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News from the week of June 22, 2005

Farewells loom for AFS students

Tracy Area High School’s three 2004-05 foreign exchange students will say good-bye to family and friends this weekend.

Valeria Sotte, Italy, has been staying with the Tom and Joan Gervais family. Guillaume Frebault, France, has been hosted by the Laura and Louis DuCharme family. Diana Benavente, Guatemala, has been staying with the Jim and Jeanine Vandendriessche family. The students’ stay in Tracy ends Sunday, when they leave on the first leg of their trip home.


Diana: Guatemalan overcomes homesickness, grows as person

Going to school, attending danceline practice, and getting used to a new culture…relaxing?

According to Diana Benavente, yes. Compared to her daily schedule in Guatemala of getting of at 4 a.m., leaving for school at 6 a.m., attending class from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. working from 3 until 7 or 8 in the evening, then studying for four hours, maybe that’s not such an exaggeration.

Benavente, who came to Tracy last summer almost immediately after completing her working month required to graduate high school in Guatemala, says the change was, indeed, “very relaxing.” However, Benavente’s first weeks in the United States weren’t completely carefree.

“I was nervous. I wanted to go home. I told Jeanine, I wanted to go home,” she says. “I was an independent girl, but not too much. Here, you are alone; you have your host parents, but you need to resolve problems on your own.” The transition was especially hard, since Benavente couldn’t speak much English and found it difficult to get to know people at first. But as time went on, the Guatemalan learned more and more and began to feel comfortable and at home in Tracy.

When she began school in September, she discovered that the social scene in American high schools isn’t quite as stereotypical as cinema and television often portray.

“I couldn’t see the different groups; everyone was so close and friendly. TV was a lie.” However, Benavente still feels that in her home country, high school classmates are more likely to develop lifelong bonds.

“Here, they say, ‘you will find your best friend in college.’ In Guatemala, we are more close in high school. We are always giving each other hugs and kisses.” Keeping in contact with friends from home hasn’t been difficult for Benavente, especially with the aid of Internet messenger services. She feels it will be reasonably easy for her to make the transition back into Central American culture. Her friends are the ones who are unsure if things will be different, if their friend will come back different than before, now that she has been exposed to a whole new way of life.

“They are wondering if I’m going to be ‘cocky.’ They ask if I’m going to be the same and if I still love them,” she says, smiling.

Benavente says there are a number of things she’s been able to do over the year that she wasn’t allowed to do in Guatemala. Most parents there are stricter about curfews, partly because of the urban environment and partly because more time needs to be devoted to academics.

“Here is more easy, the life. You can enjoy life here. In Guatemala you have to study a lot. Many kids enjoy high school and sports. [Back home] I couldn’t hang out with friends often.”

Though Benavente must make her return to Guatemala, she hopes to return for visits to Tracy, possibly with her sister in November. She plans to study Portuguese at college for five years, and then possibly go to another country to work in the field of international business. Her host parents, David and Jeanine Vandendriessche, will most definitely be making trips to Guatemala. They’ve already traveled there several times, attending the weddings of Claudia and Leonel, Diana’s older siblings, who were previously hosted by the Vandendriessches.

Diana will take back many memories with her to Guatemala and hopes that her classmates and friends will remember her. There is one phrase in particular that she made a habit of using to describe almost any thing, situation, or idea.

I think all the kids are going to miss my “so romantic.”


Valeria: Italian revels in relaxed lifestyle

In Italian culture, family is regarded in the highest esteem. Luckily for Valeria Sotte, her American host family’s ideals were much the same. She found that the “family concept” values she had grown up with were shared by the Tom and Joan Gervais family. It wasn’t long before Sotte felt she belonged in the family. At Senior Awards Night, she even said she didn’t really miss her parents in Italy because her host parents had loved her no differently than a real mother and father would.

Over the past school year, Sotte has been fortunate enough to not visit sites in the Upper Midwest, but has also visited Texas, New England, Florida, Yellowstone National Park, and has gone on a cruise through the Caribbean Seas.

