When Jon Syverson wrote and published his first book several weeks ago, he felt a sense of accomplishment he never once envisioned for himself.
The Wanamingo resident’s book, “Choice” started out as an idea from 1993, while on his way back to Brainerd after visiting his children. He began writing it 27 years ago and reached 200 pages of handwritten-content, but became discouraged and threw his work in the trash after reading a book by American author Dean Koontz.
“I was disillusioned enough that I wasn’t going to do it again and was just going to let it go,” said Syverson of his attempts. “It sat that way until this winter…This was my first time at writing, other than my first attempt in 1993, this time I’m happy with what I wrote.”
“Choice,” based on a concept of Syverson’s own creation, is a murder mystery with a sci-fi twist, which challenges readers to determine how a suspect of a crime can be in two places simultaneously. As a detective and his team sift through the evidence, they discover three facts that conflict with the laws of physics.
Especially unique to this book, is the four set of main characters. Syverson says they are based on his personality and those of his two daughters and son-in-law.
With encouragement from his children, Syverson began writing his book, Feb. 6 and finished the 240-page book, March 18. Soon after completing the book, Syverson says he received help from others to proofread it before it was ready for the one-week process of self-publishing. Syverson worked on the cover with his daughter and got it to work after several attempts with his grandson’s assistance.
“[Writing my own book] has been on my bucket list,” said Syverson. “…My kids told me ‘Dad it doesn’t make a difference how good it is, just write it for us and for your grandkids’. When I got done, it was better than I thought it would be.”
While Syverson doesn’t have a background in writing, that’s not the same story with reading. He says the main difference between his first attempt and his second lies in his writing style, as he’s become more of an “avid” reader.
“Since then I’ve been reading more and when you read [writing] becomes more second nature to you,” said Syverson. “It becomes part of you as you figure out how other people [write].”
In lieu of following suggestions from local English teachers and authors to keep placing ideas off to the side and later cut and paste them all together, Syverson started writing his book the way he saw fit for himself — from the beginning all the way to the end — a way many found quite “unusual.”
“It seemed like I wasn’t writing the story, I was just running the keyboard, everything flowed so well through,” said Syverson. “I can’t account for how well everything fell together, it was a lot of fun. The story of course was dear to my heart, very happy to be writing it.”
Among his feelings of accomplishment and joy, writing the book also brought Syverson out of a depression.
“I would sit down and write six hours a day,” said Syverson. “I got up in the morning, it gave me something to do.”
Syverson’s passion for reading is well-known to local residents through his act of building free little libraries. Since he began building them in 2016, he says he has built 18; no two are the same. In all cases but two, where Syverson gave them away as gifts, those requesting a library were encouraged to help Syverson build it.
While he doesn’t believe reading is for everybody, he finds it “very important,” for those who want to be a writer. Syverson encourages people to read because it exposes them to different ideas. He says fiction, one of his favorite genres, lets readers’ imaginations run wild and imagine anything they want to.
“I do a lot of reading, I have a complete set of 364 Readers Digest Condensed Books and 427 other books, most of which follow along with what I wrote about,” said Syverson.
Syverson encourages writers unhappy with their work to set it aside and do more reading b a variety of authors in the genre they want to pursue, nothing that there isn’t a specific formula to follow in order to make something “tick.”
“I feel successful because the end product is what i wanted it to be, if 100 people read it, that would be great, but if 12 people read it, that’s how life is,” said Syverson. “I feel successful because it’s what I accomplished and I like the finished product.”
He guesses that there are people in his local area that also have a story to tell, but may not have the time to tell it. He suggests they write the story anyway, because after they do they will be “very happy and proud” to share with others.
“There are authors out there, they are people that may even be your neighbors,” said Syverson of his connections made through writing. “It’s kind of cool.”
Schools like Kenyon-Wanamingo are known for holding several spirit weeks throughout the school year filled with dress up days and fun activities to build up excitement in celebration of events like homecoming, Winter Week or FFA Week.
Even though students and staff aren’t physically together at school, that doesn’t mean they can’t show unity by participating in school-wide spirit weeks and dressing up at their homes.
K-W staff implemented a Virtual Spirit Week from April 13-17 for kindergarten through sixth graders. Dress up days included Crazy Hair Day, Sports Day, Hat Day, Beach Day and K-W spirit Day. On Friday, students were also encouraged to participate in a “Read Like a Knight” contest by sending a photo of themselves reading in their K-W spirit wear, they could earn a free book of their choice from Scholastic Books.
On Monday — Crazy Hair Day — both students and staff brought out their wild sides with different hair colors and hairstyles decorated with objects like curled pipe cleaners and cupcake liners.
Student Madison Quam used a variety of hair clips in her crazy, styled hair with wacky ponytails, including clip styles like polka dots, flowers, feathers and glitter. Unique to Quam’s hair were two unicorn horns — one large, shiny and gold and the other small, glittery and rainbow-colored, featuring two ears.
While Sienne Carel’s hair resembled a nest with plastic Easter eggs on top and Taylor Groth’s looked like a cupcake, with cupcake liners around two small buns on both sides of her head, similar to her mom’s, Carrie Groth.
Savannah Metcalf fastened several ponytails with scrunchies in her hair and placed them in unusual places close to her forehead, while Carter Sivahop colored part of his hair red for the occasion.
Students weren’t the only ones who brought out their wacky-hair-game.Staff members also participated in the fun dress up day. Fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Blair Reynolds placed four, small pigtails in his hair, while kindergarten teacher Krista Swanson used hair clips to put her long hair in a wacky style.
