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HEADLINES FOR JUNE 8, 2018

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Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Wright County Journal-Press & The Drummer


 

Buffalo Hospital and Buffalo Rodeo team up for Tough Enough to Wear Pink night

Calling all breast cancer survivors to be part of the largest pink ribbon! Buffalo Hospital Foundation invites breast cancer fighters and survivors to join us at the annual Tough Enough to Wear Pink event at the Buffalo Championship Rodeo, Friday, June 22 at 7 p.m. Tough Enough to Wear Pink works to spread awareness about breast cancer and research.

Breast cancer fighters and survivors will gather in the rodeo arena just before intermission for a brief program to celebrate those who have battled breast cancer, honor those who are currently fighting and remember those we miss. Each survivor will receive a Tough Enough to Wear Pink t-shirt and wear a rodeo number with the amount of years they have survived cancer. Together, with Buffalo Hospital employees, participants will create the world's largest pink ribbon. Contact Buffalo Hospital Foundation by June 15th to sign up by calling 763-684-6800. Entry ticket and t-shirt are free for breast cancer participants.

Buffalo PRCA Championship Rodeo will take place on June 22-23 at the Buffalo Rodeo grounds just off of Highway 55 on Calder Avenue NE. Visit buffalo rodeo.com for tickets.

 


Montrose swimming pool incident leaves child dead, no criminal charges filed 

According to a Wright County Sheriff's Office press release, around 3:00 p.m. on Friday, June 1, Wright County Deputies, along with Emergency Medical Services, responded to a call regarding an unconscious three-year-old who was located at the bottom of a residential pool at the 1300 block of County Road 112 in Montrose. 

The three-year-old, Nolan Muonio, was out of the pool when emergency services arrived and lifesaving efforts were started. Nolan's mother, Janelle Muonio, 33 years, made the call. Nolan was airlifted to a metro hospital for treatment.

On Sunday, June 3, the Sheriff's Office learned the three-year-old had passed away. Currently, the Sheriff's Office is not pressing criminal charges regarding the situation.

 


Audit shows Buffalo still on solid footing, plans begin for Hwy 25 work

By Doug Voerding

At its meeting on Monday, June 4, the Buffalo City Council learned that the city's 2017 audit was found to be an unmodified "clean" opinion, the highest level of assurance of accuracy, on the financial statements.

Miranda Wendlandt, an accountant with CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP, lead the audit conducted by eight auditors the week of April 16.

For all government funds, the 2017 income was $12,571,930, more than half from taxes and tax increments at $6,840,914. Charges for services added $3,339,483. Other income came from special assessments, licenses and permits, intergovernmental, interest on investments, and miscellaneous.

In 2017, the city spent $15,279,246 with the largest amount of $5,810,522 for debt principal and debt interest. Other expenses include $1,356,240 for general government, $2,906,096 for public safety, $1,385,884 for public works, $882,131 for sanitation, $2,151,808 for culture and recreation, $108,271 for community development, and $678,294 for capital outlay.

The cash balance for all funds at the end of the year was $9,547,077, down slightly from 2016.

The general fund, the chief operating fund of the city, had a balance of $4,461,031. The state auditor suggests a general fund balance that covers the expenses of three to five months. According to Wendlandt, that fund balance covers about seven months.

The electric fund showed revenues of $14,090,744 and expenses of $12,088,374. The electric fund balance is now at $1,688,489.

The water and sewer fund had revenues of $4,969,739 and expenses of $4,649,937, for a net increase in revenue of $319,802. With bond payments, the water and sewer fund is in a deficit. The council recently decided to increase rates to remove that deficit.

For the civic center fund, the income was $603,267 with expenses of $771,170. Transfers from other funds have set the civic center fund balance at $532,097. The liquor fund had operating revenues of $5,192,375 and expenses of $4,681,385 for revenue of $510,990.The golf course had income of $656,967 and expenses of $887,816 for a loss of $230,849 for the year.

