With the closing and sale of the Wahpeton Eagles Club, many annual fundraisers had to find new digs to house their events. The Valley Lake Boys Home Smelt Fry is one of them, and this year, the event will be held Thursday, April 25 at Wahpeton Community Center.
Executive Administrator Joanna Etzler, who replaced longtime administrator Mark Engebretson after his retirement, said moving the event has created new challenges and new opportunities.
“We held the smelt fry at the Eagles for 37 years, and all of a sudden, we don’t have their equipment to use,” she said. “Thankfully, the Eagles Club generously donated their fryers to us – two double-basket fryers, the same ones we’ve used forever. Mark (Engebretson) always did the frying, so someone else will have to take over.”
Organizers of the event also have to order the food through another venue, as the Eagles Club had always taken care of that, as well.
“Their ladies’ auxiliary donated a lot of the kitchen utensils to us, that was very nice,” Etzler said. “I think we have everything we need now and will keep it all together to use each year.”
The smelt fry runs from 5-8 p.m. April 25 and the admission fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 10.
In the past, the menu was smelt, chips and coleslaw, but a donation from Etzler’s family last year incorporated a new side – baked potatoes.
“My family grows potatoes in northern North Dakota, and they donated potatoes. We did baked potatoes last year and that went over really well,” she said.
For children and adults who aren’t fans of smelt, there will also be fish sticks available.
“We’ll have our duck pond, where kids can win prizes. We have a raffle and sell tickets for a couple months prior,” Etzler said. “We have a silent auction, which started eight or 10 years ago and has gone over really well. People are so generous.”
She said the community has donated many great items and gift baskets.
“It’s unbelievable how much is donated,” she said, noting the number of fundraisers that request donations for events.
Money raised during the smelt fry goes to pay the boys during the summer work program at Valley Lake Boys Home.
“We have 10 acres, and have a garden. They do mowing and gardening projects, landscaping and general maintenance.
“In mid-June, a lot of greenhouses, when they’re shutting down for the season, they give us their extra flowers and plants,” Etzler explained. “We will get hundreds of them, and the boys will take a spot and plant it. It’s just their spot they take care of and really take ownership of it. They plant, they watch them grow, weed and water.”
The boys are paid minimum wage and can save up a tidy sum that can be used to purchase school clothes or other items they need.
“It’s a good job and it’s something that’s right outside their door,” Etzler said.
Money raised during the raffle at the smelt fry goes towards different projects and equipment at the facility. This year the money will be used to renovate the boys’ rooms with new furniture and carpets. Generous donations around the holidays also help fund projects such as these, she added.
Donations are still be accepted for the silent auction. To donate, call 218-643-4036.
About Valley Lake Boys Home
Valley Lake Boys Home is a private, non-profit, non-secure home for delinquent boys located south of Breckenridge, Minnesota, and is licensed through the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The facility has 14 beds and youth may stay there anywhere from a few days to several months.
“They have to earn their way out of the program,” Etzler said, noting the typical length of stay is five to six months. “There are some short-term, 90 days or less. We do have kids that don’t have anywhere else to go and could be with us over a year. Sometimes when a young man gets established here, takes classes, they may want to stay and graduate.”
The facility serves an approximate 100-mile radius but may take youth from Anoka or Sterns counties, as well as counties in North Dakota. They address medical and mental health needs as well as outpatient chemical dependency treatment. The facility creates an environment structured enough to teach accountability for the consequences of choices, enriched enough to foster healthy coping skills, safe enough to encourage attempts to change and supportive enough to develop the self-esteem, self discipline and motivation that makes success possible, according to their website.
“A lot of these kids have been in many different places, sometimes we get repeats,” she said.
Each resident has a case manager who takes care of their needs, to talks with them weekly.
“We have a great relationship with Tischer Therapeutic (in Breckenridge, Minnesota), and we can also transport kids to their hometown if they have their own therapists there,” she said.
Etzler has been with the facility for 26 years and has held every position, starting as a part-time youth worker and then went on to be a case manager after about two years. She worked one one one with the boys, which she enjoyed, and which she misses now that she’s the administrator.
“When the boys are there I try to hang out with them for awhile. I do miss them, and I don’t want to see just their name on a paper,” she said. “I do miss some of that, but it’s also really exciting and challenging learning new things.”
The most rewarding part of her work are the success stories.
“When we get graduation announcements, wedding announcements, baby announcements, or just a phone call saying, ‘I made it and you might have had something to do with it.’ I hang those up and remind myself why I’m here,” she said.
Several individuals and organizations, including the Richland County Health Department, have called electronic nicotine delivery system usage the newest epidemic.
Twin Towns Area residents have the opportunity to learn more about the vaping situation. Frank White, a sociology professor at the University of North Dakota, will give a free 7 p.m. presentation Wednesday, April 17 at Wahpeton High School.
White is also scheduled to speak that afternoon with Wahpeton High School students.
“We’re still seeing a lot of misinformation,” said Community Prevention Specialist Tessa Johnson. “We’ve found that getting as much information out as quickly as possible works well.”
