River rises in Rockford and Delano

 Sandbags protect a utility box, and a clay dike protects the downtown area in Delano, where in recent days the Crow River rose to its highest level since 1965.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)

In Delano on Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton, above right, talked briefly with Delano Mayor Dale Graunke, left, and State Rep. Joe McDonald of Delano, center, before meeting with other area officials to discuss the state's role in helping local governments cope with the recent flooding. (Photo by Doug Voerding)

You could feel the bridge vibrate as the water passed under it.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)

Governor speaks to area officials during visit

By Doug Voerding

            In Delano on Tuesday, June 24, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton met with officials from four nearby cities that have been working to contain the flooding of the Crow River in Wright and Carver Counties.

            Governor Dayton came to Delano to learn about the flooding conditions in the area and to talk about how the state can help with disaster funds.

            The recent continuous heavy rains have caused the flooding in both Delano and Watertown to reach the second highest flood stage ever recorded.  The highest was in 1965.

            Delano City Administrator Phil Kern told the governor that Delano has been "holding the water out (of the downtown) and handling it," but he also said that one business, Three Crows Coffee House, had to close until the flooding subsides.

            "In three of the past five years, this has become a constant normal," said Kern, "We are spending ten percent of the annual budget trying to deal with holding back these waters."

            Before the meeting, Kern said the work to prevent damage from flooding has gone "above and beyond" the normal maintenance, costing the city money and staff time to keep the water out of the downtown.

            In Watertown, there has been overland flooding. There has been no private property damage, but there has been damage to the public infrastructure, including a collapsed retaining wall.

            Rockford City Administrator Dan Madsen told Dayton that the city will have some public property and infrastructure damage, but the amount will not be known until the floodwaters recede.

            "We are concerned about the after-effects of the flooding," said Madsen.

            State Representative Joe McDonald of Delano asked if the $3 million set aside for the governor to use in emergencies would be enough.

            Asked McDonald, "Do you think we will need a special session? The clean-up will be very costly."

            The governor said the process begins with meeting the threshold of damage in order to access federal dollars after the president declares an emergency.

            "I am confident that the state will qualify," said Dayton, "but if the individual counties don't meet the federal threshold, they will more than likely qualify for the state program which has a lower threshold. Then we will find out how far that $3 million goes. If we have to do a special session, we will do so."

            "It's going to take longer than people want," said Dayton, "but the state agencies are all primed and ready to go. They are there to help."

            Dayton thanked the volunteers who have been helping with the sandbagging.

            Said Dayton, "If there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, it is how Minnesotans join together and work together."

            "We also know," continued Dayton, "that flood mitigation does work, but we will now see what else is needed."

            After the meeting, Dayton said that it was hard to see the pain and suffering that people are going through and the difficulties facing farmers and small business owners.

            "But," said Dayton, "there have been moments of courage and kindness. We have kids on summer vacation filling sand bags. The people of Minnesota are very resilient and strong."

            Ironically, on the agenda for Tuesday night's city council meeting in Delano was a discussion of a new flood dike that will protect the downtown. The plan has been in the works for more than five years, and funding is now available through the state bonding bill passed by the legislature last spring.



High water results in change for Lake Pulaski Fourth of July

            Some changes in the Fourth of July Lake Pulaski Boat and Ski Parades are being made this year due to the high water.

            The Boat/Pontoon Parade will start at 1:00 p.m. as usual, but the Ski Parade will be canceled this year because the entire lake is under a "No Wake Zone" restriction.  Instead of a Ski Parade, the Lake Association will host a Kayak and SUP Board Fun Race at noon.

            Go to for details on those races.

            The Boat/Pontoon Parade will be judged again this year by the Hafften family, and parade will start at 1:00 p.m. along the Hafften's shoreline.  The address is 1607 Pulaski Road NE, between Douglas Drive and 16th St. NE (just north of the roundabout).  Participants should check the website for location, and just before the parade, look for red, white and blue balloons tied to the end of Hafften's dock.

