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(Owatonna Boys Basketball) Ty Creger

Owatonna senior guard Ty Creger recorded 17 points, five assists, one steal and one rebound against Winona. (Stephen McDaniel/southernminn.com)


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spotlight
Local dietician brings professional home organizing services to region
  • Updated

The pandemic has not been kind to many people’s homes.

With school, work and other essential activities increasingly taking place at home, it has been difficult for many to keep everything in order and the consequences of this — on stress levels, productivity and quality of life — are abundantly clear.

Tracy Bjerke, a dietician based in Owatonna with a lifelong interest in organizing spaces, is here to help, offering her home organization services — which can take the form of guiding people through organization solutions, organizing for them or anywhere in between — in Owatonna, Faribault, Waseca, Kenyon, Dodge Center, Claremont, Blooming Prairie, Ellendale, Morristown and Medford.

A passion for organization

For as long as she can remember, Bjerke has had an impulse to bring to life the potential and possibilities of a given space.

Julian Hast / By JULIAN HAST julian.hast@apgsomn.com 

Tracy Bjerke, a dietician based in Owatonna, is expanding the professional home organizing services of Rochester-based Rescued Room. Her services are being offered to residents in Owatonna, Faribault, Waseca, Kenyon, Dodge Center, Claremont, Blooming Prairie, Ellendale, Morristown and Medford. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

“When I was a little girl, I was asking my mom, ‘Hey, can I clean out the bathroom and reorganize it?’ or I was always moving my room around or finding something around the house I could straighten up or tidy or declutter,” Bjerke said.

In college, her passion persisted, as she frequently reorganized her apartments and routinely dug through all her belongings, dividing what she was still using from what she could dispart with.

After graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2007 with a degree in interior design, Bjerke returned to school to study dietetics, after which she became a dietician and eventually opening her own private practice — Bjerke Nutrition — in 2020. Like many people, though, the pandemic offered an opportunity to think deeply about what direction she wanted to take her career.

While she loves her dietetic work and her private practice, she knew she wanted to pursue work in the fields of home organizing or interior design. Upon researching services offered in the region, she said she was surprised to find there wasn’t much on offer outside the metro area, aside from a Rochester-based professional home organizing company called Rescued Room. She decided to go out on a limb and reach out to them, gauging if they might be interested in expanding their services into Owatonna and the surrounding areas. She was pleasantly surprised when the owner of Rescued Room, Sara Lohse, said yes.

“We’ve had multiple inquiries around [the Owatonna] area that we just haven’t been able to service because of the distance, so we were fortunate to have Tracy reach out to us because she was interested and the rest is history,” Lohse said. “She was just a natural fit for us — she’s brilliant, she’s driven and I couldn’t ask for someone better to represent Rescued Room and [the] area.”

The value of organization

In her work as a dietician, Bjerke said her mission has always been to help people find peace and joy with their bodies and their relationship with food. Her goal with home organizing is similar: to help people find peace and joy with their homes.

Having an organized space, for Bjerke, means not just streamlining the process of using one’s belongings most effectively, but also orienting one’s space to minimize stress and distraction.

“Organization is trying to figure out what you have, how much space you have, what you actually want or need — the whole purpose is not just to get rid of stuff, but to live happily with the things that you own,” she said.

While many people value these qualities and would like to organize their spaces, Bjerke continued, the problem starts with many people not having the energy or even knowing where to even begin. Posting about her services on social media, Bjerke said she heard from many people overwhelmed by scattered paperwork or overflowing, cluttered closets.

“I personally get really excited and say, ‘I really want to help you get a system in place,’” she said.


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Capt. Mundale becomes fourth Owatonna officer to train at FBI Academy

It has been awhile since Owatonna Police Capt. Jeff Mundale has experienced the college life, but he was fully immersed in the experience for 11 weeks last fall.

