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City officials dive into a pool of uncertainty with 2020 season

<&firstgraph>If you ask kids what they enjoy about summer, there’s a good chance they’ll say spending (a majority of their) time swimming in the pool.

<&firstgraph>However, the uncertainty of how long the novel coronavirus will be around is creating a series of issues for city officials and pool managers to jump through when it comes to opening city pools. As of last week, local leaders have still not received any guidance from Gov. Tim Walz or the Minnesota Department of Health on whether pools will be able to open for the upcoming season.

<&firstgraph>While numerous cities have decided to close their swimming pools for the 2020 season, Kenyon and Wanamingo officials remain optimistic that the pools will open sometime during the summer.

<&firstgraph>At a special meeting held May 5, Kenyon City Administrator Mark Vahlsing updated the council on the opening of the pool for 2020 season. He said he was coordinating the status of opening with the pool manager and public works director.

<&firstgraph>“Most communities in the area were in a holding pattern but also were moving ahead planning for opening in early June,” said Vahlsing.

<&firstgraph>All communities are also watching the state to see if they would be allowed to open on time, said Vahlsing.

<&firstgraph>“It is possible the opening of the pool may be delayed or ultimately canceled,” said Vahlsing at the meeting. “But it was the hope of city staff that the pool would be allowed to open in some form this season.”

<&firstgraph>Public Works Director Wayne Ehrich said his department would need two weeks to have the pool ready for opening.

<&firstgraph>Councilmen Dan Rechtzigel said he hoped pools will be allowed to open, since there are many children at home in the city who like to use the pool in the summer.

<&firstgraph>Mayor Doug Henke also hoped the pool would be allowed to open this year.

<&firstgraph>Following a May 12 Kenyon City Council meeting, the council voted to approve the tentative hiring of Municipal Swimming Pool employees, pending the opening of the pool.

Getting ready in Wanamingo

<&firstgraph>In Wanamingo, city staff have started preparing the pool for the upcoming season, which includes updates to the chemical room required by the Minnesota Department of Health, a new sump pump that relieves pressure underground on the exterior concrete of the pool, and the replacement of the pump lines running along the east side of the fence.

<&firstgraph>“Regardless of opening the pool on time we plan to get it up and running,” wrote City Administrator Michael Boulton in a memo to the council.

<&firstgraph>In order to get the pool up and running, Boulton said the staff will need to conduct general maintenance, get the interior pump house equipment ready, hang new signs, put out the kiddie pool canopy, install the pool ladders, check lights, install covers/drains, acid pressure wash the pool and kiddie pool, paint the interior of the pool, fill both pools with water and turn on the pumps by May 29. Chemically treating the pool will make the water safe and give it the clear-blue tint.

<&firstgraph>Staff recommended that there be no swimming lessons offered in 2020, to refrain from physical contact between lifeguards and swimmers, however private lessons could be offered to ensure kids’ safety in the pool. The hours of operation will likely stay the same as last year from 1 to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Private pool parties will remain available, pending lifeguard availability, as well as the water aerobics classes.

<&firstgraph>“Since we do not know when or if the pool will open, city staff do not plan on having a formal registration sign up for parents and patrons,” wrote Boulton in a memo to the council.

<&firstgraph>Pending the opening of the pool, all registration will take place at the swimming pool for passes. Discount passes will need to be discussed if the pool is not able to open on time. Staff anticipate a moderate decrease in swimming lesson registrations and pool pass sales as a result of COIVD-19.

<&firstgraph>“It will probably be a shortened season for sure,” Boulton said at the meeting. “I doubt we’ll be open for June 1, but we’ll try to aim for that.”

<&firstgraph>One of the Wanamingo Pool assistant managers, Julie Steberg, attended the council meeting to provide input on the tentative plans.

<&firstgraph>“We can’t get through all the hoops yet,” said Steberg. “… We want it to be a fun place for [kids] to come, they’ve got to have something.”

<&firstgraph>While Steberg wasn’t so concerned about the pool itself due to the chlorine used to keep the pools free of bacteria, the locker rooms seemed to be a greater threat. Some options she suggested for bypassing that threat were offering tubs for patrons to place their clothes/items in, which would leave the locker rooms open strictly for bathroom use. She also brought up pool workers doing more thorough cleaning, for example using a bleach-water solution to spray down the toilets, sinks and showers more frequently.

