Three vehicles break through the ice on area lakes last Friday

You don’t want this to happen to you.  This is one of three vehicles that broke through the ice on area lakes last Friday, Feb. 10.  Recovering vehicles is a costly operation.  This photo was taken at Lake Pulaski in Buffalo.  No one was harmed.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Demmer)

By Ed DuBois

Three vehicles broke through the ice on area lakes last Friday, Feb. 10.

According to the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, two vehicles broke through the ice on Lake Pulaski in Buffalo, and one broke the ice on Lake Sylvia near Annandale.

The Sheriff’s Office is calling for extreme caution on the lakes.  The recent warmer than usual weather has resulted in unsafe conditions, especially near pressure ridges, channels and landings.

The incidents on Lake Pulaski occurred around 5:25 p.m. and 6:42 p.m.  The first vehicle to break through the ice was an SUV owned by Jacob Sohns, 31, of Montrose.  The vehicle went through the ice near a pressure ridge.

The second incident involved three juvenile males in a sedan that went through the ice as it was moving toward the Griffing Park access.

The Sheriff’s Office had posted warning signs at the access before the incidents.

At Lake Sylvia, a Jeep Cherokee broke through the ice around 6:50 p.m.  Karl Schwarzkopf, 33, of Becker was the driver.  The front end of the vehicle was in the water, but the rear portion and a trailer stayed out of the water.

Fortunately, no one was harmed in the incidents, but recovering vehicles after they have broken through the ice can be costly.  A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000, and the cost can be far more than that if divers are needed.

Highs in the 50s are expected this weekend.


National American Legion Commander visits Buffalo post

Declining to use the podium, National American Legion Commander Charles Schmidt preferred to walk around close to the audience during his speech at the Buffalo American Legion Club last week.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)

By Ed DuBois

Close to 80 people attended a breakfast meeting with National American Legion Commander Charles Schmidt last Thursday, Feb. 9 at the American Legion Club in Buffalo.

Accompanied by state and district Legion and Auxiliary officials, including State Legion Auxiliary President Carol Kottom of Buffalo, Schmidt was on the last day of a National Commander’s Tour through Minnesota.

He said the American Legion will be 100 years old in a few years (2019), and he welcomed the entire American Legion family (the American Legion Auxiliary, the Sons of the American Legion and the American Legion Riders) to “walk with us” into the next century.

“That’s our family.  It’s a great family, which will carry the American Legion legacy forward,” he said.

Everyone who has a membership card has a little bit of ownership, which makes each member a stakeholder in continuing the history and tradition of the American Legion, Schmidt added.

He called for every member to get involved and attend meetings.

“We all have something special to give,” he said.

Some members can talk to legislators about priorities.  Auxiliary members have been setting up gift shops at veterans’ homes.  The Sons of the American Legion are doing great things and helping young children.

Schmidt mentioned he has five grandsons to help with the cause.

He called for members to share what they are doing with the public.  Telling about the good work of the American Legion family can help promote new membership, he explained.

Membership has been decreasing.  Revenue is down, and so it was necessary to increase dues.

The alternative is to reduce programs.  “But which program would you discontinue?” he asked.

“We need to stop the slide.  Everyone should sign just one person,” Schmidt said.  “As stakeholders, you can stop this trend.”

“I hope the next bump (in dues) never comes,” he added.  “What a good way that would be to celebrate the 100th anniversary.”

He stated that, “All we care about is veterans.”  The American Legion did not take sides in the presidential election.  The Legion stayed nonpartisan.  The mission is to help veterans and their families.

He called for getting more youth involved with Legion programs.  Values can be learned through involvement, he said.

Schmidt also set a goal for all Legion posts.  His goal is 100-percent reporting from every post.

“Put it down.  Write everything you have done.  If you did it, you deserve credit,” he said.

The figures in reports to the state office are important, he explained.

“Let’s be proud of what we do,” Schmidt said.

One very important thing is taking care of veterans who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is a need for more service officers, and funds to keep service officers trained.  He mentioned over 80,000 appeals on veterans’ claims and waits of 5 years or more.

