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News from the week of December 31, 2003

Ardyce Drake steps down as multi-purpose director

By Val Scherbart Quist

After 17 years, Ardys Drake is hanging up her hat as director of the Tracy Multi-Purpose Center.

Drake took over the director's duties on Nov. 1, 1985, and was officially named to the position on Jan. 1, 1986.

As director, she has seen several changes. There used to be a quilting group that met at the center, and a ceramics class used to be held there, just to name two activities that are no longer done.

“There are a lot of things we don't do anymore,” she said.

The main reason, she added, is that the senior citizens who were interested in those activities 15 years ago are no longer around.

The seniors who utilize the center now have the opportunity to use computers donated by the Schwan Food Company. While they're not connected to the Internet yet, Drake said this is a goal for the future. There have been new events added, however. A lutefisk dinner, which has been held for the past two years in conjunction with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, has been a big success. Decreased governmental funding has resulted in a necessity for larger fund-raisers, she said.

While some things have come and gone, others have remained the same. Cards and pool remain two popular activities at the center. Many also still take advantage of the senior dining program offered daily. The Box Car Days lunches served at the center have also remained successful for many years.

Drake has certainly kept busy in her years as director. Every afternoon—or at least most afternoons—for the past 17 years, Drake has baked a cake to serve with coffee to the afternoon crowd.

“I think just about everyday I baked a cake,” she recalled.

And yes, there have been a few “flops,” though not very many. She and cook Shirley Heinrich also make decorations each month for the center.

Idle hands definitely aren't in the cards for Drake's retirement. She plans to become more involved with the Tracy Nursing Home Auxiliary, of which she is a member. She also volunteers to do the bulletins for her church, and will be a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

“I want to be on the go,” she said.

While she has no immediate travel plans, she would like to go see her daughter in Alabama, as well as her relatives in California.

She also plans to watch the entire Box Car Days parade this year. Usually, she's busy making lunches inside the Multi-Purpose Center and can only catch a few glimpses.

“I haven't watched the whole parade for 17 years.”

Pope blesses newlyweds

By Val Scherbart Quist

Paul and Ruth (Verly) Lanoue's wedding day certainly ranks as one of the best days of their lives. But an event just a few days later made their wedding experience even more special.

While on a honeymoon trip to Italy, the newlyweds received a special blessing for their marriage by Pope John Paul II.

Paul, the son of Larry and Phyllis Lanoue of Tracy, and Ruth, who is from Marshall, were married on Nov. 22. As they were planning their wedding, they received an invitation from the family of an exchange student being hosted by Ruth's family. The family e-mailed Ruth, saying that they would love to have them come stay with them in Italy for their honeymoon.

At first, the couple politely declined. While they appreciated the offer, they felt it would be awkward to stay in a home with people they didn't know very well, especially since they didn't speak Italian.

Then the family clarified their offer. They operate a hotel, and wanted the couple to stay there. They would provide the room, food, and entertainment. All the newlyweds had to provide was their plane tickets. It was an offer they couldn't refuse.

The couple also agreed to bring Ruth's sister, Maria, along on the trip. Maria had studied in Rome for two semesters, so she knew her way around the city. On Jan. 1, she will be entering a convent, and as a final going away present she wanted to go to Rome again. The three agreed to make the trip together and spend some time together, while also allowing the newlyweds to enjoy the city alone.

It was also through Maria that the couple learned of weekly audiences during which the Pope blesses newlywed couples' marriages.

“Obviously, we were pretty excited by that,” Paul said.

They had the priest who performed their wedding write a letter to the Vatican, stating that the couple was getting married and would like to have their marriage blessed. The Vatican wrote back and said 'yes,' so they reserved a ticket.

The couple departed for Rome on a snowy Sunday following their Saturday wedding. During their first day, they visited St. Peter's Cathedral, where they were able to take a tour with a knowledgeable, English-speaking priest.

The next day, they had to don their wedding attire once more for the blessing. Ruth had had to bring a separate suitcase just for her dress. Paul brought his white rental tux, which had stayed miraculously clean even after the wedding dance.

Twenty couples were blessed by the Pope that day; six were from the United States. They all sat and listened as the Pope read, reflected on the words, and had them translated into various languages. Afterward, they went up couple by couple and knelt in front of the Pope, who first asked where they were from.

Paul asked the Pope to bless their family, and that they would have happy, healthy children.

“I looked him right in the eyes when I told him this,” he said. “It was truly amazing.”

As they prayed, the Pope then made the sign of the cross with his hand, showing that he blessed them. The Pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, did not say much or make many motions, Paul said.

The moment is one neither will forget.

“It was just our time with us and the Pope,” Paul said.

Thespians prepare for one-act performances

There's a little more drama these days at Tracy Area High School.

Rehearsals are underway for two one-act plays, “The Ugly Duckling,” by A.A. Milne and “The Winter of 1917,” by David Campton. “The Ugly Duckling” is being directed by Justin Helmer and “The Winter of 1917” is being directed by Susan Kluge.

Both plays will be presented to the community in a special performance on Saturday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m.

“The Ugly Duckling” is about a young princess who was given an odd gift by an aunt, and the extreme lengths her parents go to trying to find a husband for her. The drama also explores the difference in how a person sees themself, compared to the world's perception, and which is ultimately more important. Cast members are Suzanne Knott, Kyle Peltola, Mai Lia Moua, Kyle Lessman, Emily Baumann, Kim Lenertz, and David Jones.

“The Winter of 1917” tells the story of young people who get lost in a storm and find an abandoned country house, where they take shelter. There, they find a mysterious room that is brightly lit with a roaring fire. On the table are a pair of gloves, an empty champagne glass, a half-smoked cigar, and a dance program, all just as they were left in the winter of 1917. Everyone is uneasy about the bleak stormy night and the unsettling atmosphere of the room, except Truepenny, who is the only one to feel the fire's heat and see what is really happening in this room from the past.

