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Carleton sophomore receiver Bert Bean attempts to split a pair of St. Olaf defenders during last season’s 36-19 loss at Manitou Stadium in Northfield. (Nathan Klok/Carleton College)

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Inclusive playground, miracle field construction paused 'til spring

We can build it, but they can’t come.

After three years of discussion and two years of active fundraising, the We All Play Inclusive Playground and Miracle Field will have to wait just a little bit longer to become a reality. On Monday, Owatonna Recreation Manager Tim Truelson announced to the Park Board on behalf of the We All Play Committee that the project, which was scheduled to begin construction in August, will be put on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.

“This has nothing to do with the funding,” Truelson said. “We wanted this to be a celebration to do it respectfully the right way in honor of our many donors to this project, so for the health and safety of our community we are pushing the construction back to hopefully the spring of 2021.”

In 2017, local mothers Amanda Gislason and Missy Ahrens, who have children with Down syndrome, began openly discussing that the Owatonna community is desperately missing an inclusive area allowing children of all abilities to play together.

The two instantly began advocating for the construction of both a miracle field and an inclusive playground to take place at the city’s Manthey Park, kicking off the fundraiser the community now knows as We All Play. To date, the We All Play committee has raised nearly $1 million through grants, business collaborations, and individual donations from the community.

Truelson said that while the decision to postpone was both difficult and emotional, the mothers agreed that it was the right thing to do. The group anticipates a couple of hundred people will want to attend the grand opening, and simply couldn’t imagine unveiling such an important project during a time when it couldn’t be enjoyed and loved by all.

“We don’t want to bring people together if it’s not the right thing to do, and with the way things are going right now it’s not going to be feasible,” Truelson said, saying that the decision is no reflection on funding and was purely based on public health concerns.

“This playground is about kids playing side by side, parents side by side, grandparents side by side. We can’t do any of that right now.”

For Ahrens, whose daughter Miley serves as her inspiration and drive to see the inclusive playground and miracle field come to life, the decision to delay the project has been especilly tough.

“The point of this project is to promote and support inclusion and social distancing is definitely a huge hurdle when your goal is to bring people closer together, but then again, social distancing I guess has always been the invisible hurdle or driver in the fight for inclusion,” Ahrens said. “I have a feeling that when we are ready to move forward with the build there is going to be even more appreciation and understanding from the community for why this project is needed. They’ve all experienced these past few months what our kiddos have been experiencing their entire lives.”

Gislason said that she and her son Gunnar are ready for a big celebration that honors the commitment and heart that the community has put into the playground over the last three years.

“No matter how much we want to complete this project for our community, we also want to be able to finish our years of hard work with a celebration,” Gislason said. “We plan to involve the community in the building of the playground and of course we want our community to be able to play on the playground once it is complete.”

“We want the community to know that we are ready to build and we are ready to bring this inclusive playground and miracle league to you, but construction will need to be pushed for the safety of all of us,” she continued. “Let’s plan for a really big celebration in 2021.”

Students' art honors essential workers

Essential workers across Owatonna have been receiving surprise pieces of art this week from students at McKinley Elementary.

Art teacher Amanda Gislason tasked her classes with creating art to thank health care professionals, grocery store workers, first responders and others working through the pandemic. After collecting photos and hard copies of completed work, Gislason compiled a video of students’ drawings and sent it to the Police Station, Fire Department, hospital and other essential organizations around town. Students also had the option to deliver their pieces to family members or friends who are essential workers.

Fourth-grader Carter Hadt was able to surprise his mother, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, with his drawing after her shift. Apart from health care workers, he drew store employees, military personnel and teachers. Above all four professions, he wrote, “Dear workers, you are the same at being the best.”

“I didn’t know that he had to do it, I just came home to this awesome drawing,” said Stacy Hadt, Carter’s mother. “I’ve been working, and my husband stays home with the kids.”

In addition to a parent in health care, Carter added that his grandparents work at a store and his cousin is in the military — making the entire project hit close to home. In the past, he said he hasn’t done anything quite like this, instead focusing on styles and works by major artists.

