2018 Year in Review — The Lowdown

Year in Review: Looking back on 2018

As each year comes to a close, it is a tradition of the Lowdown to take a look back at the most memorable stories from the last 12 months. Some of 2018's highlights include Senator Amy Klobuchar's visit to the 10th annual Da Vinci Fest at Stillwater High School, student participation in nationwide walkouts for gun safety, historically high voter turnout in midterm elections throughout the state and the group of local curling enthusiasts who have brought the ice-based sport here to the east metro. As we look ahead to 2019, we hope that the year brings good health, good cheer and more good stories. Thank you for being a reader.


Forest Lake city administrator accepts job in Rochester

Forest Lake City Administrator Aaron Parrish announced that he accepted a job as assistant city administrator of Rochester. Parrish submitted a letter of resignation to the Forest Lake City Council. In his new position, he will aid Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer and provide organizational leadership, oversee the city's budget process and advance the city's economic development, among other responsibilities.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to join one of the premier communities in Minnesota and the United States," Parrish said. "While I have big shoes to fill, I look forward to working with Mr. Rymer, the city's professional team, mayor, common council and community."

Cowboy poet raises funds for horse rescue at Running Aces

The days of the Old West may be past, but the days of cowboys are far from over, says cowboy poet and comedian Ron McDaniel.

McDaniel is a cowboy poet who presented his show “Rhyme for a Reason” at Running Aces Jan. 13 as a fundraiser for local rescue stable Acres for Life.

McDaniel is a real-life cowboy who lives in northern Arkansas, but travels for his job with an animal vaccine and medication company. Occasionally, those who have heard of his special talent invite him to present a show in their communities. McDaniel runs a hobby farm at his home and only performs a few shows a year, because spending time at home with his family is one of his greatest values. When he was young, he decided he wanted to make a living in the livestock industry, and helped out on his uncle's ranch.

Some special guests at the 10th annual Da Vinci Fest art and science fair traveled from a galaxy far, far away, but there was only one that traveled from Washington, D.C.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) made a special appearance during the festivities at Stillwater High School Jan. 6.

“It's wonderful to be out here and see all of you because this is really the future,” Klobuchar said to an audience gathered in the gymnasium. “You must know that you're in a long tradition in our state. Our state has a lot of companies that do science. We are the state that brought the world everything from the pacemaker to the Post-It note. We actually made the first Bundt pan, and have done a lot of cool things in science. We use technology in a really smart way, which is one of the reasons we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country; one of the reasons the Super Bowl is coming here.”

Da Vinci Fest, hosted by local nonprofit the Partnership Plan, is an art and science fair named in honor of the the great Renaissance inventor, who was famed for his devotion both to art and science.


Grant allows Native heritage to thrive in Forest Lake

With the help of one devoted volunteer, the Forest Lake Indian Education program recently received a $5,000 grant from AT&T. Superintendent Steve Massey stopped by the group's biweekly meeting at Forest View Elementary Jan. 13 to celebrate with the grant recipients.

The American Indian Education Program is meant to help connect Native American students with their cultural roots and help establish a support network in order to improve graduation rates among the native population. The program is divided into two age groups, elementary and secondary. The elementary group meets at Forest View Elementary every other week on Thursdays, and the secondary group meets at Forest Lake High School every week on Tuesdays.

Task force investigates 30-year missing persons case

Someone out there knows what happened to Susan Swedell, and a new missing persons task force in Washington County aims to find out.

The Washington County Attorney's Office announced a partnership with the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in order to solve the 30-year-old missing persons case, and to solve others as well.

Young Valentine's Day cynics get a party all their own

Romantic gestures are a February tradition, but in February a new Teen Hangout program at Hardwood Creek library offered a different perspective on the amorous holiday.

Forest Lake teens were invited to an Anti-Valentine's Day event, where they could “come and have no fun celebrating anything but love,” with promises of awful snacks, anti-Valentine's Day card making and a movie.

While thousands flocked to Super Bowl LII for the big game and the highly anticipated halftime show, several local students got a chance to be part of the action right on the field.

Kirstine Grab of Stillwater, and Erin Schwister and Laura Ziegelski of Forest Lake marched with the University of Minnesota marching band during Justin Timberlake's performance Feb. 4.

