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The Vikings have been fully confident in Alexander Mattison’s ability to complement Dalvin Cook in the backfield, and the second-year running back could get his career start this week if Cook is unable to play with a groin injury. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Reeder takes unique path to parochial education, administration

The mantra “education never ends” is embodied in Faribault.

Within the walls of Bethlehem Academy live 144 years of continued Catholic school education. Today within those same confinements is a leader whose thirst for education is everlasting.

Melinda “Mindy” Reeder was hired as Bethlehem Academy principal/president in the summer of 2020. Her first day on the job was July 1. She replaced Dr. Chuck Briscoe, who retired after four years at the helm.

Reeder was no stranger to BA. She previously worked across the street for a five-year stint in the mid 2000s as advancement and admissions director at Divine Mercy Catholic School, which serves kindergartners through sixth graders.

Returning to a familiar community in a new capacity as BA president/principal made sense. It was a straight line to draw on her career map. It’s a map otherwise filled with twists and turns befitting of a go-kart track.

Uniting in faith

Reeder grew up as Melinda Biers in the “Halloween Capital of the World,” Anoka, Minnesota.

A natural communicator like herself gravitated to studying journalism in college.

Reeder’s compass pointed northwest to the University of Minnesota, Morris. Her program started her out with general coursework in Morris before finishing the last two years of her degree at the U of M’s main Twin Cities campus. As an undergrad, she met fellow Morris student, Jim Reeder. One thing the two eventual lovebirds bonded over was their Christian faith. Jim was raised Catholic and Mindy a Missouri Synod Lutheran.

The two later wed, and while Mindy was pregnant with their first of three children, Jake, she went through Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) to convert to Catholicism. She noticed a Catholic Mass was similar to a Missouri Synod Mass.

“I knew some couples would keep doing their traditions like she would go to a Lutheran church and he would go to a Catholic church, or vice versa. In fact, my mom was raised Catholic and it was just flipped for her. I just felt it was really important our family go to church together.”

While making this transition, Reeder entered the workforce by putting her journalism degree to use working at the Faribault Daily News. She most enjoyed writing feature stories. The opportunity to share someone’s story with the world was a treasured privilege.

Finding purpose

Reeder’s next turn on the map led to the world of marketing and public relations. She worked for a national organization that helped build large trade shows.

Disney was among its clientele.

“We’d spend a year on what the booth is going to look like. We’d have designers who’d build gargoyles and everything. They did these gorgeous booths, they hired the actors to be at the show. We traveled all over the nation. Las Vegas and Anaheim are two of the popular areas we’d do shows at.”

The buildup to the day of the show was fulfilling work. However, it tended to be a short-lived joy.

The booths were deconstructed right away after a show concluded. No portions of the set-ups were reused. It seemed as if hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work from her and her team were poured into a fleeting moment.

“It hit me pretty hard that I just couldn’t continue to work in an environment where everything was thrown away,” Reeder said. “I started looking to where I felt I was giving more purposefully in my life.”

She began to remember premonitions she had in college. Reeder felt called to use her talent for writing for the Catholic church.

Her next move didn’t involve writing, specifically, but she found a faith-based career path.

Inspiring youth

Reeder latched on with the nonprofit organization Catholic Workman. While there, she was part of a national Catholic youth leadership program. That role was an entryway into working with and educating youth. Reeder flourished in it.

It wasn’t the path her journalism background portended, but she was content to pursue it further.

To properly educate others meant she needed more education of her own. Reeder went back to school to earn a master’s degree in, you guessed it, education, from St. Catherine University. Later, she’d earn an educational leadership and administration degree from the University of St. Thomas.

While taking classes in the mid 2000s, Reeder found part-time work with advancement, marketing and fundraising with Catholic schools across southern Minnesota.

She started at Holy Cross in Webster and arrived at Divine Mercy in Faribault soon after.

When her education was complete, Reeder became a teacher and shared principal at Most Holy Redeemer in Montgomery and Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine.

In five years as a teacher, she taught music, fifth- and sixth-grade math and started a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program.

“In all those capacities, what I loved about it, was really connecting with youth at any age level and inspiring them to be greater,” Reeder said. “Helping them realize we all have to have a growth mindset to see that we start where we’re at, but how can we get better? You move that forward so we can really engage our brain and become a more versatile person.”

