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


Buffalo man arrested in Waite Park for assault 

Cody Anderson

By Miriam Orr

Cody Anderson, 21 from Buffalo, has been arrested on felony charges of Assault in the First Degree on March 6, 2018, in Waite Park. Officers responded to a medical emergency at the 1200 block of 7th Street South in Waite Park, where they found a six-month-old child unconscious and having difficulty breathing upon arrival at the scene.

During follow-up investigations, it has been ascertained that the child was suffering from non-accidental internal brain trauma, and remains in critical condition in Minneapolis, after being transported from St. Cloud Hospital.

On file, Anderson's residence is listed as Buffalo, though Police Chief Dave Bentrude of Waite Park's Police Department stated, "It appears that Anderson has been living in Waite Park the past few months with the mother of the victim."

Anderson is not the father of the six-month-old victim that was injured, but law enforcement has determined that he has relations with the victim's family. Police stated that Anderson was home watching twins while the mother was away when the alleged abuse occurred, and records indicate that the other twin was not injured at the scene.

The child's prognosis, according to Chief Bentrud, is not yet clear at this time, and investigations remain open. Currently, Anderson is being held at Stearn's County Jail.


Buffalo High School plans safety drills, listening and sharing sessions

By Doug Voerding

In light of the attention to school safety across the nation, this week Buffalo High School administration, staff, and students focused on the specifics of school safety in their own building.

On Monday, March 12, the emphasis was on "safety." Several lock down drills were practiced, and fire and tornado drills were reviewed. The students were reminded about the importance of using 763-682-8004 to "say something" about bullying and/or other concerns or to give tips. Other safety issues such as the locations of AEDs were also revisited.

On Wednesday, March 14, the theme was "voice." From 10:00 to 10:17 a.m. a voluntary listening session was held in the gym. Students and staff were able to honor those who have lost their lives in tragic school violence. At 3:00 p.m., the students had a chance to speak about their concerns to school board members, the Wright County Sheriff, the Buffalo Police Chief, and other elected officials. At 3:35 p.m., Buffalo High School staff was given the same opportunity.

Thursday's theme was "connection." During all lunches, students were given a preview of the Community Book Read, and during Bison Time, all of the school counselors were available to meet with students about week's themes in a smaller setting.

Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. was the kick-off event for the Community Book Read of "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown led by Dr. Corey Martin. All students were invited to attend and participate in the community read.

A "meet-and-greet" session will be held Friday, March 16, at 3:00 p.m. with state Representative Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) and state Senator Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo). Students will be able to reach out and connect with their state representatives in person.


Hanover City Council considers major housing development March 6

By Doug Voerding

A major development in Hanover is raising several questions, as city residents are expressing their concerns about the size and density of the housing in the development.

Paxmar LLC is proposing to develop an 83-acre site with 337 single-family homes, patio homes, twin homes, and town homes. Hanover Cove would be on property known as the Duininck Gravel Pit, east of River Road and south of 8th Street North. The gravel pit has not been mined since the early 2000s.

The Hanover City Council on Tuesday, March 6, approved a zoning change to accommodate the development and discussed the concept plan with Paxmar representatives.

With little discussion, the south side zoning was changed from Industrial to Neighborhood-Residential. The north side was already zoned Neighborhood-Residential.

City Planner Cindy Nash presented the Hanover Cove concept plan.

Said Nash, "An Environmental Assessment Worksheet has been ordered and your (the council) review is a courtesy and non-binding."

City Engineer Justin Messner told the council that water and sanitary sewer is stubbed to the site. He also said he would verify capacities with St. Michael for the treatment plant and with Veolia for water service.

Mayor Chris Kauffman said that the real issue was traffic, specifically getting on and off County Road 19.

"Traffic and potential rentals," said Kauffman, "are issues. I am opposed to row houses, duplexes, and four-plexes."

Councilmember MaryAnn Hallstein said she had talked to school officials, and they said there was enough room to add another classroom for each grade and that school space was not a concern.

The Paxmar representatives talked about the lot types, lot sizes, and density. They said each residence would have a strong curb appeal and that building materials and design standards would be governed by a master Homeowners Association.

The concept plan shows 130 single family homes, 30 twin homes (60 units), 71 patio homes, and 19 four-plex row homes (76 units).

Councilmember Ken Warpula said that he loves Hanover and the small town feeling.

