Rice County Habitat for Humanity will partner with several Lutheran churches later this month to follow Jesus Christ’s example in a more literal way than usual.
Perhaps just as the son of a poor carpenter would want, the group of Northfield volunteers will come together the weekend of Sept. 18 and 19 to build living space for the disadvantaged. Dubbed the 2021 Faith Build, the event will help construct a four-family “quad home” on Cotton Lane. The site had a groundbreaking ceremony in May.
Jodi Beach, community engagement coordinator for the Rice County Habitat, said Monday that the organization was able to plan five house building projects this year, an unusually high number for a time when housing costs are especially high.
That’s in part because of $115,000 put up by Thrivent, a Lutheran nonprofit finance organization, as well as financial support from churches in town, she said. By teaching future homeowners financial literacy as well as setting them up with affordable mortgages, the program empowers people and helps them cope with high prices for housing in the Northfield area, Beach said.
“A typical renter in Northfield, or even in Rice County, pays 50 percent or more of their income [for] rent,” she said. “Our mortgages are approximately 30 percent of their income, and so they’re able to save for the future and provide a stable environment for their kids.”
Beach said that all five projects are slated to be finished next year.
One doesn’t have to be Lutheran or faith-connected to volunteer for the build event, Beach said, but it is timed to coincide with an important annual tradition for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). “God’s Work. Our Hands” calls on ELCA members to go out into the community and perform acts of service. St. John’s, St. Peter’s and Bethel Lutheran churches in Northfield have all elected to use the Habitat build as a service project this year, Beach said.
Habitat for Humanity will then continue building every Saturday along with the homeowners who will eventually occupy the house, Beach said.
One of those future homeowners, Brittany Stevens, said the opportunity to live in stable housing with her 4-year-old son Lincoln was sent by God. She had been on the waitlist for a Section 8 rental assistance housing voucher for three years with no word back, she said.
“For three years, I’m praying to God to help me in some way so I could provide for Lincoln on my own … I’m not hearing anything from him, I’m not getting any kind of sign whatsoever,” she recalled. “So then I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to take matters into my own hands.’”
Stevens was in the process of applying for a two-bedroom apartment when she got word Habitat was looking for applicants, she said. It was the three years of waiting and personal growth that prompted God to meet her halfway, she said. Her son can have the sort of stability she never did.
“I grew up with my parents being divorced, so I never grew up in a permanent home setting,” Stevens said.
When the house is finished, Stevens said, she can feel safe in telling Lincoln to explore on his own and be home before the streetlights turn on.
While a state trooper issued one citation for doing 104 mph on the Rice County section of I-35, Lonsdale police clocked a driver in that city doing 96 mph during last month’s enforcement campaign.
The highest speed limit in Lonsdale: 45 mph.
In Northfield, one driver was ticketed for going 58 mph on Hwy. 3, right through the middle of town, said Police Chief Mark Elliott.
Sgt. Mark Hlady, with the Rice County’s Sheriff’s Office, called the need for speed “ridiculous.” But he’s not amused. “We’ve seen a lot of this since COVID,” he said.
“During the 2020 COVID lockdown we saw a rise, just as the State Patrol did, in higher speed citations being issued. Since the state has opened up in recent months those speeds have lessened but we are still, on occasion, seeing high speeds. As always, we ask people to call when they see high speed or reckless driving.”
Drivers, he says, seemed to think that law enforcement aren’t still patrolling the streets. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Nearly 300 Minnesota law enforcement agencies participated in the July campaign, specifically designed to help stop speed-related fatalities and serious injuries on the state’s roads. Those numbers have risen dramatically since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Participating agencies issued a total of 17,205 citations in July 2021. Compare that to July 2020, when 16,122 were issued by 323 agencies, and 2019 when 21,439 were issued by 322 agencies. The number of citations issued by the State Patrol to drivers going over 100 reportedly doubled between 2019 and 2020, from 533 to 1,068.
But the most troubling numbers are the fatalities and serious injuries caused by speeding drivers.
In the first seven months of 2021, 94 people have died on Minnesota roads due to excessive speeds, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. During that same time period in 2020, there were 66 fatalities caused by speeding. The figures were even lower in 2019 with 39 deaths the result of speeding.
There were 250 serious-injury crashes attributed to speeding between Jan. 1, 2021 — July 31, 2021, higher than any of the four years prior.
Following the speed limit/driving according to road conditions gives the driver more vehicle control, according to DPS. It also allows the driver to respond more quickly to road situations and decreases the severity of the impact during a crash.
By the numbers
Rice County deputies issued 28 speeding citations last month. Their counterparts in Faribault issued 33. The highest speed there was 80 mph in a 55 mph zone.
“Speeding is an issue within the city of Faribault, and in my experience this is unchanged from previous years,” Sgt. Mark Krenik wrote in an email.” Speeding simply puts that driver, other vehicles nearby and pedestrians at risk. Speeding is also a significant issue on state highways. I speak of this more from personal experience, away from work. Mornings especially, folks — presumably traveling to work — just have to slow down.
“Over the years, to avoid a collision on Hwy. 60, I have had to slow down, and several times I have nearly had to pull off the roadway, as there was an oncoming vehicle passing another vehicle in a no passing zone. What most (drivers) don’t understand is that speeding yields a driver very little extra time, mere seconds at best. Slowing down simply saves lives.”