Teaching was all that was on her radar until Most Holy Redeemer’s pastor at the time, Cory Rohlfing, had other ideas.

“I just asked her to consider applying for a principal’s job,” Rohlfing said. “We dialogued for a while. It piqued her interest. She just thought she’d go through the application process.”

Reeder did go through the application process. Then she went through the job acceptance process.

“At first I said ‘no’ and we talked for quite a while,” Reeder said. “After a couple conversations I decided to follow that path. And who do you think is the pastor here now in Faribault?”

It’s none other than Rohlfing, who is in his second year as pastor at Divine Mercy Catholic Church.

He’s among the community members in Faribault that made coming full circle to BA, where Jake graduated in 2012, was a no-brainer for Reeder.

“Even though he’s not part of the governance model of Bethlehem Academy, it’s that connection. Between the old community connections, people who are currently on the board here. Sister Mary Margaret (Murphy) was one of the Sinsinawan nuns, she volunteers here now and was my children’s principal. Then father Cory, (DMCS principal) Gina Ashley and all the community members, how could I say no?”

BA was a girls school until 1935.

“What I really realized is how beautiful the Catholic faith is at embracing the role of women and how strong women are in the Catholic faith,” Reeder said. “That might sound funny, but for centuries nuns have started schools and hospitals around our nation. They were, initially, some of the highest academic learners for women and one of the main ways women received their academics back before schools went from all-men schools.

“That’s one of the things I also love about Bethlehem Academy because we started educating women when other schools were not educating women. Our story at Bethlehem Academy I think is just really rich for our Catholic faith and for honoring all that women bring to the world.”

Over a decade of experience in Catholic schools prepared her for her return to Faribault.

“As far as skillset: high energy, work ethic, not afraid of putting in hours,” Rohlfing said. “Loves education, loves to be a student.“

Administrating in an

unknown era

Nothing could quite prepare her for being an administrator in the era of COVID-19.

She’s worked side by side with Gina Ashley to create a safe in-person learning environment for her students, as well as online learning for those who choose.

An enrollment of under 300 students between grades six to 12 makes following social distancing guidelines more managable with smaller class sizes.

Plexi shields are in the lunch room along with limits on group sizes at tables. Masks are required throughout the day.

The protocols continue on and on, though Reeder said she and her staff haven’t had to play the role of bad cop too often in the opening weeks of the school year.

“it’s just hard. They crave naturally that interaction,” Reeder said. “All the high fives and hugs and things that they do. So we’re trying really hard to bring little celebrations within the school day.

The first week they got little surprise each day like a freezie, a new little wristband, just things to celebrate them returning. Yeah, we know it’s different and we know it’s hard, but we’re so glad to see them. We want students to be safe and practice healthy protocols so we can stay in person as long as possible.”

A normal day on the job starts with Reeder finding solitude at her desk. She starts with prayer, which leads into a recital of the Bethlehem Academy mission statement that is always by her side on her desk: “Bethlehem Academy, a Catholic school in the Sinsinawa Dominican tradition, strives to empower its students and staff to achieve personal, spiritual and academic excellence. We challenge ourselves to love as Jesus Christ loved, to lead, to serve, to inspire and to seek the truth: Veritas.”

Then, it’s time to move.

“I go outside, greet the students, support them if they need anything. Then a typical day is just living out the mission,” Reeder said. “Going to the classrooms, going to the lunch room, talking to students and staff and really planning the different things we’re doing. We have teacher leader meetings, we have admin meetings, meetings with DMCS and the parish. There are just a lot of meetings that are part of the day. Then partnership with the Faribault district, as well. Superintendent (Todd) Sesker and I have had a lot of meetings and now with COVID, Zoom meetings.”

Collaborating with Faribault Public Schools and the greater Faribault community is high on Reeder’s priority list as BA principal/president.

“What can we do to support our community so this community becomes stronger together? All of the schools in this community really have to be strong and vibrant in order to help our community really thrive.”

For communities, and students in particular, to thrive, education is at the root of it all for Reeder. It’s what she reminds Jake and daughters Kaylee and Katrina, who have all completed or are near completion of a college degree.

“What I really tell kids, and this is something for my own children, is I want you to pursue an education. Even if you’re not sure what you want to do, you can always reinvent yourself.”

Habitat, city HRA discuss possible home sites

Faribault’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority met with the region’s leading provider of affordable single family housing Monday to discuss the future of two sites it owns.