The auditors did find "material weaknessesî" including the need for more than one employee involved in the procedures for retirement contributions, the removal of bank account signers who are no longer employed by the city, and the need to clarify which loans require council actions and which loans can be authorized by the city administrator.

Those weaknesses have already been corrected.

Highway 25 Improvements

Improvements to Highway 25 from the Downtown Commons south past the intersection with Montrose Boulevard to near Lakeview Cemetery are already on the funding calendar of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) for 2022.

City Engineer Justin Kannas said that a four-year window was good because of the complexity of the project.

Preliminary plans include adding a continuous two-way left turn lane, accommodating bike riders and pedestrians with additional and wider sidewalks, and eliminating parking on both sides of the road except on the west side in front of Sturges Park.

With the road reconstruction, the city would replace a 4-inch cast iron water main from 1939 with 16-inch PVC pipe. Sanitary sewer and water services would also be replaced.

An intersection control evaluation has been made for the intersection of Highway 25 and Montrose Boulevard, currently controlled by stop signs. While the stop signs meet the current needs of the traffic, Kannas suggested that a roundabout would serve the traffic slightly better.

More work on the planning and funding is needed as the funding will be shared by the state, the county, and the city.

Although no date has been set, the next step, said Kannas, is a public open house to review the layout and receive public input.

Mayor Teri Lachermeier suggested pushing the construction date to 2024, giving the city time to advance the redevelopment of the downtown area.

Councilmember Steve Downer said that before moving forward, the council needs to rely on city staff for funding plans.

City Administrator Merton Auger said, "We have to look at the costs in a common sense manner. We will bring back a project schedule after coordinating with the county and the state."

Project Bids

The council awarded bids for three projects.

The city received three bids for the 2018 street mill and overlay maintenance project that ranged from $421,388 to $551,897.

The low bidder was Mid-Minnesota Hot Mix, Inc. of Annandale. The total project cost estimate including engineering, inspection, construction administration, and testing was $500,000.

Ram Excavating of Winsted was the low bidder and will make improvements to the Hillside Lane retaining wall near West Pulaski Park at a cost of $138,242. Ten bids for the project were received with the highest bid at $348,642.

For the 2018 street seal-coating project, three bids ranged from $79,562 to $122,851.

The low bidder for this project was Pearson Bros. Inc. of Hanover. The total project cost had been estimated at $95,000, including engineering, inspection, construction administration, and testing.

Personnel

After serving more than four years, Officer Jacqueline Kelch has resigned from the Buffalo Police Department to take a position with the Savage Police Department, closer to home.

Police Chief Pat Budke recommended the hiring of Jace Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld had recently been screened and interviewed for the replacement of another police officer.

Rosenfeld currently works for the Deephaven Police Department and has experience as a community service officer and a reserve officer.

John Holmquist, streets and parks maintenance worker for the last 14 years, has submitted a verbal notice of retirement effective June 15.

The process of filling the position will begin early this fall.

Donations

The council accepted the following donations.

For the Buffalo Community Center, Mana Gardens owners Jeff Aldrich and Mary Sue Stevens donated vegetable and herb plants.

For Buffalo Fishing Forever, St. Michael American Legion donated $2,000.

The Community Center Toy Shop received $25 from Llewellyn and Marian Hille and $20 from Kelly Lampert.

Flora of Buffalo received donations from Jane Dorn, $65; Dale and Ione Olson, $100; Joyce Aakre, $20; and Dean and Kate Wahlberg, $45.

The Flora of Buffalo account currently stands at $5400 in donations. The city is still accepting donations to reach the goal of $8000.

Other Action

In other action, the council

- called for a public hearing on June 18 to certify the delinquent utility accounts of seven properties.

- approved a new wine, beer, and Sunday sales liquor license for Hui Wang and Heidi Jiang, owners of the Oriental Buffet, 1006 Commercial Drive, Suite C.

