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News from the week of August 21, 2002

John Rokke stepping down as principal after 2002-03 school year

John Rokke was brimming with enthusiasm Tuesday.

“I love being out here when the kids come back,” the high school principal said, as he prepared for an 11 a.m. teacher interview. As he spoke, students and parents toured the school for “new student orientation day.” A cluster of parents and students had gathered in the high school desk to pick up registration materials. Teachers circulated through the hallways, chatting with visitors.

“It's energizing when the kids are here,” Rokke continued. “They are the reasons we are here.” The administrator spoke glowingly about the quality of the candidates being interviewed, expressing optimism that all teaching jobs would be filled by the first day of school.

The principal also had some personal news. He'd decided to resign as high school principal at the end of the 2002-03 school year. A letter announcing his intentions was given to Supt. of Schools Rick Clark on August 9. Teachers were informed of his decision beginning Monday.

Rokke said he is announcing his decision now, to give the school district time to plan for a successor.

“We have had such positive times here, and met a lot of wonderful people, and worked with a great bunch of teachers. Tracy is a great place to be. But I have peace of mind about my decision.”

Rokke said that, at age 54, he'd simply like do something else for a time.

“I need to do some other things in my life. As you get older, you realize that if you wait too long, someday those things won't be possible.”

Health is another factor.

“I've survived one heart attack already, but I have the same symptoms and the same problems. I hope to live to see my grandchildren, and I'm not expecting those for a long time.”

Rokke has made no future plans beyond June of 2003. “We may stay here,” stating that he and his family like Tracy. But whatever he does in the future, Rokke says he would like to stick with his first love of working in some capacity with young people. He hasn't ruled anything out, including a return to the classroom.

Rokke said he had made up his mind two years ago to step down early from the principal job, but didn't decide when until this summer. This year will be his eighth as the Tracy Area High School principal. He assumed the job beginning with the 1995-96 school year.

Independence is virtue for Congressman Collin Peterson

• Detroit Lakes CPA seeks reelection in redrawn 7th District

How has a Democrat managed win the predominantly Republican Seventh District Congressional race six straight times?

Congressman Collin Peterson offered a simple explanation during a campaign swing through Tracy Thursday.

“I've been able to get along with both parties. I just vote for what I think is right, and people seem to like what I'm doing.”

Peterson, who was first elected to Congress 1990, has been enormously popular in the Seventh District. (In the 1998 election, he obtained a majority in every precinct in the district). But he's a new face to Southwest Minnesota, which is now a part of the Second Congressional District that is now served by Republican Mark Kennedy of Watertown. A redistricting plan drawn to reflect the 2000 Census has brought large portions of the old Second District, including Lyon, Lincoln, and Redwood counties, into the new Seventh District. Tracy is at the extreme southern end of the new Seventh.

Peterson, addressing the Tracy Kiwanis Club, said he likes the demographics of the new Seventh.

“It's primarily rural. It's the same kind of people I'm used to representing.” Overall, Peterson feels the new Seventh District is a better fit for him than the old district, which included the St. Cloud area. The new Seventh does not include St. Cloud, making the Seventh even more rural than it was before.

“My views and interests reflect that of most rural people,” he said.

The additional 13 counties added to the Seventh through redistricting have brought new challenges. North to south, the Seventh District spans more than 300 miles. The 35 counties that make up the new Seventh have more than 400 towns.

“Unless you have been in that town, you haven't been there. It makes it challenging,” Peterson admitted.

Welcoming landmark goes up at Tracy's east entrance

A new “Welcome to Tracy” has been erected on the city's eastern edge.

The aluminum and cast-iron placard was hoisted into place between two fieldstone pillars late Monday afternoon.

The sign is located on the north side of Hwy. 14, on property owned by North Star Modular Homes. The sign was planned by the Tracy Revitalization Commission. Funding for the nearly $8,000 project came from contributions by Neil Daniels, Keith Peterson, Kim Daniels, and Dan Anderson.

“It really looks attractive,” said Eugene Hook, vice-chair of the Tracy Revitalization committee.

The sign is framed by triple tiers of decorative block and rock that is interspersed with newly-planted shrubs. Two maple trees were planted directly behind the sign, which says, “Welcome to Tracy, est. 1870.” The two fieldstone pillars, roughly two feet square and nine feet tall, contain about 100 stones.

The completed Tracy marker is about 15 feet wide and nine feet high.

