Gov. Tim Walz issued a statewide proclamation marking Feb. 26 as School Bus Driver Appreciation Day to recognize the “worthy professionals” for their work.
After Lorin Pohlman of Held Bus Services, submitted similar proclamations to the city of Wanamingo and Kenyon, the local areas will also acknowledge that day. A proclamation was also submitted to the Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board, which will act on the proclamation at its Monday meeting.
To acknowledge the bus driver shortage school districts in the state are facing, the Minnesota School Bus Operator Association set out to identify drivers coming from a unique background. After the MSBOA reached out to Held Bus Service, Pohlman identified and interviewed two of Held’s drivers, one who was Dave Hellstern.
Hellstern will be recognized at the School Bus Driver Appreciation Day press conference Feb. 26. MSBOA officials felt his emotion-driven story was compelling.
They also selected a young man from Detroit Lakes, who represents the other end of the spectrum. MSBOA officials say that Hellstern will have two to three minutes to talk about his career, what he likes about it, why he does it and why it’s a good career, mainly focusing on something encouraging that will inspire others to be school bus drivers at the press conference.
Hellstern says he still can’t quite figure out what to think of his recognition of an “extraordinary Minnesota bus driver.”
A ‘low stress load’
After 46 years of working in healthcare, Hellstern says he was ready to retire. Although he retired in spring 2018, his plans soon changed. Hellstern says that he ran into one of his wife’s classmates, who jokingly told him that he had no business spending all his extra time alone doing yard work. That’s when his friend recommended that Hellstern drive a van, part-time, for Held Bus Service.
When Hellstern went in to talk to Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, Held admitted that he really needed another bus driver. Even though Hellstern wasn’t planning on becoming a bus driver, he began going through the process of getting the license/permits required to be a bus driver, while driving one of the vans on a part-time basis.
He drives an early morning route with the van, along with an afternoon bus route on a daily basis. Hellstern enjoys being able to receive the opportunity to give back to the community, something he wasn’t able to achieve with his demanding career. He also finds connections to the industry in other ways, since he rode a bus every day to school until he graduated high school and always appreciated his drivers. Hellstern also recalls joking around with his father-in-law, who was known to take on several part-time jobs, to save him a part-time job driving buses when he retires.
“It’s been fun, it’s very part-time,” said Hellstern. “I enjoy the camaraderie of the group, and being the rookie. There’s no end of resources”
Along with the camaraderie, Hellstern is thankful for the group of students who ride his bus, adding that he’s even learned the names of some of the students’ dogs. Getting to spend more time enjoying nature is another favorite of Hellstern’s, since it allows him to receive an inside look on wildlife through seeing animals like deer, turkeys and pheasants roaming the woods and fields of the rural area.
Pohlman writes in Hellstern’s story submitted to the MSBOA, “Dave’s faith is strong, and he describes being a school bus driver [as] ‘living out [his] gratefulness for [his] bus driver as a rider, many years back.’ I guess what goes around, comes around!”
Misconceptions among the industry
Hellstern says the shortage of bus drivers may lie in the perception that driving a school bus is more difficult and challenging than it actually is. In reality, Hellstern says by the time kids get to high school, they are either driving themselves to school or riding with an older sibling. There are moments when young people have to be young people, but the negative perception isn’t necessarily how it goes.
“I am pleased with and encouraged by having a bus full of kids [on the activity bus], no matter the sport,” said Hellstern. “Seeing the number of young people balancing academics with sports … it’s fun seeing them interacting on the bus … instead of watching them play games inside the gym or reading about them in the paper … I get a backseat look of the entire picture.”
To encourage others to be school bus drivers, Hellstern notes that there is a great amount of flexibility, especially for part-time drivers. It’s not like working at a convenience store, where your shift is your shift, no matter what. He says it doesn’t take much time, and depending on the route, it is typically a 90-minute spurt, with the exception of activity shuttles after school which may run a little longer.
“It’s a nice job that doesn’t have to take up your entire day,” said Hellstern.
A Nerstrand woman described the benefits of local farmers markets and called on Congress to make them easier to operate during testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.
Kathy Zeman, an occasional vendor at Riverwalk Market Fair, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers Market Association and organic livestock farmer, was in Washington, D.C. Feb. 11, at the invitation of a subcommittee to the U.S. House Committee of Agriculture to testify about the value of local farmers markets and how the federal government can enable them to grow.
Zeman said the U.S. House Agirculture’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research placed a call to various groups. The National Farmers Union reached out to the Minnesota Farmers Union, who asked Zeman.
Zeman noted the number of farmers markets in Minnesota has significantly increased, from 15 in 1998 to 302 now. She said in the wake of that growth, the federal government needs to strategically invest in local food development. She cited statistics showing farmers gain a far more significant portion of the profit from farmers markets than in stores. She said farmers markets are immune to tariffs and trade, two issues that have impacted retail stores.
She listed the goals of the Minnesota Farmers Market Associaiton, an organization seeking to increase the presence of farmers markets.
She noted data taken from 11,200 market visitors showed farmers market organizers need more data and research on local food systems.
“If we understand our market better, they can better grow the local food system,” Zeman said. She added that she was grateful Congress obligated permanent Local Agriculture Marketing Program funding in 2018.
Some challenges Zeman mentioned include a formidable grant application process local food markets face, and she requested Congress think of applicants living in rural areas who don’t have access to broadband. She suggested funding for local food markets that would allow them to utilize professional grant writers to make the application process easier.
“It works good for people who have resources,” Zeman said. “What about the people who don’t?”
