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BACK ISSUES: February 2 | February 9 | February 16 | February 23 | March 2 | March 9 | March 16
Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Wright County Journal-Press & The Drummer


Hanover City Council orders environmental worksheets or two developments

By Doug Voerding

The Hanover City Council on February 5 ordered two Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAW) for two developments, Crow River Heights West and Hanover Cove.

An EAW is a process that lays out the basic facts of a project to see if an Environmental Impact Statement is required for any proposed project.

For Crow River Heights West, an EAW was completed in 1999 with a preliminary plat approved in 2000. That approval has since expired.

In May of 2017, the council allowed the platting of the first thirty lots in the subdivision because the infrastructure is in place, but decided to require an EAW for the remaining part of the development.

The 72-acre Crow River Heights West is located south of County Road 34 on the west side of the city.

Hanover Cove is a proposed development on land that is known as Duininck Pit. The 83-acre site is located east of River Road NE and north of Riverview Road.

An EAW was completed for the northern portion of the site in 2006, but no preliminary plat was submitted.

Since the project is different from the 2006 plan, a new EAW is now required.

The concept plan for the site shows 130 single-family homes, 30 twin homes, 71 patio homes, and 19 four-plexes, for a total of 250 lots with 337 units.


Other Action

In other action, the council:

• Appointed Andre Atlas as probationary firefighter.

• Approved the 2018 solid waste hauler licenses for ACE Solid Waste, Advanced Disposal, Republic Services, Randy's Sanitation, and Waste Management.

•Approved the annual consumption and display liquor license for the rentals of the community center and Settlers Park shelter.


Jan. 16 Meeting

At the January 16 work session, the council:

• Directed city staff to plan for a city clean-up day. In the past, the Hanover Lions Club hosted the annual event, but is not scheduling it this year due to many factors.

• Discussed Chapter 4 of the City Code concerning gambling regulations. Local organizations that sponsor charitable gambling will be invited to further discussion at the February 20 work session.

• Approved the annual appointments that included Jim Schendel, Mike Christenson, Stan Kolasa, Michelle Armstrong, and Dean Kuitunen to the Planning Commission and Jessica Johnson, Brian Dismang, Todd Bartels, Ted Zrust to the Economic Development Authority. Appointments to the Park Board were tabled until interviews for the two open positions are completed.

• Approved a firefighter wage adjustment to a straight $10 per hour including calls for service and meeting time.

•Approved the purchase of an Opticom for the fire department's wildland vehicle. The $1348 Opticom will be used to control traffic signals during emergency responses.

•Approved the purchase of an office computer for $1,370.00.

Nick Knese Construction

Jan. 12 Meeting

At the regular meeting on January 2, the council

• Amended ordinances from Chapters 1, 2, 6, and 8 of the city code. The changes had been previously discussed. The only change was the removal of sections regulating the use of golf carts. Councilmembers had noted that golf carts are used during the Hanover Harvest Festival and in neighborhoods for Halloween and other events.

• Agreed to level the parking lot created by the city's removal of a house behind River Inn. No trespassing signs will be left up until the lot is paved next spring.

• Aproved an alarm system for the new public works facility. The system requires monitoring at a cost of $47.00 per month.


Montrose Council redefines personnel committee duties

By Doug Voerding

"I have been concerned with staff morale," said Montrose City Councilmember Jill Menard. "I have talked to staff about how to boost morale and make us (the city council) better managers."

To that end, at the Monday, Feb. 12 regular meeting, the Montrose City Council decided to change the membership and direction of the Personnel Committee, while retaining the current membership on the committee negotiating with the members of Local 49.

In the recent past, the Management Coordinating Committee of Mayor Michelle Otto, Menard, and Councilmember Lloyd Johnson served as both a personnel committee and the negotiating committee.

Councilmembers Ben Kuehl and Menard will serve on the Personnel Committee. Menard, Otto, and Johnson will continue negotiations.

The action came after lengthy discussion about the role of the mayor and the council in directing city staff.

Menard said, "I want to remove the mayor from the Personnel Committee because you (Michelle Otto) are pushing authority by more than you have, more than is your right."

