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Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Wright County Journal-Press & The Drummer


Dialing in on distracted driving

This vehicle's outcome (pictured above) is the result of a distracted driver in Litchfield, Minn. Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident, though the vehicle was traveling at 40 miles per hour within city limits. (Photo by Miriam Orr)

By Miriam Orr

According to a report issued by Minnesota's State Patrol, on Jan. 23 in Annandale, eighteen-year-old driver Tyler Reid was Snapchatting behind the wheel when he struck a young adult pedestrian who was walking in a crosswalk, around three in the afternoon. The pedestrian suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Incident's like these are becoming more and more prominent in our driving society. With a variety of ages on the road and behind the wheel, distractions may range from a variety of topics – whether it is children in the backseat, reaching for something rolling around on the floorboards, or the incoming text messages and variety of emails on a smart phone, distracted driving has become a plague that is spreading quickly.

In a news release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Director of Communications, Bruce Gordon states that in some of the most recent studies, traffic fatalities rose 14% according to 2015 records; specifically, with distracted driving deaths at a steady climb.

The Crash Facts study of 2015, which is derived from law enforcement reports, found that there was a 21% climb in distracted-driving related fatalities from 2014, and in 2015, distracted driving was a contributing factor in 74 deaths out of 411.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there are three main types of distractions. The first is visual, or taking your eyes off the road; there are manual distractions, or taking your hands off the wheel; and, there are cognitive distractions, or taking your mind off of driving. The CDC iterates, that "Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction," regardless of what it is.

The 2015 Crash Facts study concluded that 972 citations were given to drivers for texting behind the wheel, and that number does not include pull-overs that didn't result in citations, or verbal warnings.

Buffalo Police Chief Pat Budke commented on the issue. "I think the first step in fixing the distracted driving problem is to recognize all of us as drivers likely have habits or make decisions that take our attention off the road, so, fixing the distracted driving problem needs to start with me, and you."

Distracted driving is not the result of outside influence – it is a personal decision made by drivers of their own free will. The Governor's Highway Safety Association reported that in 2016, distracted driving was reported in crashes that killed 3,450 people (9.2 percent of all fatalities), and that still, many cases go unreported. The decision begins with the driver, and only the driver can choose not to drive distracted.

Budke continued. "Ask yourself, 'What driving habits do I have that need to change? What kind of example do I set for my kids? How often does driving become routine? Do I drive when I'm tired?' It is easy to look at another driver looking down at their phone and think they are the problem, but let's make the first step and recognize most of us have habits we could change to make us less distracted."

In 1997, a group of concerned citizens in Wright County took notice of the increasing number of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities. They banded to form Safe Communities of Wright County, which is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that is on the leading edge of traffic safety in our state and across the country, and was one of the first organizations in Minnesota to launch an awareness campaign for the issue.

Safe Communities brings awareness to the issue by promoting a communication model through an approach known as the "Four E's": Education, Enforcement, Engineering, and Emergency Medical Services, and works with members of local leadership to make this growing issue of traffic safety known, and thus, try to keep the roads safer for all members of the community.

It is important to remember that we share the road with a myriad of others who face the same daily-to-days happenings as we do. Numbers are growing regarding fatalities caused by distracted driving, as studies indicate, and it is important that we as drivers learn that they will only continue to grow without first making the conscious choice to, as Chief Pat Budke comments, examine our own habit and make sure that they are safe for us, and the community in which we drive.


Wright County Board to seek bids for new $50 million courthouse

By Doug Voerding

The Wright County Board on Tuesday, Feb. 6, approved a schedule for seeking bids for a new courthouse with a cost estimate of $50 million.

The courthouse will be attached to the south end of Law Enforcement Center on Braddock Avenue NE.

Pete Filippi of Contegrity Group, a construction management company, and Anthony Enright of BKU Architects presented the board with a detailed estimate of the various costs for the building and a time line for the bidding process.

According to Enright, more than 65 meetings have been held to move through the three phases of design leading up to the final contract documents.

Bids will be solicited beginning on February 14, and a pre-bid meeting will be on March 7. Bids will be opened on March 20. After two weeks to assess contractor qualifications, bids are expected to be awarded on April 3.

Space needs for the Wright County Courts have been under discussion for more than two years.

Said Commissioner Charlie Borrell, "I know this is tough to swallow, but this building should have enough room for more than twenty years, and there will be room to add on. In the long run, we have to do this."

Noting the possible costs of add-ons and alternates, Commissioner Derek Vetsch said, "I'm getting a little sticker shock."

