There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. With the right hat. Mike Creger of the Duluth News Tribune chronicles the simple story of a man, a pope and a skullcap. Pete Stauber of Hermantown, on a six-day pilgrimage to Rome with several other Northland couples, found himself in the throngs in St. Peter’s Square during Pope Francis’ weekly audience. Sure enough, there was the pope, gliding by on the popemobile, close enough for Stauber to offer his zucchetto – a beanie or skullcap, according to Creger – to the pope. Creger writes: “Stauber held the cap; a guard snatched it, and Stauber stood completely still, arm still extended, as a wash of awe visibly passed over him. The pope checked the zucchetto for size and authenticity and then made the exchange. Stauber, gulping, uttered a wavy “Oh-oh-oh, thank you” twice, and then the pope was whisked away.” “It’s an amazing moment,” Stauber said. And you can even see it on official Vatican video.
Meanwhile, on a less spiritual plane, Joel Myhre of the Fergus Falls Journal is keeping tabs on an explosion and fire at the Green Plains ethanol plant in the city. The fire produced dark, odorous smoke and officials had to close County Road 116 Monday evening. Myhre reports that no raw ethanol is involved and that the fire involves a dryer at the plant. No injuries have been reported.
All right, let’s just cut to the chase here. “Fargo” was a great movie, but a lot of Minnesotans thought the Coen brothers made fun of our accents and our Minnesota Nice attitude. So up here, we’re keeping an eye on the new FX series “Fargo,” based on the movie and set in Bemidji, although it’s being filmed in Calgary (boooo). The Bemidji Pioneer offered a write-up: Trailers for the 10-epsode miniseries, which premieres April 15, have been available for several weeks. “Breaking Bad” star Bob Odenkirk will don a faux Bemidji Police uniform for his role as Bill Oswalt. Billy Bob Thornton will play the show’s main character, Lorne Malvo, who, according to imdb.com, “arrives in small-town Minnesota and influences the population with his malice and violence, including put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).” The Pioneer also reports that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” will appear in four episodes as FBI agents who track Thornton’s character. As for how well the show treats Minnesota and its residents’ eccentricities — the Pioneer’s story ends with this ominous paragraph: “We’ll be waiting.”
With all the snow this winter, you know that flooding is going to be a concern this spring. That’s why it’s no surprise that stories predicting the effects of snowmelt are starting to leak into papers across the state. The first is from a newly hirsute Trey Mewes in the Austin Daily Herald. He writes that “There’s little chance Mower County could get hit by floods based on the National Weather Service’s current flooding forecast. ‘We’re at less than 5 percent chance of minor flooding,’ said Amy Lammey, Mower County Emergency Management Coordinator. … Lammey said the county is monitoring creeks, rivers, streams and storage areas to watch for signs of flooding. Law enforcement is also checking waterways for signs of ice jams and other problems, and the county has stockpiled sand bags and other supplies in case of flooding. That likely won’t be a problem, as the county’s creeks, streams and storage areas are on the low side at the moment, which means they can absorb more water and runoff.” So, thank goodness for the drought.
Over in Fairmont, Jenn Brookins writes that residents should pull snow away from their buildings so the snowmelt won’t seep into the foundation. “If the landscaping allows water to run off toward the house, there will likely be water in the basement. Once the frost breaks, especially if there is still lots of snow cover when it breaks, there could be trouble,” says Mike Tennyson of Tennyson Construction in Truman. He suggests homeowners also move snow away from gas meters and water spigots, and to make sure the sump pump is in working order.
A wrestling coach and physical-education teacher in the Frazee-Vergas district has been suspended after he reportedly kicked a 13-year-old student in the groin, writes Chris Murphy of the Fargo Forum. Apparently, the student tossed a badminton birdie that hit teacher John Barlund near his eye at the end of the sixth-hour gym class on Feb. 4. “Witnesses testified that Barlund kicked the student in the groin area and swore. Most students heard Barlund say, ‘What the hell was that for?’ Other witnesses heard him use more vulgar expletives, the district’s investigation found.” Barlund denies kicking the student but said he attempted to defend himself with his hands up and feet out. The investigation documents stated Barlund’s testimony was not credible because it was not believable that he was afraid of the student, “given the immense size and strength difference between them.” Also, five students contradicted him. Barlund said the student walked away from the confrontation, which would have been difficult if he had been kicked in the groin. He also said “another student said the seventh-grade boys got together and said, ‘Let’s get together and say you kicked me in the groin.’ Barlund was put on paid administrative leave from both teaching and coaching on Feb. 5,” Murphy wrote.
Poor Cold Spring still can’t get its act together and hire a police chief. David Unze of the St. Cloud Daily Times writes that the city made an offer to Eric Johnson to be the next Cold Spring-Richmond police chief after a two-month search, then rescinded the offer. “The council offered Johnson the job Jan. 29, pending three conditions that he later met. But the city received information, which it won’t discuss, that it said led to an investigation and a nine-page investigative report that the council reviewed the night it voted 2-2 to offer Johnson the job,” Unze wrote. Revealing the reasons Johnson isn’t the chief would open the city to a lawsuit, one council member said. Members of the search committee, which included representatives from Richmond and Wakefield Township, said the rules were changed mid-search about who would perform background checks. Wakefield Township Supervisor Woody Stalboerger called the reports against Johnson a “witch hunt” and stormed out of the meeting. “Meanwhile, Johnson is without a law enforcement job and is driving a truck delivering turkeys. (His attorney) awaits the nine-page report that the council said it would give to her,” Unze wrote.
The Veteran’s Memorial in front of the Waseca County courthouse is in need of repair, writes Samantha Maranell of the Waseca County News. The memorial consists of a cannon that was captured by the First Minnesota Battery at Cheraw, S.C., and presented to Waseca County by Civil War soldiers and dedicated in 1898; and a bronze plaque with the names of the 1,073 people from Waseca County who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I, dedicated in 1941 and placed on a concrete structure in front of the cannon. Because the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, guidelines have to be followed when restoring the monument which, in 2008, put the cost between $35,000 and $40,000. Here’s the plan: The concrete pad around the granite base of the cannon would be removed; the cannon and 10 cannonballs would be cleaned of corrosion; the granite base would be cleaned and a new concrete ring would be poured. The concrete support around the plaque would be replaced and raised above ground level to avoid freeze-thaw effects, the bronze plaque will be cleaned and treated with a corrosion inhibitor and the plaque will be reset onto the new support structure.