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LAW ENFORCEMENT
From hometown kid to county's top cop, Sheriff Dunn heads into retirement
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Right next to the Rice County Sheriff’s Office patches he wears on the sleeves of his uniform is Troy Dunn’s heart.

But while a cop with an obvious emotional streak may not fit the stereotype, it’s a trait that’s served the retiring sheriff very well.

Dunn’s predecessor, Richard Cook, calls it a “sense of empathy.” HOPE Center Director Erica Staab-Absher says it shows a “genuine commitment” to the community and the people he serves.

Dunn grew up on Faribault’s north side, the oldest of five born to Dan and Shirlie Dunn. Quick to reminisce about his youth, Dunn recalls riding his bike with friends to the old Paul Bunyan store, the extra-long school bus route with driver Sid Wunderlich that went through Medford and Kenyon before dropping off riders, and ride alongs with his dad when Dan worked as a Sampson’s Dairy milkman and for C&S Vending.

“If I did really well, I got a pack of chocolate donuts,” he said of the ride alongs with a grimace, immediately regretting any mention of cops liking donuts.

His youth, he said, was filled with visits with cousins and to his mother’s parents’ farm in Farmington, Boys Scout camping trips with Troop 304, and family dinners out, often to A&W or the Chicken Coop. If the Dunn kids were really good, he said, the family would go to a restaurant in St. Paul or to a supper club.

But his fondest memories are reserved for his grandmother, Eloise Dunn, who he often accompanied to Sunday church services followed by lunch at her house or Wimpy’s on Central Avenue. The family matriarch, he says, enjoyed cooking for her grandson, especially when he’d take advantage of open lunch and walk from school to her house on Seventh Street where they’d eat on the porch if the weather was nice.

He had his first taste of being an emergency responder at 14, working with fellow Scouts as an usher at a Minnesota Gophers football game. When a male fan lost consciousness, Dunn signaled for help as he’d been instructed, then proceeded to perform CPR, a skill he learned in Scouts. The experience helped cement his desire to help others.

Dunn wanted a career in the medical field, but believing medical school wasn’t for him, decided instead to become an EMT. Then came Career Day.

It was a typical set up where students register for a handful of sessions in which speakers share information about their jobs, exposing students to different career possibilities. Dunn registered for the paramedic, teacher, mortician (a request from his grandmother) and law enforcement sessions where the future officer learned about the Police Explorers program being launched by the Faribault Police Department.

Five students, including Dunn, joined the program, then led by Capt. Steve Grundman.

Times were different, and Dunn and the other Explorers not only got an unvarnished look at police work, they often assisted officers, doing much more than the today’s Explorers supporting role.

His first ride along is an oft-told story, and one that might have sent others running to a less difficult line of work, But Dunn, who still tears up at the memory, said that finding his 16-year old Faribault High School classmate Greg Fette dead in his vehicle after being struck by a drunken driver and accompanying Officer Kevin Otis to notify the Fettes that their son had been killed was “God’s way of saying ‘you can tolerate it.’”

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn showed fourth and fifth grade students he was having lunch with in February 2016 the video that he, Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen and then Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson made during the holiday season. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Nearly 37 years later, it’s a memory he can’t shake, and one that likely led him to focus so strongly on traffic safety. He frequently sharing the story at events with young drivers just before prom and graduation and becomes visibly upset when talking about drunken drivers, speeders and the deaths on Rice County’s roads.

Last year, there were 10 traffic-related fatalities in the county. Most weren’t wearing seat belts.

Dunn admits he was frustrated that the message didn’t seem to resonate.

But Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen says Dunn’s worked hard to ensure drivers are belted, follow posted speed limits and eliminate distractions.

“I think he’s been a leader in Toward Zero Deaths and traffic safety,” said Bohlen. “He’s been a phenomenal leader in that.”

The issue is so important to the sheriff that he hopes to continue working on it even after he retires.

He was also an ardent supporter of reorganizing the region’s task force, which in 2017 included LeSueur County.

“Support for the drug task force was really appreciated by the Faribault Police Department,” said the chief.

‘A willing spirit’

There’s a joke among Rice County’s Sheriff’s deputies that Dunn is something of a magnet, and not the kind that attracts the positive.

“He always seemed to be at the wrong place at the right time,” said Cook.

And while the former sheriff remembers Dunn being nearby when a man went into cardiac arrest at the Big Steer off Interstate 35 and using a defibrillator to save the motorist, there are plenty of other examples.

