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Tornado-damaged WWII trainer plane returns to the skies

After about 29 years and one devastating tornado later, one primary trainer airplane dating back to the 1940s is back up and flying again.

Kirk Hiner flies his dad’s Fairchild PT-19 World War II primary trainer airplane to Dodge Center after it receives repairs after being damaged in a 2018 tornado. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Hiner)

Within the last couple years, Kenyon resident Kirk Hiner has been working hard alongside licensed aviation mechanic and expert aircraft builder Gary Underland of Owatonna to get his dad, Jim’s Fairchild PT-19 repaired after one of a series of tornadoes struck its hangar location Sept. 21, 2018 in Faribault.

The tornado that hit the Faribault airport Sept. 21, 2018, damaged the Fairchild PT-19. The hangar it was stored in faced devastating damage. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Hiner)

“It was a shock,” Kirk said of the tornado. “I knew there was bad weather that night, I hadn’t realized it hit the airport until the next morning.”

The owner of the airplane contacted Kirk, telling him that his hangar had gone down in the tornado.

“The hanger was pretty much completely gone,” he said. “The airplane had considerable damage, but it was far from being totaled. It was still repairable.”

After clearing hangar debris off of the plane, Underland, a friend of Jim’s, played a large role in the restoration and repairing of parts. Underland and Kirk began repairing the plane a month after the tornado, and proceeded to work on it throughout the next year on a part-time basis.

The Fairchild PT-19 faced damage from the Sept. 21, 2018 tornado, but was repaired. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Hiner)

Underland helped Kirk get the airplane a special flight permit, otherwise known as a ferry permit — a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration authorizing the operation of an aircraft that does not meet standard requirements of regularly flying, but is safe for a specific one-way flight.

While Underland and Kirk made the necessary repairs to get the plane flying again, as Kirk calls it “re-restoring.” He says his father, along with his father’s partner, did the main part of the restoration.

“I actually do enjoy working on those types of planes,” Kirk said of making repairs to the Fairchild PT-19. “It’s kind of a mixed emotion on [the Fairchild PT-19] because it was in such good shape before, and the fact that [we] had to do that much restoration was kind of disappointing. It’s important “

Preserving history

For Jim, the PT-19 was the first training plane he learned to fly on before going to the war in Europe in 1945. In 1976, Underland tipped off Jim and his partner about a “basket case” of a PT-19 sitting in a barn in Colorado. They drove out to Colorado soon after and purchased the parts from that airplane and hauled their future project back to Kenyon. The duo rebuilt the plane from scratch and got it fixed and flying again by about 1980. They flew the plane out to the air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, twice over the years to put it on display. They also sometimes flew it in locally from 1980 to 1990. The last flight was made on Sept. 21, 1990. After its’ first flight, Kirk said the plane was then stored away in a hanger in Faribault until the tornado.

Underland, who has been working in aviation full time since 1961, is now 86 years old. He says he likes to help anybody that needs it, and has helped out Kirk whenever he has had the time.

“Kirk himself is getting well versed in airplanes,” Underland said. “He’s been rebuilding and building many planes and learned quite a bit about planes for someone who is not in it for business, but more for enjoyment. He loves airplanes and so do I.”

Since Kirk had never flown a PT-19 before As of what point?, he needed some training. He happened to run into a flight instructor from Nebraska who owned a PT-19, while at an Oshkosh air show. He was willing to train Kirk on how to fly the plane, so he went out there and completed three hours of training.

“I felt pretty comfortable flying in that plane then,” Kirk said. “I just had to wait for a perfect day.”

The ferry permit allowed Kirk to fly the plane from a Faribault hangar to Dodge Center and gave him a 10-day window to do so. Last fall, a perfectly suited day for flight came about, and Hiner took advantage of the sunny day with light winds and a 40 degree temperature — necessary conditions for flying in the PT-19’s open cockpit.

“That was an exciting day,” Hiner said. “Gary came over and gave it a final inspection before I left.”

Underland said “airplane guys get to loving what they’re doing,” adding him and Kirk are two of that kind.

Kirk and Underland continue to work on the remaining PT-19 repairs when they have time, in order for the plane to qualify as “permanently air worthy” after passing its annual inspection. Once it is fully finished, Hiner plans to use the plane for “local fun flying,” with the possibility of going on several adventures, such as a fly-in breakfast.

With a plethora of experience coming from building 32 planes himself, along with another 40 with the help of others, Underland continues to work in the industry that he’s been enjoying for the last 58 years.

“I feel sorry for people who don’t get to fly airplanes,” Underland said. “Airplanes are unique and they let you understand the country from another view, perspective or dimension.”

Kirk, who shares many years of experience building experimental aircraft, a hobby he grew to love while working alongside his dad, not only enjoys flying the planes, but also working on them and overcoming the challenges by making his own adjustments. In this case, carrying on the history of the Fairchild PT-19 is something Kirk finds important. He says his dad would be excited to see the plane up in the air again, adding that it would make him pretty happy.

“It’s good to keep these historical airplanes flying,” Kirk said of making the repairs to the Fairchild PT-19. “They are still a big part of our history and World War II history.”


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Building the future of America, K-W FFA celebrates National FFA Week

For FFA members across the country, including Kenyon-Wanamingo’s FFA Chapter, one particular week in February calls for celebration.

Recognized this year from Feb. 22-29, National FFA Week is widely known as a time to share what FFA is and the impact it has on members every day.

K-W FFA celebrates this week with activities and dress-up days. Monday’s dress-up day featured animal print/animals, while members dug out agriculture brand clothing Tuesday. Wednesday highlights FFA shirts and flannels, camouflage is to be worn on Thursday and FFA shirts Friday shorts end the week Friday.

On Wednesday morning, FFA members served community members, teachers, staff and FFA alumni a delicious meal of pancakes, sausage and bacon. Friday, the members will split up in groups to give “Food for America” presentations to K-W elementary students. Each grade is given a different snack to enjoy — cookies and milk, ice cream, vegetables or a cheese stick — while members talk about what animal/plant that particular item comes from.

The future of America

Once standing for Future Farmers of America, FFA is a dynamic youth organization that changes lives and prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. It was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928. Their mission was to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. They taught others that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting — it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.

K-W FFA advisor Chuck Larson, who has a background in both agriculture and FFA, laughs while recalling when his father jokingly referred to FFA as “Fathers Farm Alone,” because the organization kept the members so busy, they didn’t have time to help out on the farm. Larson says while there is no longer an emphasis on all members coming from a farming background, FFA hasn’t shifted away from its original mission, but it’s not all “cows, plows and sows.” He recalls a time where he suggested an avid video game player try his hand at flying a drone to check fields for pests.

“We need the ideas these young people are creating with different technologies, and to take them and infuse them into agriculture,” said Larson.”That is how we stay vibrant in cutting edge agriculture precision.”

The name of the organization was updated in 1988 following a vote from national convention delegates to reflect the growing diversity and new opportunities in agriculture. Although the letters still stand for Future Farmers of America due to the history and heritage of the organization, the official name of the organization is National FFA Organization.

Belle Patterson, K-W FFA Chapter president, says it is important to get the message out that FFA is more than just being about agriculture. She says she loves how the agriculture side of things is pushed in the K-W area due to community’s strong, rural ties.

In some cases, the Career Developmental Events (CDE) — occurring at the local, state and national level — members help other members develop an interest in a future career path or enhance a current interest. For example, Patterson says many “musically talented” students have participated in the talent show CDE and have performed really well at the local and state levels.

“[FFA] is an organization that’s geared toward finding a place for everybody, while keeping a focus on agriculture, since that’s what FFA is rooted in,” said Patterson. “It’s a good way to find both. Just because you don’t live on a farm doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be in FFA, because there’s so much more to it than that.”

Some of the CDE’s members can participate in are agriculture communications, agronomy, dairy cattle evaluation, public speaking, veterinary science, poultry evaluation, nursery/landscape, milk quality and products, meats evaluation and technology, livestock evaluation, forestry, floriculture, food science and farm and agribusiness management.

According to FFA.org, members are future chemists, veterinarians, government officials, entrepreneurs, bankers, international business leaders, teachers and premier professionals in many career fields.

Rooted in agriculture

For many K-W members, FFA has been a stepping stone to help them achieve various goals. For members Owen Sheffler, K-W FFA secretary, and Patterson, it has also helped them create friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

“It’s a lot of fun being able to meet new people, I like doing dairy judging and showing cattle,” said Sheffler thinking of his favorite memories and activities. “I’ve been showing dairy cattle since I was 4 years old. I started showing in 4-H, then learned FFA was another area that I could show at the State Fair.”

Sheffler, like Patterson, had several family members who were involved in FFA, enriching their experience in the organization even more. Sheffler says he recommends FFA to other people, saying that there are plenty of things for people to take part in, even with non-ag-related CDE’s. Patterson says that joining first joining 4-H and FFA, later to earn an American Star in Agribusiness, is a stepping stone process, noting that she had to do one to get the other. Children can participate in 4-H when they turn 5, while students can join FFA once they reach seventh grade.

Patterson’s Star Award came with her proficiency award — a supervised agricultural experience — in her family business, “Country Girl Show Pigs,” where 40 head of sows (female pigs) are bred for show stock that 4-H and FFA members purchase to show at the fair. She ran this project as a Star in Agribusiness for a state degree and received the honor at regions, next up Patterson will take it to the state competition in the end of April. Sheffler also has submitted an American Star project, but in Ag placement, which focuses more on an agricultural placement supervised agricultural experience while working on his family’s dairy farm, where agribusiness focused more on a non-production supervised agricultural experience.

Patterson says she has enjoyed making friendships that will last her a lifetime, through various FFA leadership camps and conventions. She notes one of her friends is from Fillmore, so if it had not been for FFA, she would have never met her. The National FFA Convention is another great experience for any FFA member, says Patterson.

“I would highly recommend [going to the National FFA Convention],” said Patterson thinking of her favorite memories. “It’s so eye opening and you get to meet so many different people.”