"I personally hate this plan," said Warpula. "You're jamming 337 homes into a small space. I would like to see bigger lots, so we don't lose the uniqueness of Hanover."

Councilmember Doug Hammerseng said he did not want to see any row houses.

Hallstein said, "Hanover is a bedroom community, and the only Wright County town not on a major road. Can you do this with patio and single-family only?"

Councilmember Jim Zajicek was concerned about lot widths for the patio homes. He asked, "Can you try widening those, maybe from 50 to 65 feet?"

The Paxmar representatives said, "We're here to see what the city wants, but this is a tough site to tackle because it is a gravel pit that has not been reclaimed."

No council action was taken on the concept plan. Paxmar may be at the March 20 council work session with a revised plan.

Nick Knese Construction


Citizen's Forum

During the Citizen's Forum earlier in the meeting, three residents addressed the council about the development.

Debbie Krajsa had several concerns including the number of cars and the number of daily trips in and out of the development with three exits. She also questioned the available water and sewer infrastructure, and the impact on area schools.

"We need to do homework on these developers," said Krajsa, "and check their other developments. Do the benefits outweigh the costs and will this enhance the design of the community and meet our quaint small town feel?"

Amy Sefton said she would prefer all single-family homes and larger lot sizes.

Said Sefton, "Do not allow more houses per acre than are currently allowed."

James Steinbrueck said, "Hanover is a very unique town. I would like to see larger lot sizes. There is a growing traffic problem, so there needs to be another entrance to the development."


Other land issues

Several other zoning and land use issues were considered by the council.

The council approved a conditional use permit (CUP) to allow an accessory building within a side yard and to allow that accessory building to be larger than the footprint of the home.

The request came from Ted Leadens, owner of the property at 10677 Jonquil Lane North.

The property is 38 acres and is in an R-A, Residential-Agriculture District. The proposed 40 by 80-foot building would not be near any residences and would be setback 1400 feet from Jonquil Lane North.

The council also approved a private driveway agreement that allows a private driveway in the public right-of-way. An undeveloped section of 8th Street North into the industrial park has been used as a private driveway.

The agreement allows access to properties owned by H and R Construction, Voss Utility and Plumbing, and Burschville Construction with a gravel cul-de-sac.

Once the private driveway agreement was accepted, the council approved the use of an adjacent vacant lot for outdoor storage by H and R Construction. The lot would be fenced with chain link. The fence on the 8th Street North side will be with slats, so the storage will not be seen on the street side.

Finally, the council had previously reviewed a draft mining ordinance and had sent it to the Planning Commission for review. The commission then recommended that mineral extraction should be an interim use in all zoning districts and returned the ordinance for council approval.

However, the council was concerned about recycling on the site. The proposed ordinance would allow stockpiling up to 50,000 cubic yards of recycle material on any one site. The stockpiled material is crushed and prepared for resale.

The council learned that an interim use permit would not require any reports on the recycling activity nor on the number of trucks hauling the material in and out of the sight.

City Attorney Jay Squires suggested that a conditional use permit (CUP) be required for the recycling.

With that change, Nash said that activity reports and possible road usage fees could be part of the CUP.

The council tabled the ordinance approval for two weeks for further consideration at its work session on March 20.


Lawful gambling

The council approved changes to the city ordinance that regulates gambling.

All organizations conducting lawful gambling within the city must spend 40 percent of its net proceeds within the Hanover Trade Area within the same calendar year, and that such proceeds are received by the organization conducting the charitable gambling.

The Hanover Trade Area is now defined as including the cities of Hanover, Greenfield, Corcoran, St. Michael, Rockford, and Rogers. The trade area is defined in state law, and the Hanover ordinance follows state law.

In addition to the donation percentage for the trade area, any organization licensed to conduct lawful gambling within the city shall donate ten percent of its net profits derived from lawful gambling in the city to a fund administered and regulated by the city.

The city is expected to use that money for the Park Capital Fund.


County Commissioner

Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter talked to the council about the on-going work of the county board.

Potter said that he has been focusing on transportation issues and that he serves on Highway 55, Highway 25, and I-94 Coalitions.

Said Potter, "We are redoing the transportation study from 2004. We need to know how to meet the county's transportation needs with all of the growth."

Potter also talked about possible improvements to the county's Riverside Park in Hanover.

Kauffman asked Potter for help with access to County Road 19, especially with all of the new development being proposed.


