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News from the week of March 16, 2005

Heart-sick no longer
Teacher grateful after open heart surgery

At first sign of an approaching newspaper photographer, Russ Roots began moaning in mock agony.

“Ahhh, ahhh, agggggggh!”

Then he smiled.

“It must be a slow news day at the Headlight-Herald,” he quipped. “Look what I have to go through to give you some news.”

The Tracy elementary teacher didn’t sound a bit like someone who had undergone open-heart surgery a week earlier. But he had.

Feeling ill last Tuesday, Roots left school early to see his doctor in Marshall. He hadn’t felt well for several days. His body was weak and feverish. A weight seemed to be pressing down on his chest. Roots thought he had the flu. But tests in the emergency room at Avera Medical Center showed otherwise.

The 58-year-old was told that he was “a heart attack waiting to happen.” Three of the arteries leading to his heart showed 70% blockage. He was transferred immediately by ambulance to Sioux Valley Hospital, Sioux Falls, S.D. At noon the next day, a surgeon replaced five clogged arteries around the heart with veins taken from Roots’ legs.

The surgery was successful. By evening Roots was sitting up, and by Saturday he was home. Tuesday, the educator felt well enough to take a short walk outdoors.

Roots doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return to teaching. But he’s hoping for the energy to make a brief trip to the school Friday to see his fifth-graders.

“We feel so blessed,” said his wife Jane. “We know that God has had a hand in this. There was no damage done to his heart, and the doctors say that he won’t need to have anything done like this again for 20 years.”

• • •

Roots wasn’t an obvious candidate for heart problems. He exercised regularly, and didn’t have a weight problem. He is well-known for his unflappable personality and droll sense of humor. But both sides of his family have a history of heart disease.

“The doctor told me that family history is the No. 1 predictor of heart disease,” Roots said, with the second greatest contributor to heart problems, with diet and exercise third.

“With my family history, they felt that I would have had heart problems ten years earlier if I hadn’t been taking care of myself.”

He offers this simple advice to others:

“Tell people to listen what their bodies are telling them. Don’t ignore signs of problems. Take the time to get it checked out.”

Had he not decided to go to the doctor when he did, Roots said, he could easily have suffered a fatal heart attack, or sustained serious and permanent damage to his heart.

Ignoring symptoms, he said, is easy to do. He was told of a physician in Sioux Falls who ignored heart symptoms until after he had suffered a massive heart attack.

“And he was a doctor,” Roots said.

ABC hitches wagons for new 'Little House'
Walnut Grove boosters happy

A new “Little House on the Prairie” television series is premiering next week, and tourism leaders in Walnut Grove couldn’t be happier.

“This is going to help introduce the Wilder stories to a whole new generation,” said Nicole Elzenga, collections manager at the Laura Ingalls-Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove.

ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” is scheduled to debut the new “Little House” program Saturday, March 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. Subsequent episodes are slated April 2, 9, 16 and 23rd. Cameron Bancroft and Erin Cottrell star as Charles Ingalls and Caroline Ingalls. Kyle Chavarria plays Laura Ingalls, while Danielle Chuchran portrays Mary Ingalls.

The new mini-series, which is set in Kansas, is based closely on stories written by Laura Ingalls-Wilder. The “Little House” series that starred Michael Landon, and ran nine seasons on NBC, often had plots that had little or no basis from Ingalls-Wilder’s original stories.

“It’s really going to be nice having a new show on prime time,” said Errol Steffen, president of the Walnut Grove pageant committee. He noted that it has been 20 years since NBC’s original “Little House” series was discontinued as a prime time television program.

A Walnut Grove marketing effort, plugging the pageant, museum and other Walnut Grove Ingalls-Wilder attractions, is coinciding with the new series. The TV ads will air over KAAL television, the ABC affiliate in Austin.

