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Life Saving Awards handed out

Several Breckenridge, Minnesota, residents received Life Saving Awards for their quick actions during an apartment fire last month in the city.

Breckenridge Police Chief Kris Karlgaard recognized the citizens and several officials during the city council meeting Monday, April 15.

Karlgaard shared on March 9, smoke was reported at the York Manor Apartments and the police department, along with Wilkin County Sheriff’s Office and Breckenridge Fire Department responded to the call.

Tom Elmore, a resident of the building, located the burning apartment and informed another resident, ClarEd Knoell. Elmore worked to alert other residents on the second and third floors, while Knoell teamed up with Shelby Walters and Rebecca Williams, also residents of the building, Karlgaard said.

Knoell, Walters and Williams entered the smoke-filled burning apartment. Knoell located a burner on the stove that was left on high, while Walters and Williams worked together to get a woman, who was inside the burning apartment, to safety. Knoell then directed responding officers to the burning apartment, where they located an active fire on top of the stove. Flames were climbing up the kitchen wall and burning the cupboards and ceiling above, Karlgaard said.

He and Wilkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Mattson used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. They also worked to evacuate the other apartments in the building.

Breckenridge firefighters Brandon Holmes and Blair Miranowski entered the smoke-filled apartment and quickly finished extinguishing the smoldering debris. The fire department then worked to ventilate the smoke and make sure that the building was safe for all of the residents, Karlgaard said.

“No lives were lost and there were no injuries resulting from this fire. I am proud to present these life saving awards to these exceptional men and women for their brave actions during this serious event,” he said. “Without each of their efforts, this incident would have had a very different ending.”

Karlgaard also noted that the night of the fire, the Deputy Darlene Reddy benefit was taking place in Rothsay, Minnesota, and there was a major snowstorm hitting the area at the same time. The conditions made it difficult for the firefighters to even get to the fire, he explained.

“I remember there were two deputies on duty and I was working solo, so I very much appreciate everyone that responded,” Karlgaard said. “On behalf of the city of Breckenridge, Fire Chief Nate Summerville, and myself, I would like to personally thank everyone involved with this fire, whether you were acknowledged here tonight or not.”

Unsung hero

Editor’s Note: ‘Unsung Heroes’ within our communities are people who make impacts on our cities, while steering away from the spotlight.

Nanci Tobias retired from a 29-year career in with the Breckenridge Public Library back in March 2014. She said at the time that she’d miss interacting with the children the most.

“They’re the ones I’m especially going to miss seeing all the time,” she told Daily News Media five years ago.

The love of working with children has led her back to the library, only in a slightly different setting.

Tobias now volunteers at Breckenridge Elementary School’s media center three days a week, for about two hours at a time, which is a big help to the school library staff.

“She likes working with the kids,” Media Specialist Jackie Miller said. “She reads books to them, helps them with whatever questions they have. She’s really good that way.”

Maxine Lammers, also a media specialist as well as the school’s yearbook and book fair coordinator, said Tobias helps out typically three days per week, about two hours at a time.

“She checks out their books. If we have an activity with the kids, she’ll mingle around with them during activity time,” Lammers said.

The two library staff said they’d never had a volunteer in the school library before, and Tobias has been a great help.

“It takes away a lot of the stress,” Miller said. “If one of us is gone and we know she’s coming, there’s no problem. We’ve got two people here. It’s really good to have two people when the little kids are in here.”

Only one classroom visits the library or media center at a time, but that can be anywhere from 17 to about 23 of them at once – and the teacher is not usually there.

Tobias has also volunteered to assist during the book fairs at the school, which means helping parents find books to buy that are appropriate and at the right level for their children.

The seventh and eighth graders are now located at the high school, so the library has shifted its focus to younger readers, including preschoolers.

Lammers said the more the young children hear people read out loud, for example, when Tobias reads during storytime, they become more engaged with reading and wanting to read.

“She’s really animated when she reads to the kids,” Lammers said, noting she is learning a lot from watching Tobias at work.

“We have seen some students really improve this year,” Miller added. “They came in not enjoying reading, didn’t want to check out book, to reading chapter books now. They come in, check out a book and sit down and read. It’s nice to see the growth in the students.”

Some of the students recognize Tobias from when she worked at the public library, which they are also encouraged to visit.

“If we don’t have the book titles they’re looking for, we do encourage kids to go there. We also have a card catalog here for the public library where they can look up books,” Lammers explained. “We’re trying to get our card catalog to mimic what they would see at the Breckenridge Public Library.”

Having Tobias help out has alleviated a lot of stress, Lammers said, as this is her first year working in the media center. Previously she worked as a Special Education paraprofessional at both the elementary and middle school levels.

“I’m learning a lot with her story time, too. I do story time when she’s not here, so it helps to be able to watch someone who has experience with it,” she said.

When Tobias began volunteering, she was asked where she’s like to focus her energies. She told them with the children.

“That was primary to her. That’s what we’ve tried to let her do. She chooses reading to the kids and she’s very good at it,” Miller said. “If the kids are going to listen, they’re going to listen to her.

“We have thanked Nanci in the past for coming in and helping us, especially on the busy days, and she says, ‘no, thank you! I enjoy this’,” Miller continued. “She is continually amazed at what she sees. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, then you see something else. She says it’s a different slant in the school library than in the public library, so it’s interesting to see the differences, but she does enjoy it.”

Lammers added that the students also enjoy when Tobias interacts with them.

“When she comes around while the kids are coloring, you can see the connection,” Lammers said.

Tobias said she volunteers at the school library because she missed the kids after retirement. She enjoys it and doesn’t consider it work.

“They were always my favorite part of the job over there,” she said. “This is fun because I don’t have to be here. The fun without the responsibility.”

