Family safe but loses home due to fire

A strong wind fanned the flames and pushed them into the house, which was a total loss.  Cold weather conditions caused some freezing problems for the firefighters.  (Photo courtesy of Ward Huston)

By Ed DuBois

Friends and relatives are providing support for a Rockford Township family after their home was destroyed by fire last Friday, Jan. 6.

Buffalo Fire Chief John Harnois said the Buffalo Fire Department was called at 1:15 p.m. to 1046 30th St. SE, and when the firefighters arrived, the entire front half of the house was involved.  A strong wind was blowing the fire into the house.

Fortunately, all six people in the house were able to escape unharmed, but the home was a total loss.

The American Red Cross was supporting the family, and a Go Fund Me page has been set up online for the Martinson family of Rockford Township.

The cause of the fire is not determined at this time.  While the house could not be saved, a backhoe was used to take down a structure and prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby shed.

Harnois mentioned the firefighters were able to retrieve some computer hard drives from the house.  Hopefully, the family will be able to recover some data, such as family photos, he said.

Tanker trucks from the Rockford, Montrose and Delano Fire Departments were at the scene to provide mutual aid for the Buffalo Fire Department.  The firefighters encountered some freezing issues.  The temperature was below zero, and the wind increased the severity of the cold conditions.

The Monticello Fire Department was standing by at the Buffalo Fire Station to handle any other calls.  The Monticello firefighters were called to an ice fishing house fire on Buffalo Lake.

The firefighters were at the scene until 10 p.m., and then they were called back for the rekindle at 3 a.m.  They worked until 8 a.m. to make sure the fire would not spread.



Anderson and O'Neill share thoughts on 2017 session

State Senator Bruce Anderson

State Rep. Marion O'Neill

By Ed DuBois

Heading into the 2017 legislative session, local legislators, State Senator Bruce Anderson (R - Buffalo) and State Rep. Marion O'Neill (R - Maple Lake), had high hopes for quick work with Gov. Mark Dayton on relief for Minnesotans facing sharp health insurance cost increases.  Their hopes have dimmed a little since the session opened last week.

Senator Anderson was still hopeful that a bill (or the first of several bills) could be passed by the end of January.  But Rep. O'Neill expressed frustration with DFL counterparts in the House of Representatives.  She is concerned about the governor's health and his ability to function well.  Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will probably step up and help if needed, O'Neill suggested.

As for emergency health insurance relief, O'Neill said Republican and Democrat members in the House had a deal worked out, but then the Democrats "changed their mind."

"We had a $300 million relief bill with a sliding scale.  But the governor's bill includes a flat 25 percent for everyone, from millionaires to those most affected," O'Neill explained.

She added that the Democrats then blamed the Republicans for not agreeing to a deal before it could go to conference committee.  She described a lack of trust at the Capitol.

"We now have the ugliest politics I have every seen since becoming a legislator," said O'Neill, who has just started her third term.

Anderson, who has been a legislator much longer (both in the House and the Senate), talked about the new Republican majority in the Legislature and the opportunity to make some positive changes.

"We would like to make health insurance more affordable, and hopefully we can do it," he said.

"We have a surplus, after all," he added.

Besides looking forward to fixing the state's health insurance problem, he hopes the state will providing some tax relief for businesses.  The state ranks 47th in terms of businesses wanting to stay here, Anderson said, and he hopes that state of affairs can be improved.

Another major concern of the 2017 session is a possible bonding bill to improve the transportation system and also fund some other infrastructure improvement projects.  The governor has proposed some bonding bill projects, but the matter has not yet been talking about very much so far, O'Neill said.  The focus is more on health insurance in the beginning of the session.

O'Neill indicated the need for a bonding bill is not as urgent.  After all, Minnesota has one of the best state economies in the country, she said.  Infrastructure improvements are needed, but health insurance is the top focus right now, she suggested.

Newly elected by her caucus to the Republican leadership in the House, O'Neill has been very busy.  She is on six committees.  Only one other woman in the House is on so many committees, she said.

Because she is in the House leadership, she has a more global outlook.  Some of the issues she has been addressing include areas such as: jobs and energy, higher education, public safety, civil law, and veterans.  A bill she helped pass last year is providing more protection for women on college campuses, and the bill is becoming a national model, she said.

She mentioned her son serves in the military, and she is the only female Republican on the Veterans Committee.