- approved a wine and beer license for Bryan Brengman, owner of BJ's Deli in downtown Buffalo.

- heard, during the open forum, from Jill Bjornson about the speed and volume of traffic on Lake Pulaski Road. According to Bjornson, both are excessive. Bjornson has met with Budke, and the next step may be a road study conducted by the city engineers.

- heard, during the open forum, from Mike Kaczmarek, a candidate for Wright Count Sheriff.

- adjourned to workshop to discuss phase one of the 2019 budget.

 


Meet the Diers of Waverly, Wright County's 2018 Farm Family of the Year

By Miriam Orr

"I want to just say that I am very proud to have recommended the Diers family for the award of Farm Family of the Year," Commissioner Charlie Borrell stated during the Tuesday, June 5 Wright County Board Meeting. "They've been neighbors for a long time – and not just that, but they are actually 'neighbors.' They've helped me more than once and that's just the kind of people they are."

Rod Greder, Extension Educator for the University of Minnesota horticulture studies for Wright County ,introduced the Diers family, of Waverly, as the Minnesota Farm Family of the year. "The program exists to honor farm families throughout the state for their contributions to agriculture and local communities," Greder stated.

The Diers family dairy farm is located in Waverly, where the family milks almost 250 cows all raised on site from youth. Additionally, they also farm approximately 900 acres, owning an estimated 650 acres of that 900. While the family's farm primarily markets dairy, they also are responsible for grain and hay.

In 2017, the family underwent a major project to install a manure basin and runoff controls for livestock, allowing them to make better use of their nutrient resources, as well working towards protecting the environment. From the endeavor, the family hopes that a future sixth generation will be able to continue on with the farm's operations.

Watch for a photo and forthcoming story soon in the Wright County Journl-Press.

Agenda Items:

Human Resources: Director Schawn Johnson introduced the department's newest HR Representative, Doni Deters. Of her recruitment, Johnson stated that Deters "brings a welcomed wealth of knowledge." She currently resides in Otsego with her family, and is a graduate of St. Cloud State University.

Auditor/Treasurer: Bob Hiivala sought the approval to advertise for an opening position with the County, for the Clearwater River Watershed District Board of Supervisors, which is a three-year term. Requirements for the position include residence within the District, and one cannot be a county, state, or federal public officer, excluding SWCD supervisors.

Sheriff's Office: Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman requested the scheduling of a Committee of the Whole meeting at the Law Enforcement Center for a presentation of efforts of law enforcement staff, as well as a tour and look at the developments of the Office. The meeting with Commissioners was set for June 26, at 1:00 p.m.

Highway Department: Virgil Hawkins, Highway Engineer, awarded a contract (No. 1801) to Knife River Corporation of Sauk Rapids, Minn., regarding the C.R. 3 project. Currently the project ranked 8% lower than engineers' originally estimated, coming out to approximately $504,912.50.

Public Hearing: At 9:30 a.m., attorney Greg Kryzer initiated a public hearing with the intent to amend the County's Code of Ordinances regarding Ordinance 18-3, relating to Buffers.

According to the Minn. Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), the Buffer Laws were signed into law by Governor Dayton in June 201, and were amended on April 25, 2016, and underwent further amendment in 2017. BWSR writes that, "The amendments enacted in 2017 clarify the creation of the buffer requirement to public waters, provides additional statutory authority for alternative practices, addresses concerns over the potential spread of invasive species, including palmer amaranth, through buffer establishment…"

Wright County's Resolution 18-3 was presented by Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala, on April 17, 2018, and would allow for jurisdiction to carry out compliance provision under Minn. Statute. Commissioner Darek Vetsch made the motion to adopt the resolution.

Public comment included two citizens of the county, both stating that they appreciated Wright County's movement into the jurisdiction as a local authority versus having a state entity monitor compliance through DNR presence or other state entity. There was light discussion on the BWSR, and their involvement with creating penalty procedures and "calling shots" for those who may fall out of compliance with the new push in jurisdiction and supervision. Commissioners assured the public that they would be working with BWSR to establish reasonable goals and compliance regulation.