Commissioner Mike Potter said, "We need to deliver a quality product to the public that will serve its purpose for the long term. Build it once, and build it right."

"For the next twenty years," continued Potter, "we need to only wash windows and clean floors. And, the twenty-year bond does not kill the budget."


In other action, the board:

  • Approved an amendment to a loan agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency giving the county and Crow River Organization of Water an additional $300,000. The loan is part of the Minnesota Clean Water Partnership Project.
  • Authorized the 2018 membership fee of $10,000 in the I-94 West Corridor Coalition.
  • Approved a five-year agreement with Motorola for the 800MHz radios used by the sheriff's office, the highway department, local fire departments, and hospitals. By signing a five-year agreement, the county will save $20,000. The total cost for five years will be $331,961.
  • Accepted a state grant of $79,895 for the purchase of electronic rosters and optical scan ballot counters.
  • Agreed to hire for positions in Health and Human Services due to resignation, retirement, or promotion.
  • Agreed to hire a corrections officer due to a resignation.
  • Learned that state legislative priorities for the county are being considered by the Committee of the Whole. Work on the priorities will continue before meeting with area legislators.
  • Will meet on March 13 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss County Ditch 10.


Roaring fun at BCT's 'Madagascar Jr.'

Cora Smiglewski as Madagascar's "Private." The play is the musical spin-off of DreamWorks' "Madagascar" film.  (Photo courtesy of Zanna Joyce)

One of the actors for Buffalo Community Theatre wears a shirt that reads, "Theater is my sport." In part, it is rather true.

Being part of a theater production requires dedication, discipline, and teamwork, much like being on an athletic team. The dozens of young actors in Buffalo Community Theater's production of "Madagascar A Musical Adventure Jr." are finding time for work, play, and friendship in the show, which opens this weekend.

Eleven-year-old Madelyn Benzer, a student at Buffalo Community Middle School, plays Marty, the zebra. "Benzer's Marty and lion Alex, played by 13-year-old Drew Elo, are best of friends on stage. The story centers on their characters, along with hippo Gloria (Avery Thompson) and giraffe Melman (Elisabeth Krinke,) seeking a little bit of adventure from New York's Central Park Zoo but ending up on a massive thrill ride, all the way to the jungles of Madagascar.

Elo and Benzer have each appeared in a number of theatrical productions, and director/choreographer Zanna Joyce returns to direct her third youth musical for BCT.  Joyce, who has been involved in theater for over forty years, has firsthand experience of the esteem-boosting effects.

"My family emigrated from England when I was eight, and I was painfully shy," she said. "My mother involved me in a community theater thinking that might help, and it was a huge success!  Acting really encouraged me to step outside of myself. It helped me to be more confident, make lasting friendships and started a life-long love affair with theater!"

Music director Joy Swearingen brings her 30 years of experience in music education to this BCT production. The directors agreed that getting to know the kids and helping them create something amazing together can be most rewarding. "

Those characters and story follow the "Madagascar" movie plot but add song and dance, to the anticipated delight of audiences.

 "Madagascar, A Musical Adventure Jr." opens Friday at the Discovery Auditorium in downtown Buffalo. Shows run Feb. 9 through 11 and 16 through 18, at 7:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Following the performance on Feb. 16, there's an After-Glow Dance Party fundraiser. For tickets and more information, log on to

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Nick Knese Construction


2018 FFA section in the works

In conjunction with Buffalo/Hanover/Montrose High School FFA Chapter, WCJP will publish a special printed section Feb. 15. The section will showcase pictures, activities, and news stories shared by the FFA, and what its vision is.

As a result, we are looking for store sponsors to help support our efforts with the local FFA. Consider purchasing advertising with Wright County Journal-Press and The Drummer, and help us bring a "mooo-ving" awareness to a great organization.

The deadline for advertising is coming soon! Please call 763-682-1221, and ask for your advertising representative, and help us get this year's FFA section planted.


Airport chili feed with music, Feb. 10

On Saturday, Feb. 10, members of Chapter 878 of the Experimental Aircraft Association will help to chase away the winter chill by offering hot chili and live music in the hangar of West Metro Aviation at the Buffalo Airport. 

If the weather cooperates, pilots from all over central Minnesota will be flying to Buffalo. The general public is also welcome and invited. A "bad weather" alternate date is Feb. 17.

 The chili (with toppings) is $5 per bowl. Hot and cold drinks are extra. Serving from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (or until the chili is gone). Music is from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00p.m., and will be performed by "Cowboys in Sneakers," a folk/rock group from the Dassel/Cokato area.

