By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Tragedy and turmoil, as well as triumph, make up the top 10 stories in Morrison County for 2011.
The tragedy came in the accidental deaths of a mother and her two daughters, and a father of six, as well as a death resulting from a confrontation with police.
Turmoil came in the form of a crumbling relationship between a city council and a group of citizens, with a historic home caught in the balance. It also came with a child’s simple request to raise a few chickens within city limits, and when an argument between a councilman and an elderly relative came to blows, resulting in orders for protection for each.
Taxpayers felt turmoil as state legislators replaced the homestead market value credit (HMVC) with the homestead market value exclusion (HMVE), which will result in many seeing their 2012 property taxes increase.
The year wasn’t all tumultuous, as the first Morrison County Dairy Princess was named as Princess Kay of the Milky Way, representing the dairy industry across the state, and the Little Falls School District made national news, as it placed iPads in the hands of every student, grades 5 – 12.
Here is a recap of the top 10 stories in Morrison County for 2011:
1) Little Falls City Council ends agreement with the Friends of the Dewey-Radke House
In February, the Little Falls City Council voted 7-1 to end its agreement with the Friends of the Dewey-Radke House. Councilman Frank Gosiak wrote a letter which stated, among other things, that the Friends of the Dewey-Radke House had not provided the Council with a feasible, detailed business plan for fundraising or for building use and bashed the Council in the newspaper and on local radio.
Gosiak also said the Council had been bullied by the Friends of the Dewey-Radke House.
Following the dissolution of the agreement in May, the Friends group sued the city in June, which resulted in temporarily restraining the city from selling any property associated with the Dewey-Radke House, or the house itself.
A judge ruled in favor of the city in late July, and the City Council voted to demolish the Dewey-Radke House at its Aug. 15 meeting. The house was demolished Aug. 30.
The Friends of the Dewey-Radke House continue to meet with a mission to work to preserve historic buildings.
2) Patrick Jeske killed in ‘Suicide by Cop’
Patrick Jeske was killed Dec. 30, 2010, in a confrontation with Little Falls police officers and Morrison County Sheriff’s Deputies — the investigation would begin in 2011, and continue for several months.
The Little Falls Police Department responded Dec. 30, 2010, to a call from Jeske’s brother who said Jeske was suicidal, in possession of a gun and possibly in the city of Little Falls.
Officers from the Little Falls Police Department and Morrison County sheriff’s deputies located Jeske as he was leaving a residence in Northeast Little Falls.
When the officers attempted to stop Jeske’s vehicle, he pulled into a driveway on the corner of Fifth Street and Eighth Avenue Northeast in Little Falls, where the standoff began. Jeske was armed and ignored repeated requests from officers to put down his weapon.
Two Little Falls police officers and two Morrison County sheriff’s deputies then fired their weapons, killing Jeske who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The four officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave until the investigation was completed.
It would be April before Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan, who reviewed the case, labeled the shooting “Suicide by Cop” and that the use of lethal force was justified. No charges against the officers involved were warranted.
An autopsy determined Jeske died from blood loss as the result of six gunshot wounds. His blood alcohol level was found to be .274 and tested positive for the active ingredient found in marijuana.
3) Councilman Crowder and elderly aunt involved in a physical confrontation; both served with orders for protection
In August, Judge Conrad Freeberg ruled that no contact be made for two years between Little Falls Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder and his aunt, Delores “Dodee” Colombe.
The judgment was made in response to a request from each party for an order for protection against the other, following a physical confrontation between the two, Aug. 10.
On the heels of that decision, County Attorney Brian Middendorf issued a memo saying he would not pursue criminal charges against either party.
Middendorf recapped the facts of the report which said that Delores Colombe and two other relatives met for lunch with Delores’ sister, Crowder’s mother. Afterward, the group went to the Crowder residence and when Brian Crowder exited the home he initiated a verbal dispute with Colombe over some old family photos.
After exchanging insults, Colombe began to leave, but was unable to do so when Crowder followed her and allegedly had her backed up against the car door.
“Crowder was standing very close to Colombe and she slapped him,” Middendorf related in his memo. “Crowder then shoved Colombe back against the car. Family members intervened and pulled the two apart.”
The police were called and both parties said they acted in self defense, and both said they were injured as a result of the confrontation.
Middendorf said, “Both parties claim self-defense,” but said Crowder’s claim of self-defense struck him as dubious. “He initiated the confrontation, and he continued to pursue Colombe even as she was trying to leave the property. He is a 47-year-old man. She is a 74-year-old woman. He is bigger and stronger than Colombe. He had the opportunity to walk away, even after being slapped. Instead, he chose to react with force.”
Following the incident, the Little Falls City Council asked Crowder to resign, which he declined to do. An attempt at a recall was thwarted when Crowder’s attorney said a recall was not warranted as the incident was a personal one.
4) First-ever Morrison County Dairy Princess named Princess Kay of the Milky Way
Mary Zahurones, an 18-year-old from Pierz, was crowned as the 58th Princess Kay of the Milky Way during a ceremony at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in August. She was the first-ever Dairy Princess from Morrison County to be selected as Princess Kay of the Milky Way.
As Princess Kay, Zahurones serves as the official goodwill ambassador for all of Minnesota’s nearly 4,500 dairy farmers.
Zahurones, a 2011 graduate of Pierz Healy High School, is the daughter of Chuck and Pat Tax who own a dairy farm near Pierz. She is the youngest of six siblings. The family farms 400 acres of land and milks 61 Holstein cows.
When Zahurones was first chosen as a Princess Kay candidate, her mother, Pat, said, “She’ll represent the dairy industry well. It’s so nice to see a young person’s values mirror ours — we’re very proud of our daughter.”