• • •

Walnut Grove has long been a special place for Laura Ingalls Wilder fans. The Ingalls family lived on a farmstead north of Walnut Grove in the 1870s. The family’s experiences in Walnut Grove were chronicled in the Ingalls-Wilder book “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” Interest in Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s Walnut Grove connection skyrocketed after NBC’s “Little House” show premiered in 1974. The NBC series was shot with a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery, instead of the flat, treeless landscape that the Ingalls family encountered in Minnesota. But the television show sparked an explosion of “Little House” visitors to Walnut Grove, in part because the show specifically mentioned Walnut Grove. Re-runs of the original NBC “Little House” series still air on the Hallmark Channel and WGN, Chicago.

Elzenga feels that the new ABC series will help stir new interest in Ingalls-Wilder and her “Little House” series of books.

About 18,000 visitors stopped at the Laura Ingalls-Wilder Museum in Walnut last year, and more than 7,500 people attended the Wilder Pageant last July. However, both numbers have declined in recent years.

The first seven seasons of the NBC “Little House” series were recently released on DVDs. Supplemental material about Walnut Grove, filmed by TV actor Dean Butler, will be included in the DVD releases of “Little House” seasons 8-9.

The DVDs, plus the new ABC “Little House” mini-series, add up to a wagonload of good news for Walnut Grove, Elzenga feels.

“Personally, I think we are going to have a great year,” she said.

New lake sewer plan moves ahead

Murray County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to move forward on a second set of plans for the proposed Shetek-area centralized sewer system.

Commissioners heard from representatives from Bonestroo & Associates, the engineering firm that drew up the original plan, and Airvac, a company that specializes in vacuum-type systems. The original plan had called for a gravity-type system.

Commissioners and the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) Commission have been researching a vacuum system as a potential way to save money on the project, the costs of which have been estimated at $17 million for a gravity system.

The SAWS Commission invited representatives from Bonestroo and Airvac to make presentations at the meeting, said SAWS Chairman Dean Salmon.

“We would like to see if we can come to a common ground to move forward on the centralized sewer system,” said Salmon.

Chuck Schwartz and Mark Hanson spoke on behalf of Bonestroo. They indicated willingness to work closely with Airvac to create a second centralized sewer plan.

“I think we’re all in agreement that because of the funding available it’s going to be a central system,” said Schwartz. The question, he said, is what type of collection system will be installed.

Hanson said Bonestroo would work with Airvac to adjust the current plan to accommodate the vacuum system over the next four to six weeks. He suggested that a public hearing could be held in May to propose the Airvac system with pond treatments, in addition to an alternate bid for a gravity system.

By that time, he said, there should be more definite information available on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet being reviewed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the bonding bill that includes funds for the Shetek project.

Hanson said the Airvac system would be proposed as the base bid. Having two different sets of plans, he said, would allow Bonestroo to compare the two system types side by side and outline the pros and cons of each.

The Bonestroo representatives said the company would update the plans if the county would honor the fee that had been earlier decided upon—approximately $1 million—whether the project moves forward or not. The $1 million fee was earlier agreed upon only if the county moved forward with the project. The county has already paid Bonestroo approximately $500,000 for its services.

The commissioners voted to move forward with the updated designs utilizing the Airvac system for the additional fee to Bonestroo. Airvac representatives indicated that they would not charge for their services in helping the engineers draw up the new plan.

Commissioner Kevin Vickerman included in his motion to move forward with the Airvac design a stipulation that Bonestroo would turn the plans over to the county, even if the project does not move forward. Bonestroo agreed to this, with a disclaimer stating that the company is not liable if the project plans are altered after they are turned over.

Peter Yearneau of the Gaia Group, a Minnesota company consulting with Airvac on the project, outlined Airvac’s overall approach for the project.

He said it is estimated that there would be a total of eight vacuum stations at different locations under the Airvac plan. The stations would have both vacuum pumps and lift station pumps, and operate an average of four to six hours per day.

Yearneau said there were many advantages to an Airvac system, including fewer lift stations, reduced corrosion potential, and burying pipes at a shallower depth. He said it is estimated that an Airvac system for the lakes area centralized sewer would cost $13.2 million.

The commissioners, SAWS, and representatives from Bonestroo and Airvac will meet to go over the new plan on Tuesday, April 19. Time will be set aside during that day’s regular commissioners meeting to go over the plans at 9:30 a.m.