Other action

In other action, the council

• decided not to waive the statutory limits of $500,000 per claimant and $1,500,000 per occurrence for the city's insurance with the League of Minnesota. The council takes this action yearly.

• approved, after study, changes in the pay ranges for city employees to maintenance worker: $34,341 - $55,000; administrative assistant: $39,062 - $50,000; public works supervisor: $46,550 - $70,000; accountant - deputy clerk: $41,600 - $70,000; and city administrator – clerk – treasurer: $62,109 - $92,000. The salary ranges now compare better to other cities.

• accepted a donation of $500 from the Hanover EDA to the Hanover Historical Society for upgrading the infrastructure related to internet and phone services at the former Methodist Church. The Hanover Historical Society is working to make the church its headquarters.


February 20 meeting

At the February 20 work session, the council

• accepted plans and authorized bids for the 2018 street surface improvement project. The bids will be in several parts, allowing the council to decide which parts of the project will be completed based on the bids.

• agreed to purchase a bucket truck for $25,000, a wood chipper for $20,000, and a floor cleaning zamboni for $3500. All three pieces of equipment are used, and the purchases are part of the 2018 Capital Projects Fund in the city budget.

• approved the six-month staff review of public works employee Carl Olson recognizing the successful completion of his probationary period.

• accepted the transfer of the cemetery from the Methodist Church, which closed last year. The city also owns and manages a cemetery on County Road 19.

•  discussed changes in the city's gambling regulations ordinance.


CASE-IH Show and Tell

The Wright County Historical Society's History of Tractors Series is taking a different format for 2018! Join us on Tuesday, March 20 from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Wright County Heritage Center (2001 Hwy 25 N, Buffalo) for a CASE-IH Show and Tell event. Please note that there will be no formal talk this year.

This "drop in" event invites everyone to view CASE-IH items in the Hands On History Gallery and enjoy cake, lemonade & coffee in the Activity Room. Anyone wanting to showcase their personal collection is encouraged to participate, as are any CASE tractor owners wishing to bring their tractors to show off in our parking lot (space and weather permitting).

Additionally, WCHS will be showing some historic CASE informational films from our collection. To arrange for an inside or outside space, or for more information, please call Sally Stevens at 763-682-7323. Participation and attendance at the event are free of charge. Everyone is welcome. RSVP's are appreciated but not required to 763-682-7323.


Buffalo takes to the Polar Plunge

First to brave the water are, pictured left to right:  Buffalo City Employee Gale Raisanen, Mayor Teri Lachermeier, Officer Angela Grabowski, and Detective Barrett Chrissis. See more photos in this issue of the Wright County Journal-Press. (Photo courtesy of Barrett Chrissis)

By Miriam Orr

On Saturday, March 10, Sturges Park was the site of the annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota on Buffalo Lake.

Buffalo and Annandale Police Departments, Wright County Sheriff's Office, and the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.  Trained dive teams and EMTs were present in the water and around ice to assist those who may have had trouble swimming, or if accidents were to occur. No accidents were reported at the Plunge.

The Plunge began at 1:00 p.m., and the water was reported at 33 degrees. Police Chief Pat Budke and members of the BPD were the first to make the plunge and kicked off the event. He commented that the water was not as cold as last year, and that things "moved quickly this time around."

The plunge itself consists of group challenges, separated into individual categories including top individual contributions; small, medium, and large corporations; top K-12 schools and college/universities; top law enforcement contributors; top Special Olympics Minnesota delegations; top restaurants; and top contributors from other categories.

During the Plunge, top individual contributors of the event were Morgan Kleve, Barrett Chrissis, and Sally Stevens, though donation contributions continue to accrue even after that event.

Groups to make the most contributions were Be Claws We Can!, Buffalo LIONS, and Wave Wallopers. The top restaurant to donate was Bunkers Dunkers, and Amestrong contributed the most for a small corporation.

St. John's Prep Nordic Ski Team contributed the most for K-12 schools, followed by BHS Bison Connection, and the Reason for Freezin' group. Of law enforcement groups, BPD's Polar Plunge Unit and Wright County's Sheriff Office participated.

BFC's Buffalo Stampede and RFD Crow River Special Olympics represented Minn. Special Olympics delegations. No college or universities were represented at Buffalo's Polar Plunge.

Local plunger, Jessica, represented herself on her 40th birthday for the event, and received a round of applause when she took her dive into the chilled waters.