As a member of the Jobs and Energy Committee, she is involved with issues regarding both nuclear energy and solar energy.  She commented that solar projects are a major concern in Wright County, and she is working at the state level on addressing the future of solar energy.

O'Neill summed up her feelings so far this session by saying, "I am proud to be starting my third term, and I am over the moon about serving in the House leadership.  I was elected by the members of our caucus.  My plate is full, but I more and more excited about what we can do."

Anderson is excited about serving as chair of the Veterans Committee in the Senate.  During military action group meetings, members are considering issues that affect veterans.  Lately, discussions about a possible documentary for PBS have been taking place.  The documentary would be about Vietnam veterans in Minnesota.

He has been in touch with a Medal of Honor organization that is raising funds for a memorial on the Capitol grounds.

Anderson also talked about transportation matters, and he has spoken recently to milk haulers who are seeking some consideration in regard to road weight limits.  Sometimes it is important to take on a full load rather than make a return trip to a farm.  They are asking if state troopers could be given some discretion in this area.

Anderson has also heard from farmers who are concerned about the new buffer law, and they are asking for more time to prepare for the law.

One other matter Anderson has been thinking about is a downturn in the technical school system.  He would like to see more investment in technical schools, as well as in marketing to encourage students to seek opportunities and career paths through tech schools.

Overall, Anderson is hopeful the 2017 session will bring about what's best for the state and its citizens.

He is encouraged by the Republican majority in the Legislature.

"We have a great opportunity to do the job the voters asked us to do," Anderson concluded.  "It's up to us to glean ideas and go forward."



Slight increase in building permits issued in 2016

The City of Buffalo's building permit data shows a slight increase from 2015 to 2016.

In 2015, a total of 761 permits were issued, and in 2016, the total was 772 permits.

The value represented by the permits was higher in 2015.  The value in 2015 was $43.84 million compared to $35.74 million in 2016.  Some large commercial projects, including the new Pfeifer buildings in the Soo Town area, were included in the 2015 data.

In 2016, the commercial projects included the new NAPA store on Highway 55 ($1.15 million) and the Allina Health Clinic project near the Wells Fargo Bank ($700,000 for shell of building only, to date).

Single-family home permits were slightly down, with 36 in 2015 and 32 in 2016.  However, 10 townhouses were built in 2016 compared to just 2 in 2015.

Other projects in 2016 included 192 residential alterations (garages, decks, etc.), 17 non-residential alterations and 519 miscellaneous permits.

Buffalo's building permit information was provided by Laureen Bodin, assistant city administrator.

The annual total valuations since 2003 include: $35.74 million in 2016, $43.84 million in 2015, $19.32 million in 2014, $22.3 million in 2013, $13.75 million in 2012, $15.16 million in 2011, $13.1 million in 2010, $16 million in 2009, $44 million in 2008, $42.84 million in 2007, $51.2 million in 2006, $98.82 million in 2005, $95.13 million in 2004, and $78.29 million in 2003.

The total number of permits issued since 2003 include: 772 in 2016, 761 in 2015, 681 in 2014, 676 in 2013, 721 in 2012, 1,066 in 2011, 668 in 2010, 793 in 2009, 952 in 2008, 863 in 2007, 936 in 2006, 1,262 in 2005, 1,301 in 2004, and 1,303 in 2003.

The total number of new home permits since 2003 include: 32 in 2016 (plus 10 townhouses), 36 in 2015 (plus 2 townhouses), 47 in 2014, 32 in 2013, 30 in 2012, 5 in 2011, 28 in 2010 (including 24 townhouses), 4 in 2009, 13 in 2008 (including 8 townhouses), 53 in 2007 (including 32 townhouses), 126 in 2006 (including 21 townhouses), 314 in 2005 (including 139 townhouses), 264 in 2004 (including 108 townhouses), and 267 in 2003.



New Veterans Services Officer welcomed by County Board

Greg Pickard

By Ed DuBois

A 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, Greg Pickard, began work this week as the new Veterans Services Officer for Wright County.  He was introduced at the Wright County Board meeting last Tuesday morning, Jan. 10.

Pickard served in Air Force intelligence.  More recently, he was working as an IT defense contractor.  County Coordinator Lee Kelly said Pickard has an interesting background serving in locations around the world.  Kelly told the Journal-Press that county officials liked Pickard's enthusiasm for switching from the IT field to serving veterans.

Pickard is filling a position previously held by Launette Figliuzzi, who resigned last fall.

