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(Owatonna Girls Basketball) Lindsey Hugstad-Vaa.JPG

Owatonna head coach Lindsey Hugstad-Vaa talks to her team during a timeout. (Stephen McDaniel/

Community Pathways co-executive directors say goodbye to nonprofit work
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For the last few weeks, many community members have been calling and walking through the doors at Community Pathways of Steele County to say their farewells to co-executive directors Nancy Ness and Maureen Schlobohm as they are set to retire this week.

Schlobohm reflected on her years with Community Pathways and the impacts she has felt since she joined the organization in July of 2015.

“The people I’ve connected with over the years have been so special to me,” Schlobohm said. “Many people have talked about the impact I’ve made on their lives, but sometimes I feel like their stories have had a bigger impact on me than I ever could have on them.”

Though Schlobohm said she doesn’t have any major plans for her retirement, she plans to use the time to spend with her grandson, family, friends and be outdoors as much as possible.

“For someone who loves being outdoors, January isn’t the most ideal time for retirement,” Schlobohm laughed. “But spring and summer will come around again, and I plan to spend as much time as possible connecting with friends that I have almost been forced to neglect for the last few years.”

Both Schlobohm and Ness said that in the nonprofit world, workers must have a support system in place because hours get long, and there’s a lot of demand on time after traditional working hours.

“You don’t do a job like this to get rich,” Ness said. “That’s not what this is about, and our spouses have often come to volunteer and help us when we get overwhelmed.”

During their collective time at Community Pathways, both women reflected on some of their fondest memories. Both stating that it’s clear to see the impact they’ve been able to make with the organization and the community they serve.

Schlobohm said she is incredibly grateful for the memories and the connections she’s made and one of the hardest parts of retiring and leaving is having to leave that behind. They recalled one man who would come to the building almost every day, simply because it became part of his routine.

“Even during COVID when we were shut down, he would still come and sit outside in his truck,” Schlobohm said. “We would take turns going out to say hello and check on him.”

“Those are the things that you take with you when you’re in the nonprofit world,” Ness said. “ It’s those moments and the people that you never forget. I certainly won’t forget.”

Unlike Schlobohm, Ness said she has plenty of plans in the works for her retirement. Firstly, she plans on having a Lord of the Rings-themed retirement party toward the end of January. For the party, she plans to decorate each room of her house as a different iconic places in Middle Earth from the saga.

“I plan to start being creative again and taking the time to make sculptures out of different media and go outside,” Ness said. “I come from a family of rock hunters so my siblings and I plan to travel around rock hunting at least twice a year too. Life is an adventure and I plan to take advantage of it.”

Ness is also skilled in silversmithing and creating stained glass. She’s traveled to many spots in the United States to go rock hunting and plans to go back to South Dakota, Arkansas and Montana, which, according to her, is one of her favorite places to hunt.

Both Ness and Schlobohm agree that they are thankful to have been a part of Community Pathways during some of the biggest milestones since its inception.

“From the merger to the common data place and whole in the wall. It has been amazing to see how it has evolved,” Ness said. “That’s part of the wanderlust of this organization to me. It shows just how the community is really engaged in what we do here and they just get it. They understand it’s not just clothing and food. It is moral support, friendship, kindness, smiles and hugs.”

Both women say that the organization is in good hands with the new executive director, Dom Korbel, who started in the position last week.

“I think I can speak for Nancy, Dom and I when I say we all feel we were meant to be here,” Schlobohm said. “Somewhere in our paths at one time or another lead us right here and Nancy and I can agree that the organization is in good hands and we are excited to see where Dom takes it.”

Riverland to offer 15-week construction management certificate class
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The job market keeps changing, but the buildings just keep going up. Area residents are about to get an opportunity to get in on the action.

Starting in January, Riverland Community College will be offering a new course in construction project management. With majority online instruction and select classes held in-person on Tuesday evenings at the Owatonna campus, the course aims to provide access to a growing industry for adult learners who may be working full-time already, whether in construction or otherwise.

Julian Hast / By JULIAN HAST 

Students of Riverland Community College’s construction project management course, to be offered in January, will get an inside look at the downtown Owatonna Marriott Hotel, currently under construction by Mohs Contracting. (Julian Hast/

The course offers an introduction to the construction industry as a whole, as well as basic training in the field of construction project management. Matt Durand, who holds a bachelor of science degree in construction management from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and is the instructor for the course, hopes matriculation from the program will help fill a void left by recent shifts in the job market.

“We’re seeing right now, more than ever, baby boomers retiring out of the industry, and we’re seeing a huge labor gap,” Durand said. “This certificate offers a pathway for individuals to try to take that step forward.”

Durand went on to describe the course as providing scaffolding for electricians and carpenters who want to take a step up in their career, as well as high school graduates who may have attended college for a year or so before realizing it wasn’t for them.

More than just helping individuals trying to elevate their own careers and exploit opportunities in the job market, Durand said he sees the course as a critical aid to businesses in town, such as those that have recently come to the industrial park. Having employable graduates of the program who know all about the immense amount of scheduling and other logistical elements of construction, among other skills, he said, will greatly benefit the productivity and effectiveness of local businesses.