White’s classes at UND include “Drugs and Society.” His research has been cited by USA Today, CBS News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
“(It focuses) on vaping, other electronic nicotine delivery systems (‘E-Cigs’), the availability of and dangers associated with prescription painkillers (opioids), the effect of social media on adolescent attitudes and behavior and up-to-date drug prevention strategies,” White’s biography stated.
White’s message is all-inclusive and clear, Community Prevention Coordinator Ariel Johnson added.
“He will be sharing almost if not all of the same information to the evening group as he will to the daytime student group,” she explained.
Electronic nicotine delivery system use is frequently in the news. Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., signed House Bill 1477 into law on Tuesday, April 9.
“The bill imposes a $500 fine for selling each individual package of flavored ‘e-liquid product’ or electronic smoking device containing the liquid to minors,” said Alison Jones of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.
House Bill 1477 was introduced by state Rep. Alisa Mitskog, D-District 25.
“We need to do whatever we can to address the epidemic of ‘vaping’ among teenagers,” Mitskog said.
According to one survey, North Dakota has seen an increase of e-cigarette use from 19 to 21 percent. Smoking rates themselves reportedly dropped to 12.6 percent.
Critics of the anti-vaping movement, however, claim it is doing more harm than good.
“(This is) undermining a harm-reducing shift in nicotine consumption that former (Food and Drug Administration) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called ‘a tremendous public health opportunity,’” wrote author and columnist Jacob Sullum.
National health organizations disagree with that position.
“The narrative that e-cigarette companies have been pushing since 2009 that these are a safer alternative, that they may help you quit, has been in the Big Tobacco playbook going back to the 1950s,” said Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association, in March.
While e-cigarette opponents and supporters debate “safe” vs. “less harmful,” local officials are optimistic White’s appearance in Wahpeton will be well-received.
“Youth are welcome to attend the evening session with parents and community members,” Ariel Johnson said.
When Merlin Beto was diagnosed with prostate cancer eight years ago, there were many thoughts in his mind.
Beto, now 65, said he was fortunate. He had an excellent wife for a caregiver, a supportive family and the resources of the American Cancer Society to rely on.
“They have so many wonderful programs, from giving the ladies wigs to providing gift cards and gas cards so individuals can receive their treatment,” Beto continued. “If we don’t do what we’re doing, I feel like the ACS would have to go away.”
Beto’s want to support and fundraise for the American Cancer Society is a leading reason why he and his family will participate for their eighth consecutive year in the 2019 Relay for Life.
Relay for Life will be held from 3-7 p.m. Sunday, April 14 in Wahpeton. The Blikre Activity Center on the North Dakota State College of Science campus will host this year’s activities. There is no admission fee for the event, which has a theme of “Team Up for a Cure.”
Merlin Beto understands the importance of teamwork. “Merlin’s Soldiers,” his Relay for Life team, includes 33 members this year. One member is granddaughter Alexis, 18. Alexis Beto will not only participate in Relay for Life, but present “The Purple Lap Around the Track.”
“Spring is the time to blossom,” Beto said. “We recover from a harsh winter just as others are recovering from a terrible, life-wrecking disease.”
Alexis Beto walks for “Papa,” her grandfather.
“We walk for him because we want to show him that he is not alone and is surrounded by loved ones. I walk for cancer because it could have taken him away, but didn’t. He is still here today, bubbly as ever,” she said.
Fundraising for the American Cancer Society will last past Relay for Life and through the summer. Merlin’s Soldiers is consistently among the top-earning teams.
“We do a lot of online fundraising,” Merlin Beto said. “I hate bugging the people who give every year, but really, almost all of the people I send letters to are always giving to us.”
Contributions are appreciated, Alexis Beto added.
“Relay is a time that gives me the willpower to standup for myself and do what I love,” she said. “It shows me that people need each other. It shows me that you can’t always do it on your own. You need support from others to make it a little bit easier.”
The Blikre Activity Center is located at 1098 14th Ave. N. in Wahpeton. Progress of current fundraising can be tracked at RelayForLife.org/richlandwilkinnd.
“We’ve raised $48,959.54,” the website stated Thursday, April 11. “Our goal (is) $100,000. (There are) three days left. Every dollar makes a difference.”
Relay for Life has influenced Alexis Beto to open her eyes to all people. The color purple also has a different meaning for her.
“Whenever I see it, I immediately think about my family and our purple lap around the track,” she said.
For Alexis Beto and her family, Relay for Life is an event kept in their hearts. It is something unforgettable which improves each year.
“We keep doing this because we know we can make a difference,” she said.
Relay for Life includes numerous supportive people, Merlin Beto observed. There are the individuals, the families and the wider Twin Towns Area community. They may be living with cancer or a cancer survivor. Their cancer story may include their family or their wider family of friends.
“Everyone puts in a lot for this event and that just says a lot,” Merlin Beto continued. “I wish everybody in the community could come and walk a lap. Those that have never been to a Relay, I just don’t know if they know how powerful and moving it is.”
Look to Daily News Media, in print and online, for coverage of the 2019 Relay for Life.