Harlan Rosvold, recently honored for 75 years of continuous service to VFW Conrad Osthum Post 141 in Kenyon, said he served like everybody else.
“I was just like thousands of other guys, it was the thing to do then,” said Rosvold. “Everyone was anxious to join the service. After Pearl Harbor, especially after the Japanese hit, everyone was patriotic. They wanted to do something.”
Only 13,800 World War II-era veterans were still alive in Minnesota as of 2018, the most recent data available from Veterans Affairs. Of Minnesota’s 331,000 veterans, 28,500 served during the Korean Conflict era, 113,500 served during the Vietnam War era and 98,000 served during the Gulf War era both pre- and post-Sept. 11, according to Veterans Affairs.
Rosvold served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to February 1946. Although he wanted to join the Army Air Corps to be a pilot, just like his brother, his eyesight didn’t meet the qualifications so he decided to try the Marines instead. The decision, Rosvold said, ended up being a good move.
He was stationed in the Pacific Theater during World War II and participated in the Battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima. While overseas, Rosvold said he drove amphibious tanks. Those types of tanks had little exterior armor because it had to be able to float. Rosvold recalled that the amphibious tanks did not operate on land, as they became quite clumsy.
His squad landed on Saipan in June, followed by Taiwan in July 1944. They trained and landed on Iwo Jima in February 1945. Of the many things Rosvold experienced while there, he focused on one unique thing that enabled him back-to-back Easter celebrations. He said they crossed the international dateline on April 1, which was also Easter Sunday in 1945. That day, they went to the church services and had a big Easter meal, and he was able to do the same thing the next day.
After returning from Iwo Jima, Rosvold was stationed in Maui, Hawaii, where he and his fellow Marines prepared to land in Japan.
“We were all ready and packed to go and had our equipment all packed up on the dock, ready to head out,” said Rosvold. “We would’ve landed in Japan in November of 1945, but of course when the war was over, we didn’t have to worry about that.”
For his service, he received two Presidential Unit citations for the battles. By the time he was discharged in February 1946, Rosvold had attained the rank of corporal.
Once Rosvold returned, he did carpentry work and later ran a construction company from 1946-59.
“Just like thousands of other guys, I tried to find a job, got married, ended up with a wonderful family, six children, wonderful kids and had some great years,” said Rosvold. “It’s been a great life, I can’t complain.”
Getting involved in the local VFW
In 1945, when Rosvold came home on leave, he recalls being invited to Ray Gunderson’s home in Kenyon. That evening, Ray invited many local veterans to a recruitment Christmas party at his house and Rosvold officially joined the VFW. To this day, Rosvold says he still carries his 1946 membership card in his billfold.
Rosvold served as a commander of the Post for three years from 1953-55 and recalls the post had a lot of good things going for it.
“A lot of guys were coming back from the service and they were ready to be active,” said Rosvold. “It wasn’t hard to get new members, everybody was ready to join this organization. We had some some good years and we have a great Auxiliary with women that are so active. They have done a lot of things for the city and for veterans and have been such a good partner to the VFW to all those years. They’ve been a real strong advocate of any community activities.”
His humble, thankful nature traces down to the VFW Post and Color Guard as well, noting that there are some “real good” members working in both organizations today.
“I just hope that the VFW can continue on, a lot of organizations are having trouble with recruitment now,” said Rosvold. “A lot of leadership has came from the VFW and Color Guard, and they have just done an outstanding job. There has been a wonderful relationship between the city, the community and the VFW.”
Rosvold thinks it’s important for all men and women to serve, as it’s a great experience and instills patriotism.
“I think you become a little more patriotic when you become part of the service,” said Rosvold.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon continues to reach out
During a year of what has meant isolation for many, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon chapters have continued to work effortlessly to ensure no one feels left behind or forgotten.
“Feeling like you’re still a part of the community, I think, in some ways is the toughest part about coming back from deployment,” said Lisa McDermott, a co-chair of the Northfield Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. “That has been our biggest challenge with COVID-19, making sure people still feel they belong to the same groups that they’ve always belonged to even when we can’t be together.”
Between the Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna chapters of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, services and support for veterans has not stopped during the pandemic. Sarah Frazier, chair of the Owatonna BTYR, said they haven’t seen any immediate impact on their services or call for need during 2020, but she is well aware that there could always be more than what they are receiving.
