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Faribault woman killed in northern Minn. house explosion, husband seriously injured
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A woman killed Wednesday in a house explosion and fire in Greenwood Township on Lake Vermilion has been identified as Eva Gramse, 72, of Faribault, according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. Her husband, well-known businessman Mike Gramse, 72, who founded MRG Tool and Die in 1979, was seriously injured in the blast. The explosion, which completely destroyed the Everett Bay Road residence, was reported just after 9:30 a.m., according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. The residence was on fire when deputies and Greenwood Fire Department officials arrived on the scene. Shortly after emergency responders arrived, they located Mike Gramse, who was injured and down in the yard. Before being airlifted to Essentia-St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, he was reportedly able to provide some details about the incident and said that his wife was inside the home. Human remains, believed to be that of Eva Gramse, were found in the residence, and await positive identification from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office. A life of service Eva Froman Gramse is being remembered as the “rock of her family.” Kymn Anderson, a longtime friend and former neighbor of the Gramses, on Thursday said she imagines Eva Gramse in heaven, grateful that none of her children or many grandchildren were at the lake house with them during the explosion. Anderson called Eva Gramse someone who led a “purposeful, Christian life” and served as “a blessing to so many people.” She recently led a Bible study at Peace Lutheran Church, where she and her family were members. The sessions, which Anderson attended, allowed the longtime friends to reconnect. The Gramses have used MRG’s success to help the community, said Anderson, who was director of the Faribault Chamber for more than two decades. Not only were they active at Peace Lutheran, they worked with Rice County Social Services to host an annual camp at their Shields Lake home for underprivileged children. Eva Gramse also mentored a group of young woman, Anderson said, “out of her love for helping people.” While Eva Gramse wasn’t as visible as her husband, she was the glue that held the family together, said state Sen. John Jasinski, who’s known the Gramses for about 25 years and has visited their Lake Vermilion home. “I can’t tell you of more phenomenal hosts, who would do anything for you,” he said, noting that the Gramses’ interest in the lake led other area residents to buy property nearby, creating a mini-Faribault up north. Mike Gramse, who worked in manufacturing since his time in the U.S. Navy, founded MRG Tool and Die with a former co-worker, but eventually became its only owner. A member of the first Faribault Area Vocational and Technical Institute’s (now South Central College) Tool and Die program’s graduating class (1968), Gramse has continued to advocate for the college and the trades, said Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce President Nort Johnson. Mike Gramse served on the college’s Faribault Campus Foundation board for more than 20 years, has supported workforce development through service on advisory boards, welcomed tour groups to MRG, has spoken to students and provided equipment or materials for classroom training projects. He is also a member of the Faribault Industrial Corp. and Faribault Rotary Club, serving as its 81st president from 2001-02. He has been honored as a distinguished alumni at both Faribault High School and South Central College. The couple’s eldest son, Rod Gramse, is now president of MRG. Two of their other children, Russell Gramse and Rebecca Thomas, also work for the company. The Gramses has two other children, Chelle Marquardt and Ryan Gramse. The incident and cause of the explosion remain under investigation by the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office. Personnel from the St. Louis Co. Rescue Squad, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Tower and Virginia Ambulance services, and Tower, Breitung and Vermilion Lake Fire departments also assisted at the scene.

A woman killed Wednesday in a house explosion and fire in Greenwood Township on Lake Vermilion has been identified as Eva Gramse, 72, of Faribault, according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. Her husband, well-known businessman Mike Gramse, 72, who founded MRG Tool and Die in 1979, was seriously injured in the blast.

The explosion, which completely destroyed the Everett Bay Road residence, was reported just after 9:30 a.m., according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. The residence was on fire when deputies and Greenwood Fire Department officials arrived on the scene.

Shortly after emergency responders arrived, they located Mike Gramse, who was injured and down in the yard. Before being airlifted to Essentia-St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, he was reportedly able to provide some details about the incident and said that his wife was inside the home.

