OWATONNA — The Pony of America named “Unforgettable” lives up to his name.
His strength and determination prevails year after year, placing him in state competitions and garnering him popularity and recognition throughout Steele County.
But for 18-year-old Brynn Hable of Medford, he is simply “Squirt.”
“He is my first-ever childhood pony,” Hable said of her 25-year-old horse. “He was actually my brother’s first horse and I was deathly afraid of him, but I got him when I turned 8 and started showing him right away.”
From barrel racing to jumping competitions, Hable and Unforgettable — whose stable name is Squirt — have had a long and illustrious decade-old career together. The duo are preparing for their last competition starting at the Steele County Free Fair next week, and Hable said she is hoping for one final trip to state with her four-legged partner.
“My first state trip was on him, so I’m hoping my last year with him will end in a state trip, too,” Hable said.
Following the end of summer, Hable said, Unforgettable will officially retire to live out his life enjoying the pasture at her grandparents’ farm in Geneva.
Before hanging up his halter, however, Unforgettable will be recognized in a truly memorable way. After 10 years of competing and attending the Steele County Free Fair, Unforgettable will be inducted into the SCFF Equine Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
“Unforgettable is an interesting one,” laughed Pat McCarthy, the Equine Hall of Fame superintendent. “He’s a game horse who participated in timed events, so it’s exciting that we will now have a horse on the wall from a different area of competition.”
It’s been seven years since the fair inducted a horse into its equine hall of fame, but Unforgettable will be amongst great company according to McCarthy. The first animal to be inducted in 2008 was a Pony of America named Hawkeye, who eventually went on to be inducted into the Pony of America Hall of Fame. The following year an Arabian stallion named Ferzon was inducted, a horse that McCarthy said really “put Owatonna on the map” as one of the top four breeding stallions in the world. In 2010, draft mules Nacho and Nelly were inducted and two years later another Arabian stallion named Raskal also received the honor.
“When the nominations for the Hall of Fame come in we compare them and what they have done locally, regionally, nationally, and in the world,” McCarthy said. “A lot of horses have done all these things and come from the families who are involved in the equine world. They have what they need to get on the wall.”
McCarthy said that Unforgettable is well-known for his presence at the local fair, but is also being recognized for his success in the state 4-H shows. He added that when it comes to including horses in the hall of fame that he doesn’t see them as being any different than the people already hanging on the wall.
“There is really no difference between the two, it’s all a matter of equine history,” McCarthy said. “I always ask, does the horse make the person or the person make the horse? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’ There always seems to be a love affair with the horse and its handler. It’s just a different culture.”
Hable said that both she and Unforgettable are excited about receiving such an honor, specifically because of the family connection that comes with such recognition.
“My great-grandpa Laverne Utpadel was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Hable said. “I never got a chance to meet him, so this makes me feel connected.”
Though it will be Unforgettable’s face on the wall, Hable said that their kinship binds them as one.
“I have such a bond with him,” she said affectionately. “I will never have that same connection with another horse.”
While Hable would love to thank the person who nominated Unforgettable, she states that she still is completely in the dark on who exactly made the nomination. Instead, she expressed her deep gratitude to the people who helped make her equine career with Unforgettable possible.
“I just have thank my grandpa and grandma, Todd and Sherry Utpadel,” Hable said. “I have to thank them for giving me the opportunity to own such a great hose that has taken me farther than I could ever imagine.”
The Steele County Free Fair Equine Hall of Fame induction will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 13 at 12:30 p.m. in the livestock showing arena. Unforgettable will be present for the ceremony, as well has fellow inductee Henry Rypka who is being recognized for being a “professional volunteer” in the local equine community.
The Steele County Free Fair opening ceremony is on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Fair Square.
OWATONNA — In a surprising Facebook announcement, Sterling Drug alerted the Owatonna public that its convenience store and gift shop will be permanently closed come the end of the day Saturday.
The pharmacy, however, will remain open and resume business as usual.
According to Sam Ewing, the president of Sterling Pharmacy, the entire site will be purchased by Kwik Trip effective Aug. 30.
“We are closing the gift shop and convenience store early because we need to remove the merchandise prior to Kwik Trip taking over,” Ewing told the People’s Press on Thursday. “They will be turning it into a regular ol’ Kwik Trip with some construction, which generally is done very quickly.”
Pharmacy customers were first notified of the change via a letter on Monday, describing the transition of the store located at 410 Hoffman Drive to a Kwik Trip and Sterling Pharmacy.
Ewing said that during negotiations with Kwik Trip, he stated the importance of keeping the pharmacy in the same location as a Sterling Pharmacy. He added that the pharmacy will remain open throughout the construction project.