            Parade participants will make one full loop "slowly" around the lake as judges select and hand out first through fourth place trophies.

            The parade theme is typically patriotic and current events, but anything goes so start planning now.  If you want to participate in the kayak and/or SUP board race, watch for updates via the website, as well as in next week's edition of the Journal-Press and Facebook.



Defendants in Annandale murder case sentenced

            Two defendants in the murder of Kyle Green last September in Annandale were sentenced on Wednesday, June 18.

            Judge Stephen Halsey sentenced Gray Soltis, 23, of St. Michael to 30 years in prison for second-degree intentional murder.  Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly said Kyle Greene's mother, Zona Greene, read a very emotional impact statement.

            Judge Michele Davis sentenced Preston Saengchanthalath, 19, of St. Cloud to 15 years in prison for aid and abet second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony.  Judge Davis also imposed a $42,000 dollar fine, which represented Kyle Greene's age (42) at the time of his murder.  Again, Zona Greene, Kyle's mother, gave a very emotional impact statement.

            Kelly said he continued to be very impressed with the "team approach" to prosecution in Wright County.

            "We have no turf battles.  The Wright County Attorney's Office, Annandale Police Department, Wright County Sheriff's Department, and the Wright County Medical Examiner worked closely on this case together.  Many hours were spent on this investigation by law enforcement.  The sentences on the many co-defendants that have already been handed down in this murder case is the result of this team work."

            "The County Attorney's Office continues to extend our sympathies to the Greene family and hopefully in some little way this investigation, prosecution and now sentencings have brought the family a little closure," Kelly added.  "My Chief of Criminal Division, Brian Lutes, assisted me with this prosecution and he was a big help.  We had thousands of pages of investigation."



Annandale and Delano planning their huge Fourth of July celebrations

            The tradition continues as Annandale and Delano plan their extensive Fourth of July celebrations.

            Information about the festivities follows:



            The "Heart of the Lakes" town conducted its first Fourth of July celebration in 1889.  Now 125 years later, you are invited to the 2014 activities.

            The Annandale Fourth of July Parade begins at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 4.  The 9 a.m. parade line-up is at the Annandale Elementary School.

            The third annual Parade Float is a float decorating contest.  Here is your chance to show off your creativity and be a part of the spectacle.  Cash prizes include: 1st Place $300, 2nd Place $200 and 3rd Place $100.  The Parade Float is on July 3, 7 p.m., at Pleasant Lake.

            A Superstar Finals Competition will be held at the music stage in Municipal Park on Saturday, July 5 at 6 p.m.  (In case of inclement weather, performances will be held at the Annandale High School Auditorium.)  All types of family-friendly acts are encouraged to audition.  Cash prizes are being awarded to top three acts.

            The Annandale Queen Coronation is taking place at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 4 at the Annandale Municipal Park.

            The Armadillos perform from 7-10 p.m.

            See a fireworks display at dusk.

            An exciting carnival full of various rides, games and food vendors will be located Oak St. just north of the downtown area.

            Every year a softball tournament is held at the Annandale Municipal Park ball field, where topnotch teams from across the countryside compete for prizes.

            On Saturday, June 29, the Annandale Kiddie Parade will start at the Annandale Middle School at 10 a.m.

            The Music in the Park schedule includes: July 2, KRWC Traveling Road Show, 7-8:30 p.m.; July 3, High School Jazz Band, 5:30 p.m., and Community Band, 7-8 p.m.; July 4, Derek Bruns Band, 5-6:30 p.m., and Flamingo DJ, 8 p.m.; July 5, Annandale Talent Super Star, 6 p.m.



            The Delano Fourth of July celebration goes back over 150 years.

            Highlights include a huge parade and tremendous fireworks.

            The Delano royalty coronation is taking place Wednesday, July 2 in the Delano School Auditorium at 7 p.m.  In the Entertainment Tent, rain or shine, the Fabulous Armadillos start performing at 7:00 p.m.