Added Menard, "I got on the council to create a cohesive city staff and council. If something is not working, then we need to change it."

Otto said, "I find it interesting that this was not discussed with me. I wish it would have been addressed to me or to the council. But, I totally agree with the problems with morale. Yes, something needs to be done."

City Clerk-Treasurer Dale Powers said that Montrose is the only city he has worked in where the Personnel Committee has taken over the role of the council. A role the council "has not delegated to the committee."

"I report to the entire council," said Power, "not to any one or two of you. I must first follow state laws and second follow the orders approved by the entire council. Everything else is discretionary."

The resolution presented by Menard now calls for a Personnel Committee of two elected officials to serve as a liaison with city staff on routine administrative and personnel matters, including department head reviews. The Personnel Committee will not exercise any aspect of the management and supervisory responsibility that belongs to the entire council.

The resolution also called for the replacement of Otto with Kuehl on that committee.

Otto said that she had been on the previous negotiating committee and has knowledge of the union contract.

"I think," said Otto, "that negotiations should continue with me on that committee."

The council voted 4 -1 to change the Personnel Committee and retain the current negotiating team, including Otto, as a separate committee.

Johnson voted against. Earlier in the discussion, Johnson had said, "You should be ashamed of yourselves for going behind the mayor's back."

With three council members on the negotiating team, all of the negotiating sessions will be open meetings.


Public works resignation

At a January 25 special meeting, Public Works Director Sean Diercks resigned his position, and the council accepted the resignation.

The position has now been posted with a salary range of $69,550 to $75,500.

Interviews for the job will begin Tuesday, March 6, at 3:00 p.m.

Diercks has taken a similar job in another city.


Fire Department

With 30 calls for service, January was the busiest month in recorded history for the Montrose Fire Department. The written records go back to 2004.

Fire Chief Kevin Triplett told the council that there were 18 emergency medical calls and 12 other calls including a structure fire in the Montrose Mobile Manor. Also among the 12 other calls were five mutual aid calls to assist the Waverly, Rockford, Howard Lake, and Delano Fire Departments.

Triplett acknowledged the firefighters for their dedicated work throughout January and Sean Diercks for his years of assistance with the fire department and emergency management.


Sump Pump Ordinance

The city code was amended with new language in the ordinance that addresses sump pumps.

The changes include the requirement for a sump pump discharge permit prior to construction.

In addition, it will be unlawful to discharge onto any street between November 1 and March 31.

Discharge into the sanitary sewer from November 1 to March 3 will be allowed with a special permit.


Fee schedule

The council adopted the 2018 fee schedule with a several changes.

Planning and zoning fees will now be divided into two types. Type One or simple requests will carry a $400 application fee and an initial escrow of $1000. Type Two or complex requests will be $650 for the application fee and $1250 for the initial escrow.

Animal licenses will be required every two years and will now be free, but the fines for unlicensed animals will increase to $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second offense.

City parks and picnic shelters can now be rented for a fee of $25 per day and a damage deposit of $300. By paying the fee, renters will be guaranteed exclusive use of the facility for their event.

Small sheds that do not require a building permit will now require a permit fee of $15. The fee will allow the city to guide the homeowner with the ordinance that calls for same or similar color and materials as the principal structure.

The installation of new sump pumps will require a permit fee of $50 to make sure the pump does not drain into the sanitary sewer lines.

The permit fee for a new parking pad will be $15 if pre-approved materials are used and $50 if an inspection by the city engineer is required.

The Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR) will be increased from $200 to $500 per acre. The assessment is used as the city considers expansion.

The changes came after discussions with the Planning and Zoning Commission at a workshop meeting on January 22.

All other fees remain the same as last year with the exception of the water and sewer rates that were changed in January.



Six engineering firms have submitted proposals to become the city engineer.

The council decided to interview the three with the lowest hourly rates. They are Bolton and Menk, the city's current engineer, at $125 per hour, Wenck at $130 per hour, and Stantec at $136 per hour.

Also applying were MSA at $140 per hour, Sembatek at $150 per hour, and WSB at $163 per hour.