There was the time Dunn was in Lonsdale for a meeting when a domestic incident there turned violent, when he spotted the vehicle of a murder suspect two blocks from him home, when he was first on scene with an attempted murder suspect holed up inside a Faribault home or when he just happened to be outside Morristown when a series of tornadoes decimated that part of the county.

Staab-Absher says it was Dunn, who served on HOPE Center’s board for about eight years, who responded to an incident that led to her career helping victims of domestic and sexual violence. It was 1996 when her friend and co-worker Julie Carroll was shot and killed by a man Carroll had spurned. Carroll’s 8-year-old daughter was also shot, but survived.

The 2021 Defeat of Jesse James Days Grand Parade in September was Troy Dunn’s last as sheriff. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Years later, as HOPE Center board members shared their reasons for being involved in the center’s work, Dunn recounted the effect that incident had on him.

“Just seeing how that impacted him as well,” said Staab-Absher. “Just seeing how invested he is in the community and how he uses that passion to help other people.”

Dunn’s passion doesn’t just extend to law enforcement. Some days, it seems, Dunn is everywhere. He’s a member of the Faribault Rotary and served as its president in 2017, he and his wife Tara are mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, he volunteers to help at Bethlehem Academy’s booth at the Rice County Fair, was a member of his church band and served as percussionist with Minnesota Brassholes Rockin’ Sheriffs band. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of times he’s flipped burgers, raised money, or just lent a hand during a community event or fundraiser.

“He always brings a willing spirit,” said Staab-Absher. “He just shows up and doesn’t have to be in the lead role. He’s willing to do the work. And that’s unique.”

Cook, who’s known Dunn since he was a teenage Faribault Police Explorer, says the sheriff, who served as Cook’s chief deputy, hasn’t changed in all those years.

“He has empathy, knowledge of the job, an ability to act. He’s composed under crisis.”

All are traits Cook says were evident in Dunn even in the mid ‘80s, something he says isn’t just uncommon, but “extraordinary.”

But despite the horrors he’s seen in 33 years in law enforcement, nearly all with Rice County, Dunn remains a positive force. While he readily admits to getting angry and frustrated at some of the things he’s seen, he tries to maintain perspective and often relies on his faith for help.

“I have great friends, a great family and good faith that help keep me going,” he said, adding that the he sees much more good in the community than bad.

Friday will be Dunn’s last day wearing a Rice County Sheriff’s Office badge. After his successor, Chief Deputy Jesse Thomas takes the oath of office at 4 p.m., Dunn will pack up all his sheriff’s department gear so it can be tossed in a far corner of the county landfill.

“I think I put my heart and soul into this job and tried to do the best that I can,” he said. “My only regret is I didn’t always bring my A game home.

“Because I gave so much to this job I wasn’t as good of a husband and a son as I should have been … I hope I can spoil them in retirement.”


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The spark behind his students' success, FHS's Kegler earns economics educator honor
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If it were up to Jared Kegler, classes like personal finance, where students learn the proper management of money, would be required for every high school student.

A teacher at Faribault High School for 17 years, Kegler teaches everything from economics, personal finance, accounting and work based learning to management, coding and business. And, he advises the school’s local DECA chapter. It’s through all of these leadership roles/achievements that Kegler credits earning his most recent award — Minnesota Council on Economic Education’s Educator of the Year award for grades 9-12.

Kegler founded the school’s DECA program in 2010 and has since won five Outstanding Advisor Awards and two Minnesota DECA service awards, served as a District 1 representative on the Minnesota State Board of Directors, and helped hundreds of students win district, state, national and international recognition through DECA.

MCEE states recipients exemplify dedication and enthusiasm to improving the economic understanding of their students, both in and out of the classroom. Each honoree received $500 and a plaque certifying the achievement. Other recipients were Chris Hoffman (K-5) of Schoolcraft Learning Community in Bemidji and Jingbo Wang (6-8) of Minnetonka Middle School West.

In his 22 years of teaching, a press release from MCEE states Kegler has made economics and personal finance engaging and hands-on by utilizing simulations, group projects, case studies, and inviting classroom guest speakers; and creating opportunities for his students to meet and learn from business professionals.

But if you ask Kegler, he just works behind the scenes to help students.

“I just show them the path and help lead them along the way,” said Kegler. “[The students] are the ones that actually do it.”

For FHS senior and DECA member Paige Ross, if it wasn’t for Kegler and his leadership, she’s not sure where she would be today.