The chili feed is a fund raising event for EAA Chapter 878, a part of the aviation communities of Maple Lake and Buffalo, and the surrounding areas of Minnesota.

For more information, contact Wayne at 763-670-6021, or


Chris August coming to St. John's Lutheran

On Saturday, Feb. 10, at 6:30 p.m., nationally recorded artist Christ August will perform at the St. John's Lutheran Family Life Center, in Buffalo.

August is a young, rising Christian artist who is on the preferred playlist on 98.5 KTIS radio station, as well as others, and has been nominated for five Dove awards. He holds awards for New Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and the Contemporary Album of the Year.

Tickets are $10.00 in advance, and $15.00 at the door, and can be purchased online at or at Setterberg Jewelry, or even at the church office. For questions, please call 763-682-1883 during the church office's normal business hours.


STMA Fundraiser

Don't miss our Annual Wine, Beer and Spirits Tasting Event being held Friday, February 9th at Fox Hollow Golf Course. There will be a light dinner including pulled-pork sandwiches, pasta salads, wings, desserts, and more! Also featured will be a silent auction, a 50/50 cash raffle, a high/low raffle, and the grand prize raffle includes box-seat tickets to the Minnesota Twins!

Tickets are $30.00, benefiting the STMA 2018 All Night Grad Party! For questions please visit, or for more information.


Fundraiser offers chance to win Mexico trip

Winter blues got you down? You could have the chance to vacation in bright and sunny Mexico!

Join the Buffalo Community Center in its fundraiser for the Erv Schmidt Toy Shop in helping to buy supplies.

The event is Friday, Feb. 9, at 10:00 a.m. and runs until 6:00 p.m. During the event, there will also be a raffle drawing for a bake sale and donated items, as well as a drawing for a six-day and five night resort vacation to Mexico.

 Tickets start at $1.00 each, and all drawings begin at 6:00 p.m.

The event will be held at the Buffalo Community Center. For questions, please call 763-682-6036.


City Council sets standards for new hangars at airport

By Doug Voerding

With a waiting list of 19 airplane owners, the Airport Board sees the need for the construction of more hangars at the Buffalo Airport.

The Buffalo City Council agreed and approved minimum standards for new hangars at its regular meeting on Monday, February 5. In addition, the council approved the development plan for the northwest terminal area of the airport.

Interested airplane owners will now be able to lease airport land from the city and build their own hangars that meet the standards set by the city. The city will approach the applicants on the waiting list based on their time on the list. If an owner declines, the next person on the list will be notified of the building opportunity.

Those standards include building materials, building size, roof style, and kind of doors. If desired, the hangars may be connected to city water and sewer at the owner's expense.

To prepare for the new hangars, the city will relocate and upgrade a controlled access for the airplane owners and construct the necessary taxi lanes. The cost of this work will be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the State of Minnesota, and the city. The city's portion of the capital costs will be returned in three-and-a-half years with the lease income from the new hangars.



The City of Buffalo will now be providing electricity to the Bella Vista 2 development on Baker Avenue north of 25th Street NW in the northwest part of the city.

The land, which is north of Bella Vista 1, was recently annexed into the city.

The area is part of the Wright-Hennepin Electric territory, and Wright-Hennepin already provides electricity to a single home in the area, but does not have the infrastructure in place for a major development.

Through an agreement with Wright-Hennepin, the City of Buffalo will take over the area and build the necessary power lines needed for the development and then will provide the electricity through the city's system.

The estimated cost of $1.5 million will be paid with electric revenue.

In a separate matter, the council approved for the electric department the purchase of a Multi-One loader for $60,160 through the State of Minnesota contract. The loader with different attachments will be used to service electric lines and transformers with less damage to the ground and other surfaces around power poles.



Karla Heeter of the Buffalo Hospital Foundation and the Bounce Back program told the council that on March 15 at 7:00 p.m. there will be a kick-off event for a community reading of the book "The Gifts of Imperfection" by best-selling author Dr. Brene Brown.

The community read, partnering with Buffalo High School and community organizations, is de-signed to help people build relationships and social connections in the community.

The first 200 people coming to the kick-off in the Buffalo High School Performing Arts Center will receive the book free.

?Heeter invited the council to participate in the community read.



The council accepted donations for Flora of Buffalo from Ruth Ackman, $65; Debra Kosciolek, $65; Patrick Smyth, $175; Steve and Lisa Downer, $100; and Murphy and Co. Design, $130.

Guardian Angels donated $50 for Buffalo Fishing Forever. The Toy Shop received two donations, $20 from Bob and Linda Kronenberg and $55.41 from Anonymous.



