal at St. Casimir’s School in Wells in time for the start of the new school year.

No. 8 – Former W’bago School building sold – again

The sale of the former Winnebago School building to the city of Winnebago was our choice for No. 8 story of the year last year.

The committee had worked in conjunction with the city to purchase the building from the Blue Earth Area School District.

Questions arose about an exact takeover date, as the building was occupied by the Southern Plains Educational Cooperative, which was leasing it from the BEA District through Nov. 1.

Eventually the deal was made. However, the Register’s March 16 edition detailed how the city had decided to sell the building after deciding it was too much for their budget to upgrade.

On April 20 came the announcement the city of Winnebago planned to sell the building for $61,000 to a veterans service company in Madelia. On May 4 the Register related how the sale and lease agreement with Garth Carlson of Veterans Enterprises, LTD, of Madelia.

Another story in last week’s Register tells about the progress Carlson has made in the former school building, now called the Veterans Resource Center and Academy in Winnebago.

No. 9 – Cabin Coffee coming to Blue Earth, plus other construction projects

The fact that the announcement that a Cabin Coffee franchise was going to come to Blue Earth was in the Register’s April 1 edition caused many readers to believe it was our annual April Fool’s Day joke.

But, it wasn’t.

Blue Earth resident and city councilman John Huisman was trying hard to get someone to open up a Cabin Coffee here, and when he could not find anyone, he decided to do it himself.

Construction is well underway and the new store, called Giant City Cabin Coffee, is slated to open in February.

Despite all the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many other construction projects which were either started or finished in 2020.

There was the new Wells Depot Liquor store which opened in February. Ron’s Plumbing, HVAC and Electric built a new building in the Wells Business Park and Bruss-Heitner Funeral Home is planning to do the same.

Blue Earth has several multi-family housing units either planned or actually under construction.

And, while they don’t count as new construction, A Little Something in Easton and The 10 Talents Center for the Arts in Blue Earth certainly took a lot of work to get ready to open.

10. Mayor Bloomberg comes to Faribault County

Our Jan. 13, 2019 issue had a full story and lots of photos of the visit of presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s visit to the Johnson Family Farms of Wells.

Sure, it was all pretty much a publicity stunt, but on the other hand, no other presidential candidate came to visit our county, not even Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar.

Several candidates made their way to the state once it became obvious Minnesota could be a swing state, but to our knowledge none were in Faribault County.