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News from the week of May 5, 2004

'What the Lord gives,' the Lord can take away'

Lightning destroys center at Shetek Baptist Camp

It will take more than a near-deadly bolt of lightning and a devastating fire to shake the faith of souls at the Shetek Baptist Bible Camp.

"Praise the Lord that no one was hurt," said camp administrator Steve Harms Monday morning, as he surveyed the charred wreckage of what was once the Clarke Center at the well-known Lake Shetek camp. The camp's dining hall and retreat center was destroyed by fire Saturday night after being struck by lightening.

Eighty men from a four-state area were attending a church retreat at the camp Saturday. The group was just about to pray before their evening meal when lightning struck the building. It was 6:15 p.m.

"There was a big flash and a loud clap," Harms recalled.

No one at first realized the building had been struck.

At the moment the lightning struck, Jesse and Julie Harms were outdoors near the Clark Center's rear entrance grilling meat. They recalled later that the sky flashed blue-white as the thunderclap struck.

"Wow, that one was really close," they said to each other.

Supper began indoors. Steve Harms made reference to the thunderstorm by reading a Bible verse from Colossians.

"We are praying that you will be filled with His Mighty glorious strength, no matter what happens, always full of the joy of the Lord." The words were to soon have extra poignancy.

The meal finished, most of the men left the building, headed for a 7 p.m. chapel service. A leader stayed behind to discuss the final bill with Harms, leaving for the chapel at about 7:15 p.m. He happened to look back. Flames were licking through the roof of the Clarke Center.

"He came running back in and said 'the building is on fire. Everyone has got to get out.'" Harms remembered.

When Harms and a half-dozen or so others cleaning up in the kitchen evacuated the building, flames were shooting through the roof. Up until then, there had been no smell of smoke or other signs that something was amiss.

Besides immediately calling 911, the churchmen had the presence of mind to shut off electrical power and propane gas to the building.

Harms said that it was only a matter of minutes before the entire Clarke Center became an inferno. He and his wife, Judy, did have time to run back in and salvage two items.

"I thought what should I try and save. The sound equipment?" Instead, he retrieved his Bible. His wife, Judy, the camp's head cook, snatched up the camp cookbook.

By then smoke was entering into the dining hall area and the couple had to leave the building. Harms estimated that within 20 minutes after the fire was noticed, the building's roof collapsed.

Smoke from the spectacular blaze could be seen for miles away. The Currie, Slayton and Dovray fire departments responded to the alarm. Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to other camp buildings.

Tracy FFA shines at state convention

Jeff Buyck: 'Thrill to serve state & represent community

When Jeff Buyck joined FFA at Tracy Area High School, he was mainly interested in livestock judging. The ninth grader had no idea how his involvement in the organization would grow, and that one day he would be state FFA president.

“I didn't know about all the great opportunities that FFA offered,” he said. “I think a lot of kids don't realize how many opportunities there are in FFA. Then they start building and growing.”

Buyck's growth in the FFA program included being part of the soils judging and general livestock teams, participation in the extemporaneous speaking contest, and serving as chapter reporter, president, and region treasurer. He has also served as recreation director at FFA summer camps, and participated in several supervised agricultural experiences. Buyck ran for state office last year, but was not nominated. He did get the opportunity to serve on the “Dream Team,” which goes around to give presentations in different regions around the state.

Buyck was elected 2004-2005 state FFA president last Tuesday at the state FFA convention in St. Paul. Now a freshman at South Dakota State University majoring in ag business, the 19-year-old was thrilled to receive the honor.

“It's an honor to be able to serve my state and represent my community,” he said.

Horse lovers lasso state judging title

Lynn Brockway, Tory Ruppert and Kylie Henkel hold the reins to more than a little horse sense.

The threesome returned from the Minnesota FFA convention last week as the top FFA horse judging team in the state. Brockway rode to additional honors, by corralling the highest individual equestrian score in state.

"I was surprised we did this well," said Lynn, modestly. "I was thinking maybe third or fourth."

Kylie and Tory agreed that the state championship was exciting.

State FFA judging competition requires students to evaluate and rank six classes of horses—two performance, four halter classes. Students also meet individually with a judge and explain their reasons for ranking horses the way they did.

The Tracy team, and a squad from Chisago City, tied for the highest number of points. Tracy won the championship tiebreaker because of Lynn's No. 1 individual score. Tory had the 16th highest individual score, while Kylie was 40th. About 150 students competed.

The girls' equestrian savvy comes largely from first-hand experience. All three live on farms. All three have horses and help with the daily chores. During the summer, each rides horses on an almost daily basis. Each has shown horses through 4-H. Lynn is a member of the Amiret Busy Bees. Tory belongs to the Currie Poco-a-Poco Club. Kylie saddles up with the Lakers Club of rural Balaton.

All three are underclassmen, which means they can return to defend the FFA state judging title next year.

STAR winner is real McCoy

Erin McCoy's state championship Supervised Ag Experience Project was based upon two years of work at Shetek Five and Six, a large farrow-to-wean hog operation near her rural Tracy home.

In the summers, she works virtually full-time. During the school year, she works every third weekend. Her work requires her to do everything from administering medicine to sick pigs to helping sows with difficult births.

Her "STAR" farmer placement project was based upon her work responsibilities, record keeping, money-earned, and knowledge gained from the job. An ag teacher from Ridgewater Community College came out to Erin's work site and personally interviewed her. Leadership skills, community involvement, and academics were other criteria.