At that meeting, the commissioners expect to set a public improvement hearing date sometime during the week of May 16-20.

• • •

Following the presentations by Bonestroo and Airvac, Salmon told the commissioners that the SAWS Commission discussed the issue of inspections, which was brought up last week.

At this time, Salmon said, SAWS believes there is no reason to move forward with inspections when they already know that a high percentage will fail based on earlier information.

Salmon did ask the commissioners to sign a letter asking MPCA Sheryl Corrigan to either assign herself or someone else as a contact for both SAWS and the board of commissioners.

Salmon said the goal of doing this was to make sure the two groups are not receiving conflicting information from the MPCA. The commissioners agreed to sign a letter making this request.

Ovens back on at Tracy Bakery

The aromas of fried nut rolls are wafting through the Tracy Bakery again.

The bakery re-opened Monday, after being closed for nearly two weeks. The bakery temporarily closed March 1, due to illness encountered by owner Ray Hay. But the chief baker was able to return to work this week.

New school softball field would cost up to $40,000

A proposal to sell a city-owned softball field to clear the bases for a new funeral home appeared close to striking out Monday.

Tracy City Council members, holding a public hearing on the proposed land sale, voiced little enthusiasm for the sale, although no final decision was made. Instead, the issue was referred back to the Tracy Economic Development Authority. The hearing was continued until April 11.

The Monday hearing was prompted by a Tracy Economic Development Authority recommendation that the city sell the south softball field in the Tracy Industrial Park to Tim Kulow, owner of the Tracy Area Funeral Home. Kulow expressed interest in the property last month in order to build a 4,000 to 5,000 square-foot funeral home this summer or next spring.

The softball field/funeral home idea had a strike called against it two weeks ago when it was discovered that a large natural gas pipeline runs across the property. The proximity of the gas line, and the expected high cost of moving the line, cast doubt on the feasibility of any construction on the softball site.

A second strike thrown against the project Monday night, when Tracy Public School officials said that it would cost $30,000 to $40,000 to build a new softball field near the high school. The cost estimate had one council member declaring his opposition to selling the softball field for the funeral home construction.

“It would simply be putting more of a burden on (District 417) taxpayers,” said councilman Russ Stobb. The council member said that if the proposed land sale attracted an industry with a significant number of jobs, he would support selling the softball land. As it is, he said, “we are better off keeping it (as a softball field).”

A council motion directed the EDA to develop a pricing structure for industrial park lots, and determine whether all lots, such as the property now used for two softball fields, are actually for sale. Consideration is to be given to how many jobs will be created, what would be built, and the cost of improvements.

The EDA was also instructed to conduct further research into the gas line; such as construction setbacks, relocation costs, and utility easements.


School interest

Supt. of Schools Dave Marlette, who attended the council meeting with school board member Garry Hippe and Activities Director Bill Tauer, indicated that the school district might be interested in buying the softball property. The superintendent and Tauer said that the softball fields are very important to the junior and senior high girls’ softball program, as well as summer recreation programs.

If the city stood to gain an industry that employed 40 to 50 people by selling the softball property, Marlette said, he would be 100% supportive. However, Marlette felt that the city would gain relatively little with new funeral home, (increased property tax base) compared with the cost of establishing new softball fields. The administrator said that he felt a funeral home was an odd fit for an industrial park.

Council member Tim Byrne responded that while Tracy would like to attract manufacturing jobs, service-related businesses were more likely prospects for the industrial park. Community Development Director Robert Gervais said that North Star Modular Homes is the only business in the park that actually manufactures a product.

Council member Sandi Rettmer said that the cost of relocating the softball fields should not be the city’s responsibility, if there is another need for the land. Police Chief Bryan Hillger interjected that the city should be “working with the school rather than sticking it to them.”

Jan Arvizu, another council member, said that it needed to be remembered that the original purpose of the industrial park was to help develop jobs.

Rettmer said that was true. But, she said, in the recent past the council had sold an improved industrial park lot “for less than the cost of the improvements” even though nothing had been built on the land.

Arvizu and Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that if a mistake was made in the past, the experience can be used as a lesson in developing future policy for the sale of industrial park lots.