Elementary Principal Corinna Erickson said Tobias has been a great volunteer for the school’s library.

“She has provided story time for our students and guidance for them as they look for books to take back to their classroom or home to read on their own. Her expertise and passion for literacy is shared with our students,” Erickson said. “We appreciate her willingness to come in and help with so many things, including reading to the students, shelving books and more. An extra hand is always appreciated when young students come in excited about exploring books all around the library. She is our unsung hero!”

3 Things to Know

1 An incomplete version of the Mueller Report is expected to be released the morning of Thursday, April 18. Special Counsel Robert Mueller reported on the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The public version will be redacted, or edited for publication.

2 Send us your Easter photos. Be sure to include information about the photo, including names and location. Photos may be e-mailed to editor@wahpetondailynews.com. They may also be mailed to Daily News Media, 601 Dakota Avenue, Wahpeton, ND 58074

3 Today’s birthdays include Rick Moranis, 65; Jeff Dunham, 56; Melissa Joan Hart, 42; and America Ferrera, 34.

Wahpeton recognizes longtime employees

Three longtime city of Wahpeton employees were recognized Monday, April 15. They have a combined total of nearly 70 years experience in the Twin Towns Area.

Auditor’s Assistant Jerri Cain, Police Officer Evan Mehl and Police Officer Dustin Hill received honors from the city. Each is retiring or departing from their city position.

“(We) hereby extend congratulations and gratitude in appreciation of the benefits to the public through your dedication and expertise,” stated each employee’s honor.

Cain has served Wahpeton since 2001. Cheryl O’Meara will succeed Cain as the city auditor’s assistant. O’Meara has served as community development assistant alongside Community Development Director Chris DeVries.

“We are evaluating re-assignment of duties for the community development assistant position,” Finance Director Darcie Huwe said.

Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson praised both Mehl and Hill. Mehl is retiring from the Wahpeton Police Department after a career which began in 1985. Hill, who is pursuing other opportunities, began working for the police department in 2006 following many years with the Southeast Multi-County Agency (SEMCA) drug task force.

“I’ve known Evan since 1980 and worked with him since 1985,” Thorsteinson said. “I’ve found him to be the hardest-working, most diligent officer. He’s going to be hard to replace. I can’t imagine finding another officer like him.”

Council members voted unanimously to approve advertising for and filling vacant positions in the Wahpeton Police Department.

“I felt that (Hill’s) service shouldn’t go unrecognized. He impacted a lot of lives in a positive way. I can’t imagine finding somebody who can wear as many hats as he does. He’s very well-liked and respected,” Thorsteinson continued.

Hill’s law enforcement duties included serving with K-9 partner Gypsy. The duo came in first place for three consecutive years of training at Camp Ripley, Morrison County, Minnesota.

Wahpeton Mayor Steve Dale granted two referrals from Chief Thorsteinson. The Public Works and Safety Committee will review both the K-9 program and discus the sale of a 2013 Ford Taurus in the department’s vehicle fleet.

In other news, the council unanimously voted to approve the Red Door Art Gallery serving as the Wahpeton Visitors Center from 2020-2022. The gallery will receive $17,000 per year from the sales tax for economic development fund.

Wahpeton City Hall and Leach Public Library will be closed Friday, April 19 in observance of Good Friday.

Councilwoman-at-large Tiana Bohn was absent from the meeting.

The Wahpeton council will hold a retreat beginning at 12 p.m. Monday, April 22 at the Hughes Shelter, Chahinkapa Park in Wahpeton. Agenda items include funding opportunities now that the “Prairie Dog Infrastructure” bill has passed, as well as community development and housing opportunities.

The next regularly-scheduled city council meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, May 6 at City Hall, 1900 Fourth St. N. in Wahpeton.

Will Richland County have elections by mail?
Commissioners discuss possible change

Should Richland County, North Dakota, conduct its elections only by mail? The county board of commissioners is once again considering that question.

The next national election will be held Nov. 3, 2020. Elections are less than 570 days from the commissioners’ last meeting, held Tuesday, April 16 in Wahpeton.

“Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?” asked Commissioner Nathan Berseth.

Berseth’s opposition to mail-only elections contrasts with the support from Commissioner Rollie Ehlert.

“We are going to see greater turnout going to the mail-in voting than I think (has been anticipated),” Ehlert said.

The North Dakota Legislature has approved $12 million to be specifically used by the Secretary of State’s office for elections. Richland County Auditor Leslie Hage explained that it is currently unsure how much of that $12 million will be available to each of North Dakota’s 53 counties.

Exact costs of new voting machines will come following North Dakota’s submission of a request for proposals. Richland County has a current fleet of 20 machines.

“Five are non-working, two are shared between precincts and 13 work,” Hage said.

Hage is also supportive of mail-in voting. She has previously cited that a majority of North Dakota counties already have that style of voting), as well as the challenge of having enough workers at polling locations on Election Day.

“You still have to have at least one precinct open on Election Day,” Hage said. “If we’re voting by mail, I’d suggest three. One up north, one in Wahpeton and one in the south.”

As of Wednesday, April 17, nearly 36 of 53 North Dakota counties conduct elections entirely by mail.

Voting by mail is expected to be similar to how Richland County handles absentee ballot voting, Daily News Media previously reported.

The county will send postcards asking residents if they want a ballot. If the resident fills out their postcard, they’ll receive a ballot, which they would then return to the county. The ballot would be counted on Election Day.

Mail-in voting has Berseth concerned for multiple reasons. They include the possibility of relevant information emerging closer to the actual election date. He also suggested the possibility of voter fraud and residents being influenced when voting at home.

“I gotta think that in any normal household, there is that conversation (about elections) taking place around the dinner table,” Ehlert said.

The next Richland County Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 7 at the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton.