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K-W grads reminisce about strong bonds created during pandemic
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One year, two months and 19 days ago, Michael Pliscott told friends, family and staff gathered at Sunday’s Kenyon-Wanamingo commencement, students took what they thought was just a one week break from school.

Board scholar Michael Pliscott presents his farewell address towards the end of the commencement ceremony. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Little did they know, that seven-day-break would lead to over one year of distant learning, masks, missed concerts, events and most importantly each other.

Friends, family, staff and school board members applaud the class of 2021 as High School Principal Matt Ryan introduces them. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Through all of the challenges the class of 2021 went through, in his speech, the senior focused on the positives that were brought out — stronger friendships, a closely knit class and many life lessons.

“We didn’t just go through school together, we missed going through it together,” said Pliscott during his farewell address. “We were undeniably excited to be back together.”

Graduating 63 students, Kenyon-Wanamingo High School's 2020 graduation rate was 91.3%. This year, K-W graduated 52 students. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Speeches from other seniors and administrators during the 31st KWHS Commencement Ceremony focused on perseverance, adaptation, improvisation and overcoming obstacles.

K-W 2021 seniors reflect after tossing their caps in the air. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Speaking on behalf of the class of 2021, Katie Van Epps told the crowd of supporters during her welcome address that it was a blessing to be in the same room with everyone.

K-W senior Katie Van Epps delivers the welcome address at the KWHS 31st Commencement Ceremony. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Through the unique circumstances they were given, Van Epps said the class of 2021 learned to grow and support each other.

“We said ‘we will,’ instead of ‘we cannot,’” said Van Epps. “Never once did we say we cannot do this and we are all doomed.”

Making it official, the class of 2021 moves their tassels to the show that they graduated. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Superintendent Bryan Boysen, too, focused on the students’ “I can” state of mind during his welcome speech to those in attendance.

Kenyon-Wanamingo Superintendent Bryan Boysen welcomes the class of 2021 and their family and friends to the commencement ceremony. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Seniors Caroline Doehling, Aisha Ramirez and Brianna Ryan presented the senior reflection, sharing a handful of the many memories and inside jokes that were made over the years, like water balloon fights in elementary school, the trip to Eagle Bluff, school dances and powderpuff, while building friendships along the way.

Senior reflection

Board scholars Caroline Doehling, Aisha Ramirez and Brianna Ryan present the senior reflection and share memories they’ve made with the class of 2021 over the years. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Musical performances were done by the K-W High School Band, including the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” by Edward Elgar arr. Howard E. Akers for the processional and K-W school song. During the recessional, the band played “Into the Clouds” by Richard Saucedo. Members of the K-W High School Chorale sang “We Sing” by Brian Tate and “Song of Farewell” by Garry A. Cornell during the ceremony.

Friends, family, staff and school board members applaud the class of 2021 as High School Principal Matt Ryan introduces them. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

The Kenyon-Wanamingo High School Band and Chorale performed various selections during Sunday's ceremony like "Pomp and Cirumstance," "We Sing," "Song of Farewell" and "Into the Clouds." (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Diplomas were presented by Tonya Craig and Debb Paquin on behalf of the K-W Board of Education. Craig, School Board Vice Chair, presented Doehling with the School Board Award for her time attending meetings and providing fun recaps of the current events at the school.

Graduates gather outside to take photos with family and friends after the ceremony. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Board scholars Doehling, Pliscott, Ramirez, Ryan and Van Epps were recognized with a gold cord for achieving a 4.3 GPA or better. Seniors Kristin Finley, Hayden Poquette and Daniel Van Epps graduated with high distinction, 4.0 GPA up to a 4.3 GPA, symbolized with a silver cord. Students Sierra Belcher, Hailey Lerfald, Xitalic Mendoza, Logan Meyers, Brenden Raths, Thomas Sturgis and Casey Wesbur graduated with honors, earning a 3.5 GPA up to a 4.0 GPA, marked with a white cord.

A reception line was formed outside of Kenyon-Wanamingo High/Middle School for graduates to be recognized by family and friends. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

National Honor Society members recognized during the ceremony were Belcher, Doehling, Finley, Lerfald, Meyers, Pliscott, Poquette, Ramirez, Ryan, Sturgis, Daniel Van Epps and Katie Van Epps. Sturgis was awarded the Excellent Attendance award for only missing four class periods throughout his time at the high school.

Junior Honor Marshals hand seniors a lily, the class flower, during the recessional. Pictured walking down the gymnasium are Brennen Boyd and Xitlalic Mendoza. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Junior class honor marshals Evan Brossard, Julia Dahl, Rachel Nesseth, Hannah Peters, John Smith and Alex Vold were also recognized during the ceremony for their academic standing in the top 10% of the junior class. The honor marshals distributed programs at the beginning of the event and gave each graduating senior a lily during the recessional.

Junior Honor Marshals

Junior Honor Marshals Evan Brossard, John Smith and Alex Vold hand out programs at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. Brossard, Smith and Vold, along with Julia Dahl, Rachel Nesseth, Hannah Peters are all ranked in the top 10% of their class. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Library kicks off summer programming with fairytale ball
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Local children were invited to put on their sparkly princess dresses and shoes or Disney character costumes on Friday.

Five-year-old Adelle Siltala-Choban proudly shows off the crown and wand she decorated at the Fairy Tale Ball Friday. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Kenyon Public Library kicked off its summer learning program “Tails & Tales” with a Fairytale Ball at Depot Park in Kenyon. Participants in the late morning/early afternoon event were encouraged to dress up as their favorite fairytale or Disney character.

Friday's event featured numerous interactive opportunities for youth to participate in. The summer learning program kickoff event was held at Depot Park in Kenyon. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Despite the 90-degree day, an estimated 40 participants enjoyed the activities the Library had to offer. The event began by introducing what the Library has planned this summer and ended with letting children have some fun. Different stations were set up with activities, and children could also use the playground equipment for a quick play break if needed. Activity stations included a Disney-themed photo booth for children to have their photo taken. Children’s Librarian Barb Bonde will turn the pictures into magnets at a later date. Children could also decorate a king/queen paper crown with crayons and sparkly gems if desired.

For many children, like 5 year-olds Adelle Siltala-Choban and Riley Hadler, decorating their crowns was a highlight.

Riley Hadler, 5, and Ada Kuntz, 2, walk through the Story Walk. Riley said her favorite part of the day so far was making her very own crown. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Siltala-Choban, who enjoys reading and learning new words, is also excited to participate in the summer learning program and continue reading books.

Participants of the fairytale-themed event could also make their own wands with gold/silver pipe cleaners, topped with different styles of stars. A scavenger hunt challenged children to find certain items around the park using unique provided clues.

Dressel siblings Makenna, 2, and Aiden,4, pose for a photo at the Fairy Tale Ball before heading to the next station. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

After spinning in a circle three times while wearing a blindfold, children were tasked with putting a kiss on ‘the old toad.’ Christensen siblings Brady, 10 and Nova, 5 were shocked to see their brother Marshal, 7 place a kiss right on the mouth of the toad. When it came to their turn, both Brady and Nova came close to doing the same.

Youth were encouraged to get their picture taken at the event for Children's Librarian Barb Bonde to make into magnets at a later date. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

A story walk was also available for children to travel through. Once the children navigated the different stations, they were invited to have a Disney dance party with Bonde.

Children's Library Barb Bonde plays music from a variety of Disney movies for youth to dance to. Princesses dancing from left, Riley Hadler,5, Ada Kuntz, 2, and Adelle Sitala-Choban, 5. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Kiss the toad

Christensen siblings Brady, 10, (left) and Nova, 5, (middle) react as Marshal, 7, places the kiss right on the old toad’s mouth while wearing a blindfold. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Inside of the Depot building, children could sign up for their very own library card with Library Director Michelle Otte and pick up the challenge sheets for the week. The sheets are part of the summer learning program the Library offers, among other activities like STEM stations on Wednesdays in June and a photo scavenger hunt that began June 1.

Inside of the Depot building at the park, challenge sheets were available for participants to take home. The sheets are part of the Library's summer learning program. Participants could also sign up for a library card with Library Director Michelle Otte. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Prior to the event, Otte said now that COVID-19 numbers seem to be subsiding, she’s hopeful for good participation in this year’s program.

“We hope kids take advantage of all the fun opportunities the Library is offering this summer,” said Otte. “Lots of opportunities to earn free books for kids of all ages!”

Youth could decorate their magic wand with shiny pipe cleaners and colors. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Kenyon, Wanamingo pools splash into new season
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After a wavy start to the 2020 season, the Kenyon Pool is making a splash with a fresh start for 2021.

The Kenyon Pool was slated to open Monday, with swimming lessons and water aerobics classes held as usual since the outdoor and swimming pool COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted by the governor. No additional restrictions or changes are in place at the pool beyond regular rules/policies.

In a May meeting, the Kenyon City Council approved the hiring of 13 lifeguards, two of which are water safety instructor certified. Cheryl Dahl will serve as the pool manager for another year with Sam Erickon as the assistant manager.

The council approved a $1 increase in wages for lifeguards, following a recommendation from Dahl to keep the lifeguards in the local area. City Administrator Mark Vahlsing also recommended increasing pool employee wages in order to compete with neighboring towns for qualified employees.

Council member Mary Bailey commended the lifeguards for the great job they do and said they deserve a wage increase.

Molly Ryan, also a Council member, agreed it’s important to keep wages similar to what other towns are paying, or the city risks losing some lifeguards to other areas.

The pool in Kenyon will be open through Aug. 22. Hours after Aug. 22 are dependent on staff availability.

For local resident Rachel Ahsenmacher, the opening pool party is always a favorite for her and her children.

“What better way to start off the summer,” Ahsenmacher answered in a post from the Kenyon Leader’s Facebook page.

She’s also appreciative of the city’s dollar swim nights. As someone with five children, the special offer makes for an affordable night for her family.

Yvette Perez Stevenson on the other hand enjoys attending water aerobics classes with the “ladies and some gentlemen” in the community.

“It’s the best time ever! And the instructors are amazing,” Perez Stevenson exclaimed her response.

Swimming ahead northeast

The city pool in Wanamingo, too, opened June 7, with an expected Labor Day closure (again depending on lifeguard availability). Pool managers Julie and Dylan Steberg said at a previous Wanamingo City Council meeting that they had 20 new lifeguard applicants with eight returning guards. There were also plans to hire nine new guards.

Kenyon-Wanamingo seniors Daniel and Katie Van Epps were scheduled to get WSI certified to teach swimming lessons.

A request was also made to purchase water aerobics weights. It was reported that City Administrator Michael Boulton will work with the pool manager to gather estimates for the cost of the weights to see if the request can be worked into the pool’s 2021 budget.