            Meanwhile, sports events are planned, and a carnival will be opening.

            The Friday, July 4 schedule begins with the 30th July 4th 5K at 9:30 a.m.

            "Minnesota's oldest and largest 4th of July Parade" begins at 10:30 a.m.

            Following the parade, a Minnesota Craft Beer Tasting Spectacular is planned.  Check out acts at the Family Entertainment Stage.

            At the Entertainment Tent, rain or shine, the Chris Hawkey Band performs from 8 p.m. to midnight.

            On Saturday, July 5, a Firemen's Water Ball Tournament on 3rd St. begins at 10 a.m.

            A Kiddie Parade at the Gazebo in Central Park near Big Rock begins at 11 a.m.

            A Kiddie Tractor Pull near the 2nd stage will have registration at 1:30 p.m. and the pull at 2:00 p.m.

            At the Entertainment Tent, rain or shine, see Maiden Dixie from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.

            A huge fireworks show begins at 10:30 p.m.



Star Tribune names BHM Schools a 2014 Top Workplace

            Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools has been named one of the Top 100 Workplaces in Minnesota by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Top Workplaces special section was published in the Star Tribune on Sunday, June 15. The report can also be found at

            Produced by the same team that compiles the 23-year-old Star Tribune 100 report of the best-performing public companies in Minnesota, Top Workplaces recognizes the most progressive companies in Minnesota based on employee opinions measuring engagement, organizational health and satisfaction.  The analysis included responses from over 58,600 employees at Minnesota public, private and nonprofit organizations.

            The rankings in the Star Tribune Top 100 Workplaces are based on survey information collected by WorkplaceDynamics, an independent company specializing in employee engagement and retention.

            Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools (BHM) was ranked 30 on the Large Company list.

            BHM Supt. Scott Thielman says this honor is a reflection of the district's dedicated staff.

            "We have a great team of educators in our schools. From teachers to custodians, from principals to food service staff, from educational support professionals to secretaries, everyone has an important role in what we do for kids. We are humbled and honored to be a Top 100 Workplace in Minnesota," he commented.

            Star Tribune Publisher Michael J. Klingensmith said, "The companies in the Star Tribune Top 100 Workplaces deserve high praise for creating the very best work environments in the state of Minnesota. My congratulations to each of these exceptional companies."

            The BHM School District, established in 1857, serves the three Wright County communities (Buffalo, Hanover and Montrose) and its surrounding townships. The BHM student population has approximately 5,730 students spanning across six elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, an alternative high school and a transitions school for 18-21 year-old students with special needs. There are approximately 772 employees district-wide. BHM Schools prides itself on having many of the student opportunities you would find in the metro area, located within the confines of a smaller school district.

            Lifelong learning is part of the strong foundation of BHM Schools and its communities, according to the district. From early childhood development through higher education, Buffalo, Hanover and Montrose are truly dedicated to providing only the finest educational experience possible to its residents. BHM Schools features extensive facilities, diverse curriculums and well-trained staffs-all aimed at developing each young person to their fullest potential.

            To qualify for the Star Tribune Top Workplaces, a company must have more than 50 employees in Minnesota. Over 2,000 companies were invited to participate. Rankings were composite scores calculated purely on the basis of employee responses.



County Board asking boaters to use common sense due to high water

No wake restriction approved for Lake Charlotte

            With some lake residents sandbagging because of high water, the Wright County Board is asking boaters throughout the area to use common sense in regard to creating waves on the lakes and rivers.

            The Board also passed a resolution last Tuesday, June 24 calling for an emergency 30-day no wake restriction within 300 feet of the shore at Lake Charlotte, located between Buffalo and Hanover.  Lake Charlotte has a pump system, but the system cannot be activated until water levels decrease downstream.

            The Board discussed the idea of approving a countywide no wake restriction, but attorney Greg Kryzer of the County Attorney's Office advised against it.  He explained potential problems with lake measurement requirements and the limits of enforcement.