Human remains, believed to be that of Eva Gramse, were found in the residence, and await positive identification from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office.

A life of service

Eva Froman Gramse is being remembered as the “rock of her family.”

Kymn Anderson, a longtime friend and former neighbor of the Gramses, on Thursday said she imagines Eva Gramse in heaven, grateful that none of her children or many grandchildren were at the lake house with them during the explosion.

Anderson called Eva Gramse someone who led a “purposeful, Christian life” and served as “a blessing to so many people.”

She recently led a Bible study at Peace Lutheran Church, where she and her family were members. The sessions, which Anderson attended, allowed the longtime friends to reconnect.

The Gramses have used MRG’s success to help the community, said Anderson, who was director of the Faribault Chamber for more than two decades. Not only were they active at Peace Lutheran, they worked with Rice County Social Services to host an annual camp at their Shields Lake home for underprivileged children. Eva Gramse also mentored a group of young woman, Anderson said, “out of her love for helping people.”

While Eva Gramse wasn’t as visible as her husband, she was the glue that held the family together, said state Sen. John Jasinski, who’s known the Gramses for about 25 years and has visited their Lake Vermilion home.

“I can’t tell you of more phenomenal hosts, who would do anything for you,” he said, noting that the Gramses’ interest in the lake led other area residents to buy property nearby, creating a mini-Faribault up north.

Mike Gramse, who worked in manufacturing since his time in the U.S. Navy, founded MRG Tool and Die with a former co-worker, but eventually became its only owner. A member of the first Faribault Area Vocational and Technical Institute’s (now South Central College) Tool and Die program’s graduating class (1968), Gramse has continued to advocate for the college and the trades, said Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce President Nort Johnson.

Mike Gramse served on the college’s Faribault Campus Foundation board for more than 20 years, has supported workforce development through service on advisory boards, welcomed tour groups to MRG, has spoken to students and provided equipment or materials for classroom training projects. He is also a member of the Faribault Industrial Corp. and Faribault Rotary Club, serving as its 81st president from 2001-02.

He has been honored as a distinguished alumni at both Faribault High School and South Central College.

The couple’s eldest son, Rod Gramse, is now president of MRG. Two of their other children, Russell Gramse and Rebecca Thomas, also work for the company. The Gramses has two other children, Chelle Marquardt and Ryan Gramse.

The incident and cause of the explosion remain under investigation by the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Personnel from the St. Louis Co. Rescue Squad, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Tower and Virginia Ambulance services, and Tower, Breitung and Vermilion Lake Fire departments also assisted at the scene.


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Cities remove, replace ash trees as EAB continues to spread

While it’s been more than two years since emerald ash borer was first detected in Medford, plans to battle the invasive pest are still in development throughout the region.

The domino effect that occurred after the September 2019 discovery of EAB in Medford placed Rice County on the state’s quarantine list as well. After a March 2020 workshop was held in Medford, a Faribault city employee attending the session returned home and discovered the iridescent green beetle had already moved north. The Faribault Public Works Department employee contacted the Minnesota Department of Agriculture about the ash tree on private property displaying the EAB symptoms he learned about earlier that evening. MDA staff was then able to find live EAB larvae and collect a sample for federal identification.

Since then, communities have been on high alert, including those which have not had a formal confirmation that EAB was indeed within the city. Northfield has been working on an EAB plan since 2017, and Owatonna began aggressively combating the infestation this summer with the removal of 76 ash trees throughout the city’s park system.

Going back to patient zero, however, the work has just begun.

“We had five trees dying in the park that were dying from the emerald ash borer,” said Jed Petersen, Medford’s administrative director of operations. While Petersen admitted that they wanted to wait until the “low activity” period for EAB before removing the trees, he said there have been other holdups that have kept the problem on the back burner.

“… We are not giving up on it, and we’re going to keep moving forward to eliminate the EAB problems in Medford the best we can. Is it going to happen this year? No, probably not. But it is important to the city, and we’re not going to back off from it,” said Mayor Danny Thomas.