McCoy is the Tracy FFA chapter president, and also serves as the FFA regional secretary. Her STAR project was one of about 200 entered from across the state. Erin's project was the state winner for an on-the-job project. An "entrepreneur" winner was named for an individual who operated his or her own business.

Staged tragedy gives kids real-life warning

'Real heroes . . . have courage to stop friends from drinking & driving,' trooper tells school assembly.

It's a scene straight out of a nightmare.

Two mangled cars sit eerily still following a tragic crash. Six Tracy Area High School students, on their way home from a post-prom bash, are involved.

Unfortunately, scenes like these are all too real, Sgt. Kathy Pederson of the Minnesota State Patrol told TAHS students Friday. Though this scene isn't real, the message is: don't drink and drive.

“Real heroes are the people that have the courage to stop their friends from drinking and driving,” Sgt. Pederson told students as they watched rescue personnel try to save their classmates.

TAHS Peer Helpers, along with law enforcement and emergency personnel, staged the mock crash just a day prior to the school's prom. Charlie DeSchepper, Tracy Ambulance Service President, organized the participation of police, fire department, and EMT participation, as well as arranging for the cars used in the mock accident.

Students Anders Davidson, Jason Morin, Emma Miller, Emily Rayman, Ryan Stobb, and Ross Ladehoff played the parts of the accident victims.

Davidson, Morin, Miller, and Rayman were in one car. Morin, the driver of the vehicle, and Davidson had been drinking and smoking marijuana at a party following TAHS prom. The vehicle T-boned a car carrying classmates Stobb and Ladehoff, who were also on their way home from a party. Stobb had been driving Ladehoff home from the party, where Ladehoff had also been drinking.

Davidson, who was thrown through the windshield, was pronounced dead at the scene. Miller was critically injured and died after being airlifted to the hospital.

In just a few split seconds, the excitement of the next month is tarnished irreparably.

“Don't risk it,” Sgt. Pederson said. “If you plan to drive, don't drink.”

Heartland Foods re-opening seen as positive for Tracy

The announcement that the former Heartland Foods turkey processing plant in Marshall will re-open later this year is great news for Tracy, says Community Development Director Robert Gervais.

"There is no doubt that it is going to help us," Gervais said Monday.

Turkey Valley Farms announced Friday that it would be purchasing and re-opening the former Heartland Foods turkey processing plant by October. About 300 people are expected to be employed.

Gervais said the Tracy Economic Development Authority would have the Marshall turkey plant on its next agenda. How Tracy can market itself as a home to some of the turkey plant employees will be one potential topic, Gervais indicated.

"Granted, we would love to have the 300 jobs right here. But 300 jobs in Marshall is going to help Tracy too," Gervais said.

Heartland Foods employed a substantial number of Tracy area people before it closed a year ago. Jobs at Heartland Foods were a major factor in attracting substantial numbers of Hmong and Hispanic families to Tracy in the early 1990s.

The owners of Turkey Valley Farms purchased an Iowa Turkey Processors plant in Postville, Iowa that had burned down in December. Last week they announced that, rather than rebuild the Postville plant, operations would be shifted to Marshall.

The Marshall plant is expected to process as many as 20,000 birds a day.

News reports said that about $5 million in incentives, including $2.8 million in Minnesota JOBZ tax-breaks, were being offered to the new company.

Une soirée dans Paris

One didn't have to know how to speak French to know that the 2004 Tracy Area High School Junior-Senior Prom was one classy event. About 700 people crowded into the high school gym to watch 73 couples participate. The school gym was almost unrecognizable, festooned with decorations that included a 17-foot Eiffel Tower.

A two-hour dance and a three-hour after-prom party followed the one-hour grand march. "Everythingwent well," said Mev Jackson, the adult advisor to the student prom committee.

The only thing that threatened to rain on the prom parade Saturday was, well, intermittent rain. A group of dads came to the rescue by offering valet service as cars drove up to the high school. Jackson said that she had heard good reports about the after-prom party, as well as the post-party breakfast at the Red Rooster. The only thing that was left to prom attendees Sunday was a need to catch up on sleep.

Morgan records album For Cottonwood singer

Emily Weidauer has become the latest area musical talent to record music with Tracy native Dennis Morgan.

The Cottonwood singer recently returned from Nashville, where she recorded a CD at Morgan's Nashville, Tennessee studio, the Tri-County News reported. The 2001 graduate of Lakeview High School recorded 13 songs that Morgan wrote.

"He played the guitar and I sang," Weidauer said of the 10-hour recording session in early April. The CD could be released as early as this May.

Weidauer told The News that she had always dreamed of meeting Morgan, a successful songwriter who has worked with a multitude of country and pop stars.

According to the Cottonwood newspaper, Weidauer's recording session was sparked by a chance encounter in a furniture store. The News reported the incident this way:

"Weidauer said her aunt had overheard Morgan repeat his name to her co-worker, who was waiting on him, and worked up the courage to mention that her niece sang. Morgan took down Emily's name, address, and phone number—and lost it. So, he called the furniture store and began asking for a singer. Luckily, Shirley was the one to answer."

In January, Morgan's office contacted Weidauer and asked for a demonstration recording and some pictures of Emily. After reviewing the materials, Morgan called back and made arrangements for the recording session. Morgan sent Emily two CDs of 13 songs that Morgan had written. Weidauer was to learn ten of the songs before coming down for the recording session.

Weidauer, 21, is attending school in the Twin Cities. The new album recorded with Morgan will be her second CD.

Other area musical acts that Morgan has recorded include Roxbury Drive, The Great Pretenders and The Baumann Brothers.