Interviews will be April 30 at 3:30 p.m., giving the new public works director time to gain an understanding of the infrastructure of the city before the engineer interviews,



Four law firms have applied to become the city attorney. The four with their hourly rates are Kennedy and Graven, $155; Campbell Knutson, $155; Rupp Anderson, $170; and Hoff Barry, $175.

All four will be interviewed on Monday, March 26 beginning at 3:30 p.m.


Open forum

At the request of a resident Nick Kruchowski, Kyle Ackerman of Extra Tyme Technologies in Dassel spoke to the council about extending community-based internet service to Montrose. His company would be offering more options with lower prices. The city would not be involved in any financing, but may be asked to rent water tower space for an antenna.

Rebecca Russel of the Bank of Maple Plain asked the council to forgive about $1000 in sewer and wastewater treatment plant charges after water from a burst pipe flowed to a basement sum pump. Since the water did not enter the sewer system, the council agreed to removing the charges except for the base rates.


Other action

In other action, the council

• repealed an ordinance that required roll call votes on all motions. Now votes will be voice votes unless roll call votes are required by state law.

• learned that the Wright County Sheriff's deputies made 84 traffic stops in January, up from 33 in December. Deputy Andy Fashant, a 20-year veteran of the department, will be one of the officers patrolling Montrose.

• appointed Chuck Smallwood to the Park and Recreation Commission.

• approved the attendance of Powers at a Minnesota Cities conference.



The council acknowledged

• Gudvangen for her three years of service on the council.

• Diercks for his ten years of service as Public Works Director.

• the fire department for all they do.

• all those in attendance at the meeting.

• Park and Recreation for the recent Skate Day.

• Montrose Days Committee for the bean bag and bingo night.

Powers separately acknowledged the council for their calm handling of a difficult decision.



Other upcoming meetings include Planning and Zoning, Feb. 21, at 7:00 p.m. at the community center; a town hall meeting, Feb 26, at 7:00 p.m. at the community center; and Park and Recreation, Mar. 5, at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.


Gundvangen resigns from Montrose City Council effective March 1

Montrose City Councilmember Melissa Gudvangen has resigned from the council effective March 1.

Gudvangen said that she is moving from the city, but will continue to work in Montrose and continue to work with the Montrose Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization.

On Monday, February 12, the council accepted Gudvangen's resignation and declared a vacancy.

Montrose residents interested in serving on the city council should send letters of interest to City Clerk-Treasurer Dale Powers at or by mail to Dale Powers, City of Montrose, Box 25, Montrose, MN 55363.

The deadline for consideration is 11:00 a.m. on Friday, February 23.

Interviews with the council are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, February 27, with a time to be determined.

The appointment will be until December 31. The seat will be on the November election ballot.


Local Waverly man found dead in Meeker County

Stated in a Meeker County Sheriff's Office release on Feb. 11, Meeker County Sheriff responded to report of an unresponsive man near Ellsworth Township in Meeker County.

Initial investigations revealed that the man had been deceased for a period of time before being located, and has been identified as 40-year-old Shawn Jacob Medley of Waverly, Minn.

Medley was reported missing on Feb. 7 in Wright County by family, who filed a missing person report at the Wright County Sheriff's Office.

According to a release put out by Meeker County's Sheriff Office, his vehicle was found abandoned in Litchfield on Feb. 10. The investigation involving his death is currently still active with the Meeker County Sheriff's Office.

Anyone with information regarding Medley's whereabouts within the last week is urged to contact the Meeker County Sheriff's Office at 320-693-5400.


2018 Legislative priorities discussed

Pictured at the Wednesday, Feb. 7 Legislative priorities meeting were (left to right): Chairman Mark Daleiden, Commissioner Mike Potter, Senators Eric Lucero and Bruce Anderson, Representative Marion O'Neill, Commissioner Darek Vetsch, and Commissioner Christine Husom. Also in attendance (not pictured) were Representatives Dean Urdahl, Jim Newberger, and Senators Andrew Mathews, and Scott Newman. (Photo by Miriam Orr)

By Miriam Orr

Wednesday, Feb. 7, members of State Legislation joined with Wright County Board commissioners in discussing 2018 Legislative Priorities.