In other action, the council

• Awarded a contract with Northwest Associated Consultants for $20,700 to review, revise, and develop amendments to the parts of the city's comprehensive plan that concern housing. The last time a housing study was done was ten years ago in 2007.

• Viewed a promotional video by Red Technologies that will be used to invite businesses to Buffalo. The video may be viewed on the city website.

• Called for a public hearing on February 20 for two past due utility accounts before certifying the money owed to the tax rolls.

• Approved an ordinance that corrects an error in the legal description of property on 6th Avenue Northeast that was annexed into the city in September, 2017.

• Approved a temporary liquor license for an event at the Buffalo Civic Center on May 26. The application was made by Anabel Anzaldo-Vega.

• Appointed Eric Kolkind and Carol Hoekstra to the Golf Course Advisory Board. Hoekstra was reappointed to serve as the non-golfer board member.

• Learned that, beginning March 8, some downtown businesses will begin opening Thursday nights for shoppers.

• Learned that, since 2010, volunteers at the Toy Shop have constructed and given away 52,410 wooden toys. In 2017, 8722 were made. Volunteers are always welcome to help at the Toy Shop.

• Declared February 7 – 14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week.


Sheriff Joe Hagerty announces retirement

On Feb. 6, at the Wright County Sheriff's "Media Day," Sheriff Joe Hagerty took the opportunity to announce his future retirement, which is set for Jan. 8, 2019. Below is his statement tot he public, which he released in a written letter of resignation.

"I have struggled with the decision on whether or not to run for reelection this coming Nov. Since the day Sheriff Darrel Wolff took a chance on me in the fall of 1985, I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the citizens of Wright County.

I have a passion for public service and public safety and I'm intent on leaving while I still enjoy it. I'm proud of the women and men who provide quality customer service to the people of Wright County and it has been a pleasure to serve with them.

Sheriffs Wolff, Don Hozempa, and Gary Miller were great mentors to me in setting excellent examples on how to provide such services and I thank them for that.

The established relationships the Sheriff's Office and those we serve has been and will continue to be beneficial in keeping Wright County a safe place to liv e and raise our families. Thank you for supporting our office."


Dassel-Cokato Annual Business Expo, Feb. 17

Over 50 business and community groups will be gathering on Saturday, Feb. 17, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon for the Dassel-Cokato Annual Business Expo.

The event will feature a free breakfast prepared by the DC Lions at the DC High School Commons, and Knapp Busy Bees 4H Club will provide the "Kids Corner." Join the other 50 businesses and community organizations in this event to get to know the community, and discover what opportunities may lay in store for you!


West-coast Midwesterners 

From Minnesota to California and back again, a Buffalo grad brings
West-Coast talent home with family

By Miriam Orr

The walk across the University of Minnesota campus is a long way, and for Buffalo graduate Stacy Milburn, it was too cold. With hands dug in pockets, face buried in a scarf, and a heavy backpack laced on her shoulders, Stacy remembers mumbling to herself, "It's just too cold all the time."

So, naturally, California was the best solution to her problem. Her husband, Mark – who is a California native – laughs as she remembers the memory.

What had started as a venture to the warm weather would lead her to the beginning of the rest of her life.


Buffalo to Los Angeles

Stacy is a Buffalo High School graduate. Her parents owned a company in the city all throughout her growing up years – Buffalo is her home, and she's "Minnesota born and raised." She was an active swimmer in school, and loved art.

However, one thing she never quite adjusted to fully was the cold.

"It's always cold here," Stacy said. "At least, for a majority of the year. I remember being in college, walking the University of Minnesota campus, thinking, 'Man, it's always cold here,' and knew I wanted to go where it is warm."

That led her to the decision to move to California. Stacy started off her stay at Stanford University, where she coached swimming alongside Stanford coaches who were actually coaching for the Olympics.

"It was a huge opportunity and a privilege," Stacey explained. "I learned a lot, and it was great."

From Stanford University, Stacy moved to San Diego, where she continued to coach swimming and worked in the types of "miscellaneous jobs that sometimes college grads get after leaving school," until her brother decided to move to the West Coast to pursue art school in Los Angeles. She decided to move to Los Angeles to be closer to her brother, and took a job at J.W. Party Pictures as a staff photographer, which would eventually lead to a management position.

Her job as a photographer opened up a new passion and career field. Stacy suddenly found herself photographing sorority and fraternity groups for UCLA and USC, weddings, reunions, celebrity events and parties, among a few other venues. The company also photographed sporting events like cheerleading, football, soccer, and others.

