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News from the week of February15, 2006


School addition gets positive reception

Planning to continue

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

The plan calls for the marriage of athletics and fine arts. Those who learned more about it Monday felt it was a plan worthy of applause.

About 60 people attended a special community forum hosted by the District 417 school board Monday evening. The purpose of the meeting was to gauge interest in the community for a proposed arts and athletic center addition on the east end of Tracy Area High School.

Preliminary facility plans include a 500-seat theater, 1,800-seat gymnasium, wrestling room, locker rooms, weight room, storage rooms, large entry with concessions, and bathrooms. Early, rough cost estimates have been in the $5 million range.

The tone of the forum was overwhelmingly positive, with all who took the opportunity to speak in favor of such a facility. Proponents from both the athletics and fine arts standpoints spoke in support of the project.


Keith Stanton spoke first, reading a letter in support of the facility.

“There is no question that the physical education facilities need extensive upgrading. Inclusion of a theater is a logical extension,” he said. “In this day when schools must compete for students, it makes sense that we offer the best possible programs and facilities for them.”

Marge Robinson, president of the Fine Arts Council of Tracy, spoke on the success of the arts in Tracy, and a recent study by the Metropolitan Arts Council. Representatives from the Metropolitan Arts Council were impressed both with Tracy and its focus on the fine arts. She said a theater facility would greatly enhance the already strong arts in Tracy.

Susan Kluge, who has directed high school theater productions over the past two years, said that while her focus is in theater, she understands that athletic programs need more space also.

“It’s almost impossible to carry on a rehearsal when there are volleyball players practicing,” she said.

She said it’s fine to start out in a smaller area to practice, but once sets and props are added to the equation, more space is needed.

“We end up fighting for space,” she said.

Ade Miller, a teacher and director of several musicals within the community, said she was pleased with the size of the facility that is being considered. Others who have built theaters, she said, have later regretted not having enough seating. The theater should be able to seat at least the student body and staff, she recommended.

“Please don’t go small if you’re going to build a theater,” she said.

Board member Chris Schons, who is also involved with FACT, said some events put on by the arts council have drawn 650-700 people. Miller said the annual Christmas concert draws 800-1,000.

Miller also encouraged the board to be generous with storage space, and not assume that the wings of a theater are enough.

Vocal music instructor Shirlee Gilmore expressed her support of the project, as well as gratefulness. When she is preparing for a concert, she said, physical education classes have generously given up their class time to allow for practice in the gym. Gilmore, agreeing with Miller, encouraged the board not to skimp and to do plenty of research before building.


Teacher and coach Brian Michelson told the board that while the Veterans’ Memorial Center facility downtown is nice, some parts of it are dated, such as the locker rooms. Holding events and practices there also often means many trips back and forth between the school and Veterans’ Memorial Center for coaches. Scheduling, he said, is difficult with lack of adequate facility space for all activities.

“It would be really nice to have an extra facility—a nice facility for people to sit down and watch a play or a concert. I’m behind this 110%.”

Another teacher and coach, Nat Boyer, also expressed his support.

“The development of the arts here has been great,” he said. “We end up interfering with their practices.”

He echoed Michelson’s comment that while the facility downtown is nice, it is difficult to move back and forth. The district’s current weight room, he said, has been outgrown by student interest, resulting in some students having to be turned away.

“I support all facets of this. Of course my priority is a gym, by I believe a theater and auditorium is important as well,” he said. Getting up to par with other schools of Tracy’s size, he said, will help attract students and programs.

Chris Schmidt, a Tracy graduate who moved back to Tracy to raise his family, said he was disappointed to learn that the wrestling program no longer had its own space. Now involved with the youth wrestling program, Schmidt said he doesn’t feel the Veterans’ Memorial Center is suitable for hosting such events, and added that there is a fight for space there too.

“I don’t see a down side to this,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

John Carlson, another youth wrestling coach, said agreed that Veterans’ Memorial Center doesn’t work that well for events.

“For me, it’s important to have what’s best for my kids,” he said, adding that when he was in school, he felt that Tracy did have excellent facilities. “I feel we have fallen behind and I hate to see that.”

Athletic Director Bill Tauer reiterated the lack of space for school activities. In addition to the high school facilities and Veterans’ Memorial Center, the district currently rents the use of the St. Mary’s School gymnasium and buses students to Balaton and Milroy for practices and games. A facility such as the one being proposed would also be a boost for Tracy in that it could host regional events.