            Lake Charlotte already has the measurement requirement covered due to the pump system, and with the Board's action on Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office will enforce the no wake restriction.

            Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said the county invited the lake associations across the county a few years ago to set up criteria for no wake restrictions.  At a predetermined high water level, a no wake restriction could be activated.  He indicated he does not know of any lake associations that went ahead and set up such a system.

            During times of high water, a no wake restriction can help those who need to sandbag to protect their property, and it can also help limit shore erosion.



Four longtime employees honored together by County Board

By Ed DuBois

            Honoring four longtime county employees all at the same time might not have ever happened before.  During the Tuesday, June 24 Wright County Board meeting, Al Buskey, Randy DesMarais, Bill Swing, and Genell Reese were thanked for a total of 135 years of service to the county.

            Congratulating the foursome upon retirement, the County Board devoted a large portion of the weekly meeting to Buskey, DesMarais, Swing, and Reese as many relatives and friends filled the board room.



            Buskey, the county building maintenance supervisor, started with the county in 1980 and was praised for his dedication and loyalty.  He once walked several miles in a blizzard to make sure everything was operating properly at the courthouse.  He said he made many wonderful friends over the years, and he thanked a "good boss and friend," Dick Norman, former county coordinator, plus many others (including his family) for their support.  Board Chair Chris Husom said Buskey was "there every time he was needed."  Commission Pat Sawatzke said Buskey is perhaps the most recognized county employee because he was "everywhere" and interacted with countless people during the course of performing his duties.  Sawatzke said the word "consistency" fits Buskey perhaps as well as "dedicated" and "loyal."  He added that Buskey showed up even when he was not expected to work (including weekends), and he did it so everything was always running properly when everyone else came to work.



            Randy DesMarais, deputy assessor, was honored for being so knowledgeable about the county, as well as for his expertise and for his camaraderie.

            Interim County Assessor Tony Rasmuson read a few words about DesMarais that had been written by County Assessor Greg Kramber, who has been recovering from a very serious highway crash last winter.  The statement described how well DesMarais can explain land matters to citizens, and it explained how trusted DesMarais has been as representative of the county and the Assessor's Office.

            DesMarais said he learned much from his dad and from the late Ruben Bonk.  He expressed thanks for great support from the County Board, and he also expressed much respect for a "best friend," the late Doug Gruber (who was the County Assessor before Kramber).

            He added that the Assessor's Office has a "great team."  It was heartbreaking when Greg Kramber was injured, and everyone came together to fill in for him.

            DesMarais began with the county way back in 1971.  Commissioner Charlie Borrell mentioned knowing DesMarais since grade school, and DesMarais has become known as a decent man and a hard worker, Borrell said.  Sawatzke said he has a great amount of respect for DesMarais, who along with Gruber, recommended hiring Kramber.  Sawatzke also said he likes the upbeat, can-do atmosphere in the Assessor's Office, and he praised DesMarais for his great attitude and his ability to serve as an outstanding ambassador to the agriculture community.  Sawatzke half joked that because of his knowledge about the county, DesMarais would be a great addition to the Historical Society.



            The county's IT director, Bill Swing, who started in 1983, laid the foundation of the county's computer systems and high tech services.  He listed dozens of people to thank, and first on the list was the late Commissioner Arlyn Nelson, who was a strong advocate and a visionary leader, he said.

            Swing also thanked his wife for listening when he "unloaded the county problems" at home.

            He asked the County Board to continue to encourage innovation and explore new ways of doing things.

            Commissioner Mark Daleiden commented that he will miss Bill Swing, "a forerunner of technology in the county."

            Husom said she has a deep appreciation for his knowledge about computer systems.

            Sawatzke said Swing might be the most decorated county employee.  His achievements are numerous, and he has been part of many group achievement awards presented annually by the County Board.



            After 37 years with the county, Genell Reese is departing from Veterans Services and Civil Defense.

