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News from the week of October 13, 2004

Kids learn life lessons of kindly store clerk

By Val Scherbart Quist

The message was short, but powerful.

Speaker V.J. Smith, South Dakota State University Alumni Director, gave Tracy Elementary students a lesson in friendship and caring last week.

"Whatever goes around …" Smith hinted.

" … Comes around!" students shouted, not missing a beat.

"Whatever you sow, is what you’re going to reap," Smith added.

He told students he wanted to introduce them to a friend of his. But first, he told them a story about when he was 5 years old.

One day, Smith said, his older brother struck a wooden match and lit a tissue on fire. He quickly dropped it and stepped it out on the floor. Their father saw the episode, however, and scolded him.

Wanting to be like his big brother, the next morning Smith tried the same trick. It didn’t work so well for him, though. He dropped the tissue and it went under the bed, which caught on fire.

The family’s home burned down that day, and they lost everything but their lives.

As the family stood out on the lawn watching the flames consume their house, Smith’s father asked if he knew anything about the fire.

"Do you know what happened here?" Smith asked. "I lied."

He told his parents that he had gone upstairs and found a lamp that was giving off sparks. For 27 years, this was thought to be the cause of the fire. It was even printed in the local newspaper that the cause was electrical.

On the eve of his sister’s wedding, Smith came clean to his family; all except his father, who had died. His mother, he said, was not angry. Instead, she said, "I’ll bet you feel better now," Smith said, and told him it was too bad he’d had to live with the secret for so many years.

When Smith told his children about the fire, one of his young daughters commented that his mother shouldn’t have been mad at him, but rather his brother for teaching him to light the match.

"We have the opportunity to learn from other people," Smith said. "That’s why I want to introduce you to my friend who taught me so much."

Smith told students that saying "thank you" is a very important part of life. He said that when he is in a store and the clerk doesn’t say "thank you" to him, he gives them a card.

With that, Smith flung cards in the air for students to catch. On each card are the words "thank you" in several languages.

"It hurts not to be thanked," he said.

School land sale gets more study

Does the Tracy Area Public School board of education have the right to decide whether land west of the elementary school should be sold? Or should the issue be decided by a public vote?

Those were the questions posed to the board Monday night, and questions the board will answer before holding a public meeting on the issue.

The Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA) has approached the board about buying the land for housing development.

The board considered Monday whether to schedule a public meeting next month, but decided to wait until Supt. Dave Marlette researches whether the board can make the decision, or whether the public should decide.

Sandy Ludeman, rural Tracy resident, posed the questions to the board during discussion of the land sale issue. Ludeman said while he commends the efforts of the EDA in trying to find new areas for housing development, he believes that the school land should not be used. Ludeman said he has talked with about 30 others who feel the same way.

Ludeman said that when the school district was looking to build the new high school, they were looking at another property in town, but had concerns over bus safety. The land where the high school is located, and the approximately 14-acre adjacent vacant plot, was bought instead.

The board at that time, he said, felt that the vacant land should be kept for future use. They held so firmly to that, he said, that when the tornado of 1968 claimed the elementary school building and a new one had to be built, the board decided to leave the plot open and build the new grade school farther to the east.

Ludeman said he did not believe the school land should be developed for several reasons. Among them are the buffering effect that the land provides, safety concerns, and cutting down mature trees already on the land.

"I feel that there are many other locations within the city that can be used," he said.

He added that if the land were to be developed, he would rather see something built that would benefit the greater good of the community.

Dennis Fultz, Tracy EDA chairman, feels that if the school land were developed, it would attract young families. He said that while the school may not make much money on the land sale, it would benefit if new families are brought into town.

"I think long-term what the school would gain would hopefully be pupil units," he said.

Fultz added that whether it is feasible to develop the land is still unknown. Whether the EDA would develop the land would depend on how much assessment there would have to be and the cost of development, he said.

If it is feasible, he said, the EDA believes the school property would be a great area for development.

"We want to develop more bare lots for new houses, and the location makes this property attractive," he said.

EDA Director Robert Gervais said the EDA feels the need for new housing development in Tracy.
"The question is, who are we targeting," he said. "I feel that if we target young families, we all win."