Her decision to spend a year in the United States was one that was shared by her cousin. The two have never been too far apart from each other. For years, they’ve lived in the same town, attended the school, and even lived next door to one another in a duplex. So, the thought of one of them traveling overseas and the other staying in Italy was hardly an option. One girl was placed in Dallas, Texas, and the other was offered a home in Tracy, Minnesota. It was her cousin who helped boost her spirits in late November, which Sotte said was the “lowest” part of the year.

Sotte says she liked the relaxed lifestyle she got to experience when she came to the United States. Her schedule had been so hectic—she usually studied four hours a day and devoted much of her time to organizing activities for her church—that she almost wasn’t sure what to do with all her free time when she arrived last August. She was involved in danceline, but she says she still wasn’t as busy as she was used to being.

“I had to learn to entertain myself. It was way more relaxing…nice too.” She also had to adjust to the meal schedule.

“In Italy, everyone has lunch and supper together.” These meals are “big deals.” Students come home from school to eat lunch and the whole family gathers again for a large dinner in the evening. Snacking between meals in Italy, she said, doesn’t exist.

The Italian found that the way American teens spend their free time is really no different than what she was used to. Usual weekend plans include watching movies or just “hanging out” at someone’s house. Sotte hopes that she’ll be able to catch up with everything she’s missed with her friends back home. “I’m just wondering about it…I think I’ll catch up with it.”

She has one more year of high school left; her schooling here counted, but schools in Italy require one more year. After that, she says for sure she’ll go the college with the intent of majoring in “something scientific”, possibly architecture or medicine.

When she returns to Italy, she’ll take with her a newfound patience and an ability to accept things.

“It’s an experience that kind of tests you. It tells you a lot about yourself.”


Guillaume: French youth has 'great experience'

French AFS student Guillaume Frebault remembers exactly how he decided he wanted to live a year abroad:

“My sister told me one of her friends went to Buffalo, New York. It was like, boom, this is what I want to do.” Not long after he made his decision, the freshly graduated Frebault was on a plane to the United States, knowing not much more than the fact that he was going to live with a family named DuCharme, and attend school in a town called Tracy.

Just days after he arrived, he was attending grueling summer football practices, both in the morning and afternoon.

“That was really hard…and I missed my family and friends. I was writing home every day.” Not surprisingly, he appreciated finding out that the school atmosphere was more laid back than what he was used to. “The classes were so friendly; you could be friends with the teacher. It was more serious in France.”

Life with host his family, Frebault says, was good from the start. “They were happy to have me. I’m not their real son, though, so they knew they had to be careful.” Having grown up in a small town himself, the foreigner found that the lifestyle of rural Minnesota was similar to how he’d expected it to be. The only real notable difference was how punctual Americans often are when it comes to daily events like dinner. In France, Frebault says, most people don’t sit down to eat their evening meal until about eight or nine every night. “It took a while to adjust to the schedule here.”

Frebault made sure to take advantage of high school sports by participating in football, basketball, and track. He’d played rugby and basketball in his home country when he was younger, but he wasn’t prepared for the amount of physical effort that would be required of him here. As a result, “I lost a lot of weight,” he says.

Throughout the year, Frebault has been keeping close tabs on news in France. He says he feels very sad over France’s choice to reject the European Constitution and even worse that he can do nothing about it. “You know even if you are there you can’t be helpful, but it was worse being so far away.”

When Frebault returns to his country, he plans to attend college for electronics. When he does leave, he feels as though a long vacation will be coming to an end. “That’s this feeling, like a big holiday.”

To anyone who may ever consider studying abroad through a program like AFS, Frebault advises, “just do it. It’s a great experience. You have to live it.”

Tracy Ace explores wellness center plan

A new possibility has emerged for the proposed Tracy Area Medical Services rehabilitation/wellness center.

A private business is investigating the feasibility of building the structure, and then leasing the facility to Tracy Area Medical Services.

Ron and Warren Gramstad of the Tracy Ace Home Center have been talking with TAMS officials about building and owning the center, if a long-term lease can be agreed to. Ron Gramstad approached the Tracy Economic Development Authority last week to express interest in purchasing 51,000 square feet of Eastview Addition land south of the Prairie View Healthcare Center. EDA members have scheduled a special meeting Friday, June 24, to consider the land sale.