“Veterans should not have to wait so long,” Schmidt declared.

Meanwhile, the American Legion has been helping military families in need so they do not have to suffer without adequate shelter, food and heat.

The success of the efforts does not depend on the national headquarters, Schmidt said.

“It happens here, at the posts, not there.  You make it happen,” he stated.

The posts and their members “make the American Legion family strong,” he concluded.

During a question and answer period, Schmidt was asked about giving membership to veterans who did not serve during periods of war.  (Currently, membership is limited to those who served during periods of war.)  Schmidt said the idea of expanding the eligibility windows has been submitted many times as resolutions at the national convention.

He pointed out that certain benefits are provided through Congress to the American Legion as a wartime organization.  He asked, “Do you want to lose those benefits?”

He was asked about denied (veterans’) claims and the appeals process.  Schmidt recommended working with a Legion service officer, and he added that the Legion is working on expediting the appeals process.

Schmidt was asked about advertising on TV, and he said some TV advertising has been done, but it is very expensive.  Corporate sponsorship can help.

There was some discussion about direct mail solicitations to remind members to pay their dues.  Everyone was urged to pay after the first notice to save on postage costs.

Schmidt’s visit in Buffalo was his 133rd post visit since last August.


Wright County hiring additional jail staff to board more inmates

By Ed DuBois

With two pods of the Wright County Jail not being used, the County Board voted this week to authorize hiring six corrections officers to make it possible to use one pod for boarding additional inmates.

The action was recommended by the Personnel Committee, and Commissioner Chris Husom offered a motion to hire the additional staff.

According to the committee report, Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty was recently approached by Sherburne County to board more prisoners in the Wright County Jail.  As many as 100 more prisoners could be boarded in Wright County.

Adding staff will cost about $300,000 to $400,000 annually, but the additional revenue from fees for boarding more prisoners from other counties would result in an annual profit of $600,000 to $700,000, according to the committee report.

If the number of boarding inmates decreases, which is unlikely, the sheriff could decrease staff through attrition over a period of roughly one year.

The jail food service contractor said adding more inmates would lower the cost per meal.

The Sheriff’s Office has received boarding requests from other counties, as well, including: Clay, St. Louis, Anoka, and Stearns Counties.

The Wright County inmate count has been going up.  The average daily population in 2016 was 177 inmates (including 54 borders).

The Sheriff’s Office intends to open the pod in three months.  Sherburne County has agreed to send staff over if Wright County doesn’t have the required staff onboard and trained.

In other business:



County Auditor-Treasurer Bob Hiivala presented a review of the 2016 budget.  He said total revenues were $109.98 million, and actual revenues were $109.31 million (within one percent).

Wright County typically collects 97 percent of taxes each year.  In 2016, the county collected 98.83 percent.

The budget for state grants was $16.6 million, and the amount collected was $15.1 million.

The fees budget was $11.23 million, and $11.52 was collected (The majority was due to boarding prisoners.).

The federal grant budget was $10.13 million, and $10.55 million was collected.

On the expenditure side, the county budgeted $110.18 million, and the county actually spent $107.75 million.

There were significant savings in personnel as senior staff retired and new staff were hired at lower levels.  The budget for staff was $59.46 million, and the actual expenditure for staff was $56.57 million.

Fuel prices helped the county save money in 2016, as well.



Spring load restrictions on county highways could be started sooner than usual because of the warmer than usual weather in February.  A spring load restrictions map is being posted on the county website.



The Board discussed the need for more foster care providers in the county.  People who are interested should contact social services in Wright County Health & Human Services.



Several actions regarding ditches are as follows:

• approved an order for redetermination on County Ditch 34 (Delano);

• approved a resolution to reestablish and correct drainage system records for County Ditch 38 (Montrose), and approved a contract from Houston Engineering for the reestablishment of records for County Ditch 38;

• approved a resolution to reestablish and correct drainage system records for County Ditch 18 (French Lake Township), and approved a contract from Houston Engineering for the reestablishment of records for County Ditch 18.



