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Hillsdale senior guard Grace Touchette drives toward the basket in a game against Ohio Dominican. Touchette — a Northfield High School graduate — is leading the Chargers with 17.6 points a game this season. (Isabella Sheehan/Hillsdale College)

YEAR IN REVIEW: The biggest Northfield/Dundas stories in 2021
  • Updated

A lot has happened in the last year in Northfield; some good, some bad, sometimes predictable, but often unexpected. On balance, the top events last year were unusually interesting, often noteworthy and never boring.

Here are the top news topics of 2021 in Northfield.

1. Kraewood development causes a stir

A controversial residential development earned the first in a series of anticipated approvals over the objections of dozens of Northfield residents who implored the City Council to delay, reconsider or modify the proposal.

The council, during its Oct. 19 meeting, voted 5-1 to authorize a preliminary plat for the Kraewood development just south of Greenvale Park Elementary School that all but two commenters said would increase traffic on an already unsafe stretch of road, imperil an endangered bumble bee, unnecessarily remove trees needed to help fight climate change, and trap low-income residents in a cycle of poverty. Councilor George Zuccolotto was opposed. Councilor Brad Ness was absent.

According to documents submitted to the city, the development will sit on 12 acres of a former Christmas tree farm, stretching from Lincoln Parkway to Greenvale Avenue. On the north, plans call for a 100-unit apartment building. South of that would be 22 single-family homes, two twin homes and a four-plex. Forty apartments will be for residents making 60% of the area’s median income.

The Kraewood development preliminary plat that was approved by the Northfield City Council Oct. 19. (Graphic courtesy of city of Northfield)

Much of the discussion, council members said was for naught. Because the development is privately owned, the city has little control over what’s located on the site other than to ensure it meets city land and zoning laws.

The entire property is zoned neighborhood residential, a designation that allows single- and multi-family units, including apartment buildings with nine or more units.

“While it is wonderful to hear the creative and imaginative ideas for other things that our community might do with a 12-acre parcel of land, that is actually not the question before us,” said Council Jessica Peterson White. “The question before us is a private real estate transaction between local parties that wish to build something, and the thing they wish to build is something our community very much needs.”

A 2021 housing study found Northfield has a vacancy rate of less than one half of 1% and that there is an “enormous” need for affordable housing.

Council Jami Reister built on Peterson White’s comments, saying “I’m sure all of us could design something we like better … but what we’re asked to do is to be sure that this project has been really thoroughly vetted by our Planning Commission and meets the requirements it needs to meet. And it does.”

The Planning Commission in August voted 6-1 to recommend the preliminary plat. While the commission discussed the additional traffic the development would add to Lincoln Parkway, the consensus was that this was a problem the city allowed to happen and one it needs to solve. The commission also batted down concerns over the rusty patched bumble bee, a federally endangered species, finding no concrete evidence that it makes its home on the site despite multiple sightings in the general area.

2. Archer House fate

The front-center portion of the historic Archer House River Inn’s portico collapsed in May.

(File photo/

The collapse came approximately six months after the devastating Nov. 12 fire that appears to have destroyed the building. The other portions of the building remained upright.

Owners had expressed concern that a months-long insurance process was worsening water damage in the building following the fire and possibly endangering the chances of salvaging the historic and beloved structure.

Brett Reese, managing principal and chairman of the Rebound Enterprises LLC Board, which owns the building, said that they hoped to learn of the building’s fate earlier in the year. However, the board originally hoped to learn of that decision by the end of December before that timeline shifted to March. Word never came from the insurance company, Auto Owners Firm. Reese attributed the delays to the relatively large scope of the project and the significant loss incurred.

The iconic building, built along the east bank of the Cannon River, sustained heavy smoke and water damage throughout the structure during the Nov. 12, 2020 fire, reportedly caused by a hood over the smoker at one of the Inn’s restaurants, Smoqehouse. Fire crews reportedly used more than 2 million gallons of water to combat the blaze over the course of nearly 24 hours. Some places, especially the first-floor Smoqehouse and the four levels directly above it, were completely damaged. In other spots, the damage wasn’t as extensive. It initially appeared to be a total loss.