As of Saturday, the status of funds raised for Minn. Special Olympics totaled $31, 475, with 166 participants. In 2017, the event hosted 225 plungers and raised $45,323. These totals will continue to grow as donations are made online, and totals can be viewed at

Make sure to check out more photos inside this week's edition of the Wright County Journal-Press


New structure for fairgrounds discussed with Commissioners

By Miriam Orr

"I am just so blessed to have Commissioners with the foresight to buy land and work with us to keep the Wright County Fair going," said Dennis Beise, secretary to the Wright County Fair Board concerning a request to build a new structure at the fairgrounds in Howard Lake. The request was approved by a unanimous vote at the Wright County Board meeting on Tuesday, March 13.

The proposed new building will be 60 x 120 feet, with 16-foot walls, and will serve as a quarantine pen. Beise stated that to comply with Minnesota state law, fairgrounds are required to have a secluded area to put animals who may be ill, as to lower the chance of contamination. This "quarantine pen" will bring the Wright County Fair into compliance with Minnesota statutes, and is slated for an area by the Hopewell Fur Trading building; not too far across from the Sheep Barn.

Commissioner Mike Potter asked the question of how much the building would cost, and if the Fair Board has considered its options. Beise reported that the building is estimated to cost about $100,000 through a bid by wRight Lumber and Millwork. Beginning construction dates for this project were not discussed.

Beise went on to explain that during off-season, the quarantine building would be used as storage. Currently the fairgrounds gross almost $40,000 in renting their facilities for boat storage during the winter, and that he anticipated that the extra space would gain more profits by offering more room to take in clientele.

Commissioner Christine Husom asked Beise how the Fair Board was planning to finance the project and if the rent accumulated during the winter months would offset the cost of the building. Beise concluded that the Fair Board already has approximately $60,000, which they have been saving over the course of a few years.

Potter reminded fellow Commissioners that Wright County has one of the biggest fairs with some of the highest reported attendance in Minnesota for county fairs, and suggested that investment in the project would only benefit the fair itself. He stated that Wright County's Fair is "always well attended, and very viable for a county fair," two facts which he applauded.

Also discussed was the upcoming grandstand inspection for the fairgrounds, which happens once every ten years per Minnesota law. Beise also led talks about potentially working with the Highway Department in exploring options about leveling a construction site and providing gravel for the area. Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins, who was present for the meeting, agreed that they would explore options per the Board's request.

Commissioner Charlie Borrell announced 2018 fair dates, which are slated for July 18-22. Admissions for the fair this year is $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for students 13 through 17 years, and children ages 12 and under are free. Seasonal passes for the fair can be purchased for $15.00.


Agenda items:

Auditor/Treasurer's Office: Bob Hiivala presented the request for the Board to approve February 2018's revenue and expenditure budget report, which included cash and modified accrual basis figures. He stated that as of now, the report was "on trend with last February," and that the budget was in order. The Board approved the report unanimously.

Highway Department: Virgil Hawkins presented the request to approve a contract bid with 2018 Seasonal Bid No. 1803, which supports sealcoating approximately 42 miles of Wright County roads in the area. Pearson Bros., Inc. out of Hanover won the bid with an estimated $754,833.88 cost for the project. Commissioner Potter stated that the figure was significantly lower than previous years. Also approved were various other seasonal bids regarding equipment, plant-based materials, and pavement markings.

Public Hearing: At 9:30 a.m., Assistant Wright County Attorney Greg Kryzer led a public hearing regarding Ordinance 18-1, Chapter 31, or the Powers of Special Deputies. The hearing was held to take public comments concerning the amendment of county code  regarding the duties of special deputies. This ordinance allows for special deputies, whom are not sworn peace-officers, to "enforce all applicable state and local statutory and regulatory provisions governing zoning regulations, and parks, trails, water, boat, vehicle, or traffic safety through the issuance of citations or other means permitted by law." This refers to the County's newly approved hire of a Special Deputy Park Ranger, and does not permit the Ranger to make arrests outside of citizen arrests. The Board briefly raised discussion about vehicle options for this position, and Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman stated that white pickups or SUV's were being considered.


Other items:

• Administration: The Board approved a charitable gambling application for Three-of-a-Kind Event Site, the Silver Bullet Saddle Club in Clearwater.

• Warrants issued between Feb. 28 and March 6, 2018 were acknowledged.

• The temporary appointment of Deputy Scott Albrecht as a Sergeant, effective March 5, was approved. Albrecht will be assuming full responsibility for Sgt. Drew Scherber, Court Security supervisor, and results in a wage increase for approximately two months as Scherber takes leave time.