“What I’ve seen in my experience, it takes a savvy person to get these applications through the door.”
She said farmers markets need more processing grants, community kitchens and other amenities. Zeman noted vendors are frequently customers as well.
She requested Congress simplify the payment process at farmers markets as the system becomes more challenging for vendors due to the growing number of available payment programs, both public and private.
Area residents brought concerns about long-standing drainage issues near the proposed Kenyon Business Park site and worries that additional development will worsen the problem to the Feb. 12 Kenyon City Council meeting.
The Planning Commission last month recommended that the council approve the preliminary and final plat of the 30-acre business park. A public hearing was also held at that meeting in which area residents who live downstream from the project — adjacent to County Road 12 — expressed concerns over the drainage of the project.
Engineer/Project Manager Derek Olinger said that the projected business park site consists of a rural drainage system comprised of roadside ditches and driveway culverts, where many are undersized and missing, leaving the system easily overwhelmed from relatively small rainfall events, temporarily flooding ditches and yards. The proposed project, he says, will include drainage improvements, designed to reduce runoff rates and direct it away from the north side of County Road 12. It will also include a storm retention pond.
City Engineer Joe Rhein, during the Feb. 12 City Council meeting, said that the basic rule of projects like the business park, is that the conditions have to be better than they were before, through the course of development. The pond will be able to handle water coming to it with a new system of pipes installed in the pond and discharge it at a controlled rate.
Storm water from the pond, Rhein said, will run through a new pipe under County Road 12, which will discharge to an existing drainage easement to the south of County Road 12, redirecting up to 100% of the runoff from the business park away from homes along the north side of County Road 12.
Rhein and Olinger have been working with Goodhue County to review the proposed project. Although drainage permits have not yet been approved by the county, they believe that the proposal will exceed design standards.
The source of all runoff to the ditch north of County Road 12, also includes several areas outside the proposed development. But because they’re unrelated to the proposed development site they cannot be addressed within the project. According to City Administrator Mark Vahlsing, adding to the project’s scope now would cause the city to lose half of the funding since it wouldn’t meet the timetable set up with the state.
And while he agrees that the drainage issues need to be addressed, he feels it would be best to look at County Road 12 separately.
Resident Russell Foss expressed his concerns to the council, especially with the drainage plans that utilize the county easement across his mother’s property. In the past, he has asked the county to abandon the easement. Engineer Rhein has said that the area of drainage easement is a the natural way for water to flow and that abandoning/altering the drainage way may create issues beyond that area.
Goodhue County Commissioner Barney Nesseth also expressed his concerns with the business park, saying there have been water issues in that area of County Road 12 for 20 years, issues that he would like to see resolved. And, he said, everyone dropped the ball: the city with the addition of houses and the county with the addition of driveways.
“I’d just like to see these problems be solved,” said Nesseth. “I’m not trying to put a stop to the business park … and I understand it’s out of the scope of the project … if it doesn’t get addressed now, who knows when it will be? Out of sight, out of mind.”
At a Feb. 3 follow-up meeting, Goodhue County Engineer/Public Works Director Greg Isaakson said the proposed business park drainage plan will take most of the water that flows to the west and impacts residents along County 12 away from that area, and that he’d like to see how the drainage improves after the business park is completed project before discussing future upgrades.
Councilor Dan Rechtzigel says he would like to see there being a good faith effort to fix the issues the right way, adding that it’s important to plan it out correctly.
“We don’t [want to] force it,” said Rechtzigel. “We want it done right.”
On Feb. 13, city staff met with county staff to address the drainage issues and figure out a plan to work on together.
GOODHUE — Roger Kittelson pledges to put agricultural know-how and other life experiences to work for Minnesota Senate District 21 residents.
The rural Goodhue resident announced his candidacy Monday. Describing himself as an Independent Democrat, he said he has spoken with both parties about his candidacy and goals. Those include legislation to take financial and administrative control of health care funding by introducing a Minnesota Health Care Cooperative.
“This cooperative would be owned and operated by Minnesota residents, just like an agriculture cooperative, credit union or public school,” he said. “Every Minnesota resident would be included, every Minnesota resident would fund it, and every Minnesota resident would benefit, without the profit motives of business interests outside of the cooperative and interference between a patient and doctor.”
The father of four children and grandfather of three said he’s seen and heard what happens when a doctor wants to prescribe a certain medication — to treat asthma, example — yet doesn’t go with what might be considered a best option for a patient because the doctor must contact the insurance company for permission.
“They don’t want to waste the time because they know the insurance company will say no,” he said.
Kittelson said he intends to focus on education and transportation in addition to health care because collectively they are the most expensive parts of state and county budgets.
Kittelson said his professional and personal backgrounds are well suited for representing Senate District 21. He grew up on his family’s small dairy farm and lives there today.
A Goodhue graduate, he earned a double-major in agricultural economics and political science at the University of Minnesota and later a Master’s of Science Degree in technical communications with emphasis in economics and statistics. During his tenure at the U of M, he served three internships — two at the Minnesota Capitol and one in Washington, D.C.
He spent 35 years in agriculture business: 24 years as a dairy food and feed sales manager, nine years with the USDA-Dairy Division, and two years in rural banking.
Currently, he is a substitute teacher and school bus driver for Goodhue and Zumbrota-Mazeppa schools.
District 21 includes all of Wabasha County, Goodhue County except Warsaw and Stanton townships, Winona County townships of St. Charles, Elba, Whitewater, Mount Vernon, Norton, and Rollingstone, plus Concord Township in Dodge County.
Mike Goggin, a Republican from Red Wing, holds the seat.