In other actions, the Board:

• discussed the need for a public address system in all county facilities;

• accepted a Committee of the Whole recommendation to solicit proposals from architectural firms for a master space study (The last study was in 2005, and a new study could help with decisions on how to best use space that will vacated when a new courts facility opens.);

• discussed the state’s new buffer law (buffer between farm fields and bodies of water), and Commissioner Mike Potter said Wright County is already well into compliance with the buffer law due to existing farm practices;

• scheduled the 2017 County Board of Appeals and Equalization meeting on June 12 at 4 p.m., and if a second day is needed, June 13 at 11 a.m.;

• welcomed a new County Assessor Office employee, Melissa Manke of Franklin Township;

• accepted the 2017 DNR Boat and Water Safety Grant of $18,695;

• authorized Commissioner Mike Potter’s signature on a waiver of a 30-day notification for the City of St. Michael’s proposed modification of a tax increment financing plan for Tax Increment Financing District 6-1;

• authorized the board chair’s signature on a revocable license for VA DAV vehicle parking;

• authorized signatures on a Teamsters 320 courthouse labor agreement;

• approved procurement card transactions (period ending Jan. 31) with a total of $17,932, and approved fleet card transactions (period ending Jan. 31) with a total of $17,027;

• approved $591,622 in claims involving 228 transactions with 127 vendors.



BHS one act play ‘stars’ at state

Buffalo High School’s one act play earned a starred performance at last Thursday’s Class AA state festival in O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul.

BHS’ performance of “Amber Waves” was the 10th starred performance in school history.


Burglaries being investigated by Buffalo Police

Two recent burglaries are being investigated by the Buffalo Police Department.

A report of a burglary was received on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Cenex in Buffalo.  A burglary of a storage unit had taken place.  Six tires were reported stolen with a total value of $1,420.

The report of a burglary at a residence was also received on Feb. 1 and involved the theft of some tools from an unlocked and detached garage.  The resident had no record of serial numbers for the items stolen and was also unsure of the exact date and time of the theft.

“This incident points to the importance of keeping property secure behind a locked door to deter theft, and also keeping a record of property,” said Police Chief Pat Budke.  “This can be challenging as your inventory changes, but can be a great assistance in filing a police report and/or insurance claim if there is a loss.”

Anyone with information about these or other crimes is asked to contact the Buffalo Police Department at 763-682-5976.


Hanover ball field project put on hold

By Doug Voerding

The controversial redevelopment of the ball field north of the picnic shelter in Settlers Park was apparently put on hold after a 3-2 vote by the Hanover City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 7 was not enough to accept a needed $50,000 donation from the Hanover Athletic Association.

When City Administrator Brian Hagen announced that the motion failed because a super majority of 4-1 or 5-0 was needed to accept donations, three people in the audience, Michael Kehn, Stephanie Gleason, and former mayor Marty Waters clapped and cheered, and another, former councilmember John Vajda, left the meeting, saying, “This is not over.”

The three audience members have all opposed the ball field redevelopment primarily because it would require the removal of five mature burr oak trees estimated to be more than 150 years old.

The redevelopment would increase the size of the field to accommodate 16U baseball.  Last year, the team’s home field was in Montrose.

Last month, the Hanover City Council learned that the Hanover Athletic Association would be terminating its lease with the city for the ball field north of the picnic shelter and east of the fields owned by the athletic association.  No reasons for the termination were stated publicly.

On Tuesday, the council recognized the lease termination with the athletic association.

Prior to the vote on the lease, Mayor Chris Kauffman said, “There has been obstructionism of the process coordinated through Facebook.  Now the project is back in the lap of the city, and it will cost us money.”

With the donation of the athletic association and another $17,000 from the Twins organization, there would have been no costs to the city.  With the termination of the lease, the city would have become the project manager for the controversial redevelopment of the ball field.

As previously promised, the athletic association offered its donation of $50,000 to the city specifically for the construction of the new ball field in Settlers Park.

