With signs on stopping the mandate, medical freedom, having a choice and job impacts, people protested COVID-19 vaccine mandates along Highway 10 on Sept. 10. About 40 people gathered from Brainerd, Menahga, Ottertail, Park Rapids, Sebeka, Staples, Verndale and Wadena.

“We want it left the way it is (no vaccine mandate). We don’t have to take that shot,” said Vickie Thompson of Verndale. “If people want to take it that’s fine with us but it shouldn’t cost us our jobs. Who sticks up for the middle class? Nobody. We’re the average middle class people who do not seem to have a say-so anymore.”

After people reached out to her with their concerns about vaccine mandates, organizer Vonnie Stewart of Sebeka said a vaccine mandate “isn’t fair for all of us” and “we need freedom.” The group raised questions about freedoms and constitutional rights with cars and trucks honking largely in support of the protest from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday.

Carmen Schimpp, left, and Gary Schimpp, right, of Staples held signs reading "Honk for medical freedom" and "Stop the mandate" at a protest along Hwy 10 on Sept. 10, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Carmen Schimpp, left, and Gary Schimpp, right, of Staples held signs reading "Honk for medical freedom" and "Stop the mandate" at a protest along Hwy 10 on Sept. 10, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Gary Schimpp of Staples said the freedoms given to people from the beginning are God-given, not from the government. He also shared about an editorial he wrote for the Staples World where he hoped his main point of being more afraid of losing freedom than of the disease was clear.

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“We’re here for the freedom of America,” Thompson said.

While holding a sign reading “Stop the mandate,” CentraCare nursing assistant Barb Johannes said she came because someone has to speak up. She’s loved her job of 34 years in Sauk Centre.

“I’ve always been there,” Johannes said about all her years with patients and her own children having less time with her.

CentraCare nursing assistant Barb Johannes, left, and her daughter Angela Coyer, right, held signs saying "Stop the mandate" and "Freedom" at a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Sept. 10, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
CentraCare nursing assistant Barb Johannes, left, and her daughter Angela Coyer, right, held signs saying "Stop the mandate" and "Freedom" at a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Sept. 10, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Due to the federal vaccine mandate, she’s finishing her position three years before her retirement. At CentraCare, staff are required to receive the vaccine by mid-December or take a year of unpaid leave with no job guarantee upon return, according to Johannes. The Minnesota Nurses Association surveyed their members and decided to not take a position for or against vaccine mandates. Many health care organizations and the American Medical Association have supported vaccine mandates.

Johannes said the COVID-19 vaccines are not really vaccines because then people who have been vaccinated would not get COVID. The rate of breakthrough cases in Minnesota is 0.610% with 3,080,074 people vaccinated as of Aug. 15, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine in August and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have Emergency Use Authorization.

The vaccine mandates for long-term care facilities with residents on Medicare or Medicaid and the planned requirements for businesses with over 100 employees are recent frustrations for those at the protest. While many in the group aren’t in positions that require a COVID-19 vaccination, they have family members and friends who are required to receive the vaccine for their job.

“It shouldn’t be mandated, it shouldn’t be something that you have to do in order to keep your job,” said Julie Deiss of Wadena. “I’m blessed where I don’t have to worry about that but there are so many that do, my children, my grandchildren, so I’m here for them.” Mayor of Wadena George Deiss, Wadena County commissioner Jon Kangas and Wadena Assembly of God Church Rev. Mike Maroney also attended the protest.

David Reitmeyer attended the protest with his two daughters, Davidrah and Caitilin, like several other families who came wearing shirts with the American flag. He said the mandate is unconstitutional. Reitmeyer works at a local post office and his wife is a nurse, which places both of them with the possibility of required vaccinations. “We refuse to do it,” Reitmeyer said.

“What happened to us being able to have choices?” said Kay Anderson of Wadena. She said there hasn’t been honesty about the disease and now the vaccines. Merle Hexum of Perham agrees that leaders have been lying the entire time, saying “Fauci is a crook.”

Above the ditch on Hwy 10, Kay Anderson of Wadena displays a sign about stopping the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Sept. 10, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Above the ditch on Hwy 10, Kay Anderson of Wadena displays a sign about stopping the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Sept. 10, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Six people were part of a demonstration that stood against “following as sheep” with signs that used popularized phrases like “Take the jab,” “Fauci knows best” and “Live in fear.” The group, dressed in white hazmat-like suits and costume masks, slowly advanced backwards and forwards to look like “mindless robots,” according to Merle Hexum of Perham.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Six people were part of a demonstration that stood against “following as sheep” with signs that used popularized phrases like “Take the jab,” “Fauci knows best” and “Live in fear.” The group, dressed in white hazmat-like suits and costume masks, slowly advanced backwards and forwards to look like “mindless robots,” according to Merle Hexum of Perham. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Hexum and five other people were part of a demonstration that stood against “following as sheep” with signs that used popularized phrases like “Take the jab,” “Fauci knows best” and “Live in fear.” The group, dressed in white hazmat-like suits and costume masks, slowly advanced backwards and forwards to look like “mindless robots,” according to Hexum. Merle and Carol Hexum also organized a Freedom from Tyranny protest in Detroit Lakes.

“This is our last chance to try,” Stewart said. She added that if they don’t try to stop this then who knows what could be the next aspect.