Board member Eric Nelson asked Gervais if he is optimistic that Tracy will continue to grow.

Gervais said he is, but only if the city can bring in more industry. However, he said, without housing development available, it will be harder to attract industry to town.

ADO's parent company brings smiles to Tracy Fire Department

Walman Optical—the parent company of the America's Doctors of Optometry (ADO) office in Tracy—showed its support for Tracy in a big way last week.

The company gave $5,000 to the Tracy Fire Department and auxiliary. The money has been designated for the department's water tanker conversion project, as well as improvements in the fire hall.
"It's wonderful," said Linnae Engesser of the Walman Optical gift. Engesser is an ADO employee in Tracy, and also serves as an officer in the fire department auxiliary.

The $5,000 is part of a national $225,000 Walman charitable contributions program. Walman employees from across the country were invited to submit nominations. Employee involvement in a community or charitable organization was one of the criteria used to select recipients.

Engesser and her mother-in-law, Betty Engesser, who also works at the Tracy ADO office, submitted the grant application to Walman Optical. Apparently, the selection committee took notice of the Engesser family's involvement with the fire department and auxiliary. Their application explained that three generations of the Engesser family, starting with Whitey Engesser senior, had committed over 96 years of service to the organization.

The ADO Buying Group Division office in Tracy employs five people. Lynn Buyck, manager of the office, commented:

"As employee-owners of Walman Optical, we are pleased to recognize the many deserving organizations that do so much for those in need. We are particularly proud to be able to recognize organizations in our local communities, where we can directly see the benefits of our efforts."

Other organizations receiving Walman Optical grants include: Baltimore chapter of the American Diabetes Association, Ronald McDonald House-Montana, Atlanta's Hi Hope Service Center, Mosaic of Omaha, Minnesota Teen Challenge, St. Vincent DePaul, River of Hope Classic, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Special Olympics Minnesota, Women's Life Care Center, Light-the-Night Walk. Walman Optical also gave 40 scholarships to optometric students, and eight scholarships to students of Walman employees.

Seven members of the Engesser family were present for the $5,000 Walman presentation to Fire Chief Dennis VanDePutte on Thursday. They were Whitey and Betty Engesser, Keith Engesser and Linnae Engesser, Diane Deming, Dave Engesser, and Jason Deming. Keith, Diane, and Dave Engesser are Whitey and Betty's children. Jason is a grandson.

School officials feel threat was handled well

The bomb threat at Tracy Area High School last week was scary. But school administrators believe the threat was handled in the best way possible.

Board of education members commended the administration and staff Monday for how they handled the bomb threat. Administrators said they were impressed at how their staff and students handled the situation as well.

"I’d like to thank my staff and students for how they handled the bomb threat day," said Tracy Elementary Principal Scott Loeslie.

High School Principal Chad Anderson told the board a student alerted him to the threat, scrawled on a towel dispenser in a boys' bathroom. After he looked at message himself Anderson gathered the district’s crisis team, which includes administration, staff members, and local law enforcement. The team decided that it would be best not to call off school and essentially give students a day off, because it could encourage future episodes.

Anderson e-mailed teachers about the threat, and notified them what the plan of action would be. Students were moved to the football field, and teachers were instructed to keep teaching as usual.

"I told them that I wanted it to be as normal a day as possible," said Supt. Dave Marlette.

Buses picked up students at the football field at the end of the school day.

A volleyball game that was scheduled to be held in Tracy that night was moved to Windom. A junior high football game was canceled. Marlette said this was done because administration did not want those attending the games to feel uncomfortable.

Later in the day, a de-briefing was held on the bomb threat incident, said Anderson. The group decided that if such an incident were to occur again, students would be evacuated right away.

If the weather was cold, students would be taken to a safe location, possibly the Prairie Pavilion, where the day would proceed as it did during last week’s bomb threat. If the incident happened before lunch, arrangements would be made to bring food in for students.

Anderson said it was agreed that it was better to keep students together and not dismiss them for the day.

He said the student who wrote the threat may not have realized at the time how serious the offense was.
"I think if the student who did it knew then what they know now, they would have changed their mind," he said.

