As a result of a string of recent thefts from four Wanamingo businesses, Goodhue County Sheriff’s deputies held a crime watch meeting for members of the community Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Sheriff’s Capt. Josh Hanson and Community Engagement Deputy Jen Hofschulte went over county crime statistics, gave residents some tips on how to prevent crime and provided information on future programs to aid in theft investigation and prevention.
Wanamingo Mayor Ryan Holmes and City Administrator Michael Boulton also joined Hanson and Hofschulte to provide input on specific events, while local residents gathered at a social distance in the Community Center.
At the meeting, Holmes said Wanamingo has had a working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office for many years when a community work group was implemented. The group started off meeting biannually, then switched to annual meetings and eventually to not too often, something Holmes said is a good sign as there wasn’t a lot of things happening in town. Considering the recent thefts, with a majority in the business areas uptown, Holmes said the city is trying to keep an eye on where thefts are happening and how to keep an eye on them.
“We respect everything you do, and understand you’re here to help us out, “We want to work together as a partner in this to try and keep our community safe” said Holmes.
Although this year has brought a lot of challenges, Hanson says one positive thing to focus on is the Sheriff’s Office’s newest position filled by Hofschulte, meant to be strengthened with partnerships in the community. Wanamingo is the target site at the moment, but the department plans to expand it into the rest of the county.
Through Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 13, 2019, Hofschulte says there were 16 thefts. This year there were 12, half of which were gas drive-offs. While there isn’t that much of a difference, the number of suspicious activity calls doubled from 32 to 60.
“That’s huge, it gets us into town to have a presence,” said Hofschulte of the importance of calling in suspicious activity. “If you’re seeing something you think isn’t right, don’t be afraid to call it in.”
Hanson, who has covered multiple night shifts in Wanamingo for about five years, said while they are in town each day for 6 hours minimum it’s easy for criminals to hide out of sight after seeing law enforcement. That’s when they rely on community partnership to call in suspicious activity. Hanson also encouraged residents not to make themselves a victim by locking windows and putting valuable items away.
“The fact is if you don’t make it easy for them, you won’t be a victim,” said Hanson.
Since some of the thefts occurred during daylight hours, Hanson stressed the importance of locking doors and windows during the day time as a precaution.
“Criminals don’t just come out at night,” added Hanson.
Suspicious behavior and crime prevention tips
Based on crime prevention tips from Minnesota Crime Prevention Association, Hofschulte encouraged the following home security tip:
• Make sure house numbers are easy to find, as they can save police officers, fire fighters and paramedics valuable time in an emergency
• Avoid putting names on houses, especially with social media in mind, it’s not hard to find people on Facebook
• Allow activity to be seen in your yard with a chain link fence instead of a privacy fence, since burglars prey on privacy
• Trim trees and shrubbery 6 inches below windows and at least 3 feet away from doors. Shrubbery such as rose bushes or other thorny varieties serve as a good deterrent to window peepers
• Use small landscape rock (smaller than golf ball size) instead of large rock, since large rocks can be used to damage property. Smaller rock is both decorative and if someone walks on them, a person will be heard more easily
• Install long screws in all bolts on doors, replacing those that come in with the package
• Implement motion detector lights, dusk to dawn lighting, landscape lighting (be sure not to shine light on trees that cast shadows where burglars can hide), use light timers in rooms such as the bedroom and/or bathroom to make the home look occupied and put a radio or TV talk station on to give the appearance a conversation is being carried on and someone is home. The perception of someone being home greatly reduces the possibility of a burglary
• Install security systems and/or camera in homes
Hanson adds that looking out for each other is especially valuable, something he feels is already ingrained in small communities.
Hofschulte defines suspicious behavior as a set of circumstances (not a person), a person’s actions or conduct that do not fit the day-to-day activities of specific neighborhoods.For example seeing a person a walking down the street a local resident may not recognize isn’t suspicious, but seeing someone going to and coming from the rear side of a residence, looking in vehicles, mailboxes or windows, hearing strange sounds, seeing an unknown vehicle repeatedly circle the area, or someone running in a manor not classified as exercise is. If something out of the norm is happening long enough to make someone question whether or not they should call, Hofschulte says they should probably call law enforcement.
When calling something in, Hofschulte urges residents to provide as much details as possible and to call right away while the details are fresh, as opposed to well after the details are forgotten. She also recommends residents capture video or photos of license plates or unique descriptions, as long as doing so doesn’t put them in danger.
“Provide as much information about what behavior/circumstances you observed, the description, where you saw them and the direction they were headed,” said Hofschulte. “I can’t stress this enough, call right away. Don’t wait.”
Despite ending sales and publications of Community Calendars after 29 years, Kenyon Lions Club plans to stay active in the community in a number of ways.
Kenyon Lions Club President Richard Ellingsberg said the new approach includes continuing to collect glasses and hearing aids in the Post Office lobby and assisting organizations in need of funding, as well as operating the Brat Wagon during Rose Fest, taking part in the annual soup lunch, and conducting other tasks.