Dundas Police issued two citations during the enforcement, with the highest speed being 49 mph. Kenyon officers ticketed six drivers. The highest speed there was 82. In Lonsdale there were 10. Northfield officers gave out 24 tickets, but 65 warnings.
Elliott said Northfield, too, has seen an increase in speeding, but that it’s not on the same scale as the more rural areas.
“We haven’t seen the volume, but with less traffic than normal we’re trying to stay on top of it,” he said.
The 2021 Heywood Award winner is a Northfield man who has spent most of his life making the community safer.
The Defeat of Jesse James Days organizing committee on Monday identified Ray Ozmun as the recipient of the Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award.
The award is named for the bank cashier murdered by the James-Younger gang during the famous 1876 raid commemorated each year during Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days. Heywood reportedly refused to open the bank’s vault and was subsequently shot.
Although Ozmun’s life story is less famous than the James raid, it is arguably no less exciting.
As a young man, he served in the Korean War. Upon his return stateside, he worked in construction until he joined the Northfield Police Department in hopes of a more consistent paycheck.
Ozmun told the News he was still in his three-month probationary period when a phone call interrupted his meal break late one night in the spring of 1959. Ozmun was informed there was a robbery in progress at the Eagles Club, and along with a fellow officer he headed over to intervene. The pair caught up with the robbers just as they were trying to escape the Eagles Club building, and split up to chase them. Ozmun fired a shot from his service revolver as a warning, but instead of stopping, the man he was chasing turned around and shot back at him. A brief gunfight ensued near the Northfield National Bank (not to be confused with First National Bank, targeted by the James Gang). Although nobody was hurt, the robber got away, fleeing through an alley off Division Street.
“I emptied my revolver as he was running down the sidewalk, but all I got was three cars and the door to a dentist’s office,” Ozmun recalled wryly.
Ozmun said the law eventually caught up with the fugitive, who had dropped his eyeglasses at the scene and authorities traced the glasses back to him.
Ozmun went on to serve as a volunteer firefighter. Even after leaving frontline firefighting, he continued his public safety passion as a member of the Rural Fire Board for Waterford Township for almost four decades. He has been heavily involved with both the American Legion and the Sons of the American Legion, serving as the latter’s state chair since 1979.
Jerry Anderson, another Northfield native, has known Ozmun for some 60 years after meeting him in 1968 when both were firefighters.
“Ray is a very caring person, who is willing to get involved to help others,” Anderson said. “When something is needed, he quietly steps forward. He’s terribly well connected, and he uses these connections to help better the community.”
Anderson described Ozmun as a true Northfield “townie” — a term Ozmun also applied to himself. Not only do Ozmun and his wife Mary live in the area, but so do his three children and seven grandchildren, he said.
“I was baptized and confirmed and married and graduated from high school, all in Northfield,” Ozmun said.
Bridgewater Township is taking the next step in developing what could be a new industrial park.
Township leaders have indicated that if the township is to maintain the rural character residents have said they enjoy, it needs to increase its industrial tax base. But attracting the type of businesses and industries that blend with a township like Bridgewater, while ensuring regulations aren’t too stringent require a new zoning district.
The Rice County Board of Commissioners last week agreed to hold a public hearing needed before it can consider enacting a zoning change. The hearing is set for Oct. 7 at the Rice County Government Services Building in Faribault.
Bridgewater Supervisor Glen Castore explained to the board that the request follows a series of public meetings the township held four years ago. During those sessions, he said, residents agreed that allocating land in the southwest portion of the township for industrial and commercial uses makes the most sense.
Several gravel pits are locate in that area between County roads 8 and 9, and there’s access to the railroad. In the mid 200s, developers were interested in locating an ethanol plant in the area. But after the town board in 2007 voted to take control of its planning and zoning, a move which made construction of the ethanol plant as proposed impossible.
While there are current zoning designations which allow businesses to operate in rural areas, they’re really intended for businesses in incorporated areas, said Castore.
Julie Runkel, the county’s planning director, concurred, telling the board that the current code limits structures to 35 feet, and includes architectural requirements and materials more in keeping with a city’s aesthetic.
“Really, it’s pretty minimal the changes that would happen or could happen. There’s a lot of worry that this is going to change the landscape of every township out there, Commissioner Jeff Docken said of the proposed district, adding that the county has passed on several proposed businesses because they didn’t fit into existing zoning districts. “When you look at it from an agricultural standpoint there are things we shouldn’t let go.”
That district, Rural Industrial, has few differences from districts already included in county ordinances, but would consider the rural nature of the site. Approved uses are already permitted in the county.
While the Limited Industrial district fits Bridgewater Township’s needs, Runkel advised against expanding its use. That district allows adult book stores and clubs.
“Obviously, we didn’t want to open up their township to adult uses,” she said.
There were also concerns about approving the change when the county’s involved in updating its Comprehensive Plan. Work on the update began in 2015 and has been spotty ever since. Commissioners put the project on hold last year, reasoning that it needed the ability to gather in large groups that the pandemic doesn’t permit.
Docken said the timing didn’t concern him.
“To me it’s such a small tweak,” he said.
The public hearing will be held Thursday, Oct. 7.