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News from the week of June 16, 2004

New Tracy school budget projects $307,704

The District 417 board of education has approved the preliminary budget for the 2004-2005 school year.

The district's general fund will show a negative balance of $307,704 for 2004-2005. This negative balance is mostly due to major increases in three areas.

Salaries in the district will increase by $126,105 in 2004-2005, as negotiated.

The hiring of new staff will account for $126,248. New staff members are being added in several areas throughout the district. The district has hired new half-time teachers in the areas of social studies and math, as well as a reading specialist and full-time ESL teacher. An increase in students last year, relief of teacher overloads, changes to the ESL program, and No Child Left Behind requirements are some of the reasons for the staffing increase.

A third area, said Superintendent David Marlette, is budgeted as a precautionary measure. The district is budgeting $183,005 for possible retirees. Marlette said six to seven teachers are considering retirement at the end of the next school year. Retirement payments would have to be made to these individuals in June of 2005. Marlette said the entire amount may not be needed, depending on the actual number of retirees.

The total of these three items results in $435,358 in major increases to the general fund.

Capital expenditures are also increasing in 2004-2005, and will show a negative balance of 301,686. Major items in this area are elementary roof repairs at $126,000 and water and tile work for the district at $120,000, for a total of $246,000 in major increases.

At their last meeting, board members decided that these capital expenditures were something that the district should not put off any longer. Water problems have been a long-running issue at both the elementary and high school buildings. The board chose to do the remainder of the elementary roofing project all at once, since it would ultimately save the district money by not splitting the project over two years.

Together, the general fund and capital expenditures will increase the district budget by $681,358, and will result in a district-wide deficit of $609,016.

This deficit does not mean the district is going into the red, however. It is estimated that the fund balance on June 30 will be $1.2 million. As a result of the above increases, the preliminary budget would result in a $600,000 fund balance on June 30, 2005.

There may also still be changes to the budget. The final budget will not be approved until November or December of this year.

Drainage solutions sought

The Tracy City Council discussed a problem Monday night that has long plagued the city: water drainage.

Late May rain seeped into basements and storefronts, forcing the drainage issue to reappear on the council's agenda.

Uncontrollable surface water that flows from farmland south and southwest of town routinely saturates Greenwood and Broadacre neighborhoods after a deluge of rain. Three county drainage ditches are the main recipients of the surplus water. But historically, they haven't worked.

“I've been here 24 years, and we've had problems seven or eight times,” said Greenwood Nursery owner Jeff Farber.

The Brockway Brown Veterinary Clinic has also experienced flood problems three times since 1987.

“We have to fix the problem. It's gone on long enough. But it's not just a city problem,” said council member Russ Stobb.

Different solutions, both short-term and long-term, surfaced at the meeting from council members, city and county employees and people affected by the drainage issue.

Todd Hammer, Lyon County ditch inspector, informed the people that the county can improve the ditch system if 26 percent of the area's residents sign a petition. However, the process would be lengthy. Hammer said he doubted the petition would work. The council had danced around the petition issue in the past without success.

“I'd like to do something now,” said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano.

But Public Works Director Rick Robinson advised that an engineering firm step in to look at the “big picture.”

“We aren't going to do anything until we get some professional opinion,” Robinson said.

“I'd personally feel better if someone came in here and told us what we should do,” said City Administrator Audrey Koopman.

The council voted to hire an engineering firm to consult the problem. So it appears the drainage system saga will sit for now until an engineering firm renders its advice in finding a long-term solution.

Robinson said he had an engineer in mind. There will likely be a request for a proposal by the next meeting.

“I hope our engineer will come up with something as cost effective as possible and get working,” said council member Jan Otto.

Restaurant to open in old bank

A new restaurant is opening soon in Downtown Tracy.

"Mace's" will be located in the former 21st Century Bank building. Greg Frederickson is the owner and manager of the business.

"Fine dining" will be offered four nights a week, from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, according to Frederickson, with a menu that will include steak and seafood. An earlier opening is planned on Sundays for a "champagne brunch."

Wednesday nights will be "family night," Frederickson said. "We'll have more of a casual atmosphere, and serve pasta and pizza."

The new operation will also have a carryout pizza business, which will allow people to pick up orders from windows at the rear of the building.

A bar/lounge area is also a component of the business. Frederickson said that he is in the process of applying for a city liquor license.

"I think it will fit a nice little niche," said Frederickson of the new operation. He feels that Mace's can draw customers from a wide area, with good food and a unique atmosphere.

"People will drive a long way to go out to eat at a nice place," he said.

He hopes to have his carry out pizza operation up and running as early as this weekend. A likely opening for the restaurant, he said, is mid-July. He began advertising for employees last week. Once Mace's is fully established, Frederickson said he could have as many as 20 employees.

The entrepreneur is leasing the building from Greg Ipsen, a Burnsville man who bought the property as an investment earlier this year from Minnwest Bank South. The building had stood empty for about three years.

The property, which has been cleaned from top to bottom, is in excellent condition, Frederickson said. The only significant improvement that he is putting in is an "air make-up" system for the kitchen. He still needs to acquire a dough mixer for the pizza operation.

Where did the name "Mace's" come from?

Frederickson said the restaurant is being named after his son, Mace, who is not quite two-years-old.

Bakker twins, birth mother reunite after three decades

By Brady Averill

Bittersweet marks the tale of a reunion between a mother and her twin daughters.

Nearly 33 years have separated them. But two weeks ago they were reunited.

Sioux Falls Regional Airport set the scene for the emotional day when Abby and Betsy Bakker, accompanied by their adoptive parents, Guys and Irene, reunited with their birth mother, Janet VanHeusen.