Commissioner Mike Potter addressed the concern of the County being involved in helping those who fall under non-compliance before they begin the penalty process and face fines and other action from not only the County, but also BWSR. Eric Mattson, Conservation Technician for Wright Soil and Water Conservation District is involved with buffer ordinances, and reassured both the Commissioners and the public that so far, the County has already been involved with monitoring non-compliance and there only 40 listed properties that fall under that category.

"Things are moving along well," Mattson stated of the discussion, "and we are certainly working to make sure that those properties comply before corrective actions have to be taken."

 


For those serving overseas

If you would like to include a story about a local person who is serving in the U.S. military overseas, we invite you to give us a call at 763-682-1221.  We would like to print the story and a picture of the service person in uniform.

 


2018-19 Buffalo Royalty Candidates announced

Pictured left to right are current Buffalo Royalty, crowned for the 2017-2018 year. From left to right is Princess Hannah Wallenta, Miss Buffalo Ashley Weber, and Princess Noelle Green. They, along with members of the community, want to invite you to the city's upcoming Buffalo Days, kicking off Sunday, June 10. (Photo courtesy of Mary Elizabeth Photography)

Buffalo Royalty 2017-18 Princess Hannah Wallenta, Miss Buffalo Ashley Weber, and Princess Noelle Green would like to invite you to join them at the many various activities during Buffalo Days, June 10-17. 

Five candidates are vying to become royal ambassadors for Buffalo this year. They too will be attending many activities during the week.  You can purchase a Buffalo Days button from them and help support our great community celebration and be entered into a drawing for cash prizes.

Candidates for this year are, Lydia Berg, sponsored by Buffalo Lions and Lioness'; Alison Tokkesdal, sponsored by Keller Williams Realty Integrity NW; Chelsey Stoppelman, sponsored by KleinBank; Gina Miller, sponsored by HealthSource; and Cecelia Miller, sponsored by Buffalo Hospital Allina Health.

Buffalo Royalty looks forward to seeing you at Buffalo Days – don't miss out!

Coronation for Buffalo Royalty will be Sunday, June 17, at 6:00 p.m.

Gina Miller

Chelsey Stoppelman

Alison Tokkesdal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Berg

Cecelia Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Benson and Jensen sentenced to 40 years for Clough Murder

By Tom Kelly,
County Attorney

Justin Jensen

Shawn Benson

Shawn Benson and Justin Jensen each received 40 years in prison for their roles in murdering Cheyenne Clough on June 1, 2016. Cheyenne Clough, had been staying at Justin Jensen's home in Maple Lake on May 30 and 31, 2016. Her boyfriend, Devon Boyles, was also staying at Jensen's home. Ms. Clough had previously lived at the Jensen home. Natasha Brandenburger, Shawn Benson and Callie Anderson were living at the Jensen home. All considered one another friends. Meth use was rampant at the Jensen home.

On May 31, 2016, Justin Jensen contacted a bounty hunter and had Cheyenne's boyfriend, Devon Boyles, arrested on a warrant. This upset Cheyenne who threatened to turn in Callie Anderson on her warrant. A heated argument took place between Cheyenne and those who resided at Jensen's home. The argument also involved a stolen Honda Accord out of lowa. The argument went into the early morning hours of June 1st.

Justin Jensen perceived Cheyenne to be a snitch and troublemaker for those living in his home. When Jensen and Ed Zelko arrived back at Jensen's home at about 2 a.m. on June 1st, both injected meth while sitting in Zelko's car. Jensen then ordered Brandenburger to bring him the .22 caliber revolver from the house. Jensen then ordered her to go back into the house and bring him Shawn Benson. Benson also injected meth.