With “Fitness in Law Enforcement” being his favorite of the six courses he took at the FBI National Academy, Owatonna Police Capt. Jeff Mundal — pictured here (right) during one of the trainings — said officer wellness encompasses much more than just physical fitness. Since returning from the National Academy, Mundale said he plans to focus on building up the mental health support programs already in place at the Owatonna Police Department. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Jeff Mundale)

Returning home just before the holidays, Mundale said he couldn’t wait to get back into his blue OPD uniform after completing the intense and exclusive course at the National FBI Academy.

“This was not just a unique experience for me personally, but really a unique one for the community,” Mundale said.

Since the academy’s first class back in 1935, only three other Owatonna Police Officers have graduated from program. Mundale is Owatonna’s fourth.

“The FBI Academy is the top police executive and leadership programs, sponsored and fully funded by the FBI, which offers challenging academic and physical fitness training,” Mundale explained. “It is a prestigious and unique special development opportunity that only 1% of all law enforcement officers will have a chance to attend.”

According to the United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, a total of 52,923 graduates have completed the FBI National Academy since it first began. The National Academy is held at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia — the same facility where the FBI trains its new special agents and intelligence analysts.

For Mundale, though, completing the program had very little to do with status. He went into the experience yearning to grow, but more importantly, he wanted to be able to bring back something positive to benefit his local police department and the entire Owatonna community.

After selecting his six core classes — fitness in law enforcement, psychology of leadership, emotional intelligence: communication and context, constitutional law and policing: trends, analysis and application, advanced concepts of wellness and vitality in law enforcement, and leadership in advanced investigative strategies for violent crime — Mundale said he spent every moment from Oct. 4 to Dec. 16 committed to his coursework.

“I came into the Academy with only a bachelor’s degree, so I had to take graduate level classes which demanded a lot more outside of the classroom,” Mundale said, adding he was happy to have the full support of Owatonna Police Chief Keith Hiller. “He is a big believer in continuing education, as am I, and he really set me up for more professional development, leadership training and encouraging me to get an additional master’s degree.”

Mundale is currently working on his master’s degree, which he believes he should finish within a year.

Though there were a lot of “favorites” of his experience at the National Academy, Mundale said his favorite of the six courses he took was the fitness in law enforcement, which was actually the only of the six courses that is mandatory for everyone to take.

“This is the only police training of its kind that includes the rigours of physical fitness,” Mundale said. “One of the things I want to bring back to Owatonna from my experience is to enhance our current wellness initiatives.”

A national focus on mental health

According to Mundale, the OPD already has a wellness program and initiative in place, though he feels it could be built upon. Some of his ideas certainly include physical fitness and vitality, but he would also like to bring additional focus to officers’ mental health and wellness.

“While I was [at the National Academy], two of my colleagues lost partners to suicide,” Mundale said. “Law enforcement has a higher percentage of suicide death because of the nature of the work that we do, so that would be something I want to make sure we have in place to provide officers with the right support internally.”

Mundale said peer support is also something he is becoming increasingly passionate about, especially considering the tight-knit nature of the 36-person department.

“Sometimes the support just naturally happens,” he said. “But I would like to have a more formalized program in place.”

In his 26 years of law enforcement, Mundale said he has seen the dynamics change from the stereotype of the “tough and resilient, take care of themselves officers” to dissolving the stigma surrounding mental health and asking for help.

“As we change the culture in our organization and even in our country, it’s important to know it is OK to ask for help,” said Mundale. “We are changing the stigma that this job once carried.”

The OPD currently has mandatory mental health check-ups once a year, and there is already a confidential counselor program embedded into the department that is free for the officers. Leaning on pillar six of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Strategies, rolled out in 2014, Mundale said doubled down on the importance of officer wellness and prioritizing that movement throughout the country.

“Officer wellness was popular in every conversation in our classrooms, I would say about 75% of the discussions had some form of that wellness element in it,” he said. “I want to continue to develop and enhance our own program, especially with peer support.”