“It’s critical that our veterans and service members reach out if there is a need and that they are vocal, we understand their sacrifices and understand there is a need,” Frazier said.
Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn, who is also the co-chair of the Faribault BTYR, agreed that there is likely more needs from veterans, service members and their families than what they are receiving during the pandemic, noting that their calls for requests have been lower than average.
One of the bigger changes for the Faribault chapter is the uncertainty of whether the group will be able to provide a community meal over the holidays, something Dunn said they try to do at least once a year for Faribault service members and their families. McDermott also said not being able to meet in person has been a hindrance not on the group itself, but how they are able to connect to those who may benefit from their volunteer services.
“I’m not worried about the long-lasting effects the pandemic will have on Beyond the Yellow Ribbon or necessarily worried about our veteran community here in Northfield – there are a lot of ways for people to reach out if they need help,” McDermott said. “But it’s not easy for a service member or veteran to ask for help, so my biggest worry is that a lot of our older people – veteran or not – are so isolated and going understandably stir crazy at this time. We haven’t figured out a way to make a big impact in that area yet.”
Though the inability to come together in person due to the risks of COVID-19, all three representatives for their respective groups said they are still finding a multitude of ways to impact and reach out to veterans and service members. In Northfield, McDermott said they recently finished replacing a garage roof for a veteran and their monthly Zoom meetings continue to be popular. In Owatonna, the group recently made a last-minute display of solidarity to welcome home Navy sailor Hunter Frank, who died in his residence while deployed El Salvador last month.
“As a community, we understand the sacrifices these families make, whether they are our service members or their families,” Frazier said. “We are here to support them and our veterans and it is imperative that we let them know that they’re not alone.”
The Owatonna group also teamed up with the Faribault group a month ago to put together six boxes worth of care packages for the Second Battalion, 135th Infantry deployed to Africa. Though the organizations worked in tandem, Frazier gave massive credit to Dunn for leading the path in donations and volunteers to get the packages put together and shipped out. Dunn said he has heard there is “nothing cooler” than to get something from home and to feel a part of home while serving overseas.
“It just shows that even in trying times, our communities are not forgetting of those men and women that are protecting us and keeping our country free from terrorism and threats,” Dunn said. “There are so many things to be grateful and thankful for from our service community and everything they do, not just in deployments but our National Guard being called out at a moment’s notice to help with civil unrest all over the state. They step up and are there when others are in need, and this Veteran’s Day we need to do the same for them.”
Recognizing veterans’ experiences
Rich Quiring is an Owatonna veteran who tries to share veterans’ experiences through the monthly Veterans’ Roundtable in Owatonna, although it’s currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quiring never questioned serving in the military from 1964 to 1968. He and his wife left for his deployment to Germany, where he worked as an Army security agent doing radio monitoring of Soviet Bloc countries. After three years in Germany, they moved back to the United States in March 1968. They had read about the anti-Vietnam War protests in the United States in military magazines, but didn’t realize what it really meant or was until they returned home.
“We saw protesters out in the streets and I had to travel in uniform and I was visible as being a military person and everybody, regardless of where you served, you were called a ‘baby killer’ or a very negative slang term of whatever they could think of. Really our government at that time did nothing to help out the Vietnam veterans and so after my wife and I got a little bit integrated to home here, we looked at each other and we thought, ‘Why did we come back here?’” Quiring said.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, the Quilts of Valor organization visited his church, Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel, to thank 13 members for their service during the Vietnam War era and more than 50 years after he was discharged from the military, Quiring was recognized by name for his service during that time for the first time.
He reflected on the protests that have taken place this year and how people don’t see value in the freedoms that so many have fought for and take it for granted.
“I guess my main thing is you realize what your country has done for you or the things that we need to protect,” Quiring said of what it means to him to be a veteran. “Basically I look at it from the standpoint of we have a Constitution that was written by our Founding Fathers and protecting the rights of everyone, not just certain ones. It’s protecting the life of the Constitution and ... we have a set of laws within our country and we are actually required to follow those laws so its protecting the laws.”
Judge Ross Leuning is a veteran who served for nearly 38 years who now helps veterans in the court system turn their lives around.
The Third Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court in Steele and Fillmore counties serve 11 counties in Minnesota.
