While many would like to step out of 2020 and never look back, it would be sad to throw away an entire year as if nothing was worth remembering. Remember it, certainly. Repeat it, I hope not.
The Pioneer Journal puts out its 53rd issue this final week of 2020, and I have to say, each week was worth cataloging in our community's history. Not an issue went by that good things, unusual moments and unfortunate happenings didn't take place here in this small-town in America.
The Pioneer Journal tracked our community members' happenings from their birth to their long life of accomplishments. Unfortunately, we also lost many wonderful people in 2020. As you look forward to 2021, I hope you take a moment to reflect on a few of the many news items that we remember and that our readers couldn’t help but share.
- We started out the year in good spirits, yet in the first week of January the county was experiencing high numbers of flu. In the nearby Verndale School District for example, there were 11 positive cases of flu and another 36 students with symptoms. In a world over, the coronavirus was believed to be starting its spread from Wuhan, China.
- One of the big local news items was the sale of the Smith Furniture store from Dick and Susan Wirta to longtime employee Christina Theisen after they had run the business 30 years.
- Wadena welcomed a new fire chief, got a first look at the proposed interior of the new Tri-County Health Care complex, heard community members speak out against refugee resettlement in Wadena County and the county announced the search to replace its human services director.
- In business, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative began seeking bids for a new headquarters to be built next to the current facility in Wadena. Jessie Grangruth took over ownership and began remodeling at the Whiskey Corner Saloon, which is now open as The Iron Corral.
- In government actions, Wadena County commissioners faced a vocal group at a regular board meeting asking them to support becoming a “Second Amendment Dedicated County.” They supported the resolution on a vote of 4-1. The vote was largely ceremonial as it did little other than show that they supported the Second Amendment.
- The city of Wadena came to an agreement with Tri-County Health Care about development of property for the new hospital complex.
- Moore Sensational Looks was destroyed by fire along with partner business Comfort Corner Massage.
- Wadena VFW became famous or infamous depending on your stance on the topic after installing a sign urging people to stand for the National Anthem. The story was picked up by Fox News and became the Pioneer Journal’s most shared story of the year with over 26,000 shares. The signs wording was labeled divisive by some and was later replaced with a new sign, which swapped one word out and today reads, “IF YOU WON’T STAND FOR OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM, YOU DON’T NEED TO SIT IN THIS BAR.” The difference being use of the word “won’t” in place of “can’t.” That verbiage brought considerable debate.
- In a freak accident, 18-year-old Paul Peterson, of Motley, was killed while driving a snowmobile on the last day of February on the Crow Wing River.
- American Pickers who visited the home of the late Ed Blazek in Wadena back in November were airing their visit on the History Channel this month.
- COVID-19 got very real in the area when schools began distance learning, hospitals began adding new protocols to keep the virus cornered and the first precautionary closures were put into place, keeping places like restaurants shuttered. Toilet paper became scarce as shoppers started panic buying the rolls, canned goods and cleaning products.
- Wadena County announced a disaster declaration due to the pandemic and the Pioneer Journal began writing more about closures and cancellations as public gatherings were brought to a halt.
- Drive by birthdays or retirement parties were dazzling as firetrucks and emergency vehicles joined in the fun. Parents began swapping items and ideas online trying to help out those in need. Church services moved to parking lots. Meetings continued on, mostly thanks to Zoom. Volunteers started sewing masks by the hundreds.
- On April 28, Wadena County had its first positive case of COVID-19.
- With summer events about to take off, discussions increased on how any big events would be held with orders against large group gatherings. One by one, almost all major events began announcing they would not take place in 2020. A big one under question was the Wadena-Deer Creek graduation ceremony, but that event was able to happen with a drive-in format at the Wadena Municipal Airport on May 22.
- Parades continued as people sought to recognize individuals from their vehicles. Local banks began helping out with PPP applications in an effort to get businesses forgivable loans.
- On a business note, Mason Brothers celebrated 100 years in business. Liquor stores were seeing their sales skyrocket and the United States Postal Service saw a 30% increase in package deliveries.
- On May 25, George Floyd was killed while in custody of Minneapolis Police. Civil unrest and calls for change erupted around the world and eventually made it into Wadena.
- It felt like summer but the Wadena County Fair, June Jubilee and the highly anticipated all-school reunion were all canceled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Enduro racing, however, received the green flag to continue.
- The Pioneer Journal reflected on the 10 year anniversary of the day an EF4 tornado struck and destroyed parts of our community.
- A protest formed in front of the Wadena County Courthouse looking to bring attention to injustice in the death of Floyd. The crowd of about 50 made statements about Black Lives Matter, asking people to open their eyes to the injustices against people of color. Meanwhile, other community members stood by concerned that the protest may turn violent. No acts of violence were witnessed or reported.
- The long awaited Splash Pad became the latest addition to the sprawling parks system in Wadena.