“I think it was really amazing,” he added, “because I know a lot of people that do all this stuff.”

Fellow fourth-grader Blair Kath was also able to give her drawing to a health care worker in her life. For her piece, she drew a nurse taking up the whole page, surrounded by words that she said described the profession. With arrows pointing to her nurse, she wrote “smart,” “loving,” “helpful” and “brave.”

“She got the assignment and she went and started coloring right away,” said Angie Goodnature, Blair’s mother. “Then she said she wanted to give it to our family friend, Candy Roush.”

Roush was able to stop by Tuesday night and pick up the drawing. While Blair had mentioned there was a surprise waiting, she hadn’t let on exactly what it was. “She didn’t know what I was giving her, but she knew I was giving her something,” said Blair. “It felt nice, because I know that she’ll cherish it for a while.”

Gislason hoped the project was also enjoyable for students as a way to express gratitude and feel good about themselves. She added that art has a healing power, and that she felt giving back through drawing could potentially help children cope in one way with the pandemic.

“Some of our students are having a harder time than others,” she added. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to not only make art, but to be able to show gratitude. Being grateful for things is also a great way for us to heal, and being able to share that with other people can help us get through things, as well.”

To introduce the project, Gislason made a video explaining what essential workers are. Beyond expressing thanks to these employees, she said the parameters of the project were pretty open. Some students made posters, some made pop-up cards, and some created chalk drawings and sent photos in for Gislason’s slideshow.

Leah Leckner was one of the students who made a pop-up card, an idea she helped brainstorm with her mom, Emily.

“I had the idea of a pop-up card, and then Leah had the idea that it would be a heart that popped up when you opened it and she wrote a message on the inside,” said Emily. “My spot for working is on the dining room table and Leah’s workspace is right here nearby so we share a lot of ideas.”

Gislason’s slideshow helped Leah learn more about what being an essential worker meant and which professions fit the bill, supplemented by the family’s contact with first responders. Emily said they’ve been in touch with her best friend, a nurse, and that when it came time to thank someone in the field, Leah immediately thought of Community Service Officer Brian Shaw.

“[The presentation] had some ideas of what some essential workers were, like nurses or mailmen — because they still deliver your mail,” Leah added. “I thought of how Brian sometimes comes and stops to say, ‘Hi.’”

Emily added that he’ll wave when going past their house on his rounds, and sometimes even give them a heads-up if there’s a package on the front steps. Seconds after finishing the card, complete with a police badge and an American flag on the front, Emily said Leah asked to text Shaw and have him come by to pick it up.

“She made multiple tries at it, and she was definitely trying to do her best,” Emily added, of the project.

For students who didn’t know an essential worker or wanted to submit their drawings in a different way, Gislason gave them the option of dropping their work off at McKinley or submitting a photo to be included in a project slideshow. She said she plans to send any hard copies she’s received to essential workers in the next couple of days, and has already shared the video out with front line organizations around town.

As a nurse herself, Stacy said she’s hanging on to Carter’s drawing for now — impressed and surprised by his portrayal of her and the rest of their family.

“I’ve kept it out because he did such a nice job on it,” she said. “When I came home to that, I was very impressed — just that he had done such a good job of portraying what we’re out there doing for everybody.”

DFL backs legislative candidates, looks for challenger in 24A

Last weekend, local DFLers endorsed a nearly complete slate of candidates for the Minnesota legislature, setting the stage for what is sure to be an unorthodox general election campaign.

All 144 state representatives and 67 state senators are on the ballot this fall for two-year terms. State representatives always serve two-year terms, while Senators are elected to four-year terms in years ending with 2 and 6 and two-year terms in years ending with 0.

2020 will be the last election under the current legislative boundaries. Once the state has received 2020 Census data, legislative and congressional districts will undergo once-a-decade reapportionment to ensure equal representation.

Due to the pandemic, redistricting could be delayed this year. Last month, the Census Bureau announced that it would push back its timeline for getting comprehensive information into the states by July 31, 2021, well after the 2021 session will end.