Getting ahead of the problem

Faribault is taking the same approach as Medford in combating the insect that has already damaged a number of their trees. Paul Peanasky, the city’s parks and recreation director, said they’re continuing to remove ash trees as soon as they see they’ve got obvious signs of damage.

“Once they become infected, they are coming down,” Peanasky said. “We are monitoring them throughout our parks system, but it takes a couple years once a tree is infested for it to start dying, but when our crews are out mowing and doing other tasks they are keeping an eye on our ash trees.”

Peanasky said the city has taken a couple steps further to try to stay ahead of the infestation the best it can. Earlier this year, the city removed all 14 ash trees in Central Park, and since 2005 the city has not planted a single ash tree.

“As soon as we saw [EAB] first start to spread in the U.S., we made the decision to stop planting ash trees,” he said. “It’s about trying to stay ahead of the curve, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

As ash trees come down, Peanasky said the city continues to replace them with new trees. Thanks to grant dollars from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Shade Tree program, Faribault received upward of $6,000 to plant diverse trees native to Minnesota as a replacement for ash trees. This aids in the roughly $22,000 Peanasky said the city spends on planting approximately 40 new trees every year.

Owatonna began remove ash trees in its park system this summer based on its observation of EAB-damaged trees. This was partially thanks to a DNR grant the city had applied for prior to Steele County being placed in formal quarantine, allotting the city $50,000 to remove and replace the unhealthy trees.

The grant requires each removed tree be replaced with one of a different species, which can include honey locust, swamp oak, hackberry and accolade elm trees, none of which are vulnerable to EAB.

Treating what they can

Northfield was unsuccessful in obtaining money from the Shade Tree program, but the city’s Sustainability Coordinator Beth Kallestad says she’s “feeling confident” that it will receive grant program yet this year.

While the dollars aren’t officially official, state Rep. Todd Lippert, D-Northfield, announced last month that the city will receive $92,500 Department of Natural Resources grant to identify and convert ash stands to more diverse, climate-adapted species; and to replace removed ash trees.

“Minnesota is home to nearly 1 billion ash trees, and we have to support our cities as they respond to the devastation being caused by emerald ash borer,” said Lippert. “I’m elated to see that Northfield is included in the state’s largest group of recipients yet for these grants, and I look forward to seeing this investment in action as we protect and replace these trees that line our streets and shade our yards.”

Trees will come down in Northfield, Kallestad said. Many will likely be located in boulevards, and she added, the city will work to push educational material out to the community so they can understand why the trees have to come down.

Additionally, Kallestad the city will identify and treat certain ash trees that haven’t been infested.

“Big trees are more expensive to take down, and they have also sequestered a lot of carbon, so we will be trying to save some big trees through treatment,” Kallestad said. “Some cities may decide that is too expensive, and removing and replacing [all ash trees] is certainly an option. The city will still need to make some final decisions on that and will have to look into the city budget in the coming years.”

Northfield has yet to have a formal confirmation of EAB inside city limits, but Kallestad she is taking that with a grain of salt: “We know it’s close by and from what I’ve heard, once you get a confirmation it probably means they have been here for a while.”

Out with the old, in with the new

Whether they have a confirmed case, suspected cases or they are simply preparing for the inevitable, all the communities agreed that replacing the ash trees has to remain a priority. Kallestad says the University of Minnesota Extension has provided good material on trees that will be sustainable in a changing climate — whether it be a doubt or a flood — and Peanasky said it will remain a priority to keep trees in Faribault’s parks for both aesthetic and function.

In Medford, Petersen said they are still making decisions on what will replace the trees, but that regardless he is sad to see the ash ones go.

“We have a great, big ash tree down in Straight River Park that is all but dead and too big for our crew to remove it,” Petersen said. “It’s sad because it’s huge, so you know it’s old, but it has to go. I’m not sure what we will replace it or any of the others with yet, but we’re doing our research.”