Other concerns

Retired teacher Jesse James, who has also been involved with many theater productions, said a lack of adequate arts and athletics facilities at Tracy Area High School is limiting students.

There was a time, he said, when he never would have encouraged a student to go into entertainment or athletics. Now, he said, there are many careers associated with these fields that are open to students. Without adequate arts and athletics facilities, he said, the school cannot expose students to those potential careers.

“I know you want what’s best for our students,” James said to the board. “We have to give them the means to be successful.”

Keith Rayman told the board that while the plans for the facility look great, other programs, such as danceline and cheerleading, need space as well. Currently, these activities have to practice in areas such as the lunchroom where participants have to move tables out of the way, and the floors are hard and not suitable for practice.

‘It’s going to take work’

Retired teacher Bill Bolin told the board that he thinks they will have support for the project. However, as with anything, there are certain to be dissenters as well.

“It’s going to take work,” he said. “We need to convince others.”

George Hebig told the board it was important to put together a business plan for the project and then sell it to the people.

“The first thing people ask is, ‘Where’s the money?’” he said, “But it’s not just what it will cost. It’s what it will do for the whole community.”

A fine arts and athletic facility, he said, will bring people to Tracy businesses, and attract people to town.

“We need the best to attract families here.”

What’s next?

Deb Miller asked the board if there was a timeline for the project. Many in attendance, herself included, would like to get started.

“We’re excited about this now,” she said.

Superintendent David Marlette said there has been no timeline established. The board wanted to find out of there was any interest in such a project first, he said.

Marlette recommended, and reiterated later during the regular board meeting, that he believed the next step should be to create a steering committee. The goal of this committee would be to talk about the various wants and needs of the district, and narrow them down from there. Then, an architect could be approached. Board member Peggy Zwach also recommended doing a survey of taxpayers, to get a better feel for support of the project.

The board directed Marlette to gather volunteers willing to serve on the steering committee, and begin moving forward with a more definite plan.

Area nursing homes rate high in 'report card'

By Seth Schmidt

Like the children in Lake Wobegone, most area nursing homes are above average.

A “report” card developed by Minnesota Department of Health shows that Southwestern Minnesota nursing homes have the highest ratings in the state. Most area nursing homes rate above the state median score.

Statewide, the average score for Minnesota’s 393 nursing homes is 26.3 “stars” out of a possible 40. The 56 nursing homes in Southwest Minnesota averaged a score of 28.6 stars.

The Prairie View Healthcare Center and the Tracy Nursing Home both received 28 stars in the report card.

Scores received by other area nursing homes included: Westbrook Good Samaritan Center, 32; Sogge Good Samaritan Center-Windom, 31; Maple Lawn-Fulda, 31; Valley View Manor-Lamberton, 30; Good Samaritan Village-Pipestone, 30; Tyler Healthcare Center, 29; Colonial Manor-Balaton, 28; Sunwood Good Samaritan Center-Redwood Falls, 26; Wabasso Health Care Center, 23.

Eight different quality measures were evaluated for the report card, with one to five stars available in each category. The highest possible score that a nursing home could receive is 40, and the lowest 15.

The criteria used in the report card were:

• Resident satisfaction: What residents said about their homes in interviews.

• Quality indicators: How well residents do physically and mentally, taking into consideration the level of care required.

• Hours of direct care: Daily hours of care per resident.

• Staff turnover: Percent of workers who left the facility between October 2003 and Sept. 2004.

• Staff retention: Percentage of workers on staff in Oct. 2003, that are still employed in September, 2004.

• Temporary staff: Percentage of worker hours supplied by temporary employment agencies.

• Single-bed rooms: Percentage of single rooms on Oct. 1, 2005.

• Inspections: Results of latest state inspection.


Inspections rate high

Both the Tracy Nursing Home and Prairie View earned five out of five possible stars in the state inspection. Both homes also did well in resident satisfaction, where each received four points. The Tracy Nursing Home received its lone “one” in the quality indicators category, while Prairie View got its only “one” in staff retention.

Tennis Eeg, Tracy Nursing Home administrator; and Tim Byrne, Prairie View administrator; both expressed satisfaction that their facilities scored above the state average.

“It showed that our residents are happy, and that’s the main thing,” said Eeg. At the same time, Eeg said, the state report card is useful in that it shows areas where the nursing home can work for improvement. “There is always room for improvement.”

Byrne said, “ We’re pretty happy about our score.” But he added that report card needed to be kept in perspective.

“It’s nice when you look pretty good in a report, but the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.”