The council voted unanimously on Dec. 7 to deem the Archer House structurally substandard, a necessary procedure before demolition can take place. The action also makes the parcel eligible for tax increment financing (TIF) as a redevelopment district, so new plans with a participating developer — in this case, Rebound Enterprises — can be drafted, though no timeline has yet been provided by the developer.

Demolition was expected to be complete by the end of Janaury.

Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said that when the building eventually goes down, it’s going to be a “painful process” for residents, so she was looking for a silver lining — namely, that the new development might be subject to the city’s new sustainable building policy and would end up being a more environmentally-friendly building than the Archer House was. Martig said the cost of the development would “most likely” push it past the threshold at which the sustainable building policy, which would establish minimum sustainability criteria that go beyond existing state code, would kick in.

Rebound’s Scott Koester emphasized Rebound Real Estate would be sensitive to Northfield’s historic character and would come back with “a ‘wow’ building” replacing the Archer House.

“I like that, ‘Wow’ building,” Mayor Rhonda Pownell replied. “I’m gonna hold you to that, Mr. Koester.”

3. Froggy Bottoms saga

Froggy Bottoms has reopened after a complicated saga with its former owners. (Photo courtesy city of Northfield)

The former owners of Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville, who also owned Froggy Bottoms in Northfield, faced new allegations in Dakota County civil court that they used the Limited Liability Company’s bank account for personal expenses, driving the account balance to zero in less than four months.

A lawsuit was filed against Alibi Dec. 17 for violating Executive Order 20-99, which prohibited indoor food and beverage service, as the Lakeville bar and restaurant openly defied the Nov. 18, 2020, to Jan. 10, 2021, order by opening for indoor service for 14 days between Dec. 16, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021.

During the course of the court’s discovery, the state in July obtained financial records for Lionheart LLC, which Lisa Zarza and Ricardo Baldazo initially attempted to conceal by providing “heavily redacted” bank statements. Zarza is also a former owner of Alibi at Froggy Bottoms in Northfield. That eatery closed shortly after the Northfield City Council denied Zarza a liquor license in April.

The council agreed with Police Chief Mark Elliott who recommended not renewing the license based on Zarza’s noncompliance with the governor’s order and because of the then-preliminary suspension of her Lakeville liquor license.

With the help of third parties, the state found that the Lionheart’s bank account was overdrawn as owners Zarza and Baldazo allegedly dispersed $177,944 from mid-December 2020 to March 2021 for personal expenses, such as for jewelry, cosmetic surgery, airline tickets and motorcycle rental, along with making cash payments to themselves.

For the insolvency of the company, the state said Zarza and Baldazo breached their fiduciary duty and had an obligation to preserve assets for any creditor, which included the state of Minnesota.

In voting for the denial, council members also factored in the felony charges filed against Baldazo in September 2020 with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault after shooting several gun shots at Burnsville police officers in a Sept. 2 incident.

Froggy Bottoms has since reopened under new management.

4. Northfield Public Schools drops Raider mascot

The Northfield Raiders mascot, depicted here, faced scrutiny from students and officials who viewed the mascot as racially insensitive based on its caricature of Asians. The mascot was dropped and has not been replaced. (Photo courtesy of Northfield Public Schools)

After reviewing several options to replace a mascot logo considered racially insensitive, the Northfield School Board has banned the use of the image and rejected options depicting the school’s Raider mascot.

The board’s decision came after it considered several replacement mascot logos.

The plan instead utilized Northfield’s well-known “N” symbol and continue to feature the school’s maroon and yellow colors. In December 2020, community members submitted ideas for the new logo. A committee of 14 reviewing potential replacement logos received 20 submissions, reportedly ranging from original artwork to trademarked logos. Neuger Communications then created three proposed logos. The change does not disqualify the School Board from adopting a new mascot logo in the future if it opts to do so.

The replacement options included various images of a person in a cowboy hat. In proposing none of the proposed images be used, School Board Chair Julie Pritchard said any new mascot logo would still depict an outlaw “despite our best intentions.” Pritchard noted that several NFL teams don’t have mascots. To her, the letter N “is a strong logo.”

She said changing the actual Raiders name would be “controversial,” adding she believes the Raiders name transcends its historical context and helps Northfield students and alumni forge connections.