Ellingsberg said the Lions Club is discontinuing its main fundraiser due to an inadequate number of sales staff. The support from loyal purchasers of the calendars over the years, including the 50 businesses, churches and clubs who provided ads has helped provide funds to support 15 programs to assist people and organizations in need of funding, Ellingsberg said.
Kenyon Lions Club Treasurer Jim Fountaine, who joined in 1974, said the club doesn’t have the manpower it needs to keep the publications going.
“People have retired and some aren’t here year-round,” Fountaine said of the club’s membership. “When I joined we had about 80 members, and gradually through the years it got smaller and smaller. At one point it got down to 15, then we had a bit of a revival and got up to 30.”
Locally, the Kenyon Lions also co-sponsors the Peace Poster contest for seventh graders each fall, provides dictionaries to fourth graders, scholarships for seniors, funding for the Rose Fest parade, help with funding for school trips and after-prom activities as well as local projects with the Wanamingo Lions.
Ellingsberg said once the Kenyon and Wanamingo schools merged, the two Lions Clubs began working together on various projects. Some other support services the club provides organizations with are pillow cleaning, diabetes and blood pressure testing, eyeglass collection and processing for use in underdeveloped countries, and highway cleanup.
The club also has four sight machines available for those with vision problems to lease. Fountaine said one is currently available.
Serving locally and internationally
The Kenyon Lions Club is a member of Lions International, an organization with goals to preserve sight and hearing. Formed in 1917, Lions was challenged by Helen Keller to be “Knights of the blind.”
Since that time, a Kenyon Lions informational brochure states the organization has recognized that diabetes is a major cause of blindness in the world, and has added diabetes education and research as national projects. Lions clubs throughout the world are organized into districts by country, and other geographical considerations. The Kenyon Lions Club is a part of a larger governing body called Multiple District 5M-1. There are 12 other districts in Multiple District 5M, which includes all of the state of Minnesota, Manitoba and the western part of Ontario in Canada.
Some global causes the local club takes part in includes serving to reduce the prevalence of diabetes and improve quality of life for those diagnosed, helping to prevent avoidable blindness, improving the quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired, serving to ensure all community members have access to nutritious food, and more.
“There are about 15 programs we support on a worldwide basis, so there’s a broad range of things we do,” Ellingsberg said.
Serving as a Lions Club member provides participants with chances to make changes in the world through funding programs that pioneer hearing tests for babies, diabetes testing and starting a sight-first program in 1990 where a building (Lions Eye Bank) was constructed to perform eye disease research at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.
Each year, the club donates approximately $2,500 to various causes including eyeglasses for young local students, camperships to Camp Winnebago, a camp for handicapped children and adults, Lions Hearing Foundation, Lions Clubs International Foundation, funding for any emergency situation, Leader Dog School, where dogs are trained to serve as guides for blind individuals; Close Up Foundation, Minnesota Special Olympics, and many other local causes.
For years, Fountaine said the club has partnered with K-W NHS members and helped them stay involved in the community. Although some conflicts with sports haven’t allowed members to help at some events, without them, Fountaine said they wouldn’t have ever been able to stay active.
To continue doing more in the local community and beyond, Ellingsberg said the Lions Club needs new members. To become a member, there are no restrictions, and both men and women can become part of the club.
“If people are interested, we’d still take new members to help us continue what we have going,” Fountaine said.
Despite the ever-changing guidelines and COVID-19 case rates, one thing that remains constant at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools is keeping students safe while they are back at school.
Many districts have created a COVID-19 coordinator position to stay on top of what the guidelines are. At Kenyon-Wanamingo School District, the one-year position has been filled by Amy Belcher, who is also the Community Education Director.
Belcher says the district set up a committee with representatives from each school, as well as social workers to represent families and the school nurse to provide a health perspective.
“We look at how things are going, see if there are any challenges from staff/families and address them to make things easier for them,” said Belcher of the committee. “We also get (families) information they need so they are aware of the guidelines. It’s a resource for both the community and staff to understand how this process works.
We’re trying to make everyone safe, and stay in school and enjoy as much activities as they can.”
The committee meets each week, but Belcher says they communicate with each other daily.
The district, currently operating in a hybrid model (in-person for PreK-6 and half distance learning and half in-person learning for 7-12), is not required to use that model. Belcher says it’s the one the district chose due to the rising number of cases in the county.
“We are being very cautious and our main goal is to keep kids in school and keep them safe,” said Belcher. “The more we can do as a community to keep the spread down the better off we’ll be.”
School nurse Sara Dahling adds operating in the hybrid model helps promote a safe environment by allowing staff to better social distance and limits possible exposures so in-school learning continues for a longer period of time. She says K-W is working together as a team with administration which includes Dahling, Superintendent Bryan Boysen, High School Principal Matt Ryan, Building and Grounds Supervisor Paul Clausen, Athletic Director Randy Hockinson and Belcher implementing a safe learning plan.
“It’s working really well, everyone is providing input from their specialty to reach the best possible outcomes for students — to learn and remain healthy,” added Dahling.
