Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Willmar Guard unit prepares for deployment to Kuwait

ALSO: Anti-frac-sand mining proposal is rejected; Mankato schools’ enrollment is up; Willmar is hub for Jennie-O success; and more.

The 682nd Engineering Battalion is being deployed later this month to Kuwait.

Although the National Guard troop is based in Willmar, Lt. Col. Keith Ferdon of Motley said the 150 soldiers in the 682nd Engineering Battalion represent 99 communities across Minnesota. The 682nd is being deployed later this month to Kuwait to build and maintain roads and buildings throughout the Middle East for the next nine months. There will be a farewell ceremony Thursday in Willmar, writes Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune. The age of the soldiers ranges from 19 to 54. The majority enlisted after 9/11 and deployment isn’t a surprise to them, said Ferdon, the battalion commander. Capt. Mike Lovas of Maple Grove, who leads the Headquarters Company, said the soldiers are a mix of first-timers and those who have gone overseas before.

After a prolonged battle, a proposal to ban frac-sand mining in Houston County is finished, reports the Winona Daily News. Last week, the Houston County Planning Commission rejected a proposal from a group called the Houston County Protectors to amend the county’s mineral extraction zoning ordinance to specifically ban frac sand mining. Noting that most speakers at the commission’s public hearing last week favored the ordinance, “it was apparent that the planning commission was not acting in good faith,” member Ken Tschumper wrote in the Protectors’ statement.

If school enrollment is any indication, Mankato is on the move. District enrollment is 8,076 as opposed to 7,610 two years ago, Superintendent Sheri Allen told the school board Monday. Every grade increased in size except for first grade, which shrunk by one, writes Trey Mewes of the Mankato Free Press. The district estimates more than 8,700 students will attend Mankato schools by the 2020-2021 school year. The growth isn’t s surprise: The district built Rosa Parks Elementary School as well as several building renovations. Prairie Winds Middle School opens next fall, to be followed by renovations at Mankato East High.

West Coast trendsetters have developed a taste for turkey, but they probably don’t know that the brains of the outfit is in Willmar, writes Tom Cherveny of the West Central Tribune. Willmar’s Jennie-O Turkey Store not only produces the products, but also provides the marketing and development know-how. Glenn Leitch, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar, says Jennie-O has had a significant presence in California for 25 years and owns a 28 percent household penetration among 18-to-34-year-old consumers. Jennie-O is also the largest provider of turkey to the U.S. school system, said Leitch, who adds that the company has added improved biosecurity to fight the avian flu if it should reappear this fall. Jennie-O will have all of its farms repopulated by the end of the month and, if there are no further outbreaks, should be in full production by January or February, he said.

Article continues after advertisement

Charges were filed last week against former Plum Creek Regional Library Director Mark L. Ranum, 51, in Nobles County District Court. He faces 12 felony charges and two gross misdemeanors related to allegedly using the library system’s credit card for personal purchases, writes Robin Baumgarn of the Worthington Daily Herald. According to court documents, Ranum would make non-business charges on the Plum Creek Regional Library System credit card, then have the system’s fiscal administrator send him a bill, which he would pay via money order or check. From May 2013 to October 2014, there were 45 charges not relating to library business, including multiple $1,000 gift cards to Jackpot Junction, and charges to Hy-Vee, Target and to the State of Minnesota for registering a business in Ranum’s name. Ranum has said none of the money was used for personal gain and all of the expenses were reimbursed. He is charged with six counts of theft-indifferent to owner rights and eight counts of permitting false claims against government.