The Ace Home Center plan differs from earlier wellness/rehab proposals in that the City of Tracy would not be involved in any aspect of financing the facility.

Several EDA members said last week they are willing to sell Eastview land for a rehab/wellness center. It was noted, however, that the site would probably have to be rezoned in order to allow a commercial building in an area now zoned residential.

Sewer and water services are close to the property. Streets adjacent to the site (Union on the north, Sunrise Drive on the south) are platted, but undeveloped.

Gramstad asked EDA members what would be involved in extending Union Street toward the east, from the intersection of Fifth Street East. However, after the meeting, Gramstad told the Headlight-Herald that Ace would be willing to build their own paved driveway onto the property from Union.

Rick Nordahl, TAMS chief executive officer, confirmed that the hospital is interested in the Ace Home Center proposal. However, he stressed that no decisions have been made about how to proceed with the rehab/wellness center, and that the Ace proposal is one of several options being investigated. Many specifics of the plan from Ace are still unknown, he said.

TAMS is also looking at proposals for remodeling one of two Hwy. 14 buildings (Mediterranean Club and former Minntronix building) for a wellness center.

The construction of a new wellness center by another private company, with the City of Tracy leasing the facility from the builder, and then leasing facility to TAMS, is another option being explored.

In each option, projected wellness/rehab center revenues would pay for monthly lease options.

• • •

In April, TAMS officials estimated that a 6,000 square foot wellness/rehab center would cost about $625,000. TAMS would use part of the facility for therapy services, freeing up space in the hospital’s outreach wing for more visiting medical specialists. The remainder of the facility would serve as a wellness center, where dues-paying members could exercise and workout.

Drainage estimates increase

Costs for proposed South Tracy drainage improvements are rising as fast as Greenwood Addition floodwaters after a three-inch deluge.

The latest estimate for the project is $677,000, a figure that includes the purchase of five to seven acres to build a new drainage ditch. The estimate includes all engineering, administrative and construction costs. Construction only costs are pegged at $416,000.

Earlier, this spring, the cost of South Tracy storm sewer and ditch improvements were estimated at $280,000 without land acquisition, plus $35,000 for engineering.

A public hearing on the proposed drainage improvements is scheduled in Tracy City Council Chambers at 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 27. The City of Tracy has mailed hearing notices to property owners who would benefit from the improvements.


Proposed plan

The proposed drainage improvements would build storm sewers from the northeast corner of District 417 property around the high school and from Spring Street in the Greenwood Addition to a new drainage ditch. The new drainage ditch would be built eastward from the intersection of South Fourth and Front streets. The new drainage channel would carry surface water east and northeast to Lyon County Ditch 23, which runs along the railroad tracks between South Fourth and Center streets.

Several routes for the new ditch have been proposed; all would require the purchase of land from what is known as the former Central Livestock property. The Tracy City Council has not made any decision as to what route the ditch would take if the project moves forward. Some ditch routes would require the purchase of more than the five to seven acres includes in the $677,000 estimate.

The storm sewer/drainage ditch plan is one facet of a South Tracy improvement plan developed last fall by the Worthington engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson. The plan was drafted in the wake of significant flooding problems that occurred in the Southwest Tracy following heavy rains over the 2004 Memorial Day weekend.

Neighborhoods south of the railroad tracks in Tracy have no storm sewers, and instead rely upon on an old county ditch and tile drainage system. Many areas have historically experienced periodic flooding problems when large amounts of rain fall in a short time.

SHE engineering reports say that the new drainage ditch and storm sewer improvements will improve, but not solve the area’s drainage problems. To remedy all of South Tracy’s drainage woes, engineers recommend that three dry retention ponds also be built west, south, and southeast of Tracy Area High School. The cost of the retention ponds was estimated last year at just under $1.8 million.


Financing questions

Tracy City Council members have not made any decisions about the proposed South Tracy drainage improvements, although some have voiced support for the project.