"I was actually taking pictures before things went digital," Stacy commented.

"Well, now you're just dating yourself," Mark, her husband, replied.

Stacy recalled that it was fun working alongside photographers who opened up the venues for her to be able to learn and grow her skills. It quickly became her life's passion, and she really abandoned all hope of doing anything else besides taking photos.

Mark, her husband, did "quite a few things" before he became a photographer. He was born in Inglewood, Cal., where he was adopted from birth. His father worked behind-the-scenes as a stagehand on "The Price is Right" for most of his life. Mark was raised in Glendale, and attended private school, until he enrolled in public school in Cedar Valley during his high school years, and he commented that he's seen "all sorts of California life."

For many years, Mark enjoyed volleyball, and thought of going pro.

He commented, "I was always living by the beach. Always in the sand, playing two-man or recreational – something volleyball, all the time."

After high school, Mark moved to Phoenix, where he attended a technical school and acquired an Associates of Science degree in computer electronics. From there, he worked for a few cable companies in Oceanside, before moving to Los Angeles.

After the notorious California 1994 earthquake, Mark's father passed away, and that prompted his move to San Diego – about the same time Stacy was settling into the same city.


The Scarlet Lady

Stacy was laughing as she remembered where she first met Mark, at a bar called "The Scarlet Lady," which was a popular meeting place for her and her coworkers after a long day.

"We played darts, shot pool, and had a good time," she said.

Mark was there one fateful night, too. After his Minnesota-native friend overheard Stacy talking about Minnesota and missing home, he came over and started "chatting about home," which ultimately led to Mark and Stacy getting along well with some light conversation.

"Then, it was a matter of running into him every so often at the Lady," Stacy explained. "After that, we hit it off and started dating, and eventually, Mark became my assistant at J.W."

Soon, Stacy began mentoring Mark in photography as they would go out on jobs with each other. That led to their relationship blossoming, where they worked as a team and covered multiple events and "clicked." Soon, however, they were teaching other coworkers about the business, and going on different jobs to cover more ground.

"I started taking pictures in 1998," Stacy remembered. "I was teaching him in 2004. So, we've been taking pictures for a long time."


California to Minnesota

Mark and Stacy were married in California, close to Hollywood, on Black Friday. It wasn't long after their marriage that they decided that California was not where they wanted to raise their son, Mark Jr. In 2009, they moved back to Minnesota to start their business, Phodot Photography Studio, in Buffalo.

"We had no-competition clauses with J.W., so we couldn't start a business anywhere near where we were living in California." Stacy explained.

"I was sick of the culture of California – the noise, stress, and people were not where we wanted to raise Junior," Mark stated. "Her parents lived here, and our job was pretty demanding, so we wanted Junior with people we trusted and knew to help us as we worked."

In the winter of 2009, they started Phodot, which consisted of small reputation, one job before they even officially opened, and a "bunch of pictures of beach weddings with palm trees." Both Mark and Stacy remember people jokingly asking if they were even local, because all their pictures were sandy, "beach-y" paradises in California.

From there, it wasn't difficult to get established. Working in California provided Stacy and Mark with a unique approach to photography, in which they developed a picture-taking style that Minnesota seemed to respond well to. It was different than other mid-west photographers, and offered a fresh perspective to pictures.

"Everything is outside in California," Stacy started. "So, you really have to adapt to lighting, and know how to change on a dime. In Minnesota, everything is inside – so those who wanted outside stuff were really appreciative of our understanding of lighting."

Mark and Stacy work together primarily. Their company started off as covering over 70 weddings a year, which was difficult. They were quickly getting burned out, and decided to cut back. Currently, they cover about 20 weddings a year, while doing a myriad of other things. However, they do not keep a staff, instead preferring to work with each other.

"We're each other's best assistant," Mark said.

"We compete a lot, which makes the work fun," Stacy laughed. "We also learn a lot from one another, because he gets to capture different moments than I do in different ways, so it's a unique experience that not a lot of people get. I also get to work closely with my husband and spend a lot of time with him, which is another thing that people don't get to do a lot of."

Their photos have won a number of awards, having been featured in the Knot magazine, from 2012 to 2015, where they are now the Knot "Hall of Fame-ers."

"I really feel like weddings in Minnesota are a lot of times local." Stacy said. "They look for a local business to support. But also, since we've traveled and been in L.A., and have a different style than some other mid-westerners, we've discovered that people who aren't so local have come to us because of our experience and different style. It's truly cool. We love this job, and we love this town."

Stacy and Mark currently live in Buffalo, where they both coach Buffalo community swim teams.


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