For example, he said that Prairie View gets many residents who are on a rehabilitation therapy program. Since rehab residents are more likely to be suffering from pain, Prairie View’s pain management score likely wouldn’t rate as well as a facility that doesn’t have as many rehab patients.

Byrne cautioned that statistics at relatively small nursing homes can fluctuate greatly—favorably or unfavorably—because of the smaller numbers used in the data.

The state report card, he said, is just one of a number of tool for people to use in evaluating a nursing home, and should not be considered a substitute for an on-site visit.

“(The report card) gives families some leads about what questions to ask when they are choosing a nursing home,” Byrne said.

“The report is a brief snapshot of what is happening at a particular time,” agreed Eeg.

To learn more about the Minnesota nursing home report card, look at the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services web site located at

Proposals sought for city waste

Tracy City Council members have begun the process of seeking proposals for a new garbage and refuse collection contract for both homes and businesses.

Monday, the council issued “a request for proposals” from area garbage services, in hopes that a new contract can be in place by July 1. The City of Tracy’s present contract with Ritters Sanitary Service of Marshall expires June 30.

Ritters Sanitary Service is Tracy’s only garbage hauler for both commercial and residential pickup under the current contract. On a 4-1 vote, council members agreed to consider separate contracts for residential and commercial disposal service.

Waste contractors can seek a Tracy contract in one of three ways: 1) Both residential and commercial waste pickup; 2) Residential waste pickup only; 3) Commercial waste pickup only. Bill Chukuske, Jan Arvizu, Russ Stobb and Mayor Steve Ferrazzano voted for the motion. Sandi Rettmer voted “no.”

Proposals are to be submitted within 30 days.

• • •

Council members discussed at length, the merits of the city granting an exclusive garbage-hauling contract.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that one of the rationales for having just one hauler for residential service, is to reduce the amount of wear and tear on city streets by not having multiple haulers driving trucks into neighborhoods at different days to pick up garbage. Public Works Director Rick Robinson said that garage trucks are one of the heaviest vehicles using city streets.

Arvizu said that an exclusive contract means the “people technically don’t have a choice.” She wondered if the commercial garbage-hauling contract could be opened up so that contractors or private citizens can have more than one business to call when obtaining a dumpster.

Chukuske said he has gotten calls from contractors, who want to be able to seek competitive bids for demolition dumpsters.

Arvizu wondered if Tracy businesses shouldn’t also be allowed to select their own disposal company.

Rettmer was skeptical. “So you want commercial people to be able to do their own thing? How are you going to control it?”

Allowing businesses to select their own disposal company, Koopman said, would create the possibility that several companies would be driving vehicles into town to pick up commercial garbage. She noted that under the current contract, the council has approved all existing business disposal rates.

Chukuske said garbage trucks are already rolling down Tracy streets at least four days a week. The firm that picks up recycling materials for Lyon County, is different from the city’s hauler, and sometimes the vehicles that pick up residential and commercial waste are different, he said. “Roll-off” containers or dumpsters are delivered to locations periodically across the community.

The council majority felt that allowing contractors to submit separate proposals for commercial and residential waste disposal would introduce an extra element of competitiveness to the garbage proposals.

• • •

The council agreed that local residents should still have the right to haul their own lawn and garden waste material to the city’s compost site, and that companies should have a specific time limit for responding to citizen complains. Citizens can have the city’s hauler pick up the lawn and garden waste, but at an additional charge.

It was agreed that a local office would not be a requirement, because of fears that the provision would drive up costs.

Haulers will be asked for disposal rates 15 gallon, 60-gallon and 90-gallon containers for both curbside and alley pick-up.

Mailbox is necessity, Garvin people say

After a six-week absence, a U.S. Postal Service collection box is back in Garvin.

The Postal Service—citing low mail volume—removed Garvin’s only community mailbox on Dec. 22. But after a flurry of protests from business owners and town residents, the Postal Service returned the collection box to Garvin on Feb. 3.

Garvin people are pleased.

“It’s important to a small town, to have a secure place to mail a letter,” said Kathy Schmidt, of Kathy’s Cut & Curl Beauty Shop.

“We’re happy to have it back,” said Jan Bornitz of the Bornitz Financial Service office in Garvin. “We just want to make sure that it stays where it is.”

Without a Garvin mail collection box, Garvin residents say they would have to drive to Tracy or Balaton for a secure place to mail letters and packages.