Committee of the Whole/Meetings:

• A closed session COTW was scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, at 3:15 p.m. at the Highway Building to discuss pending litigation, Mark and LuAnn Gorski vs. Wright County.

• A closed session COTW is scheduled for Monday, March 19, at 9:00 a.m. to discuss labor relations strategies.


Longtime Wright County grocer, Marv Marohn, passes away

Marvin Marohn

Marvin A. Marohn, age 87, passed away Tuesday, March 6th, at his home in Annandale.

Marv was born and raised in Annandale. He graduated from Annandale High School, and later, the University of Minnesota.

Following college graduation, Marv enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. While stationed at Camp Pendleton, Marv met his future wife, Bernice Zurawski. The couple eventually moved back to Annandale.

Marv took over his father's business, Marohn's Produce, and ran if for ten years.

After a brief period selling insurance, Marv and Bernice got into the grocery business, when they opened Marv's Red Owl, in Annandale, in 1967.

Continuing his entrepreneurial spirit, Marv would soon open grocery stores in Buffalo and Cokato.

He opened Marketplace in Buffalo in 1976, which later became Cub, and in 1981, opened a store in Cokato, which became Marketplace in 1993. After several store expansions in Annandale, it was determined more space was needed, and Marv leased the space of Perry's Jack and Jill.

Eventually, the store's name was changed to Marketplace II. In 2003, Annandale's Marketplace opened in its current location. While time caused Marv to slow down just a bit, he would still make it a priority to visit all his stores at least once a week.

The Marketplace in St. Michael is also in the Marohn family. Marv's son, Bob, owns and operates that store.

See the full obituary in this week's issue of the Journal-Press.


150 years later and still Wright

Pictured above is the Louis Samuel home, which originally served as Buffalo's first courthouse. (Photo from the Wright County Historical Society Archives.)

By Miriam Orr

A chapter in Wright County history was closed on March 12, 1868. What would be the last meeting of Wright County Board of Commissioners in Monticello would mark the beginning of Buffalo's status as the county seat.  

Buffalo celebrates its 150th year in the county seat position after its predecessor, Monticello, on Friday, March 23.

 In 1858, Monticello citizens won the first county seat allocation to host Wright County Board of Commissioner's meetings, but after citizens began settling throughout the entire region of Wright County, it became clear that county services needed a more centralized location, outside of Monticello. At that time, Monticello offered offices scattered around Monticello at more than one location, which citizens did not find convenient, or wanting.

Monticello, however, did not see the need to rent or build facilities that would bring officers of the county together in a more localized location. This became a growing concern for members of the community, and in the early 1860's, resident Jackson Taylor petitioned for the county seat to move from Monticello – which, in turn, was denied.

In the winter of 1866-67, a petition was signed for the Minnesota State Legislature to act upon the matter, and Taylor canvassed the entire county as a Buffalo County Commissioner to gain insight from nearly every voter.

Then in 1867, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill regarding the submission of a suggestion to have a Mississippi River crossing in Clearwater rather than Monticello, and handed it off to Wright County citizens in November of that year's election. Prior to that vote, Taylor and other residents of Buffalo submitted a bond to the County Board, offering to build a centralized structure if the county seat was transferred from Monticello, which would resolve the community's standing concern and desire for centralized county services.

What would ensue was, as history dictates, an overwhelming agreement that Buffalo should be the county seat. As promised in the agreement, the county structure was built – a 24 by 36 foot building to house offices, a courtroom, and ultimately furnished rent-free to the county for a five-year term. The facility found favor with Commissioners, and was slated to begin operation in 1868.

On March 23, 1868, Buffalo hosted the first meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners. One hundred and fifty years later, Buffalo is still hosting county board meetings on Tuesdays at 9:00 a.m., in our very own modern Government Center. That March 23 meeting 150 years ago was hosted in the county's first-ever centralized location for county operations since Monticello's 1858 acceptance of the title.

Of course, this information would not be available to us without careful research, dedication, and passion for the history of what made not only our great city, but also, a great county. With help from citizens and Wright County Heritage Center, history can once again piece together a little of what once was, and hopefully, help shape what is to come.

On Friday, March 23, the city of Buffalo would like to invite you to participate in its 150-year celebration at the Wright County Historical Society from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Provided will be refreshments, cake, and community to recall the history of what not only makes for an interesting trip through history, but what also makes for a fascinating recollection of generations past, determination, and vision.


