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Members of the 2018 NRHEG Clay Target team braved the spring elements to participate in their first practice of the year on 2018. The team returns 20-plus letterwinners from the 2019 season. (Photo courtesy of Dan Sorum)

An unusual gift is given to Owatonna Public Schools

While it’s common for school districts to receive money donations, one of the most recent donations has come in a rather unusual form … an entire building.

The old Learning ZoneXpress building, located on East Vine Street in Owatonna has been gifted to Owatonna Public Schools. Last spring Superintendent Jeff Elstad was approached by Melanie Nelson, former owner of Learning ZoneXpress, who shared her intent to donate the physical building. The gift was officially accepted at the Aug. 24 Owatonna School Board meeting.

Nelson, who lived in Owatonna for four decades, still holds the community near and dear to her heart. She is donating her building on behalf of her love for and belief in education.

“As a former family and consumer science teacher, education is the only option for justice and moving humanity forward,” she wrote in an email. Nelson is a former teacher in the Owatonna Public Schools system.

On Thursday, the district hosted an open house and dedication ceremony for Nelson. Its purpose was to acknowledge Nelson’s entrepreneurial spirit and express gratitude for Nelson’s philanthropy in the community. The short ceremony welcomed guest speakers including Michelle Krell (director of teaching and learning), Bob Olson (facilities, infrastructure and security director) and Betsy Lindgren (business woman and member of the Owatonna Foundation). The guests spoke about Nelson’s legacy, how the donation will be used and thanked Nelson for the gift.

The new name for the facility was revealed — Melanie Nelson ISD 761 Learning Zone.

Olson has been monitoring the process of the building’s ownership transition. He described some of its potential usage.

“This building is unique in the fact that it has some office space up in the front of the old original part of the building and on the back side … the first floor has some great storage areas for shipping and receiving,” Olson said.

He added that the parking lot is big enough for semis to easily maneuver to the building’s loading dock, which isn’t the case at their current shipping and receiving place.

The district print shop will move to the building and the basement could be used for storing curriculum materials. A lift was left behind in the building, allowing heavy textbooks and other material to be easily transported between the main level and the basement.

The top level of the building reveals a large open space, for potential staff development training.

“It’s going to be awesome for any kind of meetings that we need to have up there, there’s a kitchen that she has already built in up there as well, so it has some unique opportunities for us,” Olson said.

The company that had been renting the front half of the building from Nelson, has left behind a nice office set up, with cubicles and other office materials.

Olson believes the building was appraised a few years ago at around $600,000.

Exploring the various uses of the building will be something the district will look forward to. Nelson trusts that Owatonna Public Schools will use the building wisely. The donation will leave behind a living legacy for Nelson.

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last time that Nelson has given back to the Owatonna community and schools that she values.

“I’m so grateful that, not only the legacy around education that she has provided for our community, but also just this gift that’s going to be put to great use for our school district,” Elstad said.

River Bend to host Ramble 'like never before'

For the first time in the COVID-19 era, Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center is preparing to hold its longest-running and most important fundraiser.

While this year’s Ramble may be the 39th annual, its tagline, “A Ramble Like Never Before,” certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. With a mix of live and virtual events, it will attempt to continue the beloved traditions of the Ramble while trying some new things.

Nearly all proceeds from the event will go toward park maintenance expenses and community education programs. Even with the pandemic’s effects on the economy, the event has retained a long list of prominent local sponsors, from KGP to Met-Con to the State Bank of Faribault.

Center director Brianna Wheeler said the Nature Center is grateful for all the support it has received, particularly in recent months. She noted that traffic at River Bend has increased dramatically, along with other recreation opportunities limited by the pandemic.

“During times like this, connecting with nature is important,” she said. “Most communities don’t have something like the Nature Center, which is open to the public every day of the year. It really is a gem.”

Founded in 1978, the nonprofit nature center on Faribault’s south side provides a pleasant venue for community events and has traditionally hosted environmental science-related classes. River Bend also maintains more than 10 miles of public use trails spread out over more than 740 acres of park land.

While park staff are glad to see increased traffic, Wheeler said that makes financial support from the community even more important. Though it sits on land once owned by the state of Minnesota, River Bend doesn’t receive regular funding from any government entities.

This year, River Bend is promoting the Ramble as not a single event but a “package deal” which includes events throughout the week. A single $50 ticket will get patrons into all “Ramble Week” events. An individual event ticket can be purchased for $10.

The week kicks off with a pancake brunch to go from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19. This year’s version of the Maple Syrup Fun Run, the pancake brunch to go won’t include any gatherings, even for the outdoor run, due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations against large group gatherings.