Rice County Habitat for Humanity reached out to the HRA because it was interested in a small, unusually shaped lot created by a recent city road project. Located at 734 Division St., that property was sold to the HRA earlier this year. Though its small size inhibits its commercial value, Rice County Habitat felt it could make use of it at some point in the future. However, the build isn’t likely to start soon, as Rice County Habitat Director Dayna Norvold said the organization has sites selected for 2021 and 2022.

Last year, Rice County Habitat hit a milestone, building its 50th House for a family in need, and it will reach a total of 54 homes this month. 24 of those homes are located in Faribault, with 11 in Northfield, 9 in Dundas and 4 each in Lonsdale, Morristown and Nerstrand.

In Rice County, Habitat families generally have an income of between $30,000 and $67,000, depending on the family’s size. Applicants are selected from a pool based on need, ability to pay a mortgage and willingness to partner with the organization.

In keeping with its mantra of providing “a hand up, not a handout,” Habitat asks families for contributions of time and money in exchange for their new home. The program is successful, with nearly all Rice County houses still owned by the family for whom they were built.

For 2021, Norvold said the organization has a goal of completing a pair of fourplexes in Northfield. Affordable lots in Northfield are typically harder for the organization to come by, and the poverty rate is also lower there, reducing general need.

Norvold said that the organization has plans to build on several other Faribault lots in 2022. Once those projects are complete, she said that Habitat would take a look at building a small home on the 734 Division St. site, ideal for a senior or veteran.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rise in building costs, Norvold said that Habitat’s work has become harder and the organization is looking for donations. Notably, Habitat’s volunteer base skews older, meaning many of its volunteers are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19.

Due to Habitat’s track record of success, members of the HRA expressed eagerness towards working with them on the 734 Division Street project. Habitat and the HRA have had a longtime relationship, with the HRA traditionally covering building permit costs for its builds.

“With every Habitat project that I’ve seen in Faribault, they’ve delivered anything we’ve ever asked for,” said HRA Member Narren Brown. “You can trust them to deliver something that is above par and built as inexpensively as possible.”

Few details were discussed, but the HRA was sufficiently enthused about the proposal that it encouraged Habitat to consider purchasing a lot at 1116 Second St NW that it has struggled to move forward with for years.

The HRA purchased the tax-forfeited property last year from Rice County for just over $20,000. After considering several options, including potential demolition, the HRA initially opted to fix up the home and then sell it to a low-income family.

At 120 years old, the property was known to have suffered significantly from neglect over the years. Architecture and design firm ISG, a frequent partner of the city, was hired to do a comprehensive conditions assessment, the results of which deeply troubled the HRA.

Councilor Jonathan Wood, the City Council’s liaison to the HRA, reviewed ISG’s report and said that based on his experience renovating and flipping houses, he estimates the home could be rehabbed for about $50,000 to $80,000.

Given the value of comparable homes in the area, the HRA then could choose to sell the rebuilt house for a solid profit. However, other HRA members were concerned that the cost to fix the house up could be more than its value.

As an alternative, the HRA explored the possibility of demolishing the building and replacing it with a modular home. That would be more expensive, with a total potential cost topping out at around $200,000, including the money that has already been put into the lot. Charging such a price would place the lot at the higher end of housing values in the neighborhood. By contrast, Wood noted that a Habitat-built home on the site could get done for significantly less, due to Habitat’s ability to tap into volunteer labor and donated supplies.

Habitat is expected to return to the HRA next month with more specific plans for the 734 Division St. lot and potentially the 1116 Second St. site. If Habitat isn’t interested in the Second St. lot, plans to put a manufactured home on the site would likely proceed.

Whether those plans go forward would then be up to the HRA. However, Brown expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached, enabling Habitat to provide affordable housing in a community much in need of it.

“Habitat’s record is impeccable,” he said. “They’ve really done a great job of providing housing for families.”

Senate President Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, adjourned the Senate for the start of the fifth special session of the year in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday, Sept. 12, 2020. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

New permit for Cidery allows weekday hours

After a storm of controversy, Bridgewater Township supervisors signed off on a new Conditional Use Permit that will help to secure the future of a thriving small business.

Since opening south of Dundas six years ago, Keepsake Cidery has become one of the most prominent businesses in the township. The small, family-owned business makes its product the old fashioned way, with wild apples hard-pressed on-site and aged into fine cider.