One such discussion involved Wright County's Health and Human Services, where topics such as increased fiscal support from the Legislature, technological upgrades to infrastructure, and more were discussed.

Health and Human Services Director Jami Goodrum-Schwartz presented before Legislature and County Commissioners regarding the need for increased funding, as the department has taken on additional staff to balance out the increase of referrals. Six social workers were added in 2015-16 to meet rising demands, as well as a supervision position in 2017.

Perhaps the biggest issue discussed by Health and Human Services was the need to upgrade technology. The department demonstrated a typical process regarding updating files and case management using the current system METS, where they concluded that in 2017, it took individuals 2,400 hours longer to update files than it had in the previous system, MAXIS, which is now obsolete. The demonstration took all of fifteen minutes, and Director Goodrum-Schwartz and her staff stressed that this demonstration was simply changing an address for one individual in a family's case file.

Of the departments represented at the meeting, Health and Human Services presented the most requests for the Legislature to consider, as the department – across the state – is seeing deficiencies in funding and technology, while the demand for services steadily increases.

Wright County's administration discussed priorities such as streamlining tax exemption for building materials for county projects, reimbursement of expenses incurred by defending a lawsuit against the State Auditor, and requested discussion on state funding for outfitting law enforcement with mandated body cameras.

 The Attorney's Office prioritized the discussion of obtaining funding for Child Protection Services in county attorney's offices, and how the increased work in child protective services puts extra strain on law enforcement and other local entities and is, essentially, "unfunded mandates." Also discussed was the Drive Wright program and others of its kind, their discontinuation due to Legislation passed in the 2017 session, and how Wright County finds these programs beneficial and necessary to the community.

The Auditor/Treasurer's office brought up the discussion of expanded use of technology during elections, which would potentially require House research, and the replacement of equipment.

Wright County's Highway Department requested discussion on the support of transportation funding for added lanes on I-94 through Wright County, and programs such as FAST act, and Corridors of Commerce, among others.

Information Technology discussed the priority of ensuring that record management laws are indeed realistic and not burdensome, especially being that not all "correspondances" are part of official government re-cords. Also presented was the idea of cyber security, and how it should be funded at the state level as a priority. A topic of large discussion was the idea of the state requiring high-standard testing for the software and systems they plan to utilize statewide, which include the users of the systems and programs. This discussion was confirmed by the priorities of Health and Human Services and the METS program.

Wright County's Parks and Recreation department discussed priorities such as the continued support in maintaining the Legacy Parks and Trails funding formula; the financial support of programs such as the Local Trails Connection Program, Outdoor Recreation Grand Program, and others. Also discussed was finding a stable funding source for the Greater Minnestoa Regional Parks Trails Commission.

In attendance were Commissioners Mark Daleiden, Charles Borrell, Christine Husom, Mike Potter, and Darek Vetsch; with Representative Dean Urdahl, Representative Jim Newberger, Senator Scott Newman, Senator Bruce Anderson, Senator Eric Lucero, Representative. Marion O'Neill, and Alec Biorn, aide to Senator Andrew Mathews, was also present.


Co. Board approves boat inspection program for Annandale area lakes

Wastewater treatment plant spills estimated 3,000 gallons into Ramsey Lake

By Doug Voerding

Beginning on April 1 or ice out, boaters launching on East and West Lake Sylvia, Lake John, and Pleasant Lake will need a proof of inspection certificate before their boats will be allowed on those lakes. Inspections will continue until October 31.

The Wright County Board on Tuesday, February 13, approved the regional aquatic invasive species inspection plan for those lakes.

Commissioner Mike Potter said, "This is a pilot project. We won't be able to eradicate invasive species, but we can slow it down."

Proof of inspection certificates will only be available at 1300 Business Blvd. near Highway 55 in Annandale, less than ten minutes away from the two boat ramps on Lake John and the three ramps on Pleasant Lake. The Lake Sylvia ramp is about 15 minutes away from the inspection site. There will be no inspection at any of the ramps.

Alicia O'Hare, the water resource specialist with the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, told the board that the user surveys will be shorter and that bulk inspections of more than ten boats will be available.