The band backed up Timberlake on the number “Suit and Tie,” with Grab on saxophone, Schwister on mellophone and Ziegelski on clarinet.

Some of the students also carried the reflective panels during the song “Mirrors,” and were part of the parade.


Freer resigns from City Council

The city of Forest Lake confirmed on March 7 that Mike Freer had notified the council he would resign from his position as a city councilmember at 12 p.m. that day.

Interim City Administrator Dan Undem said that Freer notified city offices that morning of his decision.

Undem said Freer's decision was based on a desire to achieve a better work/life balance.

“Right now we're going through the process to determine what the next steps will be, declaring the vacancy, accepting the resignation and deciding what that process would be like to fill that vacancy,” Undem said.

Freer was first elected to the council in 2010. The council accepted his resignation at its March 12 meeting.

Stillwater High School students joined a nationwide walkout on March 14 to bring awareness to the prevalence of gun violence. Students exited the school for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. to honor the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 Parkland school shooting in Florida.

Junior Hannah Sween was among the student organizers who worked with school administrators to plan the logistics of the walkout.

“Most of the planning was done by the students,” she wrote in an email interview. “We wanted to make it clear that this was a student-led event.”

She estimated there were around 500 students or more who participated in the walkout. Sween left her classroom a little bit early with other student leaders to set up candles for the vigil.

“In the few minutes before the walkout, I don’t know about the other leaders, but I was very worried that no one would walk out and all our hard work would be for nothing, but this was far from the case,” she wrote.

She described her amazement when a large crowd of students began to emerge from the school doors.

“I’ve never been more proud in my life than I was in that moment,” she said.


Forest Lake appoints new council member

Blaine Backes was declared the newest member of the Forest Lake City Council at a special meeting April 2. Backes filled the vacancy left by Mike Freer, who resigned from office in March.

Backes is a lawn care, landscape and snow removal professional, with past experience as a firefighter and public works superintendent.

Thirteen candidates applied to fill the vacancy, all of whom were interviewed at the April 2 meeting.

Environmental club surprised with Washington County award

In a surprise award ceremony April 5, the members of Forest Lake Area High School's Environmental Club were selected to receive the Public Health Achievement Award from the Washington County Department of Public Health.

Only one of the students knew ahead of time that the club would receive the award. Each student present was given a personalized certificate, and the group was given a banner to hang in a classroom.

More than 90 students participate in the Forest Lake High School Environmental Club, which meets weekly to plan school and community events that promote environmental stewardship.

City council strikes down psychiatric treatment center

More than a few unhappy citizens left dejected after the April 9 meeting of the Forest Lake City Council, where the possibility of establishing a psychiatric youth treatment facility was put to rest. The council voted 3-2 not to adopt a zoning amendment that would allow the construction of The Hills Youth and Family Services mental health services on a historic property off Highway 61.

Dozens of citizens spoke in support of the proposed project during the open forum portion of the meeting. Many had personal stories to share about children and relatives who would have benefited from such a facility, especially since they knew personally how hard it was to find residential psychiatric care in the region.

The text amendment would have altered one line of text in the city's zoning code that stated that large residential licensed facilities serving more than 10 persons was only allowed in an existing single-family home.


Big Read author talks borders, spirituality and Mexican-American heritage in Stillwater

Although the NEA Big Read has come to the St. Croix Valley for the fourth consecutive year, this is the first time that the author of the selected book has come along with it.

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of “Into the Beautiful North,” came to Trinity Lutheran Church May 3, where he was interviewed by Krista Tippett, host of the nationally acclaimed radio show “On Being.” The event drew an audience of several hundred, filling the pews of the church to bursting.

Board votes to close Central Montessori Elementary

It was a tearful end to the May 17 Forest Lake School Board meeting, when the board voted 5-1 to close Central Montessori Elementary (CME) school at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

The school board faced ongoing financial challenges and a projected $2 million budget shortfall for the 2018-2019 year, which prompted the decision to close the school.

3 Forest Lake students earn perfect ACT scores

A talented trio of Forest Lake Area High School students learned that they each earned a perfect score of 36 on their ACTs. 

Ben Cartford, a junior, and two brothers, Matthew and Adam Strupp (a junior and sophomore, respectively), all learned that they had aced the national college entrance test they took on April 3.

