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News from the week of October 27, 2004


Mystery dinner theater is Saturday

Move over, Agatha Christie. A mysterious murder has taken place at a swank 1930s-style "Speak Easy" in Tracy. Who has done the dastardly deed? The finger pointing has already begun among a scandalously shady crowd. Help is needed to solve the crime.

The drama is a part of the Tracy Chamber of Commerce's "Mystery Dinner Theater" Saturday night, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Mediterranean Restaurant. A 17-member cast of local people will portray two rival gangster families gathering for the wedding of Lolita Ceccarelli to Joe Gambino. To add to the fun, characters will interact with the audience. All those attending the wedding will be invited to guess "who-dun-it" for a chance to win a 20 inch flat-screen television (cast members excluded).

"Interactive plays are very popular across the county," comments Lary Parker, who wrote and directed the play. "Members of the community who may not normally act in plays have an opportunity to wear costumes, and act out a part in a live dinner theater setting while having a lot of fun in the process."

Community members, he added, also enjoy seeing cast members in a different light.

"It is proven that these type of events bring and bond members of the community together in a very positive way."

The play is set in the 1930s in Chicago. Many members of the two rival families are suspicious of one another. Some don't approve of the marriage.

People attending the play are encouraged to get in the mood by dressing up in a 1930s costume. The event begins with an informal social gathering in which the audience can talk to cast members and gather clues about the crime. Dinner begins at 7:30 p.m.

No one in the cast, except the actual perpetrator, will know who has committed the crime until the end of the play. All audience members will have a chance to guess who the criminal is at the end of the show, by writing a name on the back of their ticket. If there is more than one correct answer, a drawing will be held to determine who wins the television. Live music will be provided by The Roadhouse Gang before and after the show.- Only 100 tickets at $30 a person will be sold. Tickets are available from any Chamber board member or the Chamber office.

Campaigning ends Tuesday, when voters have their say

Southwest Minnesota voters will join citizens across the country in deciding the presidential election next week.

In addition to deciding the contest between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, local voters will have their say on a host of local and state elections in the Tuesday, Nov. 2 general election.

Polling hours are from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. in most voting precincts, although some township precincts will be open only from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Voting hours in each Lyon County precinct are listed on the public notices pages inside this newspaper. Voters can also call their county auditor for questions about voting and the election.

To be eligible to vote, people must be at least 18 years old, a United States citizen, and a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days prior to the election. Voters must cast their ballots in the precinct where they live on election day.

Eligible people who are not registered voters may register on election day with proof of identify and residency. Voters are required to furnish a Minnesota driver's license number, a Minnesota ID card number or the last four digits of a social security number. If the license or ID has a former address, citizens may bring a recent utility bill as proof of residency. Other accepted proofs are a "notice of late registration" postcard, a U.S. passport with a utility bill, or a U.S. military photo ID card with a utility bill. Students can use a student photo ID, registration or fee statement with a current address, a student photo ID with a utility bill, or a student photo ID if listed on a student housing list that is on file at the polling place. Proof of residency can also be obtained if a registered voter in the precinct will vouch for the person's residency.

Minnesota law allows citizens to take time off from work with pay in order to vote during the morning of state elections.

Nordahl is 'unanimous' CEO choice

The Tracy Area Medical Services advisory board applauded last week, when it was announced that Rick Nordahl had been chosen as chief executive officer for hospital operations in Tracy, Westbrook, and Murray County

"The choice was unanimous," said Gerry Gilbertson, vice president for Sioux Valley Regional Health Services.

Gilbertson said that "another very good candidate" had also been considered for the job. But Gilbertson said that an interview committee comprised of board representatives and medical staff from all three operations had agreed upon Nordahl. Gilbertson indicated that Nordahl's knowledge of all thee communities and hospitals, and his good relationship with staff, was a key factor in the decision.

Nordahl said he was looking forward to the challenge. "It is exciting," he said.

As chief executive officer for Tracy Area Medical Services, Westbrook Health Center, and Murray County Memorial Hospital, Nordahl will have overall responsibility for operations at all site. However, Nordahl indicated that he would name a site manager at each site, since he couldn't be at each community simultaneously.

Nordahl has been chief operating officer for the three hospitals since 2002. He succeeds Dave Hove of Jackson, who was named the interim CEO following the departure of Dan Reiner this summer. Reiner had served as the CEO in Tracy since 2001.

Nordahl holds a Masters in Business Administration degree in health-care management, and a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management. He is a member of the Westbrook Ambulance Association and has served as a volunteer with the Westbrook Fire Departments. He has served on boards for the Westbrook Health Center and the Westbrook school board. He and his wife, Carma, have been licensed foster parents for 13 years.

Goals that have been set for Nordahl, Gilbertson said last week, include: overseeing and analyzing construction projects in Slayton and Tracy, looking at ways to "empower department managers," and "improving relationships" among the Tracy, Westbrook, and Murray County medical communities.

Tracy drainage fix has hefty cost

At least two million dollars of improvements will be needed to pull the plug on longstanding drainage problems in Southwest Tracy, consulting engineers have told city leaders.

"It's an expensive proposition," said Steve Robinson of the St. Paul engineering firm of Short Elliot Hendrickson (SHE) Inc.