<&firstgraph>The Wanamingo City Council voted to approve the swimming pool fees and schedule for the 2020 season as presented, as well as the 2020 swimming pool staff roster, pending the pool’s opening.


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Most Wanamingo July 4 festivities scaled back/cancelled, but fireworks are on

<&firstgraph>The Fourth of July calls for celebration, but in Wanamingo this year, residents may need to create their own fun.

<&firstgraph>At the May 11 Wanamingo City Council meeting, the council voted to cancel/scale back a number of events held in the city on the Fourth of July.

<&firstgraph>As the days quickly approach toward summer, city officials and local organizations have to think twice about whether or not the well-loved event will go on as planned. Social distancing guidelines and gathering orders from Gov. Tim Walz will make it difficult to hold a proper celebration — a celebration known for bringing in crowds of people from all areas to gather and celebrate Independence Day and raise funds for local causes.

<&firstgraph>Mayor Ryan Holmes said many of the people he has talked to are “pretty” understanding of the cancellations/scaling back of events, given the circumstances.

<&firstgraph>“We’ve had a lot of discussions about this. We don’t know what this [virus] is doing and a lot of other places are canceling their Fourth of July parades and things like that,” said Ryan. “Some of our biggest concerns are having people congregate, since there’s a lot of people coming from out of town, and we don’t know where they’ve been and what not.”

<&firstgraph>He also said they are trying not to encourage groups of larger sizes to get together for a celebration such as the Fourth of July.

<&firstgraph>“We’re in historic times, this is a unique time,” said Holmes. “We’ll make it and we’ll have this again, but right now everything is so up in the air.”

<&firstgraph>Some of the larger events included in the cancellations are the grand parade, Minneola Church pancakes, kid’s games, food vendors, silent auction, free open swim, community band concert, the Lion’s strawberry/popcorn/cotton candy/snow cone stand, duck float fundraiser, Fire Department water fights and the bean bag and volleyball tournaments.

<&firstgraph>The Fire Department also cancelled its fireman’s dance usually held the night before the Fourth of July celebration.

<&firstgraph>Wanamingo Fire Department firefighter Monty Schaefer said as a department, they didn’t want to risk someone’s life by having the dance. Especially since a majority of its crowd is the high risk category for contracting the virus.

<&firstgraph>“There’s a lot of time and energy that goes into [the dance.] I’d be surprised if the governor allowed big events like that [to happen] anyway,” said Council member Jeremiah Flotterud .

<&firstgraph>Events that may still be possible if they are scaled back, depending on the orders presented at the time are the drive-up ribs at Blondie’s Butcher Shop, a food/drink special at JB’s Tavern, Trinity Lutheran’s church service and the horseshoe event. A few of the minor events planned by outside organizations both on and off public property, such as the tractor/truck pull and bounce house, will need to be reviewed and planned how the events will proceed in the near future.

<&firstgraph>Larry VanDeWalker of the Wanamingo VFW/Honor Guard said while they will still put out the Field of Flags, they most likely won’t hold a program or invite the public to place flags into the ground, as they have in past years. More details about how that may look will be discussed further at a meeting this week. VanDeWalker said phase two of the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial is expected to be placed at the memorial well before the anticipated completion date of July 4. The new sculpture, ‘Freedom is Not Free,’ will recognize military members on land, air and sea who have served from the Revolutionary War to present day.

<&firstgraph>Since last July, the Wanamingo VFW and Honor Guard have worked to raise funds for the 6-foot cast bronze sculpture, and have since completed their goal.

<&firstgraph>Although many of the events have been canceled, the fireworks show will still go on as planned.

<&firstgraph>“I’ve gotten great feedback from clubs and organizations, and nobody is mad about this,” said Boulton of the cancellations, alluding to concerns from celebration organizers. “They just want a consensus so there’s one voice, bringing more certainty that most of these big things aren’t happening. [The council] taking the lead will help these other groups make their call.”


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'Gone but not forgotten,' remembering Memorial Day amid restrictions

Traditionally in local communities, Memorial Day is remembered with a parade, a ceremony, a breakfast or program, sponsored by members of the local American Legion Post, VFW Post, Color Guard and/or Honor Guard.

With the unprecedented circumstances due to the pandemic, commanders, presidents and members were forced to think of a unique way to honor fallen soldiers without encouraging large groups of people to gather together — forcing a break in tradition.