Earning a perfect 36 is a statistical rarity. Only 79 students out of 61,000 in Minnesota earned a 36 in 2017. Cartford, Matthew, and Adam are part of the approximately one-tenth of one percent of test-takers across the nation who achieve such an accolade. A score of 36 is created by averaging a student’s scores in the subject areas of English, reading, mathematics and science.


Youth homelessness study drives efforts toward solutions in Washington County

It's often an unseen problem, but a study conducted this year suggested that youth homelessness is as pervasive in Washington County as in every other part of the U.S. To a group of devoted locals, the lack of resources for youth without homes in Washington County is shocking.

“Washington County is the only county that we know of that does not have any services for homeless youth in our own borders—there is not a drop-in center, let alone a shelter,” said Bob Dickie, who sits on the board of directors of the St. Croix Family Resource Center.

The solution isn't easy, but Washington County residents had a chance to hear about some of the potential solutions to this problem at an expert panel held June 11 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Stillwater. Joan Countryman, who has been involved with homeless youth resources for decades, conducted the bulk of the research and presented the findings at the June 11 event.

Cornerstone Pub celebrates grand reopening

One of Wyoming's most prominent watering holes has undergone a few changes in the hands of co-owners Jake Grindeland and Alex Bulmer. A grand reopening was held Saturday, June 16, to celebrate the Cornerstone Pub & Prime's history in the community and its changes going forward.

A few months after the death of former owner Paul Raduenz in 2016, Grindeland heard that the property might become available for sale. Grindeland is a Realtor by profession and was interested in the historic property, which was constructed as a hotel to house travelers along the railway to Duluth. Grindeland knew Bulmer, the owner of Forest Lake's Big Apple Bagels, from the Wyoming Fire Department and the Wyoming Economic Development Authority.


Myths and Minnesota culture are at the heart of new Stillwater hotel

The long-awaited Lora Hotel on Stillwater's Main Street is finally open, bringing with it an assembly of eateries and an artistic mythos that embraces its location in a historic Minnesota river town.

The hotel, constructed on the site of four historic buildings, including the caves that once housed the Joseph Wolf brewery constructed in 1868, officially opened its doors to guests this summer.

Hometown band reunites after 23 years to play at Lumberjack Days

Before they became the dynamic duo behind Roma Restaurant and Patriot's Tavern, grunge fans across the Midwest might have recognized brothers Brent and Brian Pilrain as one half of Six Day Lane.

It was only 23 years late, but the band that started at Stillwater High School in 1993 finally released its second album in 2017—which it celebrated in style with a live performance at Lumberjack Days in downtown Stillwater July 20.

The band features Guy Juran on drums and vocals, Derrick Williams on guitar and vocals, Brent on bass and vocals and Brian on guitar and vocals.

Power Girls hammer out myths about women in construction

You've probably never seen a 4-foot-tall construction worker in a hard hat covered with sequins, but the sight was not uncommon around Camp Lakamaga this summer.

Campers were participants in the Power Girls program, a special STEM-focused camp held in partnership with Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. The camp aims to teach girls construction and trade skills in order to inspire them to consider a future in the trades, where many businesses are looking to recruit more women. Power Girls gives young girls a chance to learn from women mentors and see themselves in these types of hands-on careers in the future.


Art trolley tours give inside look at creativity throughout the river valley

The Stillwater Trolley has offered a closer look at the many historical features and curiosities of Stillwater for years, but a new Art Trolley Adventure program invites visitors to engage with the artistic side of things throughout the river valley.

The first art trolley tour took place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23. It included four stops: Judd Street Exchange in Marine on St. Croix, Dancing Dragonfly winery in St. Croix Falls, Franconia Sculpture Park in Franconia, and a live theater performance at the St. Croix Boom Site Overlook north of Stillwater.

Mallards restaurant opens in Forest Lake

After more than a year of anticipation, new downtown restaurant Mallards officially opened its doors on Aug. 1.

This is Mallards’ second location — the first is located on the banks of the St. Croix River in Bayport. The riverside location inspired a seafood-centric menu, along with other traditional lunch and dinner staples. The restaurant features indoor family seating and a long, semicircular bar, along with outdoor seating on the patio.