Now that he is back in his officer, suited up and ready to hop into his squad car whenever need be, Mundale extends an enormous amount of gratitude for the people who made it possible for him to train at the FBI National Academy.

“I have so much gratitude for the city of Owatonna, City Administrator Kris Busse, Chief Hiller and my wife for their support,” Mundale said. “It allowed me to attend this personal and professional development course.”


People’s Press named official paper of Owatonna

During the Owatonna City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, the councilors unanimously approved to designate the Owatonna People’s Press as the official newspaper for the city of Owatonna. According to the city charter, the Council must designate of newspaper of “general circulation in the city” as the official publication of all matters required by law.

In her memo to the Council, City Administrator Kris Busse said all public notices are to be published in a qualified newspaper that is likely to give notice in the affected area or to the persons to whom the notice is directed.


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spotlight
Music Boosters of Owatonna to hold 11th annual benefit concert
  • Updated

The school will be alive with the sound of music, and avid supports of school music programs are amped and ready to listen.

Students and community members alike are excited for the return of the Music Boosters of Owatonna (MBO) benefit concert after no concert was able to be held last year due to COVID-19.

“There is excitement all around,” said Concert Coordinator Wes McMains. “We missed it, just as we all missed so many things last year. It was unfortunate we missed the ability to showcase our youth and their musical talents, but we are all excited to have the opportunity to do that again for the kids this year.”

This year marks the 11th year a benefit concert and silent auction has been put on to support music programs in Owatonna Public Schools. MBO Co-President Jesse Hess said she has been involved in the organization for many years and is passionate about giving back to the community through music.

“We as an organization want to support music and advocate for music education in our schools,” Hess said. “Music is something that is life long. The kids will always have music from the time they start until they are well into adulthood.”

MBO has been instrumental in helping music students of all ages get involved in singing and learning to play instruments. They have assisted in lesson fees for students in all different levels, assisting in costs for instruments, purchasing choir robes and recently assisting in fees to sponsor students at the All State concert this February at the Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Ava Hess is one student who has personally benefited from MBO when they provided her, along with seven other OHS All State participants, a scholarship to help pay for those expenses. She said it helped not only her, but the other students significantly because costs to attend All State are rather high, from the week-long camp experience to the concert at Orchestra Hall.

“Being involved in music is very special to me,” Ava Hess said. “Creating music with my peers is something I will never take for granted. It’s important for kids to be involved in music because music teaches you more than just playing notes on a page.”

A silent auction will be held one hour prior to the concert. Jesse Hess said the community has been more than generous in donating baskets and items to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to support music education in the district and the All State scholarships. She added a notable donation to the silent auction are front row seat tickets for the Owatonna Pops Orchestra.

Performances will include band and choir students from the local elementary schools, high school band, staff members from within the district and some alumni. The performances will conclude with the High School Jazz Band.

During intermission, there will be a ‘Pass the Hat” fundraiser. According to Hess and McMain, the goal for this is to raise $6,000 to purchase a new baritone saxophone for the Owatonna Middle School Band. The overall goal is to raise $8,000.

“Generally we have a much smaller goal,” McMain said. “But after not having a fundraising event last year, and the high price of the saxophone, our goal is a bit larger than in years passed.”

Music Boosters of Owatonna was established in 1982 by a group of local community members in response to budget cuts that endangered the music education programs within the Owatonna School District. The initial group’s mission was to support the students who desired to be involved in music and advocate for the importance of music education for all students and the community. Today, the mission of MBO remains the same. Along with the annual concert held each January, MBO also hosts a pancake breakfast.

“We are eternally grateful for the businesses and individuals in our community who continue to support music boosters and our students,” Hess said. “Every dollar we receive helps kids experience music and opens doors for opportunities to have music always be a part of their lives.”

The concert will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15, in the Owatonna High School Auditorium The silent auction will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets will be available for purchase for $10 for adults and $5 for students at the door.


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