In other business:



The Board approved letters indicating the 2016 county audit is being completed by the State Auditor's Office and the county intends to hire a private firm, Clifton Larson Allen, to handle the 2017 annual audit.

Commissioner Mike Potter mentioned that he read a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Tuesday morning, Jan. 10 that stated State Auditor Rebecca Otto is running for governor.  Potter said the story included information about a lawsuit Otto filed against Wright, Becker and Ramsey Counties.

 She has reportedly spent over $250,000 in taxpayers' money on the lawsuit, Potter said.  Counties prevailed initially, but Otto is appealing the decision.  The purpose of the suit is to challenge a new law that allows counties to hire private firms for annual audits.

Potter said the cost of an audit by the state is about twice as much as the Clifton Larson Allen fee, which is just over $12,000.

Potter told the Journal-Press that Wright County has needed to spend over $50,000 on the suit so far.



The Board approved personnel policy revisions recommended by the county's Negotiations Committee.  Most of the revisions were approved unanimously by the Board.  However, Board Chair Charlie Borrell voted against a revision that allows the county coordinator and/or the human resources director to adjust a salary increase up to 12 percent over the base pay in cases involving a job candidate with exceptional qualifications.  Borrell said such increases should be approved by the County Board.  Commissioner Darek Vetsch said the revision streamlines and speeds up the process.



In other actions, the Board:

- scheduled a Jan. 24 Committee of the Whole meeting at 10:30 a.m. (after the board meeting) to discuss enforcement of the state buffer law, which requires buffer strips between farm fields and bodies of water;

- tentatively scheduled a Jan. 17 closed session at 3 p.m. to discuss labor negotiations strategy;

- scheduled a Jan. 23 Transportation Committee of the Whole meeting at 10:30 a.m. to discuss funding for work on CSAH 9 in Waverly;

- approved a request for county IT staff to attend a unique training opportunity, the Cisco Live 2017 Conference in Las Vegas June 25-29;

- accepted the low bid of the Herald Journal for the contract as the county's legal newspaper for 2017;

- approved filling an information systems specialist position in Health & Human Services, and a communications officer position in the Sheriff's Office;

- approved a $74,125 contract with the W.L. Hall Company for a window replacement project at the county Public Works Building; and

- approved $241,861 in claims involving 186 transactions with 120 vendors.



St. Michael man dies due to crash near Royalton

A 30-year-old St. Michael resident died as a result of a crash near Royalton, Minn. last Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The State Patrol reports a state snowplow truck was westbound on Highway 10 south of Royalton.  The truck was actively plowing with lights activated.  A truck driven by Timothy Ekhoff, 30, of St. Michael was also westbound when it struck the rear end of the snowplow truck.

The road surface with snowy and icy.

The snowplow driver, Judy Breyfogle, 57, of Little Falls, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.  Both drivers were wearing seat belts.



I-94 freeway crash claims Clearwater man's life

A freeway crash involving a semi-truck and a minivan resulted in the death of a 58-year-old man from Clearwater last Monday evening, Jan. 9 on eastbound I-94 about a mile west of County Rd. 75 in the St. Cloud area.

The State Patrol reports being called at 5:32 p.m.  The semi and the minivan were both eastbound on I-94.  After the semi stopped due to an accident further east on the freeway, the semi was rear-ended by the minivan.  The road surface was snowy and icy.

The driver the minivan, Frederick Meyer, 58, of Clearwater, died due to the crash.  The driver of the semi, Kelvin Bartlett, 55, of New Florence, Mo., was not injured.

A memorial service for Fred Meyer is taking place Monday, Jan. 16, 10:30 a.m., at Joy Christian Center in St. Cloud, according to Williams Dingmann Family Funeral Home, Sauk Rapids, where a visitation is planned from 4-8 p.m. on Sunday.  Further visitation at the church is planned for an hour prior to the memorial service on Monday.  He was employed by Bi State, Inc.  Survivors include his wife, Joann, and children, Nick, Joey and Samantha.

Due to blowing snow, limited visibility and icy roads, the Minnesota Department of Transportation advised no unnecessary travel Tuesday, Jan. 10 in Central Minnesota counties.

While roads remained open, motorists were asked to delay travel if possible.

MnDOT snowplow operators were working to make highways safe.

Motorists were advised to:

- Use a safe speed for winter driving conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit.

- Keep a safe stopping distance from the vehicle in front of them.

- Keep both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, and stay alert.

- Watch for plows, law enforcement, first responders and other vehicles that may be stopped along highways and interstates.



