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Space, surprise and stereotypes: The ‘Right Stuff’ in Bemidji

ALSO: B&B fire in New Ulm; gay marriage rally in Duluth; big storm Friday in southern, central Minnesota; crops doing nicely across state.

News From Greater Minnesota

A story in the Bemidji Pioneer by Anne Williams, “Out of this world: Local teacher goes to Space Camp, brings back a surprise,” neatly counters recent negative political stereotypes about public schoolteachers. Bemidji Middle School science teacher Abram Schwartz earned a scholarship to attend the 2011 Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program from June 15-24, where he experienced weightlessness, built rockets and commanded a crew of fellow teachers in an International Space Center simulator at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. He joined 250 teachers and he did so well at the camp that he earned a “Right Stuff” award and the right to give a free Space Camp scholarship to one of his students. This fall, Schwartz will teach a half-day of sixth-grade math and a half-day of science, technology, engineering and math, a new elective course for students in grades 6-8. “My goal is to bring all of this information I learned back to the classroom, wrap it and bowtie it into something that it can be a true STEM activity.” Does this teacher sound like one of the fat, lazy teachers who drain taxpayer dollars just to have summers off? Of course not. It’s time to call this stereotype what it is: inaccurate and insulting.

The tragic deaths of six people at the Bohemian Bed and Breakfast in New Ulm has been reported extensively elsewhere. At this point, it’s worthwhile to point out the New Ulm Journal’s excellent coverage of the event. Specifically, Josh Moniz wrote a nice piece Sunday outlining the event and the community’s initial reaction. Among the dead were Bohemian owner Bobbi McCrea and her two daughters, 15-year-old Abby and 3-year-old Savannah. Four escaped the fire, including McCrea’s fiancé and Savannah’s father, Charlie Zangl. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. When neighbor Charles Stephens realized the Bohemian was on fire, he went into the alley behind the Bohemian and “I saw members of Bobbi’s family. I saw Charlie Zangl and I think he was shouting, ‘Why aren’t they bringing her out?’ ” McCrea’s brother-in-law Mark Hofmann said he was at a loss for words over the incident. “I feel like she really was the heart of New Ulm.”

The battle to fight 2012’s gay-marriage constitutional amendment hit Duluth Monday as about 400 protesters rallied at Leif Erikson Park. The event kicked off Duluth United for All Families’ campaign to defeat the amendment which defines marriage as between only a man and a woman. Jana Hollingsworth of the D-Newt found two participants, Megan Perry-Spears and her partner, Sarah Perry-Spears, parents of 3-year-old twins and a 7-year-old. “We’ve been doing this family thing for a long time. … We want our kids to be in a place where the state supports our family, to not have to fight to get the rights we need so we can get on with the business of being a family,” Megan Perry-Spears said. As far as the amendment, she says, “This state is full of good-hearted people who wouldn’t support this. It’s about talking to friends, family and neighbors and saying ‘this is about us.’ ”

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A heavy storm blew across southern and central Minnesota Friday. I know it was heavy because I was almost caught in it as I was driving through Marshall and Pipestone to my sister’s house in South Dakota. I missed it by about half an hour and it looked nasty on the horizon. Post-storm coverage was extensive (it’s always good to have some breaking news on a holiday weekend). In two St. Cloud Daily Times stories, one on Monday written by Ben Katzner and Kate Kompas and a follow-up story in today’s Daily Times by Kari Petrie, they note that about 142,000 Minnesota Xcel customers lost power Friday and about 175 people remain without power Tuesday after the storm. A tornado with winds of 65 to 85 miles an hour touched down just north of Interstate Highway 94 and Minnesota Highway 23 before dissipating in Waite Park. Per Peterson and Deb Gau of the Marshall Independent covered the cleanup after an EF2 tornado ripped through Tyler. Tylertons were especially flattered that so many neighbors came to help clean the town on a holiday weekend. Gretchen Schlosser of the West Central Tribune did a nice job of gathering the details of the storm: wind speeds of up to 78 mph in Redwood Falls; damage to buildings, trees and power lines across Renville County; trees down throughout Olivia; power out in Olivia, Danube, Bird Island and Sacred Heart on Friday; downed trees, power outages and hail in Kandiyohi County; trees down in Lucan; damage to buildings near Danube; power line damage south of Lake Lillian; 2.75-inch hail two miles south of Dassel.