“The need for a Veteran Court is really a product of our country deciding to go to war and sending our men and women to war and experiencing psychological trauma during combat,” Leuning said. “And after every one of our wars, there is a jump in crime from veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder. There really was people coming home and struggling physiologically and trying to self-medicate and turning to violence and we, as a court, should be helping with that issue, not just punishing people reacting normally to the combat experience they had.”
The Veterans Court opened in September 2019 and has already had a positive effort, Leuning said. The Veterans Court, which is a 12- to 18-month program, is designed to help U.S. military veterans charged with misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony offenses who are struggling with addiction, serious mental illness, or co-occurring disorders according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
“We have at least two people whose lives have changed 180 degrees and I would say everyone involved is experiencing significant changes. They’re at different stages of the process, but it’s an amazing change in someone and the fight goes on and they change their lifestyles and they’re their old person they used to be,” he said.
The Veterans Court judges lead the multi-disciplinary teams of professionals who meet on a regular basis to collaboratively assist the veterans with an array of services, such as emergency financial assistance, chemical dependency and mental health/trauma counseling, employment and skills training assistance, temporary housing, and advocacy and other referral services. Veterans can also volunteer as a mentor for the veterans in the Court
Leuning took on the task of starting the Veterans Court because he is a veteran and has seen the effects combat can have on a person. He began in the South Dakota Army National Guard while attending college and after receiving his law degree, he joined the U.S. Navy as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer for five years. Leuning then was a partner at Walbran, Furness and Leuning in Owatonna while still affiliated with the U.S. Navy Reserve for more than 20 years. He also volunteered and worked as a Command Judge Advocate in the Navy based out of the Al Asad Air Base in Albaghdadi, Iraq, prior to his appointment as a judge in Minnesota in 2011.
“I benefited dramatically from (the military),” Leuning said. “It helped me in so many ways professionally and personally, so for me it was very positive and for most people it really is a positive experience. I’m very proud to be a veteran and I’m glad I got the opportunity to serve my country, it’s really an honor.”
A pair of veteran journalists have been named regional sports editors for APG Media of Southern Minnesota.
Award-winning sports writers Nick Gerhardt and Michael Hughes will lead the APG sports team for the Faribault, Owatonna, Northfield, Waseca County and Kenyon papers. The collegial relationship that already exists between the two will be key in delivering the in-depth sports coverage that readers throughout the region have come to expect.
“I am always impressed by how committed Nick and Michael are to delivering so much local sports coverage to our readers,” said Steve Fisher, regional president and Publisher for APG Media of Southern Minnesota. “Both editors are steadfast in their attention to the local sports beats, and providing readers with quality local reporting in print and digital.”
Gerhardt will be based in Owatonna, and concentrate on Steele and Waseca County sports. He will report to APG Media of Southern Minnesota Regional Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke. Gerhardt replaces Jon Wiesbrod, who left to pursue other opportunities.
Hughes will be responsible for sports coverage for the Faribault, Northfield and Kenyon papers. He will report to Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook.
Gerhardt rejoined APG in early February after two years off to work for a magazine publisher, taking the sports reporter post in Waseca County. Prior to that he spent more than a dozen years in southern Minnesota newsrooms and fields of play. And while Steele County may appear to be unfamiliar territory to the Prior Lake native and University of Minnesota grad, Gerhardt’s stops in Albert Lea, Long Prairie, Red Wing and Northfield, and his work with the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association has given him an in-depth knowledge of Owatonna, Medford and Blooming Prairie sports and storylines.
“The Owatonna area has a rich tapestry of success in sports and I look forward to tapping into that and the opportunity to add to that tapestry by documenting local teams’ continued success,” said Gerhardt. “There is much to write about in the area and I’m excited to tell those stories of exceptional athletes, teams, coaches, volunteers and those who contribute to athletics.”
Hughes, an Indiana University graduate, grew up in San Jose, California, which maybe surprisingly prepared him well for sports reporting in the state of hockey. An admitted Sharks fan, hockey was the only professional game in town, and it drew in the Cali kid. In high school, he played soccer and baseball, before that he swam competitively. And like Gerhardt, he’s got a wealth of experience with the Big 9, Gopher and Big South.
“When I started at the Northfield News in December 2017, Nick showed me the ropes and was a constant source of help and information,” said Hughes. “Three years later, I can think of no better partner to help provide the best possible sports coverage for our communities in Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna, Waseca and beyond.”