Instead, River Bend supporters are invited to either just pick up pancakes, which are famously topped with real maple syrup and/or grab a race bag. Fun Run participants are invited to register for any distance on any “race day” between Sept. 19 and Sept. 30.

A scavenger hunt will also run throughout the week at River Bend, beginning Sunday, Sept. 20. New clues will be posted to River Bend’s social media pages daily until the golden ticket is found, with the prize slowly decreasing for each day passed.

Among the prizes up for grabs are RBNC gift cards, a free family membership to River Bend and a bottle of real maple syrup. More prizes will be awarded Tuesday, Sept. 22 night to the winners of River Bend’s virtual nature trivia. The following day, River Bend supporters are invited to learn more about the nature center on a one-hour walk or golf cart ride led by an RBNC naturalist. Only five people can take the tour at one time, due to COVID, and the event is weather permitting.

Friday night, the day before River Bend’s traditional big day, will feature a special guest appearance from New-Prague based band, Little Chicago. A 15-member horn band, Little Chicago plays classic hits from the 1960s and 1970s. Den Gardner, the band’s manager, said that Little Chicago is excited to be able to play for a good cause. Though they haven’t played at River Bend before, Little Chicago has become a staple of the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department’s Concerts in the Park series.

Gardner said that COVID has been particularly difficult for the band, forcing it to cancel roughly half of its gigs. When it has been able to play, he said the band has taken plenty of precautions, with members maintaining social distancing guidelines on stage.

The Ramble will still culminate in its traditional main event Saturday, Sept. 26, but for the first time since its inception, there won’t be any in-person meal for River Bend supporters to enjoy and share conversation over.

The main event will still include a silent auction as well as River Bend’s increasingly popular beer and wine raffle. Most of all, donors will get the chance to hear testimonials from fellow River Bend supporters and hear how their money is going to good use.

While the virtual format has its drawbacks, Wheeler said that it is already helping River Bend to expand its reach to persons who might not otherwise be able to participate. Depending on how it goes, Wheeler said that many of the changes pioneered this year could be here to stay.

“Wherever people’s comfort level is, whether they want to do it online or socially distanced, there’s really something for everybody,” she said.

Perry Deming of Faribault’s Healy Construction worked on the old Lockerby tin man in preparation for its move to the Rice County Historical Society grounds in October 2019. Cruising Rice County History serves as a fundraiser for maintaining local collections and continuing the Tin Family project.

Life jackets are important to boat safety (Holger Link on Unsplash)

Full Service Station gets beautify Medford’s downtown grant

Beautifying downtowns has been a priority of small towns across Minnesota, and Medford is no exception.

Thanks to the Business Façade Improvement Program established by the city two years ago, the revitalization of the town’s Main Street has been able to become both a priority and a reality. During a special meeting of the city council on Wednesday night, the second grant from the new program was awarded to Lisa Full, owner of Full Service Station, to help replace mortar and bricks on the brick façade of the business. The $2,500 grant – the maximum amount to be awarded from the program – will go toward updating the façade and installing a new roof.

As outlined in the program, the city believes that healthy business areas play an important role in the vitality of the community, which is the predominant purpose for the program. The grant money is only eligible for exterior repairs/improvements, code violation corrections, handicapped accessibility and energy efficiency improvements.

Projects for the program will be considered on a first-come-first-serve basis with the final approval at the discretion of the council. Eligible projects may include exterior improvements visible to the public. According to the program overview, projects may include rehabilitation or replacement of exterior windows, replacement of missing decorative building features that are fixed in place or permanent, rehabilitation or replacement of historic roof lines/features, awnings, exterior lighting and signage.

Applicants must submit the appropriate documentation attached to their Business Façade Improvement Program application, including a detailed description of the projects, before pictures, cost estimates, funds requested and identification of the matching funds.

The program offers a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $2,500, but cannot exceed 50% of the total project cost. The grant money does not have to be repaid. Business have one year from the time the grant is awarded to access the funds.

To cover the remaining costs of Full Service Station’s project, the Medford Economic Development Authority and Medford City Council also awarded the business a $9,656 loan from the Medford EDA Revolving Loan Fund. The loan will cover 40% of the total $24,140 estimate. The businesses’ owner informed the city that she will be injecting 60% of the funds for the project that she has saved up by working a second job.

The loan will be fully amortized over 10 years with a 2.5% fixed interest rate.

The Medford EDA Revolving Loan Fund Program was developed to assist in retaining and expanding existing businesses, as well as assisting new start-up companies and those relocating to Medford. The maximum loan amount for this program is $20,000.

Full Service Station has been in business and located on Medford’s Main Street for two decades.