Crops looked good as I drove south, an impression addressed by Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe. She talked to Liz Stahl, a crops expert with the University of Minnesota Extension Service who said excess rain this summer has caused replanting in some fields and delayed herbicide treatments in others. Stahl said southeast Minnesota had moisture 20 of 30 days in April, 20 of 31 days in May and 11 of 21 days in June, but total rainfall is only about 1 inch above normal. According to the USDA, the Worthington area had accumulated 571 growing degree days (heat units) as of Sunday, 55 growing degrees below normal. Stahl even raised the specter of drought. “Those roots haven’t had the need to go down deep with all the rain,” she said. “We could be looking at drought conditions if it gets hot and dry real fast.”

In its first major government contract, Cirrus of Duluth has sold 25 planes to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., reports Lisa Baumann of the News Tribune. The academy will receive 25 SR20 aircraft, designated as T-53A trainers, for $6.1 million, to replace a leased trainer fleet of Diamond Aircraft DA-40s. Jon Dauplaise, Cirrus vice president of domestic sales, said this helps Cirrus sell in the institutional and fleet market. “This is our first major success in that arena,” he said, adding they plan to go after more business in the global training aircraft market. “The fact that we’re building these in Duluth and selling them to the Air Force Academy … is a worldwide endorsement that our product fits the bill.”

Sometimes Moorhead’s water stinks, and Concordia College students are on the case to find out why. Amy Dalrymple of the Moorhead Forum (which also publishes an edition in Fargo) writes that two chemistry students are doing looking into what causes Moorhead tap water to occasionally have an “earthy, musty” smell and taste around flood season. Moorhead water plant supervisor Kristofer Knutson says that even though the water is safe, the smell and taste can create a perception that it’s unhealthy. “For our customers, it’s a huge problem,” he said. “If we can identify the compounds in the water, then we might have a way to remove them.” I’m sure I speak for all in Moorhead when I say good luck with that.

Nathan Hanson of the Winona Daily News produced a nice feature on Stephen Taylor, apparently the lone Revolutionary War soldier buried in Minnesota. Hanson writes that details on Taylor’s life are sketchy. He may or may not have taken part of the 1775 raid on Fort Ticonderoga. He may have lived to be 89. Or 100. Minnesota historian Estella Frank wrote that Taylor enlisted at the age of 15 and served under Capt. Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga, even though there is no official record of his service with Allen. James A. Sheehan at Winona State College wrote a biography of Taylor and was unable to link Taylor to the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Both confirmed Taylor served in the First Massachusetts Regiment in 1781, a regiment of regular infantry under Gen. George Washington. Taylor served for three years and was discharged in 1783. In 1854, he moved to Money Creek in the Minnesota Territory to be near his son, Edward. Taylor died two years later. He was originally interred at Prairie Cemetery but was moved to Woodlawn Cemetery in 1865 and buried in an unmarked grave. Capt. Mathew Marvin, a Civil War veteran and the superintendent of Woodlawn, furnished a gravestone for Taylor at his own expense. In the early 1900s, the Wenonah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution bought a perpetual-care contract from the cemetery and each year decorate the grave with flowers. In 1933, the organization created a new gravesite for Taylor.

After 42 years, Buffy the Cow has been removed from the roof of Mike Ankeny’s office building in Austin. Ankeny sold the building last week to Chad Carlson of Austin Electric, who has rented the building for several years. “I always said if I ever sell (the building), I would have to take her down,” Ankeny said. Ankeny hopes to remove Buffy to the Mower County Fairgrounds, but the deal is still in the works. Standing about two stories tall, Buffy is a fiercely beloved attraction in Austin. About 10 years ago, a wind storm knocked Buffy off the roof and broke off a horn. Ransom notes for charity and Polaroids of the horn exchanged hands until the horn was returned anonymously to police. The office building was first used by Ankeny’s father when he opened the building in 1946.

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