            Due to her contact with veterans, she might be the county's most recognizable official, Sawatzke said.  She has been good at helping veterans, and since she is a veteran (Air Force), she has a good understanding about their wants and needs.  Husom mentioned that her husband is a Vietnam veteran, and Reese helped him.  Borrell, a Navy veteran, said he obtained his post-military documents from Reese.

            Her duties also involved getting out to help with emergencies, such as sandbagging during floods.  Sawatzke said she has been a frontline county official.

            In regard to living near a nuclear plant, she has been involved with the tough standards and rigorous requirements for emergency preparedness.  Sawatzke said Reese had a perfect record.

            Reese looked at the audience and thanked all of those who worked with her and supported her.  She saw former Commissioner Ike Eichelberg, a veteran, in the room and thanked him for his support.

            Borrell thanked her for always being willing to visit veterans in places such as Legion halls to answer questions and explain services.

            In other business:



            Commissioner Charlie Borrell expressed concern about the way Trailblazer Transit is working on setting up bus services with the cities of the county.  He said Tri-Cap is handling it much differently in Sherburne County, hiring former River Rider drivers and conducting test bus runs.  The Wright County Board was not able to reach and agreement with Trailblazer during the spring months, and now Trailblazer is working directly with the cities in Wright County to set up services.  Trailblazer serves McLeod and Sibley Counties and is now working on services in Wright County.



            In other actions, the Board:

            * approved an emergency 30-day no wake restriction at Lake Charlotte and asked all boaters to use common sense on all lakes and rivers during this time of extremely high water (See related story elsewhere in this week's issue of the Journal-Press for more information.);

            * appointed Tony Rasmuson as the interim county assessor;

            * scheduled Friday, July 18 interviews with seven finalists for the IT director position;

            * appointed Cheri Nelson as the interim IT director;

            * approved a property tax abatement for a St. Michael couple to correct a clerical error;

            * approved filling a social worker position in the Children's Services Unit of Human Services;

            * accepted a Planning Commission recommendation to approve a request from Gary Sauer to rezone 40 acres along the Crow River in Franklin Township and establish the property, which is zoned agricultural residential, as a rural planned unit development;

            * approved filling a sheriff's deputy position;

            * authorized attendance at a rural broadband information meeting in St. Cloud on June 25; and

            * approved $2.79 million in claims involving 330 transactions with 172 vendors.


County Assessor's Office moving

            The Wright County Assessor's Office will be relocating the week of July 7 to another area of the Government Center.

            Currently the Assessor's Office is located in the northeast area of the Government Center on the second floor across from the Auditor-Treasurer's Office.

The Assessor's Office will be relocating to the first floor, Room S100, which is in the southwest corner of the Government Center.

            By moving into this area, the assessors will have the ability to provide better customer service with more individualized attention for those seeking assistance, a county spokesperson said.

            Signs will be posted identifying the new location.


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Staying ahead of Parkinson's

Keeping busy in his workshop, Buffalo resident turns desert wood from Utah into art figures

By Ed DuBois

            The lines and colorful patterns found inside agates have been enjoyed by Jim Bislow since growing up in Two Harbors.  Now retired, living in Buffalo and creating art with both wood and stones, he mentioned he enjoys wood burls.  When he saws one open, the lines and patterns inside are revealed.

            "The wood is so pretty it reminds me of the agates," he said.

            Furniture throughout his home displays his talents with wood.  Lamps made with diamond willow limbs attract your attention because of their unique qualities, and he has a story for almost every wooden stand, end table and fixture he has produced in his shop filled with power tools and lumber samples.

            Some of his wooden creations are accented with stones, including Minnesota tiger eye, obsidian (which was created eons ago when lava hit fresh water, Jim said), and, of course, agates.

            But perhaps his most interesting pieces of wooden art are those he has made with desert wood from Utah.


Potential artworks

            A good imagination helps an artist visualize a piece before it is finished, and in the twisted, dried out pieces he has collected, Jim often sees creatures ranging from real life animals to mythical beasts such as dragons.