Since its introduction in 1956, the former Raiders logo has been controversial. Between its connection to violence in the image of the sword and the racial ties with the image’s Asian-appearing features, concerns over its appearance have been brought to the school and its administrators.

The replacement process began after Nicky Osterman, representing the Northfield High School Student Council, told the School Board in February 2020 that he had spoken with NHS Athletic Director Joel Olson about the current mascot and how it doesn’t represent the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 robbery of First National Bank.

5. Murder in rural Northfield and teen arrested for park shooting

Owatonna police investigated a shooting that took place at Dartts Park in July. No victims or suspects have yet been identified. (File photo/

A Cannon Falls teen charged as the second shooter in the July 18 Dartts Park shooting reportedly told police he fired an assault rifle toward the victims after they stole marijuana from him and a friend.

Anthony James Williams, 17, was charged July 28 by juvenile petition, equivalent to charges in adult court. Charges included drive by shooting, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and reckless discharge of a firearm within city limits or a park zone, all felonies. Identical charges were filed last month against Zachary Ryan Schultz, 18, of Northfield.

According to the report, the Owatonna driver who told police the incident was a “robbery gone wrong” after he went to the park with a 17-year-old to purchase marijuana from a man identified as Schultz. At the park, he said the “marijuana they were trying to sell was junk,” and that as they were leaving they saw Schultz allegedly lift a handgun up to his car window.

A search of Schultz’s vehicle revealed a 0.22 round believed to be a misfire, six 9 mm casing, and one 0.22 casing inside the vehicle, according to court documents. During a July 23 interview with Owatonna Police investigators, Schultz allegedly admitted to coming to Owatonna for a potential marijuana deal and firing a 0.22 pistol at another vehicle fleeing the park. Schultz said the occupants of the other vehicle stole a bag of marijuana from him and that he allegedly shot at them with his eyes closed, making him uncertain as to where he was aiming.

Though continued investigation of this incident, detectives spoke with an associated juvenile — identified as Williams — on July 26, according to the report. On July 27, Williams provided a statement in which he allegedly admitted to accompanying Schultz to Dartts Park and bringing a borrowed assault rifle, which he then fired toward the victims’ vehicle after they were “robbed of a large amount of marijuana.”

Isenor said it is difficult to know a timeline on Williams’ case as they try to move it to adult court.

“It will likely be several months before there is a decision,” she said. “The law assumed child certification in this case and the Steele County Attorney’s Office believes that adult court is appropriate given the high risk to the public posed by the juvenile’s conduct.”

6. New ice cream shop and Mexican restaurant open in downtown

The Blast Soft Serve opened April 27 in Northfield. Owner Alex Morgan said Northfield was an attractive place for an ice cream shop because of the community’s good reputation and lack of such an operation. (File photo/

A new ice cream shop in downtown Northfield is bringing a wealth of flavors to the community while attracting more visitors to the city’s Riverwalk.

The Blast Soft Serve opened April 27 at 300 Division St. The business sells cones, flurries, sundaes, slushies, banana splits, Fro yo, Dole whip, along with malts and shakes.

Owner Alex Morgan, 29, who has co-owned Blast Soft Serve in Owatonna with her husband Tyler, 30, for the last seven years, said opening in Northfield was an attractive proposition. One impetus she felt stemmed from her days visiting a similar operation in downtown Decorah, Iowa, while she was in college.

“You’ve gotta love Northfield,” she said. “That’s the location you can’t beat. And we just felt like, something that Northfield maybe was missing was a mom-and-pop ice cream shop.”

Morgan frequently sees families with young kids. Customers will take their ice cream and sit near the river to eat it. Morgan said getting into the ice cream business was based on a shared interest the couple had along with the good times they envisioned doing so would bring to customers and employees.

“We love ice cream so much,” she said.

The restaurant includes in-person dining options. (File photo /

Coco’s Place opened May 22 at 306 Division St. S., the former site of Kahlo restaurant. Coco’s Place sells an assortment of marinated Mexican food and special recipes, including tacos, burritos, chicharrones, quesadillas and pambazos, a bread dipped and fried in a red guajillo pepper sauce.

Al Martinez, who is from Veracruz, Mexico, said he opened the restaurant because Northfield didn’t previously have “real Mexican food.” Recipes are the family’s own, taken from their ancestors.