“I feel like he’s made a really big impact on my life because without him, I probably wouldn’t have considered a minor in business,” said Ross, vice president of the local DECA chapter and VP of digital engagement for Minnesota DECA. “I wouldn’t have made it as far in DECA as I have, either.”

Ross, too, believe it would be beneficial for classes like personal finance to be required in schools. Through DECA, she says, she has learned so much about finances, especially for setting herself up for success in the future.

“I just think it’s super important kids have that background knowledge, and whatever they do with that is their choice,” said Ross. “But just to give them the resource to be successful in the future, I think would be super important.”

Along with giving students the tools they need to be successful, Kegler says he spends a lot of time talking about colleges and that many employers care more about the knowledge they have than where they went to school. Traditionally, he uses a textbook found at numerous colleges, from South Central College in Faribault and Minnesota State University, Mankato to Harvard University in Massachusetts. Looking at the statistics and data of the benefits of students taking classes such as personal finance, Kegler says it’s a no brainer: it should be required for all high school students and predicts it may finally happen in the next five to 10 years.

Kegler says he enjoys teaching students about things like personal finance and economics because of the real world information and skills students use everyday and for the rest of their life. Kegler adds that he also pushes his students to be more creative and try different things when preparing for competitions to help make them stand out.

As an advisor, Ross says Kegler is good at letting students take over and do what they feel is best. In particular, Ross finds this teaching method helpful to set them up for success.

“You’re free to creatively do what you want with the project, but if you need help, he’s the person to go to,” said Ross. “He’s been my advisor for all four years, and since I’ve been in DECA, he’s encouraged me to take a leadership role which has led me to where I am today, being a state officer. So that was really important and cool to me.”


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Local COVID rates hit new peak in 2021
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Purfeerst

While many restrictions have lifted, and a sense of normalcy has returned in many parts of life, COVID-19 continues to impact local populations.

Rice County saw 617 new cases between Oct. 3 and Oct. 30. After a dip in the second and third weeks of October, new weekly cases jumped from 115 to 167 in the final week. Since data was tracked in March 2020, the county has reporter over 10,000 confirmed cases, including 135 deaths.

The case count for most of October was actually below the 698 cases observed between Sept. 5 and Oct. 2. But counts remain relatively consistent, and increases/decreases each month vary by county.

In neighboring Le Sueur County, cases reached a new 2021 peak in the month of October. Le Sueur County Public Health Director Megan Kirby reported 376 new cases for the month. That sum is the highest monthly total in the county since 459 cases were reported in December 2020.

The trend is in line with case rates across the state. Weekly active infections climbed past 20,000 in October, setting a record seven-day average for 2021.

Minnesota witnessed corresponding spikes in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations in greater Minnesota topped 500 in October, contributing to an increasing strain on short-staffed health care systems. Over 40 COVID-related deaths were reported by the state in the last week of October.

Community spread is a chief concern among public health officials in the midst of holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving. Infections exploded in November of last year, as seven-day averages for the state of Minnesota cleared 40,000 new infections.

“We are concerned about the holidays,” said Kirby. “We just want to make sure that everybody is safe and, if they haven’t been vaccinated, to seek out that opportunity.”

But the area is better prepared for a new wave, thanks to vaccinations. Approximately 63% of the population 5 and older has received at least one dose in Rice County. That’s still behind the 67% of the population vaccinated statewide.

“Anytime you’re in the winter months, people are closer together, and you’re always more at risk for any type of respiratory disease,” said Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst. “I don’t think we’ll peak to that rate [last year], because we have a vaccinated population now, which we did not have last November.”

New doses of the vaccine surpassed the plateau of the summer and early fall. MDH reports that 5,643 doses were administered in Rice County in October, the highest total since June. But much of this increase comes from patients that received a third shot or booster dose.

Booster shots have been approved for people 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, and ages 50-64 with an underlying medical condition six months after their second dose. Third doses are recommended for the immunocompromised.

Rice County is offering Pfizer booster doses at its Nov. 12 and Nov. 15 clinics. First and second doses are available for ages 12 and up, as well as third doses for the immunocompromised from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 12 and noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 15.

Rice County is also beginning to roll out vaccines for ages 5-11 after new CDC recommendations last week. On Nov. 18, the county will host its first Pfizer clinic for ages 5 and up from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Northfield Community Education Center. The next clinic for ages 5 and up is at Faribault Middle School from 3:15 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Nov. 23.

“Parents need to sign up their child, because we do need parents’ permission,” said Purfeerst. “If it’s someone 17 and younger, we would strongly urge that the parent be present.”


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