Maple Lake St. Patrick's Day parade

The 41st Annual Grande Day St. Patrick's Day Parade is slated for 1:30 p.m. near the community park on Division Street in Maple Lake, on Saturday March 17.

Parade lineup will begin at 12:30 p.m., and registration can be done by completing the registration form, found online at Maple Lake's Chamber of Commerce website.

The Annual Craft Sale will also be going on March 17, running from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Maple Lake Elementary Gymnasium, where a selection of quality items will be offered by area crafters. You can contact Betty Gordon at 320-963-5351 for more information regarding the craft sale.

Also underway will be the Irish Scamper, which is hosted by the track and field team and will feature a 5k winding through the "old town" of Maple Lake. The run begins at 11:00 a.m., with registration at 9:00 a.m. in the Maple Lake High School Commons Area. Awards are slated for shortly after the race. Please go online and visit: for more information and to register. Forms can also be picked up in person at the Maple Lake High School Office.

Coronation of Maple Lake's new Ambassadors will begin at 4:30 p.m. after the Grande Day Parade, where nine candidates will compete for titles. Admission for the coronation is $5.00, with children ages five and under free. Parade awards will be presented during the program, as well in the Maple Lake High School Gym.

This year's Grand Marshal for the parade is John Northenschold. He began service with Maple Lake's City Council in 1987, and his service produced many bright ideas and dedication, which are still coming! Since moving to Maple Lake in 1972 with his wife Carole, Northenscold has been credited with bringing new businesses to the city's industrial park. At 81, he will be in the Grande Day Parade Saturday, March 17.

Throughout the day, the Maple Lake Legion will serve Mulligan Stew and other refreshments at the American Legion Club, while other civic organizations will offer St. Patrick's Day specials.

For questions, please contact Irene Hudek at 612-270-8586.


Food shelf looking for baggers

Do your grocery shopping one of these days and have someone bag your groceries for you!

Buffalo's Food Shelf is looking for volunteers to participate in its annual grocery bagging fundraiser from 9:00 a.m. to noon, or 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday,  March 17. 

If you would like to volunteer for a grocery-bagging shift, please send an emai to

This is a fun and easy way to help raise money for the food shelf. Get a group together-friends, neighbors, bible study groups, NHS, or co-workers! Our community is very generous- especially when we bag groceries for them!


Crossroads to host annual banquet

Crossroads Animal Shelter's Annual Blizzard of a Garage Sale is slated for Saturday, March 31, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Discovery Elementary School in Buffalo.

Make your plans now to donate your tax deductible, reusable treasures to help this fundraiser to be the most successful ever! Donations will be accepted all day Friday, March 30.

Presales are at 2:00 p.m. for $1.00 donation. No clothing, electronics, or exercise equipment please. Call 763-684-1234 for more information.

Help us help the animals!


The smallest of things

One family's journey through the impossible, and where they are now

By Miriam Orr

"Hey, now you've got sticky sucker juice all over in my hair, kiddo," Rachel Vetsch smiles brightly and can't contain her giggle, while her soon-to-be-four-year-old son, Eli, is busy watching television over her shoulder, managing to simultaneously give her a hug.

A lollipop has stained Eli Vetsch's mouth green,  as he runs around in pajamas, while a quiet episode of "P.J. Mask" plays on the living room television.

Eli is excited about his upcoming birthday, where he will turn four, because "Now I'm this many and will be this many more!" He attempts to hold up three, and then four, sticky fingers.

However colorful Eli's mouth may be from his sucker, he makes sure he's quiet as he enters the living room with his mother, because in the corner beneath a picture window, his baby sister sleeps quietly.

That little girl is one Avalynn "Ava" Vetsch, and her story is almost as colorful as her big brother.


Meet the family

The Vetsch family makes their home a few miles out of Buffalo, on a beautiful hill overlooking pastures and trees. It is quiet, and has a perfect view of the sky, with tons of room for three kids to run around, grow, and explore smalltown Minnesota country life.

So is the dream of Andrew and Rachel Vetsch, who spent three years looking for this "dream home" on the outskirts of Buffalo. The couple left Brooklyn Park after spending seven years in the metro area, where their two oldest children, Lilliana, who's five, and Eli, who's almost four, were born. Their youngest daughter, Ava, was born while they were living in Buffalo, just over a year ago.