Jensen told Benson and Zelko that Cheyenne was threatening to take us all down and he ordered both to take her somewhere and put two in the back of her head. Jensen then told Cheyenne that Benson and Zelko would be bringing her home. Benson and Zelko drove her to Crow Springs Park and shortly after 3 a.m. on June 1, 2016, they shot her four times with the .22 caliber revolver. Cheyenne Clough died on June 4, 2016.

On March 20, 2018, Shawn Benson pled guilty to Second Degree Intentional Murder.

On May 29, 2018, Wright County District Court Judge, Michele A. Davis, sentenced Shawn Benson, to the statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison for his role in the murder of Cheyenne Clough. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $8,405.25 to the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board for funeral costs. This obligation is joint and several with the co-defendants. He must also submit to DNA testing pursuant to law.

On March 16, 2018, Justin Jensen pled guilty to Aid and Abet Second Degree Intentional Murder.

On May 31, 2018, Wright County District Court Judge, Elizabeth Strand, sentenced Justin Jensen, to the statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison for his role in the murder of Cheyenne Clough. He was also ordered to pay $8.405.25 to the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board. He must also submit to DNA testing pursuant to law.

But for Justin Jensen the cold-blooded execution of Cheyenne Clough would never had taken place. What Jensen and Benson did was incomprehensible, cold-blooded, heartless and hard to rap your brain around.

All for what? The value of a stolen car and Jensen perceived Cheyenne to be a snitch. How sad.

Meth is bad but it isn't mitigating. They needed to be held accountable for their horrendous and depraved act. I will say without meth, this crime would not have happened and Cheyenne would still be with us and would continue being the mother to her young son, Elijah. However, that was not our reality. Our case was all about meth. Our case had Justin Jensen ordering his meth-induced robots to go out and execute Cheyenne.

I was pleased that both Jensen and Benson received the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Their cases may be done for law enforcement and prosecution, but unfortunately it never ends for the Clough family. They continue to live the senseless and tragic murder of Cheyenne every day. My heartfelt sympathy continues for the Clough family.

It is my hope that in some small way this prosecution and sentence has brought some small closure for the Clough family.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Wright County Sheriffs Department and northern Minnesota law enforcement agencies in this case. Cheyenne was shot on June 1, 2016, at 3 a.m. and law enforcement apprehended all suspects in International Falls on June 5, 2016. Their work was truly remarkable. I also want to acknowledge my Chief of Criminal Division, Brian Lutes, with his assistance with these prosecutions.

 


Buffalo Days to blast off Sunday, June 10

The fireworks show during the 2017 Buffalo Days celebration. (Photo courtesy of Ed DuBois)

Buffalo Days, and all the events that accompany the celebration, begins this Sunday, June 10.

Kick the week off with the air and car show on Sunday, June 10 at the airport!  Get a yummy pancake breakfast served from 7:30 a.m. to noon and then watch the exciting airshow by aerobatic pilot, Mike Wiskus, who flies in airshows all over the Unites States.  If you like your feet on the ground, there are plenty of unique cars to see at the car show.  Spend the whole morning at the airport!

 Monday through Wednesday you can find plenty of things to do at the Community Center, Library, and Sturges Park.  The royalty candidates will be around town doing a car wash at First Minnesota Bank, giving out ice cream treats at the library and Dairy Queen.  Go to BuffaloChamber.org for a full schedule of happenings!

 The carnival rolls in and will be ready for business by Wednesday at 5 p.m.  Be sure to pick up advance sales tickets at CUB or the Chamber of Commerce office.  You get 10 rides - any day, any age - for $20!

Fun rides, fun games and tasty food await you at Sturges Park.   Families with kids of all ages can find something fun to do.  Even the smallest of children can enjoy the park playground and the view for all of Buffalo Lake, can't be beat" says Chamber of Commerce President Sue Olmscheid.  Don't forget the medallion hunt starts Wednesday too – so listen to KRWC for clues!

