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Owatonna’s Tanner Hall (27) leans forward for extra yards during a Big Southeast District football game against Rochester John Marshall last season. Hall led the Huskies with more than 1,100 rushing yards in 2019 and is one of four returning starters from last season’s OHS offense that also rolls back all-district players Brayden Truelson at quarterback and Payton Beyer at receiver as well as Nate Smith on the line. (SouthernMinn.com/File)

Parkinson’s boxing program expands to include other degenerative brain conditions

When people receive a diagnosis for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis, they can feel fear and loneliness. But for the last year and half, a local businesswoman has been providing a ring for those looking to square up and battle their degenerative brain conditions together.

“There are not many long-term options specifically tailored to support those diagnosed with Parkinson’s and other similar diseases,” said Reagen West, owner and instructor at Owatonna Fitness. “Helping them fight a disease, gain a community of support, keep them active and strong is a whole additional dimension to just a physical fitness perspective.”

Since April 2019, West has been providing a class specifically designed to help combat the symptoms that come with Parkinson’s to the point where participants can either plateau or see improvement. Punch Boxing for Parkinson’s, a 90-minute circuit training boxing program, provides the rhythmic movements key to muscle memory and the return of plasticity – the central nervous system’s ability to adapt to its environment – crucial to delaying the progression of neuromuscular diseases like Parkinson’s.

Due to the success West has seen in her participants, she is opening the program and transforming it into “Punch Aging” to help increase balance, movement and coordination for all neurodegenerative diseases.

“Research indicates that neurodegenerative diseases all benefit from boxing,” West said, adding that physical therapists will assist in her upcoming classes. “The skills, coordination and brain function required for boxing help build neural pathways, which combats the symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, stroke victims and more. It is truly a class physically for one’s body and brain.”

Excited for the next phase of the program, West said there is one element that she hopes to provide more than anything else – hope.

“In all classes that I teach, the members come first and every class is tailored to their benefit,” West said. “For this particular group, I want to give them hope where there are few options. As more and more research comes out, it is great to be able to give them a way to fight – or literally punch – back at these diseases.”

The class has transformed into a devoted membership of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s and their spouses or caregivers like Iris Johnson and her husband, Dave.

“I thought Dave had [Parkinson’s] for a few years before I could get him to address it, but about three years or so the doctor told him he needed to get it checked out and he was officially diagnosed,” Johnson said. “It’s a progressive disease, but I think without the class he would have deteriorated much faster than he has.”

Johnson signed her husband up for West’s class when it was first offered to the community and joked that she decided it was “best we go together” in order to keep him motivated. It turned out, the program provided just as much help for her as it did for him.

“It’s uplifting to be with these people,” Johnson said, noting that having an opportunity to discuss how things are going with the other participants has allowed the couple not to feel alone in their fight. “I feel very lucky to have Reagan, too. She knows all of us very well, she knows our limitations and reminds us not to do things that could hurt us.”

West said the class has provided a new type of support group for her participants, something that she feels honor to play a role in.

“It is a wonderful community where everyone supports each other. We keep tabs on everyone and always check in on each other, too,” West said. “It is definitely more than just a class.”

Aside from the community support, Johnson said she found benefits to the boxing program that aided her own physical condition of having balance issues.

“This class does a lot of the same things I needed to do for that, so even for us that don’t have Parkinson’s, it’s been just as good and helpful,” she said.

Undercover operation results in one arrest, three felony charges

A Minneapolis man who traded methamphetamine for firearms with an undercover agent has been charged in State District Court.

Nehemiah “Nemo” Jolami Edris, 22, has been charged with first-degree aggravated controlled substance and firearm, first-degree drug sale, and possessing a firearm after being convicted or adjudicated delinquent for a crime of violence. All three charges are felonies, with the two most serious charges carrying a maximum potential sentencing of 30 years in prison and/or a $1 million fine.

Edris’ bail is set at $250,000 and he is currently being held at the Steele County Detention Center. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 19.

The charges stem from two incidents where Edris unknowingly made drug transactions with the undercover South Central Drug Investigation Unit agent. According to the criminal complaint, Edris first met with the agent on Sept. 4 in the parking lot of an Owatonna business and sold him just over one ounce of meth for $850. During that deal, Edris informed the agent that he would be interested in trading drugs for firearms, according to the complaint.