Said O'Hare, "There will be at least two people inspecting with three on weekends."

Additional inspectors will be added on holiday weekends.

The inspection hours will begin April 1 from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and expand to 5:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. in June and July. The hours will then be reduced in September and October.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch said, "We need public buy-in if we are going to add more lakes in the future. I have heard mostly negative reactions, but it is good we are doing something."

Said Potter, "We need data first before thinking about expanding. Public buy-in is part of it. The dollars spent in the long-term will help keep Wright County lakes clean. The end result will be good for our lakes."

Wright County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman told the council that the department has concerns about handling violations.

Hoffman said that the 21 days last fall when the program was first tried, there were 63 violations with 23 law enforcement calls, each of which took an average of 45 minutes.

"Right now," said Hoffman, "we don't have enough staff to enforce the ordinance. I hope we can work together to come to a staffing resolution."

Potter said, "I want to support getting resources for this pilot project. We need to do something and the cost of adding staff far outweighs doing nothing."

The program is funded by several organizations including $50,000 from Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, $10,000 from Greater Lake Sylvia, $5000 from the Lake John Association, $5000 from Pleasant Lake Improvement Association, and $157,700 from the Initiative Foundation through Great Lake Sylvia.

Complete information can be found online at:


Ditch 10

The Wright Soil and Water Conservation District will be meeting on March 13 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss possible improvements to the ditch.

The engineers hired for the project will be in attendance to present proposals for improving drainage and water quality.

Commissioner Charlie Borrell urged all interested area residents, including those downstream of the ditch, to attend the meeting.


Ramsey Lake Spill

Borrell also brought to the attention of the board a recent wastewater spill near and on Ramsey Lake, south of Maple Lake.

According to Borrell, the spill from the Maple Lake wastewater treatment plant was estimated at 3000 gallons and was caused by a coupler failure on a pipe nine-feet below ground.

Borrell also said that the actual number of gallons could be much larger.

Photos shared with the board showed the wastewater on the surface of the ice on a stream and on Ramsey Lake.

At Borrell's request, the board will send a letter to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) asking for a swift investigation.

Apparently, the MPCA had been informed immediately and clean-up has already begun.


Other Action

In other action, the board

• noted that the commissioners met with area legislators to present their priorities for legislative action. The board's list of priorities is available on the Wright County website under the packet for the board meeting of February 13.

• approved revisions to the Wright County Personnel Policy that allows employee salary increases after performance evaluations are completed on anniversary dates. Department heads will continue to receive salary increases only after board action.

• approved Lizzie Bies as a youth member of the Wright County Extension Committee.

• agreed to add Pine County to the non-emergency medical transportation pool of counties.

• approved the replacement of one sheriff's deputy.

• was introduced to Brian Andreason, a new information technology developer.

• set the 2018 County Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting for June 18 at 4:30 p.m.

• will hold any necessary committee meeting on February 27 after the regular county board meeting. Committees usually meet the day after the county board meeting, but several committee participants will not be available on February 28.


Love Notes winners announced

Wright County Journal-Press and The Drummer is thrilled to announce the names of the 2018 Love Notes drawing winners!

First place winner of a free Valentine's Dinner-for-two (a $75.00 dollar value) is Aaron Demars (Delano). Congratulations!

In second place for a dozen red roses is Gloria Johnson (Cokato). Congrats, Gloria!

Third place winners, who won a pair of free movie tickets are Mike Cummings of Loretto, Sharon Brouwer of South Haven, and Nicole Yost of Buffalo.

Congratulations are in order for all the drawing winners! A big thank you to everyone who participated by publishing a personalized expression of love to their "special someones" this Valentine's Day.


SOAR Academy presents Shrek Jr. at STMA

Everyone's favorite ogre is back in the hilarious stage spectacle based on the Oscar-winning, smash-hit film. An unforgettable cast of over 100 characters tells the tale of an unlikely hero who finds himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking Donkey and a feisty princess who resists her rescue. Performances are as follows:

• Thursday, Feb. 22,2018 at 7:00 p.m.

• (No performance on Friday, February 23)

• Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at 2:00 p.m.

• Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

• Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018 at 2:00 p.m.