Cast members in “The Winter of 1917” are Levi Miller, Johanna Schmidt, Ann Lanoue, Bobbi Jo Buyck, Jenna Fischer, and Laura Lanoue.

One-act play sub-sections will take place in January.

Helmer, originally from the St. Cloud area, moved to the area last year. He has been involved in school, community, and church theatre since a young age. In high school, he played Prince Simon in a production of “The Ugly Duckling.” He performed in the Marshall Area Stage Company's production of “The Taming of the Shrew” this fall. He will also be directing the spring all-school play for Minneota, as he did last year. He works on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus at the Barnes and Noble Campus Store.

Kluge has a theatre degree from Mankato State. She has always wanted to become more involved with theatre, but has been kept busy by a young family. She is a stay-at-home mom who also runs a small business from home. Her husband, Kurt, is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Tracy. They have two children, Evan and Marie. She will also be directing the spring all-school play at TAHS.

Aquatic center meeting set

The future of the Tracy Aquatic Center may become clearer next week.

A special meeting of the Tracy City Council is scheduled Monday, Jan. 5, 6:30 p.m., to discuss the aquatic center. Reports on how to repair the aquatic center, and estimates and how much the repairs would cost, are expected to be presented.

The $1.8 million aquatic center opened in the summer of 2002. But cracks were noticed in the aquatic center's pools prior to the 2003 swimming season. Large volumes of water—about 6,000 gallons a day—leaked from the pool this summer.

Structural tests conducted at the pool this fall turned up evidence of holes and foreign objects in the aquatic center's concrete shell.

Extensive repairs will be necessary to put the aquatic center back in operating condition. The tests that have been conducted at the pool required the removal of the pool's Diamond Brite finish coat, as well as some concrete underneath. Small core samples have also been removed from the aquatic center concrete. The tests to date have cost the city more than $80,000.

The City of Tracy is expected to file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for faulty construction of the pool. Jeffrey Coleman, a Twin Cities attorney and engineer with extensive experience managing professional liability claims nationwide, has been retained to represent the city.

Pool, health insurance cited as levy rises 5%

The City of Tracy's property tax levy will increase about 5% next year.

Tracy City Council members last week certified a $694,402 property tax levy for 2004. The levy represents a 4.96% increase from the 2003 levy.

Next year's levy is made up of $313,000 for bonded debt payments, $371,402 for the general fund, and $10,000 for a permanent improvement fund.

The council also adopted a budget for the coming year: $1,566,276 for the general fund, $2,952,389 for public enterprise funds, and $538,830 for debt service and bond funds, for a total of $5,474,611.

General fund

The $1.566,276 general fund includes $519,603 for general government operations, $392,420 for public safety (police dept.), $463,396 for public works, and $46,000 for recreation (aquatic center operations). Another $144,857 for "other" spending includes the library, multi-purpose center, airport, cemetery, and St. Mark's Museum.

Next year's general fund budget represents a 1.9% reduction from the $1,596,000 budget approved a year ago. However, the 2003 general fund budget was reduced by nearly $139,000 during the year, Compared to the revised budget, the 2004 general fund budget represents $90,000 increase from 2003.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman cites three major factors for the increase.

• The 2004 budget includes $46,000 for aquatic center operations. The 2003 budget anticipated that pool operations would break-even and didn't include any money for aquatic center operations. In fact, aquatic center operations lost over $50,000 this summer.

• A 22.5% premium increase for employee health-insurance premiums.

• A $15,000 increase for the Tracy Economic Development Authority's revolving loan fund.

Debt retirement

The $313,000 debt levy for next year is a payment on the $3.9 million worth of bonded debt that the city holds. Tracy's annual principal and interest payments are scheduled to fluctuate between $313,000 and $380,00 through 2008. In 2009, if no more debt were taken on, Tracy's annual debt obligations would drop to about $175,000.

Public enterprise

Estimated gross revenues in the city's ten public enterprise funds for 2004 are:

O'Brien Court, $176,000; Eastview Apartments, $52,000; Fifth Street Apartments, $49,960; municipal liquor store, $614,229; utility, $449,700; utility surcharge, $151,000; refuse collection, $170,500; deputy registrar, $1,050,000; Tracy Medical Center Improvement Fund, $130,000; aquatic center operations, $109,000.

The public enterprise funds are intended to be income producing, self-sustaining funds. For example, rent at the Eastview Apartments pays expenses on the EDA-owned apartments. Profits from the liquor store and deputy registrar's office are transferred to the general fund. Money collected in the utility and utility surcharge is held to maintain and improve the city's water and sewer systems.

Increase is smaller

The 2004 levy increase is substantially smaller than the increase approved by the council a year ago. In December of 2002, the council okayed a 17% increase in the property tax levy.

Economy, health care are top issues in regional poll

The Southwest Minnesota Poll for fall semester 2003 shows

that the economy and health care are the two most important issues on the

minds of Southwest Minnesotans heading into the 2004 presidential election.

A total of 27.7 percent of respondents said the economy is the biggest

issue facing the region as the election approaches, while 25.5 percent said

it was health care.

Respondents believed that economic conditions in the region would be about

the same a year from now, while 35.5 percent felt they would be better and

20.8 percent, worse.

The Southwest Minnesota Poll was conducted from Nov. 16-22. A total of 428

individuals participated from an 18-county area in southwest Minnesota. The

poll has a margin of error of 4.7 percent. It is overseen by the Southwest

Minnesota State University Political Science program.

The poll asked seven questions on such topics as the economy, local issues

of importance, the U.S. involvement in Iraq and opinions about legislators

at the national level.