Rachel is a full-time, stay-at-home mom, while Andrew just recently left the restaurant industry in Delano to stay home and be closer to his family. Most days, the couple welcome grandparents to stay over the day as well. Their house is a busy one, to be certain.

It's busy in a way they never imagined – a miraculous busy, you could say.


The impossible

Ava Vetsch just turned one in February, where her birthday was celebrated by not only her family, but also hospital staff in Buffalo, where nurses, doctors, and paramedics gathered to meet her and her loved ones. Rachel and Andrew, Ava's loving and devoted parents, shook hands with the very men and women who had a large part of bringing Ava into this world.

The idea of a birthday party with hospital staff is one you wouldn't typically imagine for a one-year-old. But, for Ava, it is very fitting and also very special for her parents.

The day Ava was born was one that they wouldn't soon forget.

"I was scheduled for a C-section Feb. 21st," Rachel recalls of her third pregnancy. "It was the night of Feb. 20th. We'd just brought food home for the kids, and I had gone to the bathroom and had some chest pain."

However, when Rachel exited the restroom, she didn't feel well at all.  Andrew asked her what was wrong, and she didn't respond to his inquiry.

"I knew something was wrong when she bypassed all the food we'd just brought home," Andrew said. "She sat down on the couch, and I asked her again. She didn't respond."

Moments later would set the course for the rest of the couple's life. Rachel went into a sudden cardiac arrest, where she was totally unresponsive, and collapsed on the floor.

Luckily, however, Maple Lake and Buffalo paramedics had gathered together for a meeting at the ambulance bay in town, and responded to Andrew's call faster than normal.

"It was a miracle they arrived so quickly," Rachel recalled. "Had they not been together for a meeting, it would've taken like seven minutes longer than usual. Those seven minutes would've cost me and Ava's life."

Rachel stopped breathing right as paramedics arrived at the family's home, where they performed CPR to resuscitate her and keep her unborn child alive. She was immediately transported to the hospital, and eventually ended up at HCMC in Minneapolis.

"They performed an emergency C-section to make sure they stabilized Ava, since she'd gone without oxygen already," Rachel said. "Even then, though, the doctor told Andrew that it didn't look good for either one of us. They were positive that I would have severe brain damage or die altogether. No one expected either of us to live."

 It would be four days before Rachel would meet her third baby, who was routed to Children's Hospital while she remained at HCMC. Doctors had told Andrew that his wife was either going to die, or end up severely handicapped – only to be proven completely wrong.

Rachel woke up four days later, entirely fine. At first there was temporary amnesia and a slight lack of depth perception in the weeks to follow her recovery, but she was entirely fine out of a medically-induced coma. That in and of itself was a miracle.

"They told us, after I woke up, that Ava had extensive brain damage from the lack of oxygen," Rachel explained, "to the point where they didn't think she would even breathe on her own."

"We were literally arranging her last rites and a baptism and a funeral service," Andrew said.

But then, Ava woke up.


The aftereffects

"It was so hard not knowing what was going to happen," Rachel mused. "We had no idea when we were ever going to leave the hospital."

Ava spent almost 25 full days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital, where her big brother and sister saw her once. Rachel and Andrew stayed in the Ronald McDonald house for awhile, as their daughter recovered from her entrance into the world – coming home only to shower, change clothes, and go back again.

Ava was diagnosed immediately with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), or brain damage that occurs when an infant's brain is deprived of oxygen and blood. Though Ava was diagnosed, doctors were unsure of how long she was compromised in the womb during Rachel's cardiac arrest, and thus could not have determined the severity, other than it was "extensive." She was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which is "more a classification than a medical diagnoses," Andrew commented.

In addition to cerebral palsy and HIE, Ava also suffers from Cortical Vision Impairment, (CVI), which is more of a psychological issue than a visionary one. Basically, Ava can see visually – her brain just has a difficult time processesing what her eyes see. To what extent she can actually see remains unknown, as she's only a one-year-old. What's more, Ava has microcephaly, where her head is significantly smaller than expected, since her brain is not developing like normal infants.

"We take things one day at a time." Rachel said. "We're happy about every little thing – since doctors have no idea what she's capable of or even how long she'll live, we rejoice in the smallest of things."