“They are the ones that teach you the real recipes and stuff,” Martinez’s daughter Danice said of her ancestors. “My dad used to sell chickens and he has like a secret sauce that we used to sell at our house and people would just go crazy for it, so it’s just those kind of little tips that have kind of helped us along the way to make the food very authentic and real.”

Danice and Al say business has moved at a hectic pace so far. Though Danice said that frantic pace has brought anxiety, customer feedback has been positive, and diners from as far away as St. Paul and Chicago have eaten at Coco’s. Al attributes that success to the business successfully maintaining a non-rushed pace in making their food along with its selection of handmade and homemade items.

Al eventually hopes to expand the operation, possibly in Dundas, or Apple Valley and Burnsville.

7. St. Olaf, Carleton Line 3 Protest

Students from St. Olaf and Carleton College engaged in a statewide Divestment Day of Action” in March, holding demonstrations on their respective campuses.

Students protest the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in March with a “die-in” on St. Olaf College’s Buntrock Commons Quad. (Photo courtesy of Marcel Hones)

The events happened in collaboration and conjunction with other student-led divest campaigns across Minnesota. The goals of this day of action were to raise awareness about Line 3 and investment in the fossil fuel industry at large, and to urge statewide defunding of this destructive project.

At St. Olaf, the Climate Justice Collective (a student-led climate action organization) held a die-in, where over 200 students laid in Buntrock Quad for 18 minutes and 17 seconds, one second for each mile of the Line 3 Pipeline. Students from Climate Justice Collective, Abby Becker, Isaac Nelson and Andrea Burton, spoke about the importance of resisting Line 3, divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in climate justice through methods such as land-back reparations. Students also hung a series of banners throughout the quad and campus buildings containing messaging around St. Olaf’s investment in the fossil fuel industry and the destructive nature of the Line 3 pipeline.

Students from Divest Carleton and Sunrise Carleton rose early in the morning and occupied trees outside the college President’s house to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities fighting Line 3 and to urge Carleton to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Another group of students held signs in solidarity below the tree sit.

“I am here today standing in solidarity with Indigenous communities whose lands and water and sovereignty are under attack because of the Line 3 pipeline,” said Carleton student Aashutosha Lele. “I am here to demand that Carleton College move all its financial resources away from businesses that are the agents of colonial genocide and climate disaster.”

8. Northfield Public Schools imposes mask mandate

Northfield Middle School students created an art installation that was exhibited at Northfield Public Library. (Photo courtesy of Molly Otte)

The mask requirement took effect Wednesday, Aug. 11 and impacts everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillman explained that the decision was based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Minnesota Department of Health. Over two dozen local health care professionals have also recommended the district implement this safety measure to prioritize in-person learning, he wrote in his message.

And while the district continued to review the policy for possible modifications, Hillman expected unvaccinated students would need to be masked for longer than vaccinated students.

Per Hillman’s message: “Because students and staff are required to wear face coverings, students who are considered a close contact to someone at school who tested positive for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine. Students with one ‘more common’ or two ‘less common”’COVID-19 symptoms will follow the quarantine requirements associated with the recommended COVID-19 decision tree for people in schools, youth and child care programs. Students or staff with a member of their household who has tested positive for COVID-19 must follow the recommended COVID-19 decision tree for people in schools, youth and child care programs to determine if the individual needs quarantine.”

Knowing the additional stresses the pandemic has brought, the district has bolstered its guidance staff at the Area Learning Center, and Northfield High and Middle schools.

The district offered a state-approved online learning program, Portage, for interested families and students. Learn more at

9. Beloved former pastor dies

In this photo posted in July to the Church of Our Risen Savior Facebook page, Fr. Dennis Dempsey uses a weed eater to help clear some brush. Dempsey, who spent 15 years as pastor of Northfield’s Church of St. Dominic, was killed Monday while riding his bicycle. (Photo courtesy of Church of Our Risen Savior)

The Rev. Dennis Dempsey, who spent 15 years as pastor at the Church of St. Dominic in Northfield, died after the bicycle he was riding in Rosemount was struck by a vehicle.