Forest Lake hires new city administrator

By a unanimous vote of the City Council, Patrick Casey was selected to be Forest Lake's new city administrator during a special meeting held bright and early Aug. 18.

The council began a search for a new city administrator in January after Aaron Parrish left the position and accepted an offer for the position of assistant city administrator in Rochester. During the transition period, former assistant to the city administrator Dan Undem served as interim.

Undem, along with Casey and Ken Anderson, International Falls’ city administrator, was among the top finalists for the position.

Casey most recently served as administrator of the Village of Salem Lakes, Wisconsin. Before that, he was the first township administrator of the Town of Salem, which was later incorporated into the Village of Salem Lakes in 2017; the administrator of the Village of West Milwaukee and the director of management and budget in Evanston, Illinois. Casey has a master's degree in public administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago and a bachelor's degree in parks, recreation and leisure studies from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.


Seventh Farm upholds lost arts in horsemanship

Finding a new home for a retired racehorse is difficult. Horses that lived to run and gallop in circles several times a day are suddenly transported to a new environment. At Seventh Farm riding school just south of Hudson in River Falls, Wisconsin, owners Liz and Tom McCadden ease horses from racing life to showjumping and lesson-riding life through an intensive retraining process and continual bonding.

The McCaddens find this approach necessary so that the horses are fully prepared for and have trust in their new lives. This approach also guarantees that students of all ages, comfort levels and background experiences will be safe when the horses are ready to interact with and bond with them.

Liz said that retraining and bonding have become lost arts in the horsemanship industry. As an example, she said that riding schools are disappearing.

“I think … a lot of people nowadays are in a hurry to get in the show ring and jumping, and they don't take the time to do all the retraining,” she said. “... at the end of the day you have an animal who doesn't fully trust people and (is) potentially fearful because they've been pushed too quickly.”

Stillwater artist seeks to paint 'everything equine'

Artist William Ersland originally hails from Iowa, but after more than 30 years in the St. Croix Valley, he considers Stillwater to be his true hometown. Thanks to the thriving arts scene and shared enthusiasm for horses, the town has proven to be a perfect fit for Ersland, whose work captures the beauty of the outdoors and the excitement of equine sports.

Ersland seeks to paint “everything equine,” as he finds endless inspiration in horses. “I've always been drawn to them, ever since I was a little kid. My grandfather farmed with horses in South Dakota, and boarded horses at his place in Iowa. That's what really got me interested, but I didn't take (that interest) seriously until a couple of decades ago,” he said.

His painting “Polo's Future” was accepted into the American Association of Equine Artists and was exhibited in Tryon, North Carolina, throughout September.

Council adjusts, then approves, SRC rate increase

After months of debate, the Forest Lake City Council reached an agreement on a rate increase requested by the city's longtime garbage hauler.

SRC, the parent company of Forest Lake Sanitation, had previously asked the council to approve a $4.95 increase in its monthly rates. At the council’s Sept. 24 meeting, that original figure was rejected in a 3-2 vote, though the council did approve a smaller increase of $2.85.


Curling league comes to the St. Croix Valley

St. Croix Valley curling enthusiasts once needed to travel across the metro to get their fix of the sport, but thanks to the St. Croix Curling Center, that changed. Started by a group of local curlers, the league launched in the fall, bringing the ice-based sport to the east metro.

Stillwater resident Jim Honsvall is among the league's founding members. He calls himself a “lifelong curler” and learned the sport from his parents while growing up in North Dakota. Since moving to Minnesota, he has been a regular presence at the St. Paul Curling Club but long wished for a closer facility.

“There isn't any curling club in between St. Paul, Rice Lake and Eau Claire. There's nothing in the St. Croix Valley, so there's a definite need,” Honsvall said.

Stillwater resident discusses his popular TED Talk, ‘A Pro Wrestler's Guide to Confidence’

Stillwater resident Mike Kinney never expected to give a viral speech. A former professional wrestler, Kinney is no stranger to the spotlight, though he never counted public speaking among his strong suits. Last July, however, he delivered a talk at the popular TED conference to a sold-out crowd.

That talk, “A Pro Wrestler's Guide to Confidence,” has 1.1 million views on TED.com and was featured during TEDTalk Tuesday at the Wildwood Library in Mahtomedi this fall.


