Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Suicide hot lines adapt to texting

ALSO: Winona home prices dive; St. Cloud rape suspect cites ‘involuntary intoxication’; Willmar dog missing since fatal accident is found; warm winter saves New Ulm $57,000.

News From Greater Minnesota

Thanks to an initiative of Carlton County, Minnesota is one of two states in the nation with a cell-phone text suicide hot line. Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth Tribune writes that the state’s suicide call center is getting as many cell-phone text messages from teens in one day as it used to get phone calls from teens in a month. Unfortunately, that’s only from Northeast Minnesota, where the texting program has started in seven counties (St. Louis, Carlton, Cook, Lake, Aitkin, Itasca and Koochiching). Hollingsworth writes: “Before rolling out the texting program, the center was getting roughly three calls a month from teens, and now it gets about three texts a day, primarily from the Carlton County area. Since the program started keeping track in November, about 160 people have texted counselors. That number is expected to grow as more teens in Northeastern Minnesota learn the number.”

Why is Northeastern Minnesota such a concern? “The area has one of the highest suicide rates among all ages in the state and data from a 2010 Minnesota Student Survey shows an ‘alarming rate’ of suicidal tendencies and behavioral health issues among area youth. In St. Louis County, for example, eight freshmen and six seniors said they had attempted suicide in the last year. … In Carlton County, seven freshmen and three seniors said they had attempted suicide in 2010,” Hollingsworth writes. Carlton County officials won a $1.44 million federal grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The program allows people to text “life” to 839863 and be connected with a counselor. Traci Churi, the text coordinator at the Richfield Crisis Connection, said that through texting, kids “are reaching out and talking about tough subjects they weren’t talking to anyone about,” including relationships, maltreatment, aggressive feelings and bullying.

While the number of homes sold in Winona and Goodhue counties rose 14 percent in 2011, the median price in December 2011 was $117,750 — down 17 percent from $142,000 last year, writes Amy Pearson of the Winona Daily News. Adding insult to injury, area homes were listed an average of 166 days last year, up from 158 days in 2010, and 131 in 2009. Eric Grover with Century 21 Alpha Realty in Rochester said sellers aren’t able to match prices in a market flooded with cheap foreclosures. Eric Nustad of Key Real Estate in Winona said nearly half of his company’s 20 percent to 25 percent increase in sales compared with 2010 came as a result of foreclosures. But Realtors are nothing if not optimistic: Bob Skeels of Coldwell Banker and DeDe Mraz of Edina Realty, both in Winona, said they’re hopeful sales will continue to increase. January sales so far have been promising, they said, and open houses have been well attended.

Article continues after advertisement

Get a load of this one: A St. Cloud man accused of kidnapping, beating and raping a woman last summer in St. Cloud plans to argue “involuntary intoxication” as a defense. Dave Unze of the St. Cloud Times reports that James David Bryson, 22, was indicted by a Stearns County grand jury on multiple counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of sexually assaulting, choking and repeatedly beating a 21-year-old woman in August. Apparently, the defense is claiming Bryson was under the influence of Ambien, a drug used to treat insomnia. Meanwhile, Unze reports that prosecutors intend to introduce evidence of a separate incident between Bryson and a female that occurred five months before the attack. The woman told investigators that in February, Bryson attended a St. Cloud house party. The woman was going to bed when Bryson came into her room and held her down while she yelled, according to a court filing. After about 10 minutes, he let her up. Although Bryson wasn’t charged in the February incident, prosecutors argue Bryson displayed similar conduct toward women in two separate incidents. Bryson’s attorney disputes the woman’s account. “This incident was at most a situation at a drunken college party where a boy tried to get ‘lucky’ with a girl and she refused,” according to the filing from Bryson’s attorney John Leunig.

On a lighter note, a dog that had been missing since its owners were involved in a fatal Christmas Eve accident south of Willmar has been found alive and well. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune has all the details. The 3-year-old gray Schnauzer, named Lord,  was skinny, full of cockleburs and didn’t smell the best, but seemed to have weathered the month-long test of survival, including recent subzero temperatures, without ill effects. The dog had been the subject of numerous news articles as volunteers searched for the animal and followed tips from people who had sighted him roaming the farm country. The dog was found three miles west of Roseland on Kandiyohi County Road 80.” Just open up that photo of Lord and tell me it doesn’t make you feel better.

Some more good news: The warm first half of this winter has created big savings for New Ulm. In November and December, the city saved $57,756 in snow plow costs, writes John Moniz of the New Ulm Journal. New Ulm has saved $14,556 in fuel, $15,380 in overtime pay and $27,809 in salt and sand mixture for roads. Last year was a different story, of course, as the city spent $403,000 to remove snow in 2011 on a budget of $376,000. Any leftover money will be added to the city’s general fund and used in 2013.

Tom Hintgen of the Fergus Falls Journal localizes the statewide teacher contract situation. Contracts between school districts and unions are up every two years, and of the 338 districts in the state, 184 still don’t have contracts with their teachers, including Fergus Falls. Negotiators have met seven times, and school-board member Melanie Cole said no significant agreement has been reached. They are scheduled to meet again on Jan. 30. The 2011 State Legislature repealed the traditional Jan. 15 negotiation settlement deadline, making this year the first time since 2004 that the bargaining deadline was not in place. This has led the head of the Minnesota teachers union to call for a swift settlement of teacher contracts. Tom Dooher said protracted contract talks aren’t good for teachers, school districts or students.

With the swipe of a giant pencil, Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson signed a proclamation designating 2012 “The Year of the Legend” in honor of the famed Bemidji statue’s 75th birthday. Laurie Swenson of the Bemidji Pioneer writes that Larson thinks this will be a memorable yearlong celebration. “That’s what will happen,” he said. “I’m convinced of it.” The event was preceded by a birthday party at the Beltrami County History Center, where the Historical Society unveiled more than 400 pieces of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox memorabilia. Director Nicole Foss is looking for photos of people with Paul and Babe to create a giant mosaic that, when viewed from a distance, will form a huge image of Paul and Babe. To submit a photo, email

While 200 Paul Bunyan statues exist in the United States, Paul has received the greatest attention in northern and central Minnesota, said Wayne Chamberlain who, dressed as Paul Bunyan, spoke about the origins of the legend in a presentation titled “Paul Bunyan the Legend: Fact or Fiction?” Chamberlain’s love for Paul started in 2001 when, after he portrayed Paul Bunyan at Beanhole Days in Pequot Lakes, a 4-year-old boy told his father, “Dad, I know that man. … Dad, that’s Paul Bunyan!” “I was hooked,” Chamberlain said. He went on to play Paul in about 200 parades and community events. Also present at the birthday party was Marty Watts of Bemidji, whose grandfather, Simon Lee, was a mason who worked on the Paul Bunyan statue. Watts was 6 years old when Lee worked on the statue and remembers him as a hard worker who never missed a day of work. “He was a miniature Paul Bunyan,” said his great granddaughter, Kim Nagle. “He wasn’t a big man at all. He wore plaid shirts from the Woolen Mills” and a lumberjack hat with ear flaps.

John Fitzgerald is a longtime journalist and Minnesotan. He lives in Buffalo.