Fans rooting for Zahurones at the State Fair wore shirts that read, “Mary Z — All the way to Princess Kay.” Businesses in Pierz put up “Congratulations” signs for Zahurones.
Zahurones is currently attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as a pre-med student studying biology and chemistry.
5) Little Falls School District gives iPads to every student in grades 5-12
Students in grades 5-12 in the Little Falls School District started the 2011-2012 school year with an iPad in their hands, 24 hours a day.
Students are now able to read books, review lessons, play learning games and listen to recordings of a teacher’s lecture, both in school and at home.
Students also have access to the thousands of applications available for the machine – many of which are free.
In 2008, the process of upgrading servers and basic wireless functions began, in anticipation of purchasing a batch of portable computers.
In 2009, the School Board approved the purchase of a laptop for each teacher to move work away from desktops and encourage more mobility using electronic devices.
It wasn’t until 2010, when Apple announced the release of the iPad, that Little Falls Superintendent Curt Tryggestad, who had this plan in the back of his mind for years, found what he had been looking for in devices for students.
The next school year began with a pilot program, getting the iPads into the hands of a small number of students in the district.
Teachers started seeing results right away as students began using the iPad.
The School Board approved the move to iPads and the district committed to three annual payments of $370,000 to cover the costs of the 1,400 iPads, laptops and supporting equipment.
6) Verd Anez dies after a fall through the roof of his pole shed
The community lost Verd Anez, 46, when he fell through the roof of his pole shed Jan. 31, while trying to remove snow. When deputies arrived, they found he had died from apparent injuries suffered in the fall.
He was the father of seven children, the oldest of 10, a loving husband and son.
Verd and his wife, Karen’s children, Matthew, Michelle, Mike, Mark, Mack, Melissa, and Marshall range in age from 8 to 21, with two in college and the others at home.
One of Verd’s greatest passions was hockey, both as a parent and coach.
All seven of his children are still playing hockey. A hockey player himself, Verd started out playing pond hockey and went on to play on the first high school team for Little Falls.
After his first child was born, Verd coached hockey for more than 20 years with the Little Falls Hockey Association, coaching nearly every kid who came through the youth hockey program, said a fellow coach.
Verd was also known as a very spiritual man.
He worked as a seed warehouse manager and agronomist for Anez Consulting, and also enjoyed working with dairy cows.
7) Property taxes in Morrison County show an average 10 percent increase
Months before property owners received their property tax statements for 2012, County Auditor/Treasurer Russ Nygren was concerned about the effects of legislation which replaced the market value homestead credit with a market value homestead exclusion.
In fact, when the legislation was first proposed in late June, Nygren predicted the average increase in property taxes would be an average 8.5 percent.
The HMVE legislation was passed having been presented as a means to grant homestead owners a similar tax impact as other properties have.
However, Nygren said at the time, it would simply cause everyone’s tax rates to rise, as net tax capacity would be reduced.
“In reality, it created a very large shift to all property tax payers, including homeowners,” Nygren said.
The proposed HMVE will reduce the estimated market value of a homestead by up to $30,400, reducing the net tax capacity (NTC) of that property. By doing so, the local tax rate is increased, causing every property owner’s taxes to be increased by the same amount.
“Cities, townships and schools will also see increases,” Nygren said in late June. “These will vary depending upon the ratio of homesteads to other classes of properties in the respective jurisdiction. For example, one city will see an increase of 17 plus percent in local taxes without local elected official action.”
The amount of tax increase for property owners depended largely on which city, township or school district the property was located in, and the net tax capacity of each of those tax districts.
Nygren explained the change at the county’s Truth in Taxation hearing in December.
“The state was facing a $5 billion deficit,” said Nygren. “The elimination of the homestead market value credit saves the state $261 million per year. Local governments cannot undo this state law change. This change resulted in the elimination of $2.53 million in property tax relief for Morrison County taxpayers.”
8) Two Pierz basketball players plead guilty to hazing in January incident on school bus
Andrew Leidenfrost pleaded guilty to two counts of fifth degree assault and Brandon Meyer pleaded guilty to one count of fifth degree assault. Both 18 at the time, the two were involved in a Jan. 7 hazing incident that occurred on a school bus filled will Healy High School basketball players on their way home from a game in Maple Lake.
Both were granted a stay of adjudication as part of a plea agreement with the county attorney’s office.
Morrison County Attorney, Brian Middendorf said that the two were granted a stay of adjudication for one year by the judge, on the condition that they successfully complete the terms of their probations.
9) Little Falls City Council voted ‘no’ to raising any chickens within city limits
Hannah Veillette, a Little Falls seventh grader (now eighth grader), simply wanted to raise chickens in her backyard. After months of going through the proper channels, including making her request to the Little Falls Planning Commission, attending Little Falls City Council meetings and public hearings, the Council voted in June to allow the raising of chickens within city limits.
Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem used her veto power two days later to kill what she called “the chicken bill,” saying she had received many calls against keeping chickens in the city.
The Council failed to overturn the mayor’s veto.
10) Melissa Lorenz and her two daughters die in car accident
The county mourned when three members of a Flensburg family were killed in a head-on collision Feb. 21, four miles west of Little Falls.
Melissa Lorenz, 31, Angela M. Lorenz, 10, and Desiree N. Lorenz, 7, were killed when the 1997 Honda Passport Melissa was driving on snow and ice-covered roads, crossed the centerline and collided with a 2005 GMC Sierra driven by Robert M. Nieman, 56, of Little Falls.
A third vehicle, a 1998 Nissan Frontier driven by Kelly J. Rutz, 29, of Randall who was headed westbound, hit the other two vehicles.
Scott Lorenz, father and husband, said at the time, “People always ask what they can do. But there’s nothing they can do. My angels are now angels.”