Last week, City Administrator Audrey Koopman told council that new financing options might have to be considered in light of the increased cost estimates. Under past policy, the city has assessed 50% of storm sewer improvements to benefiting property owners, with city finances picking up the rest. The city’s utility surcharge fund has been suggested as one source of drainage improvement money. However, the utility surcharge fund has a balance of only about $200,000.

Other financing possibilities, Koopman said last week, could include borrowing money through the sale of a city-back bond, or seeking special loan/grant financing.

Honors cap doctor's 31-year career

Dr. Apostol selected for state ‘Health Hero’ award

Accolades for Dr. Wilfredo Apostol Friday night were as numerous as the scores of babies that he delivered during a 31-year career in Tracy.

So many tributes were given to the retiring Tracy physician, that the June 17 program nearly ended without an announcement of Dr. Apostol’s highest honor. The Minnesota Rural Health Association has selected Dr. Apostol for its 2005 “Health Hero” award.

“We’re very proud of Dr. Apostol for getting this statewide recognition. It is very much deserved, “ said Carol Cooreman, Tracy Area Medical Services community relations representative.

The crowd in the Mediterranean’s banquet room agreed, rising to give Dr. Apostol a standing ovation.

• • •

About 250 turned out for the retirement reception honoring Dr. Apostol and his family.

“We have been fortunate to have Dr. Apostol here,” said Master of Ceremony Eric Fultz. He said that Dr. Apostol and his wife had made many lasting contributions to not just local health care, but the community as well.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano thanked Dr. Apostol for his long service to the community, noting that Dr. Apostol was Tracy’s sole resident physician during 20 of his 31 years.

Dave Zwach presented a plaque on the behalf of the Tracy Area Medical Services advisory board. “This only scratches the surface of the community’s appreciation,” he said.

A skit, written and narrated by Sue Swan, depicted highlights of the Apostol family’s tenure in Tracy. Twenty-five hospital and clinic employees took turns portraying vignettes of Dr. Apostol’s life in Tracy.

“He never once complained about any of his work assignments or being on call, and believe me, he did take more than his share through the years,” Swan said, as Barb Surprenant appeared with a big cell phone.

Other scenes depicted the family’s arrival in Tracy, his work at the clinic and hospital, his service in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, attaining U.S. citizenship, the doctor’s philanthropic work, the physician’s love of hunting, fishing, gardening and local sports, and the career successes of the Apostols’ children.

Swan concluded her narration by saying:

“We sincerely wish him and his family the very best in the years to come. We will miss his very familiar singing and whistling in the halls of Tracy Area Medical Services. There were many times before leaving after a very busy day, he would ask the nurses, ‘Is there peace in the valley…Can I go home now?’ Well, Dr. Apostol, we will all try to keep peace in this valley for you. Good luck and thank you for being part of our family at TAMS.”

Swan and TAMS employees also sang own lyrics to the song “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

Two verses were:


Well, hospital call never done me no harm,

Rushing to the ER and stitching’ up an arm.

Singin’ in the halls is part of my charm,

Thank God I’m a country Doc.


When the work’s all done and the sun’s settin’ low,

I stop at the nurses’ desk just to say hello.

The wife’s ‘awaitin supper so I know I have to go,

Thank God I’m a country Doc.


• • •

A native of the Philippines, Dr. Apostol emigrated to the United States in 1965 after completing medical school in the Philippines. He came to Minnesota in 1973, first serving as a surgeon and general practitioner in Heron Lake, Lakefield, and Jackson. He came to Tracy in 1974, after being encouraged by Dr. Ernesto Lee. In Tracy, he operated his own medical practice until the 1990s, when Tracy Hospital became affiliated with the Sioux Valley Hospital health system.

Dr. Apostol, 64, announced his retirement last month and saw his final patients on June 15

Alice and Dr. Apostol have three children: Meah, Iris, and John. The children and their families were all present for the Friday reception.

Elmer Klein retiring?

39-year tenure on board ends

Elmer Klein has ended a 39-year-term on the Tracy Nursing Home’s Board of Directors. An open house was held last week in Klein’s honor, with many well wishers dropping by to enjoy cake and punch. An engraved clock was given to Klein as a retirement gift.