- In business, Oma's Bakery was opened to the public at their new location in the former Family Dollar. The Little Round Still added a new façade to the old J.C. Penney building on their way to opening a distillery in downtown Wadena.
- The water tower in the yard of Rory Grangruth got a new paint job, which was noticed by many passing by. The tower previously celebrated the election of President Donald Trump and the new paint job in red, white and blue looked forward to another four years of Trump in office. At the time, Grangruth was unsure what he would do with the tower's message should Trump fail to be reelected.
- Just a month after Wadena looked back on the 10 year anniversary of a tornado ripping through town, the city of Dalton was badly damaged by a tornado. The tornado took the life of Battle Lake resident Seth Nelson.
- Wadena County Commissioners began looking into ways to spend $1.69 million of CARES Act funding.
- Face coverings started to become the norm as Walmart, Super One and the Wadena County Courthouse were a few of the first to require masks to be worn inside to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. A mandate was announced July 25 requiring face coverings in public indoor spaces or indoor businesses, unless alone, in the state of Minnesota thanks to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order.
- As Hwy 10 road construction continued on through the summer, several businesses decided to make moves or remodel their businesses once the path of the highway was made clear. Lunde Auto made a move to the south side of the highway with a new building and lot. John’s Car Care underwent a major overhaul with buildings removed, pumps added and access in and out of the business was vastly improved. McDonald's remodeled their business, taking advantage of a focus on drive-thru only to gut out the interior over the summer. Moore Sensational Looks took on a whole new look after a fire in the spring. Todd-Wadena Electric continued with their new building project.
- Discussions over whether the Nimrod Bull Bash could happen started to ignite interesting conversations in the community and eventually led to a full blown protest stopping traffic at the busy Hwy 10 and Second Street intersection while a parade of tractors, horses and people on foot stretched out from one side of town to another. The parade was said to be a protest of government overreach but quickly expanded into a Trump rally as a vendor even set up shop in the center of the event selling Trump merchandise.
- The Nimrod Bull Bash got the go-ahead to proceed with their event from the Minnesota Department of Health with a maximum capacity of 61 spectators.
- School was back in session and all area schools had a full return to in-person learning despite a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases.
- A Wadena man thought it wise to report on social media an attempted child abduction that he foiled in Burlington Northern Park in Wadena. In fact, the man made the story up, authorities soon found.
- In a special section, the Wadena Pioneer Journal shared voices from the community in a Stronger Together section. Each author spoke about the importance of working together to make it through the hard times of the pandemic, an election and social unrest.
- Menahga 17-year-old Michael R. Erickson died from a gunshot wound September 18. Logan Daniel Keranen, also 17, has been charged in Becker County Juvenile Court with felony third-degree murder and felony second-degree manslaughter.
- With an increase in COVID-19 cases in the county, area school districts began hybrid learning models in an effort to reduce exposure for staff and students.
- The Minnesota House and Senate passed through funding including $1.3 million for an entry project for the new Tri-County Health Care facility west of Wadena. Another portion of funds could be used for the preparation of Hwy 10 for a four-lane expansion in Wadena, maybe.
- Discussion continued over an expansion project for the Wadena County Courthouse. Plans were going into place for using the Deer Creek School for court in the absence of space at the current facility.
- October 21 marked the date the first COVID-19 death was reported in Wadena County. By October 23, two more deaths were reported.
- After Derek Sweere, of Perham, was charged with the murder of former Verndale resident Brandon Snyder, Sweere was found dead in his prison cell Oct. 16 in Otter Tail County in an apparent suicide, authorities said.
- The election day edition showed that the final results of the presidential election were not yet known as the race appeared very close.
- A huge increase in COVID-19 cases was recorded with over 100 cases in a two-week period.
- Hwy 10 lanes and sidewalks were reopened much to the delight of those having to use the detours for several months.
- It appeared and was later confirmed that Murlyn Kreklau and Michael Weyer were both elected to fill Wadena County Commissioner seats opening with the departure of Jim Hofer and Chuck Horsager.
- Seeking to better track the amount of positive cases in the area, a free COVID-19 testing site was set up at the Wadena National Guard Armory. The site offered tests to anyone, with visits taking just 5 minutes.
- Former Wadena resident John Paulson was charged in federal court with theft for about $524,000 from the insurance clients he once worked for.
- December started out with great news that the Wadena Library move and renovation would begin soon.
- News of longtime barber Rick Johnson retiring after 62 years was a big deal to anyone in need of a trim.
- Not giving in to cancelations, Wadena’s Empty Stocking Fund went virtual.
- The Line 3 project began construction in northern Wadena County after receiving final approvals.
- The COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Minnesota Dec. 14 and Tri-County Health Care administered first doses to staff Dec. 21, with plans of giving them their second dose 21 days later.