• Sunday, Feb.  25, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.

Location of performances is STMA Middle School.

Please go online to for more information.


Secretary of State visits Buffalo

By Miriam Orr

On Friday, Feb. 9, Secretary of State Steve Simon met with Wright County Auditor/Treasurer Robert Hiivala to discuss the upcoming election season and its priorities.

One of the issues discussed was cyber security, a topic that is "Front and center," to his office.

In 2016, Minnesota was one of 21 states targeted by Russian hackers, and that has made cyber security a priority. Simon stated that while no information in Minnesota – or any of the other 20 targeted states – had been compromised, it "never hurts to stay one step ahead of the bad guys."

"This is a big deal going in 2018," Simon stated. "We really need to stay on top of this cyber security issue and make sure we're one step ahead of the bad guys, because they're out there."

Simon stated that he, along with other Secretary's and political officials, were mandated to undergo clearances at the highest level to attend intelligence briefings in Washington, D.C. regarding election information and the issue of security online.

Hiivala and Simon also discussed the coming potential for updated election equipment; a discussion that is still on the rise for many areas, and Wright County is only one.

In regards to staying ahead during election season, Simon said, "I feel good at this point," Secretary Simon continued, "We always have to keep a leg up, and I think we've done a pretty good job of that."

Hiivala commented that he felt confident about the coming election season, and that he was anticipating changes that were heading in the right direction. Wright County has been audited for two years regarding its elections, and so far, the county has come out "clean and on top." Hiivala expects the same for this election, and hopes it will be a continuing trend in future years to come.


Infamous ventriloquist to perform at DC Arts Center

America's Got Talent and the Dassel-Cokato Arts Association present "Todd Oliver's Funniest Night of Your Life" at the Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center.

 Have you ever met a talking dog – a real talking dog? Get ready, because on Saturday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m., you're going to meet the funniest comedian on four legs!

"Irving," with a little help from his friend Todd Oliver, is going to talk up a storm! If you ever wondered how a dog looks at life, this little home-raised companion is going to give it to you straight from the dog's mouth. He won't mince words, and if he does it's Todd's fault anyway. (He's a ventriloquist!)

Todd Oliver and Friends have been a feature on Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Today Show, a couple episodes of Walker Texas Ranger, and in 2012 they were a top 4 finalist on Americas' Got Talent!

You're going to have a doggone, rocking good time with Todd Oliver's "Funniest Night Of Your Life!"

Advance reserved seat tickets are only $15.00 an Adult and $7.00 a youth, ages two to 18.  Tickets are available online at 

Tickets are also sold through the Dassel-Cokato Community Education office, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

For tickets or for more information call 320-286-4120. Tickets will be available at the Box Office of the Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center, beginning at 6:00 p.m. on February 17. (Tickets sold at the door will be $2/each more).


High flying for EAA Chapter 878's chili fundraiser


On Feb. 10, Buffalo Municipal Airport's West Metro maintenance hangar hosted Buffalo's first annual "Fly-in or Drive-in" chili feed fundraiser for Chapter 878. The fundraiser was a flying success, with proceeds working towards providing scholarships for local youth interested in flight. Look for a full story in an upcoming edition of the Wright County Journal-Press. (Photo by Miriam Orr)




Forever in love, together entwined

A marriage 28 years in the making, and how they got there

By Miriam Orr

Clare Swenson's smile is bright, as she opens the door and outstretches a hand.

"We literally just stepped through the door," she explains. "Excuse the mess. We just got in from Arizona last night, and we both just got home from work. We're a little behind."

Leading up the stairs, in a tastefully decorated living area and kitchen, Clare sidesteps around travel oddities and shuffles aside an untouched stack of the weekly mail.  She offers a seat at a breakfast nook just out of the kitchen.

Her husband, Jeff, is milling about somewhere downstairs, which she says is not unusual.

"He's always doing something," she laughs. "Have to keep busy, right?" 


The Swensons

It's not long after Clare settles into her seat that Jeff grabs one for himself and sits down next to her; ready to discuss the couple's 28-years-in-making life together. Before discussing the details of how they came to be, however, they first shared about themselves in the present.