Have little ones?  Dress them up in costume and parade around the lake on Thursday, from the library to Sturges Park, beginning at 6:30 p.m.  The Buffalo Royalty will join you!  Then spend time at the carnival, listen to the vocal contest "Buffalo Sings" at 7:00 p.m, the Schultz Family Band at 7:30 p.m., and then the movie "Sing" towards 8:45 p.m.  Enjoy the evening at the park! 

Friday night is the fireworks, and, as always, will prove to be a great show!  The beer garden is open at 6 p.m. and Chopper, World's Nuttiest DJ, will be playing in the bandshell from 7:00 p.m. to midnight.  The KRWC road show will also have music and games for the kids at the splash pad park for those families waiting for the fireworks show to begin.

Saturday the fishing Klinic for Kids will be the main attraction at Sturges Park from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Take the kids there and spend the afternoon at the carnival.   Grab lunch there or at the food courts downtown across from Buffalo Lake where there will be food trucks parked since Wednesday.   Take a small rest and get your favorite spot for the parade starting at 6:00 p.m.  It will head south on First Avenue, right through downtown!  With 10 marching bands, it's sure to please!

 Sunday treat Dad to some BBQ at the Pigs and Rigs event at the American Family parking lot in Soo Town, beginning at 1:00 p.m.  Wrap up the week with the royalty coronation Sunday night at 6:00 p.m.

And let's not forget about the food! Parked at the splash pad parking area will be: Cold Stone Ice Cream, root beer floats, gourmet Greek cuisine of lamb and beef gyros, Grilled shish kabobs, Greek salad, falafel sandwiches, and more!  Featured again this year will be the great Minneapple Pie booth with fresh apple pie and cinnamon ice cream.  Also, Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, brats, funnel cakes, pretzels, deep fried pickles, cheese curds, corndogs, cotton candy and fresh squeezed lemonade will all be parked at the lot for your eating pleasure!

"With this less-than-usual spring/summer, we are really hoping for some good weather for the week. But regardless of the weather, Buffalo Days is a good time to be had by all."

 


Sheriff's Office open house, June 8

Starting at 10:00 a.m. and going until 1:00 p.m., don't miss your chance to get up close and personal with the Wright County Sheriff's Office during their open house, this Friday June 8.

The Office will have a variety of activities present for families to get education on the Sheriff's Office, interact with community law enforcement, and ask questions.

 


Congrats to Buffalo graduates!

Congratulations are in order! The 2018 graduating classes of Buffalo High School, Phoenix Learning Center, Adult Basic Education, and PRIDE will be embarking on their last walk as seniors coming up, so be sure to recognize their efforts and celebrate with them as they prepare for this special day.

PRIDE celebrated their commencement festivities on Wednesday, June 6, at 1:00 p.m. at the Lakeview Mall, and the Phoenix Learning Center graduates will walk on Thursday, June 7, at 7:00 p.m. at the BHS Performing Arts Center. Finally, BHS will recognize seniors on Friday, June 8, at 7:00 p.m. in the high school's gymnasium.

 


Crisis nursery drive starting Wed., June 27

Buffalo's HealthSource and Progressive Rehab is currently in search of local businesses and organizations that would like to participate in a community-wide pajama and diaper drive this July. 

HealthSource of Buffalo and Albertville and the Wright County Crisis Nursery will be teaming up to help local children in need.  The drive will be similar to the Toys for Tots program, as we will be providing the participating entities with a decorated box for donations and posters with pertinent information regarding the donations.  The drive's theme is "Christmas in July," and will go from June 27 through July 25.  

A listing of all participating organizations and businesses on community posters, community social media and event pages, and in the newspaper for information regarding drop-off locations is forthcoming. The goal is to continue the season of giving outside of the typical holiday season while providing Crisis Nursery with items in which they are in constant need. 