Under legislative district boundaries first used for the 2012 elections, Rice County is divided into two Senate districts. Each has two House districts, though only two of those districts cover portions of Rice County.

Faribault is currently in Senate District 24, represented by Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault. Jasinski represents not only Rice County but also all of Steele County, except for Blooming Prairie, and portions of Dodge and Waseca counties.

Both districts lean Republican, though they were represented by DFL senators until 2016. That year, President Trump won both districts by double digit margins, helping Draheim and Jasinski to victory. In 2018, Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the only DFL candidate to carry either district.

On the Republican side, all of District 24’s incumbents will seek re-election. Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, is seeking his second term, Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, his fourth, and Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, his fifth.

The DFL didn’t even hold a virtual convention to decide its local nomination races. Instead, delegates cast their votes for party officers, candidates, delegates and resolutions virtually, by mail or over the phone between April 25 and May 4.

Roger Steinkamp

In Senate District 24, DFLers endorsed Faribault resident Roger Steinkamp to run against Sen. Jasinski. A native of Renville, Minnesota, Steinkamp earned his degree in agricultural education from the University of Minnesota.

He’s traveled across the world as an agricultural educator and taught classes close to home as well. He also founded an import substitution business here in Minnesota, selling products derived from sheep.

Steinkamp briefly served as executive director of Farmamerica, the Minnesota Agricultural Interpretive Center. Located on Hwy 14 between Waseca and Janesville, Farmamerica was established by the legislature in 1978 to highlight and celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture industry.

This is Steinkamp’s first run for public office, though he was recently appointed to Faribault’s newly created Environmental Commission.

Steinkamp described himself as a relative political newcomer who hasn’t traditionally affiliated with either major party. Recently, he decided to become more involved, driven by issues like the environment and health care.

“I’m still in the listening stage,” he said. “I’m not a practiced politician, so I look forward to hearing from people about what their priorities are.”

Steinkamp said that he knows many farmers are increasingly concerned about climate change. He promised that if elected, he would immediately begin seeking bipartisan solutions to reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“It’s taken awhile to get ourselves into this place (with climate),” he said. “It won’t be easy to fix it, but we don’t have a lot of time. We need truly bipartisan proposals based on science.”

Steinkamp said he’s also concerned about health care, having lacked health insurance at times himself. Having lived abroad in countries with universal health care, he said that he strongly believes that the U.S. should also move towards some form of universal health care.

“We have some very clever people in government, so I don’t understand why we haven’t been able to figure this out like other countries have,” he said. “I believe that health care should be a human right.”

Ashley Martinez-Perez

Rounding out the DFL’s local slate of candidates is a political newcomer, Ashley Martinez-Perez. A first time candidate, she’s running for the District 24B seat currently represented by Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault.

A second generation immigrant, Martinez-Perez was born in south Texas. She moved to Waseca in 2005 and to Faribault in 2010. As a working mother of five children, she says she knows the struggle of living paycheck to paycheck.

Martinez-Perez said she has long been conscious of political issues and had become increasingly dissatisfied with Daniels’s conservative record. After attending precinct caucuses, she decided to mount a campaign against him.

Martinez-Perez promised that if elected, she’ll work to make the cost of living more affordable for working people. She said that in recent years, Faribault’s working class has been squeezed by a lack of affordable childcare, housing and health care.

“I talk to people and they say, ‘I work hard, yet I’m still not making a living. ‘I don’t have enough money to buy food. We have to pay so much money for childcare. We have to pay for transportation just to go to the grocery store.’ And that needs to change,” she said.

Having seen members of her family deported, Martinez-Perez promised to be a strong advocate for Faribault’s immigrant community if elected. She says she’ll push hard to allow the state to issue drivers licenses to undocumented workers, a proposal opposed by Daniels.

District 24B is traditionally Republican and has become more so in recent years, though until 2015 the district was represented by a DFLer, Patti Fritz. Undeterred by the challenge, Martinez-Perez pledged to wage a vigorous campaign.

(Submitted photo)