Third-grade teacher Valerie Ashland also used clips and ribbons to make her short hair stick straight out.
Elementary music teacher Jan Strand joined in on the fun by taking a photo of her hair while sitting upside down. Fourth-grade teacher Jena LeTourneau put her hair inside of a plastic Coca-Cola bottle to make it seem like her hair was being poured into the plastic cup attached to the side of her head. Some other staff members used crazy-styled wigs, wacky ponytails and placed her hair around a pop can to create their masterpieces.
On Tuesday, students and staff spread their Minnesota pride far and wide by sporting their Vikings, Twins, Wild and Knights apparel to celebrate Sports Day. Some students, like the Ashland’s third-grade class, wore their favorite hat — both handmade, classic, bright and wiggly — on Wednesday, pretended they were at the beach Thursday and showed their school spirit on Friday wearing Knights apparel or colors, while reading a book.
Not everyone is on board with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's extension of the state’s stay at home order to May 4, an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Walz initially issued the order March 25, two weeks after he declared a Peacetime State of Emergency, giving him significant additional powers.
While Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the state Senate, have lamented their lack of input in Walz's decision-making process, those complaints have continued to get louder in recent days. Two southern Minnesota Republicans, Jeremy Munson and Steve Drazkowski, have even called for elimination of the governor's executive authority.
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, opposed to the extension of the order. On Twitter, Gazelka said that “we have to get on with our lives,” and said he believes the state is ready to handle any surge in hospitalizations.
Walz pushed back on that, saying that his decision is backed by the Minnesota Hospital Association, Mayo Clinic and leading medical experts. Walz said that by pushing the curve back, the state would “buy time” to increase its care capacity and improve testing methods.
Republicans have argued that according to projections from the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota, mortality projections and ICU demand would not increase if the state scraps the stay at home order in favor of social distancing and physical distancing for the most vulnerable.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, introduced a bill to that effect April 14 during the state’s special legislative session. Daudt’s bill would have also terminated the governor’s Peacetime Emergency Declaration, while leaving other Emergency Orders in place. The bill was defeated along a party line vote.
Members of the New Republican Caucus supported that idea in a Monday release,
Munson, Republican-Lake Crystal, who represents much of Waseca County, said it's time that the Legislature decides how Minnesota should respond to the coronavirus.
"This Legislature has already appropriated $519,120,000 to hospitals, medical professionals, and others to combat this disease. Now the legislature must make decisions on what sectors of the economy should be responsibly reopened. Elected officials have had enough time to examine the data and statistics surrounding COVID-19. We must use what we have learned in the preceding weeks to move forward responsibly. The time has come for the people’s house to reflect the voice of the people.”
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who represents the southern portion of Goodhue County, including Kenyon and Wanamingo, introduced an even stricter measure than Daudt, one that would have rolled back most of the governor’s executive orders, but it failed to even secure a recorded vote.
Also member of the staunchly conservative four-member New Republican Caucus, Drazkowski argued that the governor’s executive orders pose a threat to the state’s economy, to checks and balances of state government and to freedom.
“In our efforts to save lives, we are killing livelihoods,” he declared.
With an imminent end to the Stay at Home order looking unlikely, Republicans have lobbied Walz to exempt additional businesses. Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, released a statement on Tuesday in which he described the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's addition of businesses to the critical services list as a good, but inadequate, step.
“We aren’t saying flip the switch on and go back to normal tomorrow,” Jasinski said. “All we are saying is if a business has a responsible plan to operate while protecting the health of their staff and customers, let’s let them. Every day we wait puts more businesses and more workers at risk.”
While 78% of Minnesota businesses were considered “essential,” and exempted from the governor’s initial Stay at Home order, the economic impact of the orders have been calamitous for small businesses and employees alike.
Since March 16, when the governor ordered all bars, restaurants and other public places closed, more than 450,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment. That represents 14% of the state’s total workforce.
Walz’s latest Stay at Home order was notably more lenient than its predecessor in several respects. Most notably, it classified workers supporting “minimum basic operations” in all businesses as essential, even if the business itself is not essential.
Still, the governor has taken a cautious approach to reopening the economy, fearful of the kind of rapid outbreak like the one that recently occurred at a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. Smithfield closed that plant earlier this week, but not before more than 200 employees tested positive for coronavirus. That closure could affect the price of hogs significantly, as it processes roughly 5% of the nation’s pork supply.
The governor’s approach has won him support from the state’s Executive Council. Chaired by the governor, the Executive Council is composed of Minnesota’s statewide elected officials - governor, lt. governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor.
That Walz would enjoy support from the Council is hardly surprising, since the five members of the council are all currently DFLers. State Auditor Julie Blaha was quick to release a statement on the governor’s Executive order, declaring that “every key indicator points in the same direction: keep going.”
“Our most current data and updated models show Minnesota is on the right path, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said in a statement. “Model projections are trending in the right direction, but the curve is not yet bending enough to stop social distancing efforts.”
So far, there seems to be strong evidence that the state’s approach has succeeded. That's even though 1,809 confirmed cases and 87 deaths have been confirmed as of Wednesday, and limited testing capacity has obscured that as many as 130,000 Minnesotans may be infected with the virus, according to State Health Economist Stefan Gildemeister.
According to the state’s new models, Minnesota has managed to push the coronavirus peak from late spring into July. The state has also succeeded in keeping its confirmed case count well below other states of comparable size like Wisconsin and Missouri.