If you are interested in participating in this cause, please contact Jessie from HealthSource of Buffalo (primary contact in Buffalo/Monticello areas) at jalthoffhs@gmail.com, Heather from HealthSource of Albertville (St. Michael/Albertville) at hnolanhs@gmail.com, or Abby from Crisis Nursery at adahl@nexus-kff.org by June 18.

Thank you!

 


Bison Fishing Forever event on Sat., June 9

With beautiful weather, and summer well upon us now, it is time to start planning for the second annual Bison Fishing Forever fundraising banquet!

This annual event will be held Saturday, June 9, at the Buffalo American Legion, located at 304 10th Ave. South. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., with dinner beginning at 6:00 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Buffalo Community Center at 763-682-6036.

Make sure to bring your appetite along on June 9 - hope to see you there!

 


Happily Ever After

One Buffalo graduate's dream of artistic expression, and how it came to be

By Miriam Orr

Imagine, for a moment, watching your child penciling their imagination out on paper with crayons, pencils, pens, and whatever other artistic material they can get their hands on. Over time, their imaginations begin to take form from strange shapes and colors on paper, until suddenly, there sits a creative masterpiece – which your child doesn't hesitate to flap in your face, in search of praise and recognition.

For kids around the world, this is the genesis for artistic expression. For Scott Gray-Burlingame, it was the beginning of the rest of his life.

The Who

A 1993 graduate of Buffalo High School Scott Gray-Burlingame is no stranger to Buffalo. Despite the fact that he now resides with his own family in the Kellogg, Minn. area, his roots are still strong in Buffalo, with his parents still living in the area. Now a co-owner of LARK Toys in the Kellogg area, Scott is one of the few career professionals who get to explore his dream and live out his passions, while earning a living at the same time.

Leigh Burlingame, Scott's father, remembers his son always being creative, since childhood. "He was always drawing these fantasty creatures – dragons, elves, monsters, it didn't matter. He was always creating something up in that head of his. Now, it's paid off – he's really living the dream."

Of being a creative kid – meaning, one who explored his passion and love for drawing, design, and creation – Scott recalls that ever since his youth, he'd always wanted to create characters of his own and make the imaginations in his mind come to life for others.

"I remember watching E.T. as a kid, and thinking that I wanted to make characters like E.T. of my own and bring them to life for other people," Scott remembers, "I just loved fantasy stuff and always wanted to write it for myself."

Throughout his growing up years, Scott recalled that he spent his time drawing and building characters with back-story from the banks of his mind; creations that he wanted to someday share with other people on a larger scale. He stated that he considered becoming a make-up artist in Hollywood for film, so that he could fulfill that creative desire for fantasy characters and the like, and eventually make his way up in the world of film.

"That's hard in Minnesota and the Midwest," Scott explained of the dream, "It became apparent that this wasn't the avenue for me, since I didn't want to move away. It was a matter of figuring out another way to achieve that here in the area."

As he grew in his talents and his projects, Scott shared that he drew a lot of inspiration for Jim Henson's work in film and fantasy creation, and that his works were a huge influence.

"All I've ever wanted to do was just make drawings physical and animated for people in the real world – something you can touch, and is tangible. I didn't just want my imaginations to stay on paper. It really was never about how I was going to make it possible – it was that I had to, someway."

2008 to 2018

Scott's father commented that after attending a number of vocational schools, and studying multiple different trades, nothing was really sticking. For awhile, Scott did graphic design and other jobs, but nothing entirely curbed his desire for creation and artistry. That was, however, until an opportunity in 2008 arose that would carry Scott and his family to today.

"In 2008, Scott and his family had the opportunity to take over LARK Toys in Wabasha," Leigh explained. "When he took over the company, he decided to simplify the business plan and branding. From there, it became the LARK we know and love today."

Scott, his wife Miranda, and their two children, Gwendolyn "Winnie," and Murdock, now oversee the toy company in the Wabasha-Kellogg area of Minnesota, which is south, and near the plains. Of the business, Scott commented that his vision for the company was slightly bigger than a "Mom and Pop" feel, but not by much – he wants to keep the business local, and to be separated from big-box names.