While Kenyon and Wanamingo have taken slightly different approaches to ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, both share a goal of not letting the day go by unnoticed.

Wanamingo

At 9 a.m. in Wanamingo, some members will assemble at the POW/MIA Memorial located in the center of the Wanamingo Veterans Day Memorial, for a short program consisting of placing roses on the memorial, followed by a rifle salute, the playing of taps, and lowering and raising the colors to full staff.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states the firing of guns is seen as a great honor bestowed upon both military and political officials, a practice well established in the 16th century.

Following the program at the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial, another short program will take place at Riverside Park at 9:30 a.m. Some members of Wanamingo Boy Scout Troop 76 will lead in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an honor roll of the fallen. A rose will be dropped in the river to remember those lost at sea. A rifle salute and taps will conclude the program.

Wanamingo VFW Quamme Post #186 Commander Gary Floan says everyone is encouraged to practice social distancing protocols during both programs. Although they are keeping it simple this year, he says they wanted to do something.

“We can’t let it go by without any activity,” said Floan.

Typically the Wanamingo Boy Scout Troop 76 serves a pancake breakfast at the Community Center in the morning, which is followed by a short ceremony and the parade, which they opted against due to COVID-19.

Kenyon

A Memorial Day parade will process around the neighborhoods of Kenyon beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Kenyon Veterans Color Guard President Mike (Mac) McDonald says they a possible route may gather at the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School parking lot, head west on Sixth Street and work their way through the streets of Kenyon, with the exception construction zones. While the route will be finalized at the May 21 meeting, McDonald says they plan to go down as many streets as possible.

“I know Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, but I think people need something to lift their spirits,” said McDonald. “If you want to partake in the parade, you can either drive your car and stay in your car, or even in a golf cart if it’s a nice day.”

The parade will be led by the Kenyon Police Department, followed by four Kenyon Veterans Color Guard members on a 14-foot trailer, which will wind up at Kenyon Veterans Park, where a 21-gun salute and playing of taps will take place.

Kenyon’s Memorial Day parade was approved by the City Council at the May 12 meeting.

Participants are urged to main social distancing and relax in their own front yard to pay respect to those who gave all in the service of the country. Although there won’t be a program at the Kenyon Cemetery this year, flags will still be posted on the graves of veterans in and around Kenyon.

Among 10 local cemeteries, nearly 500 veterans, dating back to the Civil War, are buried. Eleven additional veterans, who would normally be honored during the program, have been laid to rest over the past year.

McDonald says those 11 veterans are Dwight Boomgaarden, Howard Ronken, Leo Erickson, Gordy Anderson, Doug Haggerty, David Musgjerd, Leif Gunhus, Don Gifford, Dave Becher, Jim Schoberg and Gary Wolkenhauer. To honor those veterans in an appropriate manner, McDonald says there has been a discussion of posting 11 flags at the Veterans Memorial Park with each veteran’s name on it.

Surrounding areas

Memorial Day plans for the local areas were gathered amongst the ideas of members and from other areas. Areas, such as Cannon Falls, have also made modifications to traditional Memorial Day plans.

Dwayne Hermanson, VFW Post 4452 Post Quarter Master for Cannon Falls in First District with Kenyon and Wanamingo, says in Cannon Falls all Memorial Day events have been canceled, including the Memorial Day breakfast. He says flags will be posted throughout the city streets within the week.

Hermanson says the National VFW Commander Chief is encouraging VFW posts to do something for Memorial Day, even if it’s a telebroadcast held on a local radio station or something of that nature.

“That’s what’s being encouraged, to do something, even though it’s not the full Memorial Day events like in the past, just to get something out there in the public,” said Hermanson of the recommendations. “…There’s not much else we can do under the current guidance out there.”

In larger areas, such as Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Hermanson says organizations are hosting a memorial service to be played over the TV and radio.

“It’s what we’re all tied to, it’s going to be pretty bleak this year for Memorial Day events.”


Logan Meyers

KW’s Logan Meyers faces off against Triton’s Mason Barker. Both KW and Triton will shift from the Hiawatha Valley League to the Gopher Conference in 2021.


The Chrysler sedan at right, was seized in a 2013 Waseca County pursuit, forfeited after the suspect was convicted and sold at auction. Minnesota’s legislature could be on its way to approving a historic civil forfeiture reform law with support from both civil liberties organizations and law enforcement groups. (Daily News File Photo)