A tremendous amount of support

Larson says K-W FFA is fortunate to be in a small community, where the support never ends. He says they receive support through donations from many agribusinesses and business in the area, along with the K-W Alumni FFA Chapter. Patterson says some activities their chapter helps the alumni chapter with are the annual pancake breakfast and the annual pumpkin patch. Members help plant and pick the pumpkins, which are then sold at football games. She says the money from the pumpkins goes directly to the alumni chapter, who then donates it back to the local chapter through scholarships.

“It’s kind of cool how we get to help them out, and in turn they help us out,” said Patterson. “They also put on a meal for us at the State Fair during FFA weekend so we don’t have to eat fair food. It’s good to have a good relationship with them.”

Larson says that the support from the community keeps and solidifies a strong FFA program, and that everyone in the community gives everyone else a hand-up. He says that through the different FFA members he has seen come through his classroom, he has seen many key leaders, who bear strength, continuity and knowledge of the program. More importantly, they show dedication to promoting agriculture.


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Five K-W freshmen, sophomores selected from 1,100 applicants into MN State Honor Choir

Kenyon-Wanamingo sophomores Arin Kyllo, John Smith and Elliot Olson and freshmen Julia Patterson and Brady Bauer sang alongside 400 elite singers of their age level Feb. 13.

Those students were selected out of nearly 1,100 applicants for the 9-10 grade ensembles this year, to participate in the American Choral Director’s Association of Minnesota ninth-/10th-grade Honor Choir.

Kyllo said applicants audition with the same song, so each version can be easily compared to others. Choral directors and ACDA members then do a blind screening of the submissions, upload the recordings and send them to a panel of other choral directors from Minnesota. Students were scored and ultimately selected based on musical elements of intonation (pitch accuracy), tone quality, diction (the style of enunciation) and musical expression.

K-W Choir Director Stephanie Schumacher says this is the first time five singers were chosen from K-W at the 9-10 level.

“This is a testament to the hardworking nature of our students and also the support they receive from our school and our community,” said Schumacher. “Each one of our honor choir singers is an outstanding musician has worked very hard to get to where they are”

Fourth-time Honor Choir recipient Patterson said it’s an honor to be chosen, adding it’s also a fun experience and has made her a better singer. She added she has met many new friends who share a common interest in singing.

“I was really scared my first year,” said Patterson, thinking back to four years ago. “Now I am a little nervous but not as much as the first [few] times.”

The ACDA-MN Honor Choir program receives more than 2,400 applications annually for its seven programs, which each perform at separate concerts throughout the year. These choirs include the State 4-5-6 Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs for elementary and middle school students, the State 7-8 TTB and SSA Choirs and the State 9-10 SSAA, SATB and TBB (the letters represent soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Of these applicants, over 940 students across the state are chosen. Schumacher says when you consider the size of the K-W district compared to those in the metro area, five is a huge number.

The Honor Choir rehearsed all day Feb. 13 at Westminster Presbyterian Church and performed that evening with a public performance at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis.

Kyllo, Smith and Olson say they did a lot of singing that day but agree it was a good experience and recommend it to others who enjoy singing.

The students spent months preparing their music on their own time, since one of the rules of the ACDA is that music must be memorized before arriving at the first rehearsal.

Guest conductors for the TTB choir were Ryan Beeken of Wichita State University, Brandon Dean of Gustavus Adolphus College, who conducted the SSAA choir, and Aimee Beckmann-Collier of Drake University, who conducted the SATB choir.

Bauer said he enjoys participating in the Honor Choir and recalls learning a couple new techniques in his first time participating. Singing alongside hundreds of other singers, who aren’t singers he’s sang next to for years, is something Bauer found noteworthy.

“We had one director who was really good about our pronunciation and [making sure we were] enunciating our words to get that sound right,” Bauer said. “We had to work a lot on that. That’s something I really learned.”

Smith, in his fourth year of Honor Choir participation, said he has learned to be more expressive and better in intonation. Even though he is a first-time participant in the honor choir, Olson said he has already noticed a change in his singing, adding it has helped him be a better singer.

As a freshman, Bauer can audition for Honor Choir one more year. He said he hopes to audition next year, taking the opportunity to continue strengthening his skills.

“It was a really great experience,” Bauer said. “I think it would really help out [other] people who like to sing or [are looking] to strengthen their singing.”

Said Schumacher of the experience, “The best part of the honor choir day, aside from the fantastic concert, was hearing feedback from our singers afterward about how much fun they had. The kids bring that energy back to our choir room and it spreads like wildfire!”


Kenyon-Wanamingo’s Alec Johnson tries to turn Blue Earth’s Jaxen Klinkner Friday in the 138-pound championship. Johnson won a true second match to advance to the Class A state meet. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)


Katie Van Epps

K-W junior, Katie Van Epps, played in the Minnesota All State Symphonic Band Feb. 15, which K-W Band Director Claire Larson says is a “pinnacle achievement of any high school music experience.” (Photo courtesy of Claire Larson)