"We're lucky we get to do this, because not many people can," Scott shared. "People find a new appreciation for this kind of work around here, and that's how I want to keep it – local and real to the people. They can come in, and see us working on toys and creations, and that's the down-home kind of feel that I want to maintain at LARK."

Now, LARK maintains a staff of roughly 20 people, ranging for 30+ year employees with years of experience, to newer individuals.

The project of all projects (thus far

Recently, however, Scott's creative abilities were really stretched by an  opportunity presented to him by the Wabahsa-Kellogg High School's theatre arts program. It really all began when his daughter, Winnie, decided to participate in the school's production of "Shrek: The Musical," which was under the direction of Chris Medina. Slated for April 26 through the 29, and it wasn't long before the school made an offer to Scott that he wasn't about to refuse.

"They wanted this dragon," he said, "about ten feet tall, that they wanted kids to carry around. It's a bigger part of the production, and they were looking for someone to design it and put it together, and everyone just so happens to know that's what I do. So, they asked me if I'd do it, and I said sure."

The undertaking was bigger than Scott could he could imagine. "When I sat down to begin really thinking about this, I immediately realized it would be bigger than I thought."

What started out as plans for a ten foot dragon developed rapidly into a 21 foot, fire-breathing dragon with mechanical wings, color-changing eyes that blinked, and moving arms. After a series of drawings and sketches, Scott was underway with the project; his 30+ year LARK employee, Tim Monson, by his side to help him through.

"Tim's been doing this kind of thing forever," said Scott, "and having him on this project was insanely important. He did so much and helped design a lot of the foundations and the framework. Without him this never would've worked."

For the dragon to breathe fire, Scott had to design and fabricate an extinguisher, which is triggered inside the dragon, to expel smoke. That wasn't the only thing he designed and built, however – from the mechanisms that move the wings to the framework of the beast itself; Scott and his fellow workmen uniquely designed all of it.

"It is truly a masterful work of engineering, art, mechanics, and math," Leigh stated of the project. "It was so much work, but Scott did it. It is truly fantatic."

The dragon takes almost eight people to work and operate. Roughly a week before production was slated, it became apparent that Scott's original plan to have the dragon hoisted on backpacks wasn't going to work – instead, they developed a platform system for the dragon to rest on, which allowed students to operate the beast during stage-time. The dragon is broken into three separate platforms, which come together to make one whole.

Overall, Scott stated that he had approximately six weeks of work put into the dragon, if not more. Since the project was commissioned, the high school now owns the prop, though it is far too large to store on campus. Instead, the dragon is currently residing in a rented space, awaiting future use – Scott hinted that the school was exploring the option of potential renting the dragon for other productions, though that "rumor" hasn't been confirmed.

"Knowing that I've done this, from an artistic perspective, you always feel like things could've been better because you have this image in your mind of how it will turn out," Scott shared. "But for me, the art is in the process, not the finished product. This is the biggest project I've ever done, and I learned a ton about myself, my abilities, and the process of building and engineering. I would one-hundred percent do this again, difficulties and all."

From the experience, Scott went on to explain that every artist desires to learn new things and stretch their abilities. For him, the stretch came when he had to entrust work on this endeavor to a team, since many of his projects were just solo efforts that he did himself. Of the dragon's construction, he stated that it almost didn't feel like art at all.

"This is the most technical, mathematical, engineering-like project that's ever come across my path, and that was hard. But, it has this feeling of accomplishment, knowing that I did something I normally don't do, and that's satisfying."

Currently, Scott and his family are working on developing a series of stories featuring Scott's own creations, called "Blufflings." He's been working on this project a number of years, and already has eight complete creatures created for a photoshoot he hopes to adapt into a book, which will discuss the importance of the environment, while incorporating his own fanciful realm.

 


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