Principal Slater goes to Washington

Minnesota students and educators were well-represented this year when Wyoming Elementary School Principal Curtis Slater traveled to Washington, D.C., as the state’s 2018 National Distinguished Principal (NDP).

Established in 1984 by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESCP), the NDP program recognizes elementary and middle school principals who make exceptional contributions to their schools and communities. Slater, who has been principal of Wyoming Elementary since July 2015, was named Minnesota’s honoree in May.

Each day on this job, Slater said, he is motivated by the opportunity to make a positive change in the lives of students and staff. “Kids deserve the very best. Are we going to give it to them? I want to get away from the statement, 'Well, we've always done it this way,'” he said.

Minnesota leads nation in midterm voter turnout

Minnesotans turned out in droves for Election Day on Nov. 6. Over 64 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the states midterm elections—the highest percentage in a non-presidential election since 2002.

In Forest Lake, Mara Bain was elected mayor, winning 52.6 of the 9,005 votes cast. Kathy Bystrom and Kelly Monson beat out five other candidates to win the two open seats on the Forest Lake City Council.

In Stillwater, Ted Kozlowski, who ran unopposed, was re-elected mayor, as was incumbent City Councilman Mike Polehna, who represents Ward 4. Ryan Collins won the Ward 1 seat, receiving 70.8 percent of the vote after Brad Glynn withdrew from the election.

Ice Castles leave Stillwater

After learning that equipment related to renovation of the Stillwater Lift Bridge would preclude building the structure in Lowell Park, Ice Castle owners received permission from Stillwater officials to build the castle in Bridgeview Park. But the switch to Bridgeview was fraught with additional considerations — logistics, lighting, sanitary sewer protection, shuttle service arrangements — so many that organizers “simply ran out of time to make that all happen,” City Administrator Tom McCarty told the council at its Nov. 13 meeting. He said the city has made it clear that the Ice Castle would be welcomed back in the future when the bridge work, the loop trail and other downtown projects will be complete. The attraction drew nearly 100,000 people to downtown Stillwater last winter, with an estimated direct spending impact of $2.5 million.


Forest Lake girl earns national valor award from JROTC

Hannah Peiffer is the first to admit she’s not a hero. In fact, she can be downright cowardly. She calls herself a shy introvert who doesn’t like to push herself outside her comfort zone.  

But the 17-year-old Forest Lake resident, who open enrolls at North Branch Area High School, took a flying leap outside that zone earlier this year when she rescued a drowning child from a swimming pool. Her action earned her the Silver Valor Award from the U.S. Air Force’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program. She is one of about 70 cadets at NBAHS, and one of only 10 out of 120,000 nationwide to earn the award this year for a “voluntary act of heroism.” 

Council revokes vape shop's tobacco license

The Forest Lake City Council voted unanimously at its Dec. 3 meeting to revoke the tobacco license of Cloud X Vapes after a failed compliance check and multiple reports throughout the last year that the store regularly sold nicotine and nicotine-related products to minors.

This is the third license violation for the e-cigarette retailer, which opened at 843 West Broadway Ave. last October. Within the first two months of operation, it failed two tobacco license compliance checks (Nov. 19, 2017 and Dec. 19, 2017). In accordance with city code, the council imposed a $250 fine after the first violation and a $550 after the second. In addition, it mandated that Cloud X Vapes install an electronic age verification system by March 1, 2018.

After additional complaints that Cloud X Vapes sold nicotine products to minors, the Forest Lake Police Department conducted another compliance check Nov. 1. The 16-year-old employee failed to ask the minor assisting police for proper identification and did not use the age verification system, resulting in the store's third failed compliance check and license violation in a year.

Chamber and local businesses bring Stillwater Lights downtown

With the absence of the Ice Castles this winter, the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce received concerns about revenue loss during the winter months from local businesses. Within two weeks, the Chamber and several business leaders moved forward with “Stillwater Lights,” a light display in Lowell Park.

This first year will feature a tunnel of festive lights spanning from Mulberry Point to Myrtle Street. Currently, the plan is for the attraction to open prior to the holidays in December and run through March. The attraction has the ability to grow each year. Plans for the attraction were approved by City Council on Dec. 4. Council also agreed to match up to $15,000 of seed money.

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