Health & Human Services employees honor law enforcement officers

On Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, Monday, Jan. 9, these representatives of numerous other Wright County Health & Human Services employees gathered to show support for all law enforcement officers.  They wore blue that day in honor of the officers.  The above group includes (from left): Gretchen B., Michelle Czech, Jessica Baker, Roseanne Duran, Jon Thalberg, and Dana Setzer-White.  Duran said Health & Human Services employees donated funds to provide treats to law enforcement officers last October, and with funds that were left over, 13 dozen doughnuts were recently obtained for the Sheriff's Office as a show of support.  She said they got a good deal on the doughnuts from Kwik Trip.


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Combs with some history

Rural Annandale resident has decorated her home with collection of about 150 combs from the past

By Ed DuBois

When Joan Ohnsorg asks people if they want to see her comb collection, they look at her quizzically, she said.  After all, not many people these days realize that combs were very important fashion accessories in past centuries.  In fact, you can see very rare "combs of antiquity" in some museums.

The museum-quality displays of Joan's comb collection in her rural Annandale home are seen in just about every room.  She estimates she has around 150 combs of just about every style and description.  Many are partnered with decorative fabrics and other items from the past, and placed inside attractive boxes she made herself and hung on her walls.  Most of the displays are covered with glass, and some of the boxes have a "bubble glass" or beveled glass coverings.


Gift from her daughters

Joan has been collecting combs about 35 years.  She recalled looking at a few combs in an antique store.

"I said to my daughter, 'I think it would be fun to collect these,'" she remembered.  "I always liked old things."

Her mother had a few items Joan enjoyed very much, such as a pie plate with intricate designs and a pretty perfume bottle her mother kept on her dresser.

Her mother once gave Joan a mirror, comb and brush set that had belonged to her aunt.

"My mother saved it for me," Joan recalled.

Another treasured gift came from her four daughters.  They went back to that antique store where Joan had admired a few combs and commented that it would be fun to collect them.  They bought the combs and gave them to Joan for Mother's Day.


Harder to find now

As Joan collected more combs, she did some reading about the history of combs and learned they were popular from about 1700 to the 1930s.  Combs were used to put hair up and hold it in place.

"Combs were not used as much in the 1930s as the age of the 'flappers' was ending," Joan said.

A book called the "Collector's Guide to Hair Combs" says combs were made with many materials, such as: silver, brass, vulcanized rubber, horn, tortoise shell, bone, wood, and ivory.

"Combs were fairly easy to find in the beginning.  I looked for them at antique stores and flea markets.  They gradually became harder to find," Joan said.

Some Internet sources have combs available, but they are getting expensive.


Enjoyed creating displays

Finding and obtaining combs was fun, but Joan said it was more fun thinking of different ways to display her combs.  Old picture frames are among her favorite items for making display boxes.  A special purse from long ago was one of the items she included in a display box with some of her combs.

She said the edges of old-fashioned pillowcases are great for decorating the interior sides of the display boxes.  Flowers from her oldest daughter's wedding are included in a display, and old jewelry is included in others.

Cardboard covered with fabric is the "backing" in many display boxes.  Various types of napkins are good for decorating.  Joan has one display box that features an older lacy neck cover or dress collar.

"I had an aunt who was a nun, and she did some fine sewing.  I have used some of her tatting in my comb displays," Joan mentioned.

A pearl necklace circles the inside of one display box.

Many of the items in the displays are personal and have connections with loved ones, both past and present.


Raised seven children

Originally from Shakopee, Joan was going to be a teacher after graduating from high school.  She said she studied at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth for a year, and then she studied at a school for teachers in Minneapolis.  However, Joan never became a teacher.

"I got married, instead," she said.

Joan was married to Andy Ohnsorg 60 years until he passed away in April 2010.  He was a co-owner of Ohnsorg Truck Bodies in Belle Plaine, Minn.

Andy and Joan, who raised seven children in Chaska, owned some property in rural Annandale, and they moved there permanently upon retiring in 1991.

This Christmas, Joan hosted a party with almost 50 relatives.  She has 18 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, "with one on the way."


Decorating the house

As for her collection of combs, Joan enjoys showing them and telling stories about the various items the display boxes contain.  The combs are reminders of "big hair" fashions in the past.  They served dual purposes.  They held hair in place while also adding some decorative flare.

Now they decorate Joan's home and inspire quizzical looks when she asks, "Would you like to see my comb collection?"