With that offer declined by the council vote, the future of the redeveloped field is uncertain.

Councilmembers Ken Warpula and MaryAnn Hallstein voted against the donation.

Said Warpula, “I was against cutting those trees down, and I am still against cutting the trees.

Hallstein did not comment on her vote.



Earlier in the meeting, Waters addressed the council on several issues, questioning the use of public tax dollars.

“The council should be following the guidelines of the League of Minnesota Cities for spending on the trees and the field,” said Waters. “Public dollars were already used to improve that field in 2008.”

Waters also questioned the use of tax dollars for a Park Board survey last year.

“You can build a ball field anywhere, but you can’t replace trees,” said Waters.

Waters suggested a partnership with Three Rivers Park District for a regional park on 3,800 acres of public land on the southeast corner on Hanover.

Said Waters, “This would be a huge opportunity beyond cutting trees down.”

Kehn, president of the Hanover Historical Society, said, “Ball fields enhance a park, a park does not enhance ball fields.  That new ball field will be used by adult softball.”

Kehn suggested that the Park Board would have a better way of spending that money. “You should amend that donation so there are no strings attached,” said Kehn.

“What information is the council using to go ahead with this project?” asked Stephanie Gleason. “There are multiple concerns and multiple options for 16U baseball fields.”

Said Gleason, “You need to consider what citizens have expressed.”

In response to all three, Councilmember Jim Zajicek said that the mission of Three Rivers does not include developing new parks and that the new field would be used by Youth Ball Sunday through Thursday, allowing for tournaments on Friday and Saturday.



Hagen brought to the council a request for an additional $240,000 for the preparation of the site of the new public works building.

In order to bring the site to shovel-ready status, more fill is needed, as much as 16,000 cubic yards, for the driveway and parking lot.

Fehn Company could not find enough usable fill material on the site. The current cost of sand fill is $15 per cubic yard.

The council first thought to wait until spring when cheaper fill becomes available, but will meet with representatives of general contractor Kinghorn and Fehn before taking any action.



City Engineer Justin Messner presented three options and probable costs for work on the streets in the Pheasant Run neighborhood.

The first option at $513,000 would be for edge mill and two-inch overlay improvements. Messner said that the option with proper maintenance would last about 15 years.

The cost of the second option, replacing all of the streets with full depth reclamation, was estimated at $958,000. With proper maintenance, the work would last between 30 and 40 years.

In addition, as a third option, estimates for sanitary sewer improvements were $622,400, water main improvements were $140,100, and storm sewer improvements were $62,000. Those utility improvements costs would be added to the second option for an estimate of $2,320,300.

The council also discussed the financing for the project.

According to Messner, for the third option, 100 percent of the utility improvements and 35 percent of the road reconstruction would be assessed to the homeowners. That was estimated at $20,700 per household over fifteen years.

Hagen said that the street capital fund has a current balance of $460,000, increasing to between $550,000 and $600,000 by the end of this year.

Hagen also said that the first option could be paid in full, but that no project had been named for 2017 to allow the street fund to grow.

The council took no action and will be discussing the options at a future work session.



Upon the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the council approved several changes in the zoning ordinance.

An accessory apartment now must be within an existing single-family residence and not a separate building or above a detached garage. The apartment cannot be more than 30 percent of the total floor space nor greater than 800 square feet.

Outdoor dining is allowed on the same lot as the principal use and cannot be in the right-of-way, sidewalk areas, or drainage and utility easements.

The size and styles of fences on corner lots was also defined.



In other action, the council:

• heard during the open forum a request from Katherine Cox for paving Jandel south of 4th Street. Cox said that the road is slippery and dusty and that during the summer water flows down the gravel street because the edge of the ditch is higher than the road.

• heard a report from State Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) on work being done in this session of the state legislature. Lucero talked about the passage of the insurance premium relief bill and about transportation, equity in education, tax cuts, health insurance, and student data privacy issues.

• appointed Brian Dismang to the EDA.

• approved the renewal of the consumption and display permit for Community Hall and Settlers Park Shelter.