But no one was making too much of a fuss. After all, Klein, 84, has been down the retirement path before. He retired from farming in the fall of 1987, but is still known to climb on a tractor.

“I do some field work for Joe (Cooreman),” Klein admitted. “I like to keep busy.” He also works regularly as a carpentry partner with Don Hansen.

• • •

Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House, and the Ford Mustang was a brand-new model when Klein accepted an appointment on the Tracy Nursing Home Board.

“Billy Mitchell (a Tracy attorney) did my tax work then. There was an opening on the board, and he suggested that I go on it.” Klein agreed to serve, but was told that he had to buy $25 worth of stock in the non-profit Tracy Nursing Home organization.

“I found out that I would have only had to have bought $5 worth,” Klein smiles.

When Klein came on board, the nursing home had just made the transition from a hospital to a nursing home. (The original Tracy Hospital opened in 1937). A $90,000 addition onto the home’s south side helped with the change.

In his early years on the board, Klein remembers that board members did much hands-on work. Klein was soon named chairman, and one of his duties was signing checks. Today the board is mostly responsible for setting policy. Staff is responsible for the day-to-day details of operating the nursing home. The paperwork required in the nursing home business today, he said, is staggering compared with when he first got on the board. But the facility’s overall mission—to provide high quality, homelike care to the elderly—has not, Klein says.

The nursing home population has changed too. Residents today, he indicated, are generally older than those in the 1960s and 1970s. Nursing home stays are shorter. The Tracy Nursing Home was always at or near 100% occupancy. But new options for seniors, such as assisted living and home health-care, have resulted in a lower resident census and an increase availability of individual private rooms.

In the 1960s, Klein indicated, it wasn’t uncommon for people (often bachelor men) to stay at the nursing home over the winter, and then go home in the spring. The room and board rate was then $7 a day.

• • •

Why did Klein continue serving on the board for nearly four decades?

“I was interested. I wanted to keep it going,” said Klein. “I figured that I’d get old one day too and maybe I’d need a place to stay too.

Alice Persons was the first administrator Klein served with, followed by Betty Baker, Goldie Wilking and then Eeg.

In the 1990s, Klein and other board members were involved in overseeing a major addition onto the nursing home’s north side. The addition created two new patient rooms and great improved the handicapped accessibility of the home with a new elevator, stairwell, and ground-level automatic doors.

Other Tracy Nursing Home board members are John Visker, Dave Hicks, Joe Cooreman, Pat Nelson, Terry Flesner, and Glenn Surprenant.

Swift Lake 'dog run' suggested

The “Fidos” of Tracy might someday have a spot to roam free within the city if a proposed “dog run” becomes a reality at Swift Lake Park. But until then, Tracy leaders advise dog owners to keep their animals on a leash.

“We’ve got an ordinance (against dogs running at large) and I think we should enforce it,” said Councilman Bill Chukuske at a June 13 meeting.

The council discussion was sparked by concerns aired at May 31 meeting that some dog owners are allowing animals to run loose in Swift Lake Park without leashes.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson suggested that a dog run be considered along the north side of Swift Lake Park. However, this plan will require 1,100 feet of fencing. Council members felt that it would be wise to postpone the dog run, until the fencing could be incorporated into an airport improvement project, possibly as early as 2007. State grant money would then be available to pay for part of the fencing cost.

The dog run, as envisioned by Robinson, would run nearly the length of the park. On the west, near the park’s entrance, the dog run would start with a six-foot wide mowed path parallel to an existing fence line on the park’s north side. The canine run would continue north of Swift Lake, and south of the newly-installed fence to the park’s northeast corner. The free-roaming dog area would be located in a little-used portion of the park, away from the campground, and bike path. The dog run would take up about an acre of land that is now rented out as farmland.

Council members expressed interest in the concept, but only if the area could be enclosed, and if help was available for the fencing expenses.

A brief discussion followed about other city animal ordinances. Police Chief Bryan Hillger noted that dog owners are required to clean up dog droppings on all property that isn’t their own. Dogs are required to be on leashes within the city, except for the owner’s own property when the owner is able to exhibit verbal control over the animal.