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Gol Lutheran Church preserves historic steeple spire with rooster on top
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West of Kenyon, off Hwy. 60, sits Gol Lutheran Church, a simple stone church with more than 150 years of history.

After noticing the original metal on the octagon sided spire of the church was in bad shape, members of the church decided to do something about it.

With the replacement of the original spire — the source of numerous discussions over the years — David Baker, of Gol Lutheran Church, says it will require special equipment to be able to reach the top. Last year, members of the congregation realized it had to be addressed sooner rather than later once pieces began to fall off.

Baker reached out to Marquette Systems from Byron, and asked the owners, Richard and Jacky Rundquist, if they could help out and remove the top for reconstruction.

“Richard happens to be my cousin, and he was the answer to our prayers,” said Baker.

He says Marquette Systems builds some of the largest grain bins in the world. On Dec. 21, 2020, Richard brought a 175-foot boom truck with a basket and a crew of six to remove the spire and weather vane, for the first time since the church was built. Built by early settlers west of the town of Kenyon, the completed church was dedicated June 21, 1874.

“Our church is humble with no stained glass or elaborate furnishings,” said Baker. “It has served us well and is still very special to the members today.”

Marquette Systems arrived back at the church a second time on June 22, 2021, this time with their crane and basket, and a second basket lift, along with a crew of seven to install the finished spire, weather vane and a rooster. The installation began at 8:30 a.m. and was finished at 5:30 p.m. A new lightning rod cable with all the proper connectors was also installed to meet current building code.

“Gol can’t thank Marquette Systems, and Richard and Jackie enough for helping us complete this project,” said Baker.

A special spire, rooster dedication and appreciation breakfast is set for Nov. 20 to celebrate the new steeple.

“We cannot imagine how this was accomplished in 1874, with the limited equipment,” said Baker. I am sure the founding fathers would approve of the new spire.”

Baker’s great grandfather, Ole Baker, was the first blacksmith in Kenyon and a member of Gol Lutheran. Baker believes, without a doubt, he was one of those involved with the original construction.

They felt the spire should be restored as closely as possible to how the founding fathers had built it: metal, painted gold, with a rooster on the top.

Marquette Systems’ fabrication shop offered to take on the design and construction of the new spire, and used a heavier gauge of steel. A gold, high grade powder coat and top clear coat sealed the deal to give the new steeple spire and weather vane a durable finish. Extreme Powder Coat in Blooming Prairie completed the powder coating project.

Baker says the spire was constructed out of wood, covered with tin and painted gold. A weather vane was located on top of the peak and had a rooster sitting on top. The only part of the rooster that remained when the steeple was removed was its two feet.

Intrigued why early church founders included a rooster on the top, Baker looked to history to answer his question. He found it was common for churches in Norway, where most family’s that settled in the area came from, to have a rooster on top of the steeple. He said historians vary on the symbolism.

Siting Mark 14:66-72 which reads, “Peter, Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” Others, Baker says, feel the rooster was always looking out for its flock. The rooster announces the light that follows the night, and can symbolize an attitude of watchfulness and readiness for the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and final judgement of mankind. Mark 13:35-56, “Like the rooster we wait for the dawn.”

Churches with Norwegian roots in surrounding areas like Nerstrand’s Valley Grove Church, also have roosters atop them.

The Valley Grove Preservation Society’s Christmas 2007 newsletter states the 1862 stone church is the crown jewel of the Valley Grove site. They, too, completed a steeple project, using an 1880s photo as a guide. The final touch on the steeple was the finial. They were able to determine the height, diameter and shape looking at the exterior photo from the 1880s. Like Lutheran churches back in Norway, the preservation society says the finial was likely topped with a vaerhane — rooster.

Members state it is traditional in much of Europe that Catholic churches have crosses atop their steeples while Protestants have roosters.


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