• approved the 2017 pay equity report.

• approved the 2017-2020 Hennepin County residential recycling grant agreement. The city will receive grant proceeds depending on the participation of residents on the Hennepin County side of the city.

• set a goal-setting session for mid-March.

• will meet jointly with the Planning Commission on Feb. 27 at 6:15 p.m.



At the Jan. 17 work session, the council discussed:

• with Assistant Fire Chief Brian Kottke the purchase of a grass rig. The smaller vehicle will mainly be used for medical calls. Current medical equipment will be transferred to the new truck.

• changes in the Hennepin County recycling grant.

• several changes in city policies.



At the Jan. 3 meeting, the council:

• witnessed the pinning of new firefighters Justin Ray and Ben Scherer who recently completed their one-year probationary period. Fire Chief Dave Malewicki also introduced the firefighters’ families, emphasizing the importance of family support to the success of the firefighters.

• accepted a donation of $10,000 from the Hanover Athletic Association for the future equipment purchases for the fire department.

• appointed Councilmember Doug Hammerseng as vice-mayor, Councilmember MaryAnn Hallstein to the EDA, Michelle Armstrong and Stan Kolasa to the Planning Commission, and Mat Boie and Jeff Grupp to the Park Board. The council also designated the Wright County Journal-Press as the official newspaper.

• approved an amendment to Chapter 9 that defines the responsibility for any problems with water and sewer lines.

• agreed to the combining of three lots at the corner of County Road 19 and 5th Street NE. The three lots have been sold as one buildable lot in the past.

• approved an agreement with the Wright County Assessor’s Office for 2018 and 2019.

• approved an upgrade of the city computer network by Guidance Point Technologies for $7,600.

• approved the annual solid waste haulers licenses for ACE Solid Waste, Advanced Disposal, Allied Waste Services, Randy’s Sanitation, Richmond Refuse, and Waste Management.


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All that really matters

After near-fatal crash, Greg and Connie Kramber gain a great appreciation for life and each other

By Ed DuBois

Just a few days after getting engaged to be married, critical injuries in a highway crash almost ended Greg Kramber’s life.  He and his fiancée, Connie, went from “a highest high to a lowest low.”

Today, Greg and Connie are counting their blessings.  They say Greg’s recovery was helped greatly by “so many people who cared.”

“Friends and the community really stepped up and helped us,” Connie said.

A friend Greg has known since the fourth grade, Wayne Bauernschmitt, served as his guardian during his recovery.  He helped continue the sale of a house Greg had built himself.  Bauernschmitt and others helped in countless ways and provided support, Connie said.


Paths had never crossed

Greg was the Wright County Assessor before the terrible accident on Feb. 23, 2014.  Connie worked in real estate.  She worked with the developer of the Bella Vista residential area on the northeastern side of Buffalo.

Interestingly, Greg and Connie lived about four miles from each other and worked in related fields, but their paths had never crossed.

They met through  Both had been married to other people for 20 years.  Both were looking for a loving companion with similar interests.

“I was looking for someone to go to a movie or go out for dinner once in a while,” Greg said.

They met on Sept. 6, 2013.  They were engaged shortly after Valentine’s Day 2014.

On the day of the accident, Greg had called to say he was leaving the church to come home.

“That’s the last I heard from him,” Connie recalled.

One of Greg's children was with him.

“I am so blessed my son was not hurt,” Greg said.

Greg explained that when it was apparent a collision was unavoidable, he popped off his seat belt and dove on the boy to protect him.

Between the two of them, Greg and Connie have four children altogether.


Coke and a kiss

Greg was in a coma for his 50th birthday on March 5, 2014.  He opened his eyes on March 8.

A setback, a Code Blue (need for resuscitation), occurred on April 16, 2014.  Greg underwent throat reconstruction surgery on July 1, 2014.

During his recovery, he received physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy through the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.  He has received vision therapy, as well.

For a time, Greg lived at the Cottagewood facility in Buffalo for assisted living and short-term stays.  The building was the Buffalo Memorial Hospital long ago, and Greg enjoyed the fact that he was living in the building where he was born.