The man reportedly driving the vehicle that struck Dempsey was in the Dakota County Jail on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide, operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

Dempsey, pastor at St. Dominic from 2004-19, joined Church of the Risen Savior in Burnsville four months ago, and served the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a priest in Minnesota and in the Venezuelan Mission. He served two years at the St. Paul Catholic Youth Center as an outreach youth minister, which led to him restarting his divinity studies and being ordained in 1980.

After a few parish assignments, he served at the archdiocesan mission at Jesucristo Resucitado in San Felix, Venezuela, from 1994 to 1999 and as pastor at St. Francis and St. James churches in St. Paul for five years before coming to Northfield.

Dempsey said in a 2019 Northfield News story that this experience working with Latino religious communities helped him land his spot in Northfield, which has a large Spanish-speaking population.

Among his efforts during his time at St. Dominic were providing space and support for the church’s Latino community to hold events, and opening the church for public discussions on immigration and other issues with legislators, lawyers and the local police department.

Dempsey also made an estimated 13 trips to Northfield’s “sister city” of Maltrata, Mexico, during which he delivered letters and packages to family members who could not travel between countries. Many of Northfield’s Latino residents hail from the city of Maltrata.

In 2017, Northfield’s Human Rights Commission honored Dempsey with its annual Human Rights Award for his work advocating for Latino immigrants.

10. After 35 years, Andersons close independent Northfield Pharmacy

Bob and Karen Anderson pose with their staff at Northfield Pharmacy in 2017. The couple closed the pharmacy in October. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl Strike)

A mainstay business in downtown that has helped area residents meet their health care needs for the past 35 years closed its doors in October.

One of the area’s few remaining independent community pharmacies, Northfield Pharmacy operated under the leadership of pharmacist Rob and his wife Karen Anderson since 1986. The decision to close the shop, at 601 Water St. S after so many years of service to the community was bittersweet for the Andersons, but a variety of factors played a part in their retirement.

“People say that you’ll know when it’s time to retire,” Rob Anderson said. “I always kind of downplayed that idea, but I felt like this year it was time.”

Anderson said there were a number of events in recent months that played a role in the decision-making process. In November 2020, COVID hit the staff at the pharmacy and reduced it by half.

Next on the list was a break-in by robbers looking for drugs. Other factors facing the pharmacy were pending equipment and technology costs and the impact of insurance companies.

To complete this list was the death of Anderson’s mother and his wife’s brother in July.

“All those things taken together added to the idea that it might be time for us to move on,” Anderson said.

YEAR AHEAD: What's next for city, school district, public in 2022
  • Updated

As much as we’d all like to wish the COVID-19 pandemic away, each local official the Northfield News talked to for this year ahead story mentioned the persistent virus as an ongoing challenge the community continues to stare at and deal with directly.

A key accomplishment of 2021 was the Facade Enhancement Program that gave new life to the historic buildings in and around Bridge Square. (Pamela Thompson/

As often as city leaders expressed their optimism about the new year ahead, they all expressed reservations and lingering challenges still to be faced as we plunge headlong into 2022.


Rhonda Pownell said that, as Northfield’s first mayor to be elected to a second term, she will stay positive and keep her focus, momentum and commitment on completing the city’s multi-year Strategic Plan 2021-2024.

“There’s so much going on here,” she said. “We need to look holistically as a community at the six priority areas and stick to the plan.”

In Northfield’s Strategic Plan 2021-2024, the Cannon River will see continuing enhancements. (Pamela Thompson/

In regards to the strategic plan, Pownell said she’s proud of the expansion of affordable and emergency housing in three developments across the city; the investment into enhancing buildings in the downtown historic district; and additional beautification of Northfield’s riverfront area.

Pownell also mentioned three parts of the plan she’s particularly excited about this year: More trees planted, and thus, more carbon reduced; a full-time Spanish translator connecting all people in the community; economic vitality growing, thanks to more available housing; and continual improvements to transform the city’s riverfront.

“Clearly, the Northfield community benefits from institutional knowledge,” she said.

Northfield Police Chief Mark Elliott said 2021 saw improvements in the areas of service excellence, officer wellness, climate action and diversity, equity and inclusion. The Policy Task Force, comprised of 13 community members, offered input and local perspective regarding police reform measurers. Updating the policy manual was tackled last year after calls for police reform following the death of George Floyd by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department in late May 2020.