The Cidery is the brainchild of Nate Watters and Tracy Jonkman, two farm kids who never lost their love for where they grew up. Watters grew up in upstate New York’s apple country and was raised around the fruit from an early age, selling apples from a neighbor’s tree for his first job. Jonkman grew up on a farm in the Upper Midwest, but went to school to become an emergency medicine doctor. While deeply involved in the business, she also still works helping patients in the ER and was elected to the Bridgewater Township Board earlier this year.

Keepsake’s sizable orchard and tasting room are located in an isolated part of the township, off a gravel road and alongside the Cannon River Wilderness Area, a secluded stretch of the river owned and operated as a county park.

Accordingly, Watters and Jonkman had to apply for special permits to accommodate the business when they built it. While they originally hoped to receive a CUP, they ended up receiving an Interim Use Permit instead.

The IUP included some restrictions, including a limit that no more than 50 cars be parked on the farm at one time and that events be held on the weekend, from May thru December. Watters said the agreement wasn’t perfect, but as a first try, that was to be expected.

“We understand that some of these things are a work in progress as the township and county learn what works,” he said. “At the time there was no precedent in Rice County for what we were doing.”

As the business grew, the traffic at the rural property increased as well. Keepsake took steps to limit the intrusion of noise, traffic and parking onto neighboring properties, including fixing up its driveway and posting no parking signs where appropriate.

All in all, Township Board Chair Glen Castore said that as far as the township was aware, the agreement was working reasonably well. Until last year, Castore said that no neighbors had reached out to the township to complain.

While Castore said that township officials had no reason to believe that Keepsake had systemically violated the IUP, Jonkman and Watters decided that based on what they had learned requesting a new CUP could make sense.

The township’s Planning and Zoning Commission sprung into action, producing the proposal that passed 3-1 Tuesday. However, not all neighbors were pleased with that decision, nor was it unanimous.

Under the CUP, limits on cars are gone but Keepsake will be able to host up to 150 people, four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Six times a year, Keepsake will also be able to host “special events” with up to 250 people.

Sharon Kilanowski, Keepsake’s closest neighbor, showed up with her father Mike Breckinridge to strongly contest the CUP. Breckinridge and his wife Barb developed the quarter century old house before selling it to Sharon and her husband Adam recently. While saying that he had respect for Watters and Jonkman and their efforts to build a successful business, Breckinridge claimed that Keepsake had repeatedly violated its IUP. He claimed that “hundreds” of cars often were at the site, parking all over the place.

“There’s often an incredible amount of noise and traffic on what I consider this absolute piece of heaven,” Breckinridge said. “With the writeups in the city papers, the crowds have gotten out of control.”

Kilanowski raised concerns over live music as well. While it was not a violation of the IUP, she expressed frustration that Keepsake had often invited bands to play on the site, leading to mass noise pollution that would be acceptable under the CUP.

She added that Keepsake’s efforts to improve its driveway had in fact made the situation worse. With the smoother surface, she said that drivers feel more comfortable taking the driveway at higher, even unsafe speeds.

“From 9-9 four days a week, I’ll be living in the inner city,” she said. “Cars from Minneapolis will be driving 40 mph down my driveway.”

Watters asserted those claims were wildly exaggerated and said that Keepsake has done everything it could to limit traffic and noise. He also stated that most neighbors he had talked to were supportive, in contrast to the claims made by Kilanowski and Breckinridge.

Still, the concerns resonated with Supervisor Kathleen Kopseng, who said that she too can sometimes hear the bands at Keepsake from far away. She also said that the high volume of traffic poses a potential public safety issue.

While she voted no, Kopseng stated that she was not unalterably opposed to granting some sort of CUP. However, she said that much more discussion should be had and pushed back against Castore’s assertion that the lack of complaints from neighbors suggested a lack of opposition.

“There were just enough things, as I went through this closely the full IUP, that gave me pause,” Kopseng said.

While Jonkman abstained, the other three supervisors came down in support of the CUP, securing its passage. But while he pushed hard for the CUP’s approval, Castore said that he wants to see the township’s approach to CUPs change in the future.

“Normally we grant an IUP or a CUP and we step away from it,” he said. “What I propose is that if you see problems, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an outright violation, the township should get involved.”