Organized in a block format, the construction project management course consists of three five-week classes: construction methods and materials, construction graphics, and estimating, with the first class scheduled for Jan. 11 and the last for May 10. In addition to teaching the fundamentals, said Ryan Langemeier, dean of academic affairs at Riverland Community College, the certificate program will introduce students to “industry practices, standards and applications that are performed during a commercial/residential construction project.”

Mohs Contracting, project general contractor for the downtown Owatonna Marriott Hotel, has already agreed to provide certificate students site tours of the hotel, which is the first project for the course. In addition to sharing project plans to give students a real-life illustration of materials and methods used in a construction project, they’ve also considered allowing student teams to design tenant buildout options for a vacant commercial space in the project.

Students will also work on the Downtown Owatonna Business Incubator for their second project. The Incubator project, which aims to purchase and renovate a building which will function as a satellite location for the Owatonna Area Business Development Center, would give remote workers a space out of which to work in the downtown district. The project will give students the experience of designing tenant buildout options while learning about preliminary estimates for tenant buildout options.

Looking forward, Durand said he aims to continue discussions with local business leaders about potentially reimbursing part of the tuition of their workforce should their employees receive education that makes them more effective at their jobs.

“Whenever we can re-invest in our communities with education, it helps the whole community,” he said.

Tim and Cindy Pelton enjoy a beer at Mineral Springs Brewery, something that was once a side-hobby for Tim with a couple a friends and has since become a booming business in downtown Owatonna. Tim Pelton will be officially retiring from the brewery by the end of the year so he can spend more time with his grandchildren. (Photo courtesy of Mineral Springs Brewery)

Commissioners approve 3% tax levy increase in 3-2 vote

Steele County staff had their work cut out for them when the Board of Commissioners made it clear they wanted to see the final tax levy number come down significantly from the preliminary increase approved in September.

During a special meeting Wednesday — and an impassioned debate between the commissioners — the board approved a 3% tax levy increase in a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Greg Krueger and Rick Gnemi were the opposing votes, instead voting in favor of a 4.6% increase in a failed motion.

The increase is less than half of the 6.5% preliminary increase set in September. The projected tax base increase, however, is roughly 7% for Steele County, meaning even if the commissioners had stuck with the 6.5% increase, property owners who did not see a change in their property value from 2020 would see a reduction in the county portion of their property taxes.

While the 4.6% increase was originally proposed during a work session last week, Piepho brought the 3% increase after factoring in $417,000 of potential savings from staff turnovers.

The final 2022 budget for Steele County has been set at $59.8 million.

Following a presentation by Treasurer and Finance Director Cathy Piepho on the budget and levy increase, a motion was first made to approve a 4.6% increase. Commissioners Jim Abbe, James Brady and John Glynn, however, did not agree the increase needed to be that high.

“I feel the 3% is a more manageable number,” said Abbe.

One of the main reasons the three commissioners supported the smaller increase was because of the “unassigned” funds, which Piepho said they have a “very healthy balance” of.

“Our unassigned or unrestricted funds at the end of this year is projected to be about $24.8 million, which equates to about 9.4 months of operating expenditures,” Piepho said. “The State Auditor recommends we have no less than five months of operating expenditures there, so we are well ahead of that.”

Abbe and Brady both said the surplus in the unassigned funds is a justifiable reason to keep the levy increase as minimal as possible, especially as serious inflation seems to be on the horizon.

“We have moms and pops living out there on fixed incomes and we’re entering the inflationary period where they go to the gas pump it’s going to hit them, they got to get groceries it’s going to hit them, everyday spending they are paying more out of their pockets,” Abbe said. “Not everybody has an extra $100 or $200 at the end of the month to throw around, so every $16 helps. I just think it would be prudent of us to think in those terms.”

Brady acknowledge that the 3% increase is “really lean,” but with the amount of money in the unassigned funds, he said the county should be fine.

“If anything maybe this will make us tighten the reins a little with our future building projects,” Brady said, alluding to the $1 million proposed maintenance shed the commissioners have been less than supportive of in the capital improvement projects plan for next year. “I think we should see what happens. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong — I’ve been wrong before.”

Krueger, however, adamantly disagreed.

“I don’t think this is something we can just guess at,” Krueger said, noting the 1.6% extra increase would specifically be earmarked for payroll, therefore helping the county recruit and retain qualified staff. “Our reserves were never intended for things like payroll, they’re for disasters or in case we really need it for something.”

Glynn said he preferred the 3% increase because he strongly believes certain projects in the CIP plan could be downscaled or perhaps funding through grants.

“I think we’d be fine,” he said. “I think it’s important to stay as lean as we can, and a 3% increase would justify that.”

Abbe asserted at the end of the day, they have to do what is best for the taxpayers.

“We have this opportunity to bring the increase down to 3% and maybe not impact the taxpayers as much,” Abbe said. “They don’t have those dollars at the end of the month like many of us at this table do, a lot of people are out there sitting on fixed incomes.”