He said a reward is being offered for information on who might have written the threat.

"We will vigilantly continue to try to figure out who did this."

More Lawrence Welk than Bach, Darrel Larsen keeps making music

Popular Tracy accordion player wins S.D. event

"Oh no, I don't know a note," says Darrel Larsen. "I never had a music lesson."

The admission is odd, considering that the Tracy man is a first-place winner in the 2004 South Dakota Old Fiddlers Contest.

"I enjoyed that," he says modestly of his prize-winning push-button accordion performance. Over 100 musicians from all over the country participated in the Yankton, S.D. festival. The win marks the third-consecutive year Larsen has placed high in the Old Time Fidders contest. In 2002 and 2003, he was a runner-up.

"This is the first time I have won." Larsen claimed his title by playing "Lakeside Waltz" and "Old Suzanna" for a crowd of 500 and a panel of judges.

o o o

Larsen is no stranger to area fans of old-time music. At age 86, he still has the energy to play scores of venues each year. He's a frequent and much requested performer at area nursing homes and town festivals. And he regularly performs with a group of about two dozen musicians that call themselves the South Dakota Old Time Fiddlers. This year, the group has played 22 times, including on stage at the South Dakota State Fair at Huron. Last month, Larsen played his accordion at ten public events, sometimes with the South Dakota fiddlers, sometimes solo. Occasionally, Larson gets paid "a little gas money." But mostly, he performs gratis.

His thanks, he says, come from his listeners.

"People really appreciate it. Especially the people in the nursing homes. It reminds them of good times."
Larsen's musical repertoire leans heavily on perky polkas and schmaltzy waltzes. The "Isabella Waltz" is his favorite.

"And the Peek-a-Boo Waltz, that's another good one," he adds.

The Tracy music-maker figures that he knows about a hundred songs well enough to perform. Just don't ask him to read music.

"I play everything by ear. I wouldn't be able to follow a sheet of music."

Summit Place settles into new store

The mother/daughter team of Linda Fultz and Jen Kainz has moved Summit Place to a new location. The store is located between The Etc. Building and Duebers in Downtown Tracy.

Starting from scratch with an abandoned building they bought from Jerry Gladis, the women worked with contractor Art Peterson to help bring their ideas, meshed with his suggestions, to fruition. Many hours of stripping the existing floor and wall coverings, uncovering boarded-up windows, painting, and refinishing the hardwood maple floor went into the transformation of the building.

The actual store takes up about 1/3 of the building, the other two-thirds is occupied by the Tracy Dance Studio owned by Jen Kainz and Vicki Nilius, located in the back of the building.

The building front was opened up by large windows above the store front, letting in much natural light. Inside, there is a balcony, above the front door with display items placed on it,. These items will be changed occasionally as displays throughout the store are changed. Installation of a loft and small office at the back of the store allow customers to order their letter jackets and tuxes, as well as get alterations, if needed.

The new store continues to carry good sellers such as picture frames, soy candles, and potpourri. Other items they carry are the popular Burt's Bees and Badger natural personal care products. They've picked a line of products called "Life is Good." Fultz said, "Enderson's used to carry this line, and it's been very popular with our customers."

A new line, 'Thyme's,' has been added. "This is a line we've been wanting to carry for some time, but just never ordered it. We've decided to put it in and look forward to putting it on the shelves this fall. Thyme's is a marvelous company," said Linda Fultz, "with many lotions and body products. We're also carrying goats milk and glycerin soaps. They're great for the skin."

Mirrored display shelves highlight the crystal vase and bowl collection Summit Place carries. The Willow Tree Angels grouped nearby fill out the shelves. A section for kids' toys has been carried over to the new store, showing the Groovy Girls and Cat in the Hat lines.

Other new items include glass balls that follow an old English tradition of witch and fairy balls, and painted wineglasses from New York. "A couple lines of cards are new, one is kind of 'naughty'," says Linda. "It is done by a fellow who used to live in Tyler-they are just a hoot."

The store is expanding its Tuesday evening hours to accommodate parents who bring their children to dance classes, as is The Etc., and a few other stores downtown.