Peeps the goose has had quite the adventure since Ron Hendrickson bought him during the coronavirus pandemic.
Apart from providing companionship and amusement to Hendrickson and his Prior Lake family during stay-at-home orders, Peeps has opened his arms — or rather wings — to the greater community.
In the past few months, Peeps made his television news debut, visited Petco, flew some laps at Canterbury Park, gave a woman with stage four cancer the thrill of her life, and befriended a lady goose named Puddles.
Peeps has attracted attention for his ability to fly alongside Hendrickson on a four-wheeler or a jet ski, and he appeared on KSTP News in August. A Bloomington couple with a goose of their own saw the story on Channel 5 and contacted Hendrickson to share their predicament. They found their goose, who they named Puddles, after a hawk tried to kill her as a gosling. The couple, John and Kristi Reardon, had no luck finding Puddles’ parents and nursed her back to health. The Reardons asked the Hendricksons if they would adopt Puddles, and they agreed.
“Most of us like Puddles more because she’s so affectionate and so lady-like,” Hendrickson admitted. “She’s prim and proper, and there’s not a mean bone in her body.”
Hendrickson taught Puddles to fly alongside the jet ski and four-wheeler just like Peeps, and the pair may have the opportunity to race at Canterbury Park next year for a goose down derby. Peeps and Puddles both practiced on the grounds already, and Hendrickson said they did phenomenal.
Puddles’ nervousness can inhibit her flying at times, so Hendrickson cut her feathers to keep her grounded until spring. In the meantime, he said Puddles is “happy as heck” and wanders down to the pond with Peeps for “date nights.” According to Hendrickson, Peeps sets the rules and lets Puddles know if she took his toy, “and then he lets his guard down and they eat grass together.”
Hendrickson’s wife, Jolene, suggested they take Peeps and Puddles to Petco since the store allows pets. Their children, Lana and Landen, pushed Peeps in the cart while Puddles stayed outside. According to Hendrickson, Peeps delighted quite a few customers who said they had never seen a goose in the store before.
One of the most notable impacts Peeps made in recent months relates to Jaimie Zenner of Prior Lake. Hendrickson met Zenner at a combined birthday party for his grandmother and her neighbor, just 70 feet from the lake. Hendrickson brought Peeps along to demonstrate how he flies alongside him on the jet ski.
Zenner has stage four cancer, which she cited as a big reason for accepting Hendrickson’s invitation to ride on the jet ski for the first time in her life.
“I wanted a thrill; I wanted to be happy in this doggone world that’s going crazy, and what better way to do that than go on a jet ski with a goose named Peeps?” Zenner said with a laugh.
Zenner said she loves nature and found herself in awe of the way a wild animal stuck by Hendrickson and even knew which direction was “home.” Going 60 miles per hour over the waves, Zenner said every muscle in her body hurt afterwards but most of all her stomach muscles from laughing so hard at Peeps.
“It was so amazing,” Zenner said. “You could touch [Peeps’] wings; he flew right next to the jet ski. It was like a dream … I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Since Peeps came into his life, Hendrickson said he’s heard more “thank yous” from individuals than he has as owner of the Dairy Queen at the Mall of America. The Dairy Queen closed temporarily during the pandemic, which put a damper on his spring.
In the past, Hendrickson said he bought Peeps as a companion for his children during school closures, But his stepdaughter, Lana, pointed out that getting Peeps also helped Hendrickson cope with the hard times.
“[Lana] knows it saved me more than the kids,” Hendrickson said. “It truly, truly saved a bunch of people in the process of saving me, I would say.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on into a seventh month, local houses of worship have learned to serve their communities with rising needs, attendance limits and declining plate attendance.
Even as the most draconian restrictions have slowly been lifted, local churches have continued to see limited capacity due to social distancing requirements. Long-established plans and programming have had to be canceled.
For many churches throughout the region, serving their congregants and fulfilling their mission even before the pandemic was a challenge. According to the 2018-19 National Congregations Study, about one-third of all congregations reported having no savings.
Along with plate offerings, attendance has been on the decline. According to the Rev. John Weisberger of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Owatonna, attendance remains at 40-50 worshipers per Sunday, even though the church could accommodate north of 100.
To ensure that an attendance spike doesn’t lead to an unsafe number of worshippers Our Savior’s has implemented an “advance registration” system for worship. Like many area congregations, it’s eschewed congregational singing and response to further minimize risk.
On the other hand, the church’s move toward digitalization has paid some dividends and drawn in some less frequent worshippers. Weisberger noted that around 40-50 computers are usually tuned into the worship service online.
“People who wouldn’t usually come to worship are tuning in online,” he said.
Should Steele County see a spike in infections, Weisberger said that the church’s cautious moves toward opening up could easily be reversed. He noted that the Church Council includes members from medical backgrounds who are deeply concerned by the virus.
“People say we need to trust God, and yes we trust God,” he said. “But we also need to be wise about our choices.”
At Faribault’s Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, worshippers have returned to singing and congregational prayer. Pastor Greg Ciesluk said that the church could accommodate about 70 people for a service but has never had that many.