City council members, on a 5-0 vote, opted to begin one phase of the plan, with an estimated cost of $267,800. No decision was made on the remainder of the proposed improvements.

"We have to start somewhere," said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano as the vote was taken.

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Robinson said that the drainage problems are being caused by three factors: huge amounts of surface water coming into Tracy after a heavy rain from the south and west, inadequate drainage structures in the city, and soil types that have relatively low infiltration rates.

To solve the problem, SHE proposes a two-pronged approach: 1) The construction of three dry detention ponds west, southwest, and south of the high school; 2) Construction of storm sewer and open ditch improvements to more rapidly carry away surface water when flooding occurs on high school property, and around the vicinity of Greenwood Nursery, the Brockway Veterinary Clinic, and the school bus garage.

The estimated cost of the detention ponds is $1,768,900. Estimated cost for the storm sewer/drainage ditch improvement is $267,800.

Neither of the two options by itself will solve the drainage problem, Robinson said. But either one would help. He recommended that the storm sewer/ditch improvement be pursued first, and then explore possible sources of grant funding for the dry detention ponds.

Fabulous corn harvest

Some local yields exceed 200 bushels

"We've been blessed," Eric Nelson said, after making a round in his combine northeast of Tracy Monday. "We've got a lot to be thankful for."

The corn harvest, he said, has been "excellent," with yields in his fields ranging from 170 bushels an acre to "200 plus." Moisture content in the Nelson corn has ranged from 17 to 22%.

The bin-busting yields are a sharp contrast to how crops looked two months ago.

"On Labor Day weekend, we weren't expecting much," Nelson said. After one of the coolest Augusts on record, crop development was lagging. But September weather turned out to be warmer than average.
"I think the September weather really saved us," stated Jodi DeJong-Hughes, crop and soil specialist at the regional extension office in Marshall. Crop damage that resulted from scattered light frost on August 21 was less than expected, probably because of the warm September, she said.

DeJong-Hughes said that she had gone on a combine ride with a Tracy area farmer recently, who was getting corn yields of 195-210 bushels an acre.

Regional Extension Director Bob Byrnes also described the harvest as "excellent." In general, farmers benefited from an early spring planting season, adequate moisture, and the warm September, he indicated. As always, Byrnes said, yields across the area can vary greatly depending on individual field conditions, especially in poorly drained fields that got too much moisture.

Shannon Christenson, manager at the Amiret Grain Elevator, said that corn is coming in at 150 to 215 bushels an acre, with moisture content of between 16.8 and 21%. He said that many farmers are drying their own corn before transporting it to the elevator for storage. Christenson added that high fuel costs might prompt farmers to let corn dry down further before harvest.

Gala Hmong New Year celebration is planned

By Val Scherbart Quist

A New Year’s celebration is coming to Tracy next month. A Hmong Youth New Year celebration is being planned for Saturday, Nov. 13 at Tracy Area High School.

Celebrating the Hmong New Year in Tracy with a community-wide event was the idea of Kou Thao, a 2001 TAHS graduate. Thao said other communities throughout the state already celebrate the new year.
"I thought it would be nice to have in Tracy … to show people our culture," he said.

He spoke to others over the summer, and found them receptive to the idea. A committee of five to seven young people took the helm, and has done the planning themselves.

The decision was made to refer to the celebration as the Hmong Youth New Year because the Hmong community’s youth are sponsoring the event, said J.C. Moua, a 1991 TAHS graduate. Moua is the master of ceremonies for the event. He said it is hoped that the tradition will continue in Tracy, and that next year the adults will sponsor it. He also hopes the event will grow.

"The youth are setting a stone here," he said. "Not a stepping stone, but a stone on which they can build."

The Hmong New Year is traditionally held after the rice harvest, which is considered a time to celebrate in Laos, similar to the Thanksgiving celebration following harvest in the United States. The theme is leaving the old behind and bringing in the new. It is traditionally considered bad luck to wear something old to a new year’s celebration.

The Hmong Youth New Year will begin at 9 a.m., with the program getting underway at 10 a.m.
During the first hour, there will be an activity called ball tossing that is intended to help everyone get acquainted. Traditionally, this activity is done for the participants to find a mate, said Mai Vue Moua, a TAHS junior. Ball tossing will likely also be done at the end of the day.

About 30 to 35 performers have been practicing skits, talents, and other entertainment for the Hmong Youth New Year.

"I didn’t think the response would be that big," Thao said. He said most of the performers are the younger people in the Hmong community.

J.C. Moua said the entertainment ranges from traditional to hip-hop. Two speakers are also scheduled. Tong Ger Yang, recently chosen as Hmong community leader in Lyon County, will speak in the morning. TAHS Principal Chad Anderson will speak in the afternoon.

Mai Vue Moua is helping to plan a fashion show. She said she would like to find some American adults or couples who are willing to participate by dressing up in traditional Hmong dress for the show.
Food will also be a big part of the day. Hmong women from the area are being asked to bring dishes for the potluck-style meal. A variety of traditional Hmong dishes are expected.

Thao said he hopes the event will promote diversity in the community, help others learn about the Hmong culture, and get rid of stereotypes that may exist.

"The reason is to hopefully bring everyone in town closer together," he said.