“This is a large inconvenience for each business having to go to another town to put their mail out, both in time, mileage, and loss of work getting done,” said Garvin resident Jim Carlson, who operates Jim’s Auto Body Shop in Garvin, in a letter to Postal Service officials in Mankato. “It is hard to believe that each town/city cannot each have one drop box at least for its residents and businesses to use.”

While pleased that a secure mailbox is back in Garvin, town residents worry that the box could someday be removed again. They are especially concerned about information from the Postal Service, stating that collection receptacles generating less than 25 pieces of mail a day can be targeted for removal.

Annie Kennedy, a Postal Service employee in Washington D.C., wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail sent to Congressman Colin Peterson’s office, that the Postal Service had decided to put the Garvin mailbox back into service “on a contingency basis. If future density tests confirm that the box consistently generates little mail volume, it will be removed.” She explained that the Postal Service periodically conducts density tests on collection boxes to measure volume. “Boxes not generating an average of 25 pieces of mail daily are targeted for removal,” she wrote.

• • •

Garvin residents feel that any Postal Service evaluation of the Garvin mailbox’s usage should be based on average daily volume over an extended period of time.

“Our office alone puts out over 3,800 pieces of sensitive mail a year.” wrote Larry Bornitz, Bornitz Financial Service, in a Feb. 10 letter sent to federal Postal Service officials, Senator Norm Senator, Rep. Colin Peterson, and Tracy Postmaster Lynn Vandenbroecke. “That should count enough alone for a secure drop box to be in town.”

Schmidt points out that Garvin’s streets were torn up for the better part of two years for a major utility project. Paving on the streets was only completed last fall. The street construction, Schmidt feels, undoubtedly reduced usage of the Garvin mailbox.

Dennis Kruke, who owns and operates This Ol’ Place in Garvin, feels that if volume is an issue, the Postal Service should place the mailbox near their business, which is located along Hwy. 14, rather than at its present downtown location. A Hwy. 14 location would likely generate additional mail volume, Kruke said.

Vandenbroecke, the Tracy Postmaster who oversees postal operations in Garvin, said that postal regulations do call for a review of mail collection boxes that generate fewer than 25 pieces of mail a day. When surveys show fewer than 25 pieces of mail, postal service policy calls for a review to be conducted. Vandenbroecke said that she didn’t know when a review of the Garvin collection box would be conducted, and said that to her knowledge one had not been scheduled. She indicated that she would conduct a review when instructed to do so.



Mailing options

Mail service in Garvin is a part of Tracy Rural Route 3. The rural route carrier will pick up out-going mail that has been placed in individual mail receptacles that have a raised flag.. But Garvin residents say that putting their out-going mail in rural route mailboxes located is no substitute for having a secure collection mailbox. Garvin business mailboxes are located in clusters near the city park. Individual mailboxes are located in curbside groups throughout the community. Garvin people worry about the possibility of vandalism and theft, for outgoing mail placed in individual mailboxes.

Larry Bornitz, in a Dec. 27 letter to postal officials, said that he wouldn’t consider placing confidential business mail into an unsecured mailbox for pickup by the rural mail carrier. Most local people, he wrote, much prefer mailing items in a secure mailbox.

“People in a rural area do not want checks, money orders, and gift cards in their rural boxes to be picked up as anyone can open those up. Several from the rural area drive in to drop their monthly bills off so they know it will leave Garvin and be in the system the day they drop it off. …”

Any town with businesses, should be entitled to one secure mailbox, he concluded.

Garvin has not had a postmaster or free-standing post office since 1992. The Bornitz Financial Services office became a commissioned post office for Garvin following the closing of the freestanding Garvin Post Office. Postal services, including inside PO boxes, were offered in the Bornitz building until 2001.

Businesses and organizations in Garvin include: “This Ol’ Place, Bornitz Financial Service, Kathy’s Cut & Curl Beauty Shop, Knakmuhs Agency, Rasmussen Small Engine Repair, Closeout Warehouse, Marlin Frisvold Watkins Sales, Jim’s Auto Body, Country Side Repair & Welding, Jim’s Auto Body, City of Garvin, Garvin Dept./First Responders, Garvin has two churches, Lake Sarah Lutheran and Congregational.


'Music & muse' set Feb. 26

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Three talented individuals will share their passion for “Music and Muse” on Sunday, Feb. 26 at Tracy Lutheran Church.

The event, set for 2:30 Sunday afternoon, is sponsored by the Fine Arts Council of Tracy. Performers include poet Vince Wixon, vocalist Shirlee Gilmore, and pianist and composer Pamela Gervais.