Along with the restoration of the worship service has come a robust commitment to social distancing and masks. The church also broadcasts its services on YouTube and is working to reach outside of the church walls in other ways too.
Even as the weather gets colder, Ciesluk said that outdoor gatherings are likely to be part of the church’s outreach efforts. Already some small gatherings have been held and Ciesluk said that congregants plan on meeting to brainstorm further ways to serve the community.
“We’re trying to use some creativity in ways we can grow in our faith in God and in our care for each other,” he said.
Ciesluk and Fourth Avenue Methodist played a key role in organizing the Faribault Prays event at the end of last month. Christians from more than 15 churches walked the streets of Faribault for a 24-hour period before meeting at Central Park for a worship service.
Previous editions of Faribault Prays were held in 2018 and 2019, attracting large multilingual, multi-cultural and multi-denominational crowds. Yet amid the pandemic and social unrest, Ciesluk noted the event’s success was particularly remarkable, its format well fit to the times.
In Northfield, high school members of the Church of St. Dominic had planned to embark on a mission trip to the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana. Instead, the pandemic pushed their sights a bit closer to home.
Rick Nelson, the church’s outreach coordinator, said the church’s high schoolers still hope to make their mission trip happen in 2021. In the meantime, they’ve taken on service projects on their own campus.
Nelson has been tasked with coordinating its COVID-19 strategy. Similar to Our Savior’s, congregational singing is out, and rigorous disinfecting procedures have been implemented. Ushers have been instructed to help worshippers maintain social distancing procedures.
To help weather the decline in plate contributions, the church has set up a direct deposit system. A dropbox is still available in the church hall for those who still want to give in person. Together those have enabled the church to provide unprecedented support to match the need.
Thanks to parishioner contributions, the church has set up a loan program to help those who may be in dire straits cover food or housing costs. That money can be paid back when the parishioner can, if they can, at zero interest.
Neighborhood captains have also been assigned to check in on church members who live in the area. Sometimes, those captains may help those in higher-risk categories to do basic errands, like running to the grocery store.
Ciesluk said he and his church members are also working hard to support those in need. In particular, he said that many older congregants feel trapped at home and lonely, but also terrified given the heightened risk COVID-19 poses to older people.
To help support them, Ciesluk said he sometimes brings them meals from the Community Cafe run by the Episcopal Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior. Other times, it’s as simple as checking up on them to make sure they remain in a healthy state mentally.
“A lot of us are doing things like that,” he said.
At Our Savior’s, the church’s food program has not only been maintained but has grown. Now, 20 families are served each week, receiving enough food for a full weekend of meals, including nutritious staples like fresh fruit, canned vegetables, eggs, milk and cheese.
Working with the school system, Our Savior’s has identified families in need and provided them with enough food not just for the children but the entire family. The church has also expanded its assistance for families facing eviction or other emergencies.
Yet for many families, Weisberger said this year has been even harder on the mind than the wallet. He said he has seen a sharp rise in people feeling anxious, whether it’s over the pandemic, social unrest or the upcoming high-stakes election.
“There’s been a lot more people in need of counseling,” he said. “They’re having a harder time being at peace.”
Another piece of downtown Faribault may soon come under the county’s control, setting the stage for a possible expansion of its main jail.
Next week, a Rice County commissioners’ subcommittee will discuss the purchase of a .04-acre parcel at 306 First Ave. NW. The parcel, which county records show is owned by Eagle Building, of Racine, Wisconsin, sits on the same block as — but just east of — the county Law Enforcement Center.
If the county and buyer come to terms, the county will own all but two parcels on the block: 302 and 308 First Ave. NW. In May 2019, the county paid $217,000 for a .15-acre site, the former Lyons Meats on the corner of First Avenue NW and Fourth Street NW. At the time, County Administrator Sara Folsted said the county had no plans for the site or the block, but acknowledged there was a need for additional space at the county’s main jail, which houses high-security inmates and those with special needs.
Since then, the Minnesota Department of Corrections notified the county that because its main jail doesn’t adhere to its standards for recreation and programming space it planned to limit the length of time inmates could be held there. A 90-day limit, set to go into effect last November, was postponed when Rice County began a study to review existing jail facilities and determine possible solutions. A committee is currently working with a consulting firm on the study. Sheriff Troy Dunn has said a final report should come before the Board of Commissioners in December.
While any jail expansion could cost tens of millions and come on the heels of the expansion of two other county facilities — the Government Services Building and main Highway Shop, both in Faribault — doing nothing could quickly rack up costs and headaches for county law enforcement.
Last year, Dunn estimated the cost to use other counties’ jail space and to transport prisoners between those jails and the courthouse for hearings or trials at about $500,000 annually. While the pandemic-induced virtual hearings would likely limit prisoner transports, the county would still be responsible for covering housing costs for inmates held in other counties’ jails.
The county’s Parks and Facilities Committee meets in a closed session Wednesday to discuss the possible sale. The parcel, which includes a 1,660-square foot structure, is valued at $132,100, according to county records.
Any purchase would need to be approved by commissioners.