Neil Daniels said that the sign represents the combined efforts of many people. Fultz Farms contributed the field stone. Duane DeSmet of DeSmet Weldors fashioned the decorative ironwork, including the multi-color figure of a train engine. Brad Lindberg did the masonry work for the pillars. Paxton Signs performed the painting and lettering for the aluminum sign. G&R Electric did the underground wiring for the lights that illuminate the sign at night, donating much of their labor. Garvin Tree Service installed the landscaping.

The revitalization committee hopes to raise money to erect a second, identical sign, on the west edge of Tracy, near the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum.

Antique Shoppe opens in Tracy

A new antique store in Tracy has opened its doors.

“We're still adding things, but we decided to open this week,” explained Dar Ford, one of three Tracy women who have opened the Antique Shoppe. The other two Antique Shoppe partners are Denise Rokke, and Dorothy Stelter.

The store opened for the first time Wednesday, August 21. It is located in the former Tele-Radio building on Craig Ave. (Hwy. 14). Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The women plan to fill their shop not only with their own merchandise, but also from the rental of space to other area antique dealers.

A grand opening is planned sometime in September.

Town hall improvements boosted by county grant

Thanks to a $420 grant from the Lyon County Historical Society and the Lyon County Commissioners, a renovation project is underway at the Monroe Township Town Hall.

The town hall was moved to the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum earlier this year.

Curator Mary Lou Ludeman explains that the renovations involve the town hall's cloak rooms. Original wainscoting is being restored and new lights are being installed. The restored cloak rooms will be used for exhibits of local, county, and state government history. Grant money is also being used for painting and cleaning walls.

The remainder of the building is being left as a working town hall that will be used by the township. Plans are to hang historic photographs on walls and set up a display showcase. A large wooden table, with high-back chairs—thought to date from the earliest days of Tracy city government—will be set up in the town hall.

“We invite pictures or artifacts of any local people who have held office on any of those levels. We have had a governor, state senators, representatives, commissioners, and supervisors, and who like photos of all of them,” comments Ludeman.

Plans are to open the Monroe Town Hall exhibit in time for Tracy Box Car Days, August 30-Sept. 2.

The Wheels Museum also received a $500 grant from the Wal-Mart Corporation, to assist with its recent painting of its 1898 Chicago & Northwestern depot. Wal-Mart is expected to give two additional $100 grants to the museum, because of the volunteer hours spent at the museum by two Wal-Mart employees Jon Wendorff and Bernie Holm.

140 years after Shetek bloodshed, healing words spoken at monument

“Look, that's a Bald Eagle over by those trees!” an onlooker excitedly announced, gesturing to where the giant bird had swooped behind the oaks and basswoods of Lake Shetek.

“Maybe that is a good sign.”

Who can say for sure? But the appearance of the Eagle—one of the Dakota Indians most sacred symbols, as well as America's national bird—seemed to set the tone for an emotional “reconciliation ceremony” Saturday at Shetek State Park.

Representatives of Dakota and Lakota Indian tribes, as well as descendents of white Shetek settlers, spoke of the need for better understanding between the Native American and white races. The ceremony was held at the Shetek Monument, where the remains of 15 white settlers have lain since 1863. The men, women and children died on August 20, 1862 when the Minnesota prairie erupted into bloodshed that would be become known as the “Dakota Conflict of 1862.”

Many speakers discussed the need for understanding and friendship, instead of dwelling on the mistakes and hatreds of the past.

“Maybe we can learn that all people deserve to be treated with understanding and respect,” said Dr. Paul Carpenter, a descendant of 1862 Shetek settler Charles Hatch.

Earlier in his life, Dr. Carpenter said, he harbored anger toward the Dakota Indians, for what they did to the white settlers at Shetek 140 years ago. Today, however, the Sioux Falls physician said he's come to better understand the desperation that drove the Dakota to war in 1862. Most of their lands had been taken away, traditional ways of life were threatened, and their people were hungry. The anger that he feels today about the bloodshed at Shetek, he said, is directed at the corrupt traders who cheated the Dakota, unfair government policies that took away the Indians' land, the bureaucratic snafus that delayed treaty payments to the Dakota in that fateful summer of 1862.

Bill Bolin, former Shetek State Park naturalist and well-known area historian, said he feels that reconciliation starts with individual relationships with people.

He suggested that the hill overlooking Slaughter Slough, where many of the Shetek settlers died in 1862, be renamed “Reconciliation Hill.”