            He likes to use the phrase, "If unique is what you seek," to convey his pleasure regarding desert explorations.  They end up filling the back of his pickup truck with countless potential artworks.

            The road to Utah was long, and traveling it was delayed by about 35 years as Jim worked in Northern Minnesota.  After graduating from Two Harbors High School in 1966, he spent about four or five quarters studying at UMD.  But his destiny was not going to be found in college, so he worked with log loaders for a while, and that led to becoming a certified welder.  Ten years later, he took a job with the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.  He worked his way up to train engineer and hauled taconite from places such as Virginia and Eveleth.  He mentioned his dad, who recently passed way at the age of 93, was a tugboat engineer.


Gone all day

            Jim, 66, lived in the countryside just outside Two Harbors.  Growing up there, he enjoyed plenty of snowmobiling, cross-country skiing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and playing hockey in the wintertime and golf in the summertime.

            "I would say, 'See ya, Ma,' and I would be gone all day," he recalled.

            Golf became a great joy throughout his life.  He said he set the course record (65) in Two Harbors, and while traveling around the country, he played at a total of 713 golf courses.

            Sadly, he does not play as much golf now.  He has been hampered by Parkinson's disease.  But Jim and his wife, Betty, still get out and play at various times.  Jim said he can't play as well as he would like, but he doesn't want to give it up altogether.  Besides, he wants to keep moving.  Staying active is a key to staying ahead of his illness.

            "My motto is, 'Gotta do something,'" he said.


Collecting desert wood

            When not golfing, Jim stays busy in his workshop next to his garage.

            After he retired from the railroad in 2001, he enjoyed traveling.  Jim and Betty visited 38 national parks.  They both enjoyed hiking.

            They became acquainted with Utah while vacationing, and they loved Zion National Park.

            They discovered the southwest corner of Utah near Arizona and Nevada was perfect for hiking.  Soon he started collecting pieces of desert wood he found while hiking.

            The collecting began around 2005, and Jim has been creating desert wood artworks ever since.

            He and Betty lived in Utah for a while.  They bought a winter home in 1999 and were year-round residents from 2005 to 2012.

            The wood Jim found on the desert included: juniper, pine, sagebrush (tumbleweed), and gambel oak.


Burl slices

            Telling about some of the many desert wood art figures in his home, he remarked on what he saw in each one.  A short, husky piece looks like the head of a dog breed known as boxers.  A long, sinewy piece looks like a rattlesnake.  On a piece that looks like a horse with a saddle, an agate serves as the saddle horn.  Some of the other pieces include a chicken, a rat (from a piece of juniper), an owl (from a piece of Joshua tree) and an "elephant man" (from some sagebrush).

            Some of the dead wood statues are torched in certain places to add accents and help bring out colors or wood grain.

            Jim uses burl slices as stands for the figures.


Relatives in Buffalo

            More pieces come out of the workshop all the time.  Jim said he now becomes fatigued easier, and back pain sometimes necessitates lying on the floor a while for relief, but he remains determined to stay busy.

            He remembers the exact day he learned he had Parkinson's disease, Feb. 18, 2012.  Not long after that, Jim and Betty moved to back to Minnesota.  They now live in Buffalo because Jim has a stepson and grandchildren here.

            The Parkinson's diagnosis was not expected, even though symptoms were evident.

            "I thought it was an age thing," Jim said.

            The cause of Parkinson's disease is not known, and there is no cure, he added.

            Staying active is good medicine, and even though Jim trips and stumbles a little more often now, exercise is better than doing nothing.

            "I do something every day," he said.


Sharing the beauty

            Meanwhile, he enjoys the beauty he finds in the wood he has brought home, as well as in various stones he has also found.

            He enjoys sharing the beauty with others, and he has begun to reach out to the local art community in regard to displaying his works and perhaps selling some of them at arts and crafts events.

            After seeing his works, you might not look at dead wood in quite the same way as you did in the past.  You might even start sawing open burls to discover the interesting lines and patterns hidden inside.