Gerhardt and Hughes won’t just lead APG’s efforts in print. They’ll direct social media online coverage for sports, and help devise ways to grow the audience online, which gets larger by the month.
In discussing APG’s new structure, Gerhardt, too, looks forward to collaborating Hughes, who he hired in 2017, to direct the brunt of APG’s sports coverage.
“Michael’s a professional who’s dedicated to the craft of community journalism,” he said. “He’s a talented writer who deeply cares about covering high school sports and producing high-quality stories. He and I are committed to a team-first approach, which is exactly what we’ll need to make this partnership a success.”
Industry-wide changes and reader expectations will continue to play a major role in APG’s sports coverage. One thing that won’t change is coverage of local teams and athletes.
“The realities of sports coverage in 2020 have shifted, whether that’s because of deadlines or an ability for everyone to find results online as they happen,” said Hughes. “Moving forward, readers can expect a sports section that’s dominated by personality profiles, features and analytical previews rather than a simple recounting of what’s already happened. We want to reward subscribers with a level of coverage about our local teams that isn’t available anywhere else.”
McKinley Elementary School is switching to distance learning for at least the next month after 20% of the students were quarantined.
Principal Justin Kiel emailed McKinley families Monday afternoon to inform them of the change after an increase in COVID-19 cases at the school. McKinley is the first school in the Owatonna school district to change its learning model due to COVID-19 cases. The school has been using an in-person learning model since the beginning of the school year.
The district’s response was due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and close contacts at McKinley, according to Superintendent Jeff Elstad’s email to families. COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across Minnesota and Steele County. Steele County had 64 new COVID-19 cases in the past two days and 288 active cases as of Monday.
The school will remain in the distance learning model until Friday, Dec. 4 at the earliest, according to Kiel’s email.
Students were sent home at their normal dismissal time with their devices and learning materials at the end of the day Monday. The school will be closed Tuesday as staff makes the transition to the distance learning model and it will resume on Wednesday in the new learning model.
“Minnesota Commissioner of Education Ricker has asked us to use a ‘scalpel’ approach when making decisions regarding learning model changes within buildings in a given district. Using this approach, we made this decision today and will continue to closely monitor every building in the district on a daily basis to provide us the best information to keep our students and staff safe,” Elstad wrote in the email.
Over the weekend, school officials took into consideration McKinley’s COVID-19 data, including the number of quarantine cases, close contacts and positive COVID-19 cases at the school. Taking all of those factors into account the district decided to move McKinley students to distance leaning, Elstad told the People’s Press.
Elstad said about 20% of the student body was asked to quarantine, with the vast majority of those cases being close contacts. There were five COVID-19 positive cases in the past week, according to Elstad. The district contact traced throughout the weekend as reports became available from families. They decided they needed to make the switch to distance learning as they reviewed the information on Sunday night and Monday morning, he said.
More information about child care and school lunches will be available to families via email later Monday. Childcare will be provided to families in need of it through the Community Education office, Elstad said. If families do not have internet and need a hot spot, they are asked to contact the school’s main office at (507) 444-8200.
Kiel’s message says classroom teachers will be communicating with families on Tuesday in regard to student schedules. Students should plan to be in their morning meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the message. Anyone with questions can contact the school’s main office.
School officials will communicate with families if other buildings need to move into distance learning, according to Elstad.
“We are monitoring every building very closely for those same items, so we are looking for how many students are out because they’ve been a close contact, are we seeing a number of students who are actually testing positive for COVID, we don’t have a number attached to it, but we are looking for trends,” Elstad said. He added that the move was to try to mitigate further spread.
Owatonna isn’t the only school district facing a changed learning model this week. Effective Thursday, Faribault’s Lincoln Elementary School will close for two weeks and remain closed for at least two weeks. As of Monday, Rice County had a total of 2,179 confirmed COVID cases and 15 virus-related deaths. Lincoln Elementary staff members were notified Saturday of the transition, allowing them a few days to prepare for full-time distance learning. Faribault schools administrators sent messages to Lincoln parents Monday, and Superintendent Todd Sesker developed a robocall to send to families. Students were invited to return to school one last time Tuesday to retrieve any learning materials they left in their classrooms over the weekend. This also gives teachers a chance to run through the online learning platforms with their students and prepare them for the transition back to distance learning.