Jeff Swenson, by his own admission, has a pretty professional history. He has a military background, having served four years in the Marines right out of high school, where he was enlisted as an infantryman. On top of that, Jeff served as a volunteer firefighter for Buffalo's Fire Department for almost a decade. "Somewhere in there," he remembered, he also worked for the city of Buffalo as an engineering technician for 12 years.

However, what is perhaps Jeff's biggest professional passion – and what has made his career what it is – is serving with the National Guard's 851st Vertical Engineer Company (VEC), based out of Camp Ripley, where he is an E6 Staff Sergeant. Jeff enlisted with the National Guard in Dec. of 2007, where he "builds buildings up," and sees to a variety of tradework such as masonry, carpentry, plumbing, and others.

"Most our work goes into making improvements for Camp Ripley itself," Jeff explained. "When we get called out, however, we really go into situations where improvements are necessary. When you have guys sleeping under trucks and in the sand, we go in and work on building barracks, latrine improvements, mess halls – we really establish a settlement of people."

When he's not working on the job as a vertical engineer, Jeff's unit also assists in other ways. Some of his fellowmen had volunteered to assist with Super Bowl LII security, and they've been involved with floods in the Red River Valley, and other areas affected by natural disasters.

Jeff hasn't been in combat, however – a fact both he and Clare are thankful for.

"I call it hearts and minds stuff," Jeff stated. "A lot of what we do is going and building military relations overseas and assisting other people. I describe it as building improvements for the hearts and minds of people, versus building for empirical gain."

For Jeff, however, it's not just about serving in uniform. He stated that his purpose and passion in life is serving other people in a way that matters. As an engineer, and a man with military understanding and history, he thought that serving through the National Guard would be the best way to channel that desire to serve.

"It really began when we moved out of Buffalo and Jeff couldn't serve as a volunteer Firefighter anymore," Clare started. "He needed a way to serve other people – he needed a way to give back. The National Guard just made logical sense."

Jeff fulfills his desire to service communities by not only working in the National Guard on a professional level, but also by stepping into a mentoring role for the young people who enlist around him. It provides him a unique opportunity to mentor young people not only on the job, but also as a fellow man.

Clare, however, takes a different approach to passion. Currently, Clare works at Citizens State Bank in Montrose, where she is a Customer Relations Specialist. Her journey there, however, consisted of a few different avenues.

Clare graduated Luther College (Iowa) with a degree in Marketing/Communications, where she began work at St. Francis Hospital in July of 1988. After spending 18 years working with clients in Marketing and Communications, Clare stated that she began to wonder if her work was really benefiting the people she was working for.

From there, she left the industry and opened her own out-of-home-business, where she provided marketing and communications services from a magazine standpoint. She would go on to do so for 10 years.  She stated that by serving others from performing day-to-day tasks, she felt like she was fulfilling her need to be beneficial to others. Outside of working, she volunteered for church, and in schools.

"Work wasn't just about the job. It was about relationships with people," Clare said. "I wanted it to be relational and personal; I wanted to serve while working professionally."

Her passion, she stated, evolved as her life progressed. "At first I didn't want kids – I wanted to climb the ladder and be a career gal. But then, after Jeff and I were married, I got pregnant on accident and all that changed. Family became the purpose of my life, and what was important to me."

Jeff and Clare are parents to Nate and Nick, who are now grown with families of their own. Clare stepped away from working outside of the home for a short period of time, in favor of being home with her children. In 2006, she went back to working out in the professional world, where she worked as a car salesman, and eventually, sold insurance.

"I loved it. It was meaningful, and I got to build relationships with people as I worked," Clare remembered. "It was a break from marketing and communications that I needed."

In 2010, Clare left the insurance business in favor of banking at Citizens State Bank. She is in her eighth year of banking, and "absolutely adores it." Clare commented that the immediate gratification of helping customers with a direct, "hands-on approach" satisfies her desire to help people.


The story

It all began on Sept. 17, 1989. Clare rattled off the date as if it had written on her hand.

"We met at the Renaissance Festival," she laughed as she remembers. "Jeff had just finished with the Marines and had gone to Dunwoody College of Technology. We both decided to volunteer on the same day in different booths."