Another significant local change came in July, supplying all Northfield police officers with a body camera and requiring its use. Improvements regarding the physical and mental wellness of shift work officers who suffer a shorter life span disproportionally to average Americans was addressed last year with additional resources focused on officer wellness and life/work balance.

Three hybrid vehicles were added to the force, with the goal of introducing all-electric vehicles when the supply chain issues resolve, Elliott said. To increase the safety of police staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, the interior of police headquarters was remodeled to accommodate dividers between work spaces and update the building’s heating and cooling technology.

Another significant initiative to expand diversity, equity and inclusion, Elliott said, was to collaborate with the Northfield Community College and Riverland Community College in Austin to potentially recruit new female officers and officers of color.

“There are seven students enrolled in the law enforcement program,” he said. “We are hopeful to be able to educate and employ local students from the surrounding area.”

Elliott, who has been Northfield’s police chief for a year and a half, said he’s excited to be in Northfield at this point in his long career in law enforcement.

What will 2022 bring? The Northfield Police will add one officer and one data coordinator who will classify videos from body cameras, manage information and record statistics. Over the last five months, Elliott said three officers were hired to replace others that left police work. Elliott said new officers typically spend the first six months training with a field officers.

Elliott said the City Emergency Operation Plan is receiving a complete rewrite, something that hasn’t been done for 20 years. New to the plan are official procedures for handling extreme weather events like flooding and tornados, trail derailments and managing hazardous material spillage.

While all these changes are definitely keeping the Northfield police department busy, Elliott said the updates nicely dovetail with the city’s priorities.

Ben Martig, Northfield city administrator, talked about the following areas as key priorities for 2022:

Looking ahead in 2022, economic vitality in Northfield will include upgrading regional parks and implementing the Riverfront Action Plan. (Pamela Thompson/

Economic Vitality: Implement Riverfront Action Plan, the Regional Park Designation, and Bridge Square design, a strategic asset for the community that would enhance and beautify the corridor stretching through downtown parks and walkways along the Cannon River.

New and affordable housing options continue to be built in and around Northfield such as those at Bluff View. (Pamela Thompson/

Housing Availability: Refresh rental code standards for tenets and landlords by cleaning up the language and giving people more tools for asking for repairs. Increase the number of affordable housing options with Bluffview, Spring Creek II and CAC Hillcrest.

“I’m excited to see the growth in the number of housing projects across the city,” Martig said.

Quality Facilities: Implement Park Capital Investment Plan which includes River North expansion along with identifying new sources of funding.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: The city increased the part-time Spanish translator to full-time.

“We’re excited the City Council saw the value in this service,” Martig said.

Service Excellence: Board and commission governance enhancements that include better training and clarification of governance structures to mitigate board to board differences. Department of Motor Vehicle remodeled, customer service under study and new marketing measures in place.

Climate Action: Using the Department of Natural Resources tree planting grant of $90,000 for new plantings and add diversity of replacement plantings to mitigate diseases like those effecting ash trees.

Lisa Peterson, President/CEO of the Northfield Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, shared a few areas where the chamber is looking forward to expanding and enhancing includes programming, promotions, advocacy and collaboration.

Peterson said new programming will focus on key topics and business issues and may involve special luncheons to help keep members informed about what will be taking place in 2022. “Our goal is to keep you well educated and informed,” she said. Regarding promotions, Peterson said the Chamber is designing “new and exciting ways to lift up your business and message to the greater community.”

On advocacy, Peterson said the Chamber is in a unique position to be a unified voice for businesses. “We are looking forward to learning more about what our businesses need and speaking on their behalf,” she said. On collaboration, she said the Chamber is creating some amazing partnerships with our fellow Northfield area organizations and look forward to moving forward with them on shared plans and initiatives. “We realize we are all better when we work together,” Peterson said.

Northfield Public Schools

In his long career in education, Matt Hillmann, Northfield Public Schools superintendent, has taught or administered every grade level between K-12 except for third grade. (Pamela Thompson/

Northfield School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Hillmann said the two biggest issues from last year — managing COVID-19 and adapting to an online learning environment — are still very much relevant this year.