A free-will offering will be collected at the event. Coffee and bars will follow.

Below is information on Wixon, Gilmore, and Gervais.


Vincent Wixon

Vincent Wixon grew up on his parents’ grain and dairy farm on the Highline Road west of Tracy. When he bought the farm in 1912, Wixon’s grandfather inscribed “The Square Grove Farm” in the lintel stone.

The title of Wixon’s first full-length book, The Square Grove, was inspired by the farm where he grew up. The recently published book contains poems about his growing up in rural Minnesota and his adult life in southern Oregon.

Wixon graduated from Tracy High School in 1966. He attended colleges in Iowa, Washington, Utah, and Oregon. After receiving an M.A., he taught at Northern Illinois University and Utah State University, where he also became certified to teach in public schools.

Beginning in 1973, he taught English and writing in high schools in Price, Utah; Salem, Oregon; and Central Point, Oregon. He was Oregon Teacher of the Year in 1988, and retired from teaching in 2000. In 2001, he was given a distinguished service award by Luther College, and in 2004, he became a member of Tracy Area High School’s Wall of Fame.

Wixon has published poems in various magazines and journals, in two anthologies, From Here We Speak and Weathered Pages, and in a chapbook, Seed.


Shirlee Gilmore

Shirlee Gilmore, contralto, graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University with a degree in vocal and classroom music education, and has studied with Dr. Michael Suzuki (SMSU) and Christy Vensand (South Dakota State University).

She was named SMSU Concert Choir “Vocalist of the Year” in 2001, under the direction of Dr. Michael Suzuki. Gilmore has performed as a soloist for several SMSU events, including the SMO 20-year anniversary performance of Handel’s Messiah, and the 2005 SMSU Writer’s Festival and “A Prairie Celebration” concert.

For several years, she taught piano in the Pipestone and Lake Benton areas, where she was also involved in community musical and theater activities.

She is currently the vocal music director at Tracy Area High School, where she conducts the junior and senior high choirs, as well as a chamber choir and women’s show choir. Shirlee lives near Tracy with her husband, Roger, and their children, Jacob, Emily, and Megan.


Pamela Gervais

Pamela Gervais is the composer/arranger of two piano performance books, From the Heart and It is Well With My Soul, published by Augsburg Fortress.

Gervais has degrees in piano performance and composition from Southwest Minnesota State University. While at SMSU, the Southwest Minnesota Orchestra performed her original composition, “Phrygian Mood.”

Commissioned for the Marshall Festival in October 2005, she set three poems to original music for piano and voice, combining her love of rural life and music.

Gervais is currently writing a third book with original compositions and hymn arrangements. She also farms with her husband, Paul, near Tracy, and they have three children, Sarah, Ben, and Jake.

Speech team 2nd among 24 schools

The Tracy Area High School speech team placed second in a 24-school tournament Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall.

The Tracy speakers finished behind Worthington in the large-team entry division. A total of 350 students competed in the meet. The SMSU tournament is a tournament where students may double enter. Tracy had four members double enter at the SMSU tournament. These members included Brad Lanoue, Celia Brockway, Jessica Mason, and Rachel Stobb.

Senior team members led the team with strong performances. Lanoue was first in creative expression and second in dramatic duo with Brockway. Bobbi Buyck in storytelling and Jenna Fischer in informative earned third-place trophies. Receiving a fifth place trophy in serious poetry was senior Danielle Thooft.

Juniors also turned in strong performances. Brockway was first in storytelling and Jessica Mason and Rachel Stobb were first in dramatic duo. Both entires were ranked No.1 in all three of their rounds.

Stobb also placed second in serious drama.

Fourth-place finishes went to sophomores Skylar Carlson in humorous, and Jordan Christiansen in informative.

Sophomore Ben VanMoer was fifth in storytelling.

Excellence ribbon recipients were juniors Jessica Mason in humorous, Patrick VanNevel in creative expression, sophomores Brittnee Michael in storytelling, Jeremiah Martin in serious poetry, David Nilius in great speeches, freshmen Caitlyn Sanow in creative expression, and Melissa Noerenberg in serious poetry.

“The team did not let the competition intimidate them in any way. They were ready to compete on Saturday. The team has been working hard. Several of the members have taken on the additional challenge by double entering at this tournament. They were able to handle the extra pressure. Many of the members competed with their selections memorized. Judges tend to give higher ratings to competitors who have their speech memorized,” stated Coach Tamara Purrington.

The speech team is back in action Saturday at Minneota. The tournament begins at 10 a.m.