Court documents show Edris contacted the agent again on Sept. 23 asking specifically for a “Draco,” a civilian variant of an AK-47 pistol. At that time, Edris asked the agent for a list of firearms available for trade, from which he selected six pistols and one semi-automatic SKS rifle as shown in the criminal complaint.

According to the complaint, Edris and the agent met in the parking lot of a Medford business on Friday, Oct. 2, to trade the firearms for six ounces of meth. After Edris accepted the firearms from the agent and handed over the drugs, Edris was arrested without incident.



Officials asking taxpayers to 'reinvest' in Owatonna schools in levy referendum


Owatonna school district officials shared information about the upcoming Nov. 3 operating levy referendum in a public information meeting on Monday.

On Election Day, the school district is asking taxpayers for continued funding and a phased-in increase with two referendum questions on the ballot. The first question will ask voters to renew the district’s operating levy, which is set to expire in June. The second question asks voters for a phased-in increase to the levy in 2022 and 2025.

“Make sure you are flipping the ballot over when you’re voting because I know that some of the local races, in addition to the levy referendum are on page two of the back side on the ballot,” Superintendent Jeff Elstad said at the meeting.

There weren’t any public comments or questions about the levy at the meeting.

District officials have called it a “renewal and reinvestment” in Owatonna schools and have consistently pushed the idea that strong schools create strong communities. On Monday, Elstad reiterated the poll results about the district in 2018, including that 91% of respondents said they were receiving a good value from the money invested in the public school system.

The community has trusted the district with its current levy funds over the last seven years, and the district kept its promises by balancing the budget every year and maintaining a reasonable fund balance allowing for unexpected expenses, Elstad said.

The community approved a bond last year to build the new high school. However, bonds are for constructing new buildings or repairing current buildings, whereas levies are for funding operation costs.

“We’ve also kept our promise because when we passed a bond referendum last November, we shared with the community that more than likely we were going to receive a very attractive interest rate, but at the time we hadn’t projected that interest rate would be at 4%,” Elstad said. The district sold its bonds in February for 2.4% thus saving the taxpayers $25 million.

The majority of education funding comes from the state and federal dollars, local sources make up the remaining 18%, according to the Owatonna Public Schools Finance Facts website.

However, state funding for education has not kept up with inflation or the increasing cost of education, according to Amanda Heilman, the district’s director of finance and operations. Thus they are turning toward local sources of funding. Had inflation kept pace since 2003, Owatonna Public Schools would have received an additional $3 million last school year alone. The funding gap continues to grow, Heilman says.

“And as we move forward, we envision that (state funding) may not increase significantly as the state is obviously facing a $4.7 billion deficit,” Heilman said.

Mandated academic and support programs cost the Owatonna district about $7 million more than the district receives each year from the state and federal governments, Heilman says.

If voters do not approve the two requests, the district will lose $2.5 million per year, forcing the district to cut these programs and services, according to the district. The district has already cut over $2 million dollars in a “shared approach,” as previously reported. If passed, the district will still make a combined $5.25 million in cuts over the next three years.

Owatonna’s operating levy is lower than other schools in the Big Nine School Districts, with the exception of Mankato and Austin. However, Austin is still going out for an operating levy this fall, according to Heilman.

“All school districts are seeing those funding pressures increase and we’re all needing to come together to find a solution,” Heilman said.

Heilman highlighted the district’s unassigned fund balance, pointing out that because the district is at the end of its levy cycle the district is projected to fall below the ideal 8 to 10% goal allotted for financial stability, cash flow and unexpected expenses.

The second referendum question requests a phased-in increase in the district’s operating levy in 2022 and 2025. The tax increase is about $10 per month on the average priced home of $175,000. Recognizing the economic conditions right now, school officials said they wanted to be respectful to the taxpayers, thus phasing in the levy.

The funding would maintain quality programming, appropriate class sizes and career/technical opportunities for students for years to come, according to the district. Passing question two is dependent on if voters pass the first question.

“And what this essentially would do for us, it would bring in $1.6 million in additional revenue in 2022 to 2024 and another $1.6 million in 2025 to 2031,” Heilman said, adding that it would create financial stability for the district.

More information can be found on the levy website (www.isd761.org/levy), including a tax impact calculator where residents can enter their information to calculate their expected tax impact. Video of Monday’s presentation can be found at www.wearelivetoday.com/ohs-information-session.