“One of the biggest lessons we learned last year was that students learn best in school,” Hillmann said. “So we’ll help students and staff transition from a pandemic to an endemic disease that is not going away right away.”

Hillmann said two additional tasks for 2022 will be to follow the district’s Strategic Plan 2021-2026 that was modified by the Northfield School Board in December and to manage the budget prioritization in the face of declining enrollment.

Adding a fifth priority to the year ahead, Hillmann again addressed the strains from COVID-19 upon the entire Northfield community.

“If we can help the local community recover from COVID and bring people together after two stressful years, then we can come out of this crisis proud of our shared strength,” he said.


New construction projects in and around Dundas include new residential and commercial developments. (Pamela Thompson/

Dundas Police Chief Todd Hanson said that, since he assumed his position in October 2020, he’s been worried about staff shortages due to COVID-19. Fortunately, his staff of three full-time and three part-time were not infected with the virus.

“This has been a learning year for me,” Hanson said. “particularly the policies and procedures.” He is grateful for the good working relationship his department has with Rice County deputies, particularly those in Northfield. Looking ahead to 2022, Hanson said there are a lot of things to look forward to, like the end of the pandemic. “I’m hoping COVID settles down,” he said. “That will make life so much better for the citizens and the department,”

Construction cranes continue to rise high above Northfield as new housing is added across the city. (Pamela Thompson/

Launching the new city website and continued residential development happened in the city of Dundas last year, said Jenelle Teppen, Dundas city administrator. Teppen said 35 single family homes were built on the east side in Bridgewater Heights last year.

She anticipates continued development in Bridgewater Heights in 2022. On the city’s west side in the Stoneridge area, Teppen said the developer was granted a building permit and that she expects construction of more residential units to begin sometime in 2022.

Thanks to the Dundas City Council reprising economic development as a priority last year, Teppen explained that an additional $33,000 will be available in 2022 to help existing, relocating or start-up businesses. “This fund carries over each year and nets us that amount annually,” she said.

A new public works employee will join the currently seven full-time staff in 2022 to manage the additional maintenance associated with community growth and infrastructure, she said.

Bridgewater Township

After two years of working on an annexation agreement with Northfield, Glen Castore, Bridgewater supervisor, said he expects to complete the process in 2022. The annexation would create an industrial zone that would supply sewer and water along a rezoned area of I-35 that would provide infrastructure services necessary for commercial and industrial development.

“We’ve got a good working relationship with the Rice County commissioners,” he said.

He added, “From the township supervisor’s point of view, I am looking forward to next year. I expect a quiet year ahead.”

Castore explained that, even though the COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed down the progress of the annexation agreement, the five-member board still made significant headway.

Graphic artist Rocky Casillas shows his designs at Mercado Local. (Photo courtesy of Heriberto Rosas)

Northfield doctors discuss ongoing COVID challenges
  • Updated

Two frontline doctors at NH+C were asked to look both backwards and forward in describing COVID-19’s impact on our community. Here’s a portion of their answers:

What significant events framed 2021?

“COVID and all its ramifications for patient care and planning,” said Jeff Meland, MD, Chief Medical Officer at NH+C and Emergency Department physician.

“The three big events of 2021 were COVID, Delta variant and Omicron variant. I’m very proud of our staff for running vaccination clinics that delivered over 23,000 doses and likely prevented hundreds and even thousands of deaths,” said Jennifer Fischer, MD, Director of Emergency Medicine and EMS at NH+C.

What challenges are ahead for 2022?

Meland: “Our challenge for 2022 is continuing to take care of non-COVID and COVID-related health care needs of our patients in our clinics and hospital: Health care maintenance, surgeries, and hospitalizations for the communities we serve.”

Are there two to three goals or expectations for NH+C in 2022?

Meland: “Our goal is to maintain a patient-centered approach despite the rapidly changing health care environment. Just as important: to support the health and dedication of our excellent staff at NH+C. It’s been a marathon taking care of our patients and community, and they’re doing an incredible job. We know it isn’t over yet.”

Fischer: “I applaud our health care workers who have persistently worked above and beyond normal duty hours for months. I applaud the staff who endure conflict with family members over vaccination and COVID prevention. I console the staff who have had to endure needless death after death from COVID, all because misguided principles ran roughshod over science.”