Ava struggles with movement and mobility, as her brain stem has damage. Since the brain stem controls the functions of life, Ava was never expected to do anything on her own at all. Breathing on her own is a miracle in and of itself. March 7 marked the end of a weeks-long battle in a hip-to-foot cast due to hip displacement from the cerebral palsy. 

Feeding is a challenge, as Ava is currently fed through a feeding tube, though doctors believe that her eating habits stem more from psychological issues than they do physical ones.

As for her cognitive awareness, Ava knows who her family is, and absolutely loves certain toys that she plays with, even though she struggles with loud noises and cannot be moved around too quickly.

As for Eli and Lilliana, they are all too thrilled about having a baby sister. "Even though they don't quite understand, they do so great with her," Rachel said.

Motherhood after having two children has been quite different, Rachel hinted. "I've learned to live in the moment with Ava, and I'm thrilled about everything. In a way, I'm thankful that we almost died – it's made me so aware and thankful for life. I'm so blessed we made it, and we are here."

Rachel stated that she has less anxiety now, after the cardiac arrest. "Nothing is a huge deal anymore. We can get through everything. It's a really strange feeling; nothing really compares to what I've gone through, and I've learned to embrace everything."


Joy in the simplest things

"The biggest challenge for me is not knowing," Rachel commented. "I just don't know what's going to happen today, or tomorrow, or three years from now, or whatever. I just want Ava to be happy, and that's what I hope for everyday."

It was nine months before Ava could smile, and that was the greatest moment for Andrew and Rachel. "All along we've wanted her to be happy; that's what I want," said Andrew. "I want her life to be as good and happy and positive as possible."

Now that Ava can smile, it makes it all worth it. Rachel and Andrew were beaming when they explained that since Ava didn't smile for nine months after she was born, they were worried that she had never experienced happiness. Now that she smiles, they take solace in knowing that even the smallest things are the most rewarding.

"Any developments that are positive are huge and big and exciting," Andrew explained. "Our fear is that she'll never be happy, so we make everything a huge deal, and we're sure to be happy about whatever positive thing happens in the day."

"She was just pushing her leg a little the other day when she had the hip-to-foot cast removed," Rachel remembered. "I couldn't contain myself. I was so happy and giddy, because she hadn't moved in weeks, and that was such a promising sign."

Rachel then went on to explain that in January, she went in for surgery on her heart. After she was diagnosed with a heart murmur during her first pregnancy with Lilliana, her oldest, she hadn't really anticipated anything huge, until the cardiac arrest with Ava happened. She was diagnosed with Mitral valve prolapse, where the leaflets of the heart's mitral valve bulges into the heart's left upper chamber like a parachute during the heart's contraction, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"As soon as they closed me back up from surgery, and not even before we hit the ICU doors, I had two more massive cardiac arrests," Rachel recalled. "When they did my surgery, they rated my heart a five on a scale of one being the best to five being the worst."

Doctors ascertained that when they corrected the leaflets on Rachel's heart, the repair "threw off the accustomed rhythm" that her heart was "comfortable with," and that's what triggered the two cardiac arrests.

After surgery, and work on her valves, Rachel's heart went from a beyond five classification to a one. She spent five days in a medically-induced coma after her surgery in January, only to come out just as fine as she went in – only now, she doesn't anticipate any heart surgeries in the future.


Life in the moment

"We are so happy to be able to finally sit back and begin exploring options," Andrew said. He's been busy accumulating materials regarding Ava's conditions to begin studying and exploring options – whether those be experimental medications, operations, or other avenues of treatment, the family isn't entirely sure.

"For so long, we've been reacting to all sorts of things, that we can just now sit back and begin really looking at different options for treatment and where exactly we can go. That's what we've been waiting for; it's been so reactionary."

Recently, Ava was diagnosed with infantile spasms, which are like seizures, that by definition are a "catastrophic disorder." Now with that somewhat under control, the family has been enjoying time at home in the wake of Ava's first birthday.

Life continues for the Vetsch family, however. Lilliana is five and is in school, which is a big step for Rachel and Andrew, and Eli is enjoying his time "almost being four." Ava has almost eight appointments a week in Minneapolis, so Rachel has a jumping schedule that keeps her on her toes.

Thankfully, grandma is always nearby, should Eli have a hankering for green suckers or adventures outside.

For now, Andrew and Rachel state that they are working towards the challenges of mobility and eating at the moment; though they are sure that each day presents its own set of challenges and joys.

They remain optimistic though, and don't miss a beat. They are smiling and taking this journey together, even in the smallest of things.


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