It was a day VanHeusen had anticipated for decades, when she would no longer have to wonder about the fate of her daughters. It was a day for Abby and Betsy to meet their “first mom.”

Guys and Irene adopted the fraternal twins, who have Down syndrome, 27 years ago when they were 5. After they were born, they spent a year in the hospital. Then they toured foster homes.

After having four biological sons, the Bakkers wanted a daughter. Their application listed the desire for a Korean girl. When none were available for adoption, a social worker out of New York state suggested the Bakkers adopt Abby.

But they didn't want just one little girl. Having full knowledge of Abby and Betsy's condition, the Bakkers wanted to adopt both.

“We just thought twins belonged together,” Irene said.

“We just felt that the ones that God wanted us to have we would get,” she added.

The Bakker twins have been a blessing to Irene and Guys, she said.

So have the other children the Bakkers adopted over the years. They've adopted six other children with special needs. All have Down syndrome except for Jeff who has fetal alcohol syndrome and Suzanne who has cerebral palsy.

“I know it was all in God's plan,” Irene said.

Fate decides it's time for a reunion

God's plan included a reunion.

About a year ago, Abby and Betsy's social worker suggested it would be interesting to know their medical history. Irene found VanHeusen's address on the Internet. She sent a letter without a request for anything.

For years VanHeusen had searched for the twins. But she always came up short. Her knowledge was limited to their Midwest whereabouts. After a genealogy class and with the support of a birth mother network, it was time for serious digging. She started to save money for a computer. Just a week prior to receiving the letter, VanHeusen had purchased one to aid her search for the twins.

Letter in hand, she remembered feeling excited and happy. She craved immediate contact.

But Irene's letter came with no phone number or e-mail address. After a call to information, VanHeusen found the Bakkers' phone number.

Now her daughters were now only a phone call away.

One evening, VanHeusen called Irene. They spent several hours talking about the twins. They continued to communicate, exchanging information and memories. Irene sent pictures. A reunion was planned

Millers seek new horizons

Educators Chris and Maria Miller are leaving Tracy.

School psychologist Chris Miller has accepted a position with the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Coon Rapids. Maria Miller, a second-grade teacher at Tracy Elementary, will also be seeking a new job. Both have resigned from their positions. The family plans to move from Tracy to the Twin Cities later this summer.

"It was a difficult decision. Tracy has been good to us," said Chris Miller. But, he added, his new position represents a good career advancement.

"This is a good career move for me professionally. This is the first offer that I've had that moves me into administration, which is something that I've always wanted to do." At Coon Rapids, he will be the lead school psychologist in the district.

Maria Miller does not have a new job lined up, but plans to begin looking for a new teaching position soon.

The move to the Twin Cities will also allow the Millers to live closer to other family members. Both Maria and Chris have siblings living in the Twin Cities.

Nonetheless, said Maria Miller, "It is going to be hard leaving Tracy. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to teach at Tracy Elementary School, and worked with the people there. It's been a wonderful place to teach." Both Millers say that they have made many friends in Tracy, and that the community has been a good place for their children. The couple has two children: Joe 6, and Cecelia, 3.

• • •

Chris has been a school psychologist in Tracy since the 1996-97 school year. The Willmar native has been active in Panther extra-curriculars, coaching junior high football, basketball, and baseball, and varsity basketball and baseball. Summers, Chris has been involved with community education programs and American Legion baseball.

Maria has taught at Tracy Elementary School since the 1997-98 school year, teaching both the first and second grades. In her first year, she coached a Twister dance team that finished high in state competition.

'Porterhouse' restaurant hosts Lyle Porter's 88th birthday party

Lyle Porter was in elite company Saturday.

Two dozen family members converged from across the country to fete the retired Tracy accountant on his 88th birthday Saturday.

The celebration was unique in the long annals of Tracy birthday history. The fine china and white-linen birthday dinner was held at the "Porterhouse" restaurant in Downtown Tracy.

The Porterhouse restaurant was created for a single day by Lyle and Leona Porter's family in the former 21st Century Bank building. The Porters' grandson, Greg Ipsen of Burnsville, bought the former bank and restaurant in January. He has leased the property to Greg Frederickson of Tracy, who is opening a new restaurant in the building this summer. (See related story). But first, the family wanted to hold a birthday bash for the family patriarch.

"It was Greg's (Ipsen) idea. He was the one behind it," explained Cam (Porter) Ipsen, Lyle and Leona's daughter. Erin and Scott Ipsen, Greg's siblings, also helped prepare for the party. The building, which had stood vacant for three years, had to be cleaned from top to bottom.

"This is wonderful," beamed Lyle.

For the party, a large banner proclaiming the Porterhouse restaurant was draped over an awning. Flowers, balloons and happy birthday signs festooned the entryway. A formal steak dinner followed a social hour.

A 1934 graduate of Tracy High School, Lyle Porter may be Tracy's oldest retired businessman. Following military service in World War II, Porter returned to Tracy in 1946 for employment at the Land-O-Lakes poultry plant that once existed on South Street. When the plant closed in 1951, Porter took a job keeping the books for Tracy Implement. In 1956 he opened his own accounting business. He operated the business until about 1993.

A Tracy area native, Lyle Porter is the son of the late Elgin and Dorothy Rea. Elgin, who was publisher of the Tracy Weekly Herald, died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. His mother gave Lyle, and his sister, Romelle, to the Porter family for adoption.

Leona gave piano lessons in Tracy for many years. The daughter of John and Emma Lemon, she is also a Tracy native. Her father operated a barbershop in Downtown Tracy.