From there, it escalated. Clare's group had decided it was time for Fair snacks, and had made the group choice to "track down and find" some infamous cheese curds. Clare was voted to go on the mission for snacks.

"I didn't know where they were," she recalled. "So I stopped at this booth and asked this guy, who just so happened to be really cute."

That guy was Jeff, and unfortuantely for Clare, he didn't have any idea about where to find cheese curds. Clare stated that she thanked him nicely, and went off in search of snacks.

She ended up finding them, and bringing them back to her group of girlfriends. "They'd been trying to get me matched up on a date for almost a year, and I wasn't having it. So when I mentioned a cute guy, they sprang on it."

Awhile later, after refusing to go out and track down Jeff again, one of the group's chaperones had decided, executively, that "it was time for more cheese curds." Of course, Clare wasn't about to volunteer again, so she and her chaperone set off for more curds.

They just so happened to stop by Jeff's booth.

"She got to talking to one of the guys working with Jeff, and I was just left standing there," Clare grinned as she remembered the memory. "So Jeff and I started chatting as he was going back and forth, working his booth. It was a good while before I found out I was alone at the booth with him, and decided to leave to go and help shut down with my friends."

"She made it pretty obvious that she liked me." Jeff inserted.

After they closed down their booths, Clare said she met him again when they turned in their costumes. They ran into each other and started chatting again, and by the end of their conversation, had decided to go out.

"It was like two dates after that, that we knew we were going to get married," Jeff said. "We asked those fundamental questions and made sure the foundation for a potential relationship would be equal and strong, and once we ascertained that, we knew."

They started dating in late September of 1989, and were married in July of 1990.


Life together, now

Jeff and Clare credit the success of their marriage to their faith in God, and the strong start they had as a couple. When asked, Jeff stated that it's important for young people to determine their "five pillars," or, qualities and characteristics that an individual will not compromise on. For them, a like faith, similar views in politics, and family were important, to name a few.

"For us, we had similar beliefs and family values on both sides," Clare shared. "It was a good foundational base of information that we gave one another on that first date. We discovered that our values were the same and that we had so many similarities – to me, Jeff felt like home."

Jeff said, "Figure out the non-negotiables, first. There's not a lot of time to waste in a relationship before feelings start to develop, and that makes it harder to end a relationship if they don't work out. People change and evolve, so you need to make sure there is unity before you get married."

Clare and Jeff both commented that if they had found huge differences in each others' "non-negotiables," they probably wouldn't have gotten married – or, they would've divorced a long time ago.

"It's about caring for one another and every so often checking in, making sure you understand their stance on a big issue," Claire explained. "Every once and awhile I'll bring up a big political topic or a theological question, just to say 'Hey, what do you think about this?' It keeps communication open."

"That is one of the biggest things," Jeff continued. "Communication. You can't get upset with a spouse if you don't tell them anything. In marriage, the two are to become one, according to the vows and what the Bible dictated at the beginning of time. I always tell the guys in the Guard when they're talking about significant others in a less-than-flattering way, 'Why are you doing that to yourself?' That always makes them stop and think."


Together in love, forever entwined

Clare gestured to the necklace she was wearing around her neck, which was a small, delicate silver spoon with two hearts entwined at the top. She went on to explain that on their 25th wedding anniversary, she had visited Wales and learned the history of the unique spoon necklaces – because there, in Wales, they had a specific meaning.

"The lady selling them explained to me that the two hearts represent lovers and being entwined forever. The spoon, in years past, was a part of the courting custom – a man would whittle a spoon and present it as an offering for marriage. So, the two hearts represent being forever in love, while also being forever entwined. When I was there, I knew I had to get this. I knew it represented us."

The necklace isn't the only special memoir of their life together. Clare stated that every year, Jeff takes a large, colored leaf and cuts a heart out of the middle and presents it to her - a tradition that has been going on since they met.

"It's just something special that he does every once and awhile to remind me," Clare said. "It's a token of our love, for sure."

Currently, Clare and Jeff make their home in Buffalo, and love spending time with their four grandkids, and also frequently visiting family in Arizona.


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