He was able to go home on weekends.  Always cheerful, he would greet Connie by asking, “Do you have a Coke and kiss?

Greg once took his walker and trekked two miles home on his own, Connie recalled.


‘Glass half full’ people

Both Greg and Connie have bright, optimistic outlooks.  Connie said they are both “glass half full” people.

“He always says he’s ‘living the dream,’” Connie commented.  “He says life is better now than it has ever been.”

She expressed amazement at the many things they have in common.  They both had the same allergist, and they had the same landscape designer.  They had both been at the same Who concert.  They even order steaks the same way.

Both Greg and Connie are very social.

“It is sometimes said that opposites attract, but this way is so much easier,” Connie said about their relationship.

There are so many things they enjoy together.

Once when they met friends for dinner in Minneapolis, one of the friends knew people Greg knew.

“Things like that seem to happen every two weeks,” Connie said.


Many common interests

She and Greg discovered they both tend to be givers.  Consequently, they have both learned to take turns being the receiver.  Greg likes to leave little surprise gifts for Connie to find, and she likes to do things for him, too.

There are many activities they both like, such as: playing cribbage, going to comedy shows, visiting in specialty shops, listening to live music, dinner with friends, working in the yard, and taking on projects in the house.

Lately, Greg has been building a downstairs bar.

They also like to cook for each other.

Greg is retired now, and Connie works at home for Optum, a health services company.  They are now with each other 24-7.  Greg likes neatness, so while Connie is busy with her work, Greg likes to clean up the place.


Call Lyft for a ride

Their children include three boys and one girl.  Their daughter is on a traveling basketball team, and Greg and Connie enjoy going to her games.

They also like going to car shows.  Years ago, Greg and his dad were into buying and selling classic cars.  They owned about 300 cars over a long period of time.

“My dad was a local assessor in McLeod County, and he encouraged me to go into assessing,” Greg said.

For a while, Greg and his dad were in the portable bathroom business.  They started the Biffs company and sold it long ago.  It has done very well.

Every once in a while, Greg and Connie like to go to a Gophers hockey game.  However, handicap parking is not easily found near the arena, and walking longer distances to the games is difficult for Greg due to cold weather and ice on the streets and sidewalks.

The problem was solved by calling Lyft, a ride service similar to Uber.  Now they get picked up at Ridgedale and are given a ride to the arena entrance and back.


Beautiful chauffer

This summer, Greg and Connie plan to do some river tubing and see some demolition derbies.  They also want to do some bicycling.  They both like to bike, and for Greg they are getting a three-wheeled bicycle.

Although Greg has come a long way in is recovery, he still has some limitations.

Unfazed, Greg smiled and said, “I can’t drive, but I have the most beautiful chauffer.”

Their wedding took place at the University of Minnesota Arboretum on Sept. 6, 2015 in the Japanese Garden.  The wedding date was exactly two years after they met.


Friends at the courthouse

Back in Buffalo, Greg has visited staff and friends at the Wright County Government Center many times.  He said he was blessed to work with many good people when he was the County Assessor.  He likes to go have lunch with them once in a while.


Talked for three hours

With Valentine’s Day taking place this week and the third anniversary of the accident coming up, Greg and Connie are happily focused on the joys of life and love.

Connie recalled Greg described himself on as a mix of Ward Clever and James Dean.  “That’s the guy for me,” Connie said.

On their first date, they talked for three hours.

“He was so much fun,” Connie said, “and he came on a Harley.”

Greg and Connie have matching Harley jackets, and although they can no longer use them on motorcycle rides, they still enjoy having them.

They say they do not feel a loss due to the accident.  Instead, they have learned how quickly life can change, and they now treasure every good thing life offers.

“We are so grateful for what we have,” Greg said.

“We are so much better together.  Everything else seems so much like small things,” Connie said.

They are not concerned with the small things.  After experiencing “a highest high and a lowest low,” just living, loving and being there for each other is all that really matters.