Some of Dahling’s added duties include monitoring absences, contacting families and tracking illnesses and exclusion, according to guidelines from Minnesota Department of Health. Exclusion for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 is: out of school for at least 10 days from time symptoms started until symptoms improve and no fever for 24 hours. Siblings are excluded for 14 days, unless there is a doctor’s note that states an alternate health diagnosis or the ill student tested negative for COVID-19.
“I am also providing guidance to the district and teachers about how to minimize close contact exposures by applying mitigation strategies — such as social distancing, classroom set up, cafeteria guidance, hand washing, handling ill students at school and will handle confirmed cases with the help of Goodhue County Public Health and MDH,” said Dahling.
Screening for symptoms
At the high school, the training rooms were restructured to serve as quarantine rooms for students showing symptoms since they are close to the front door, easier to access and provide a larger area with smaller rooms so students can isolate, but still be supervised. There’s a similar setup in the elementary school, with a slight change of names from the “quarantine room” to the “enchanted forest,” to make it less scary for younger students.
“We try to move kids out as quickly as possible and limit contact with other people,” said Belcher.
As county public health officials indicate COVID cases in the county are rising, Dahling stresses how important it is for parents to continuing screening their children for symptoms before sending them to school, youth programs or childcare and notifying the school if symptoms are present. Household contacts also need to stay home if someone in the home has symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Inside the classroom, teachers keep track of where students sit each day with a seating chart and in the lunchroom each student fills out a piece of paper that indicates where they sat for lunch that day. Both serve as precautionary measures for contact tracing if one student tests positive, other students they were around could be found in a timely manner.
Belcher says all health issues (including students with COVID-19 symptoms) are directed straight to the nurse for data privacy reasons, as Dahling already has their information. From there, the Minnesota Department of Health works with the district and tells them who needs to be excluded. There are also procedures in place for students who are being sent home for showing symptoms that allow them to receive necessary materials to continue learning while quarantined at home.
Additional disinfecting and sanitizing procedures take place throughout the day by both staff and custodians. Belcher says all teachers have access to disinfectant and sanitizer spray bottles to wipe down all desks between each period, and custodians come through the school continually to wipe down high touch areas, such as railings and bathrooms. To avoid congestion in bathrooms, Belcher says students are dismissed in a staggered approach, as opposed to all at once. Anything communal such as drinking fountains and vending machines are not available, however the various water bottle fillers still are.
Food is not allowed in the classrooms since students have to take their masks off to eat food in classrooms. That includes birthday treats students typically bring in to share with others. As an alternative, they are trying to think of other ways to celebrate birthdays in schools. Due to guidelines, Belcher says there are also no visitors allowed in the buildings, only those considered essential.
“It’s tough and it’s hard to not have parents/volunteers coming in to read to classrooms,” said Belcher. “We value our volunteers, so we’re trying to find a different way for them to help out while keeping everyone safe and limiting exposure … it’s not our choice, it’s what we were given to work with.”
Overall, Belcher says students are doing a great job complying with guidelines.
“I think everyone realizes we are trying to get through this together and do this the best we can,” said Belcher.
A Wanamingo motorcyclist killed Saturday afternoon in a crash in Wabasha County, was one of six weekend fatalities. Two of them were motorcyclists, one was a pedestrian, three were motor vehicle occupants.
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, Kevin Louis Vandewalker, 61, was driving his 1999 Harley Davidson westbound on Hwy. 60 when it lost control around 287th Avenue and left the roadway.
Vandewalker was declared dead at the scene.
Assisting the State Patrol was the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office.
The number of motorcycle fatalities is high this year compared to past years with 42 rider deaths, according to preliminary reports from the state Department of Public Safety. At this time last year, there were 31 rider deaths. August through fall is prime riding time for many Minnesota motorcyclists.
In total, 285 people have lost their lives on Minnesota roads so far in 2020, compared with 263 this time last year.
“The number of people dying on our roads is alarming and gets scarier each day,” said Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director.
Bill Shaffer, Motorcycle Safety Program coordinator, had advice for motorcyclists: “We want (them) to enjoy their fall rides and make it home safely every single time they ride. The majority of fatal motorcycle crashes this season involved only the motorcycle. In crashes involving another vehicle, failure to yield the motorcycle’s right of way continues to be the leading contributing factor every year.
These serious and deadly crashes are preventable. It’s up to riders and other drivers to work together to make sure everyone makes it home safely.”
DPS offered these tips to help ensure safe roads for motorcyclists:
• Wear all the gear all the time. Motorcyclists should wear a DOT-approved helmet and brightly colored protective gear for visibility and protection.
• Never assume another driver sees you. Be prepared for inattentive drivers by staying focused on riding, keeping your speed in check and maintaining a two-second following distance.
• Don’t drink and ride. Every year about one-third of all motorcycle fatalities involved impaired riders.
• Always look twice before entering a roadway, turning left or changing lanes. Turn your head to check blind spots. Due to the smaller size of motorcycles, their speed and distance is more difficult to judge.
• Give riders room to ride by maintaining the proper following distance.
• Pay attention and drive at safe speeds.