“We have had a store in Owatonna for many years and it’s super important to us that we remain in Owatonna in that location. It’s exactly where we want to be,” Ewing explained. “This is an exciting opportunity for us, and while I can’t speak for Kwik Trip I believe they are excited about the possibility of what this partnership might bring.”
The 11,500 square-foot store was constructed in 2007, officially moving Sterling Drug from its location at the former Cedar Mall to Hoffman Drive downtown. The drugstore had to find a new home after Federated Insurance bought the Cedar Mall building where Sterling Drug was leasing space. Federated bought the building in 1997 and gradually began converting the building into office space as tenants moved out. Sterling Drug was the last Cedar Mall tenant to leave in November 2007. The drugstore had been in the mall for more than two decades.
The gift shop and convenience store attached to a Shell gas station was a new concept for Sterling, and Ewing stated that it was the only store of its kind in the company. With the pharmacy industry constantly changing, Ewing said that Sterling is always looking new opportunities.
“Pharmacy is tough and our primary business is pharmacy,” Ewing said. “We have to be creative and look for new opportunities to thrive in the current environment. Having a shared space with an industry leader like Kwik Trip is a great opportunity for us and we’re looking forward to the exposure they will bring.”
“They are great at what they do and I think it should be a win-win,” he continued.
When asked about the fate of the convenience store and gift shop staff, Ewing said that is yet to be determined by Kwik Trip as they make the transition. The pharmacy staff, however, will remain the same as it will still be a Sterling Pharmacy.
Pharmacy patients will still be able to pick up prescriptions at the store and are encouraged to use the free prescription deliver if it is more convenient.
“We are grateful for our customer’s continued loyalty and ask them to please bear with us during construction,” Ewing added. “It is important to us that we maintain the pharmacy in Owatonna.”
The gift shop and convenience store will be open on Saturday for their last day during their normal hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sterling Drug is owned by Austin-based Astrup Drug.
BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Jake Schwarz, who was already familiar with Blooming Prairie due to the fact his children attend school in the district, is now getting to know even more as he takes over as elementary principal.
“It’s everything I imagined so far,” he said earlier this summer. Coming into a new building can be “daunting,” but “everyone has been welcoming and helpful.”
Schwarz, who was the middle and high school principal in Grand Meadow, has lived in Blooming Prairie for years with his wife and their children. All four of his children attend school in the district.
His roots in the community and school district, of course, were a factor in seeking this position, he said. “You want to be as involved as you can in the community in a role like (principal), but it’s tough to do that in two districts, so it’ll be fun to” concentrate only on Blooming Prairie.
Even more importantly, however, Schwarz “was really impressed with the teachers and how this district is run,” he said. “There are lots of positive things going on I want to be part of.”
His time as a high school and middle school principal will benefit him in his new role, because he understands the skills students need to possess by the time they’re older, he said. “That starts at the elementary level.”
While “there are still a million things to do” with elementary students, “the focus narrows a bit” compared with middle or high school, he said. “There are so many other factors” with older students, but while “the workload is the same” in an elementary setting, “you can focus on one area more.”
In addition, his background is in elementary teaching, including a decade in third grade, he said. “I’m more comfortable” in elementary.
Farming and education
Schwarz, who was Grand Meadow’s principal for three years, was raised on a farm before graduating from Fillmore Central High School and then Winona State University. He spent the preponderance of his early teaching years in third grade, then took a couple of years off to farm his family plot, which only served to “reignite” his passion for teaching.
Schwarz didn’t want to look back later in life and wish he’d tried farming, but “I really missed (education),” he said. “Being away from it, you realize the difference you make with students […] it gives me goosebumps when I think about it.”
In fact, that’s one reason he transitioned from teacher to instructional coach to principal: the opportunity to impact an entire building, rather than one classroom or group.
“I thrive on that,” he said. “I’m super-excited to join this team and be even more of a part of the community.”
Schwarz “comes very well-recommended” and has done “an excellent job” in Grand Meadow, Chris Staloch, who had been Blooming Prairie’s elementary principal but has since taken over for Barry Olson as superintendent, said this spring. Schwarz emerged as the consensus pick — not only of the teachers and administrators, but also the school board —and “we’re very confident he’ll do a great job.”
“I have been spending quite a bit of time with (Schwarz),” and “we’ve had great discussions,” Staloch added later this summer. “He’s been great at asking really good questions.”
“I put a lot of emphasis on family” within his own household, and Schwarz wants to create the same familial feeling in his building, Schwarz said. “It all just starts with relationships, and this school does that well.”
Schwarz treats faculty, staff, and students “like family, and I’m respectful of everybody,” he said. “That’s just how I operate.”
“The main goal is to get to know kids on a personal level,” he added. “That’s what we all want.”
Schwarz grew up on a farm, and he wanted his own children — his triplets will start third grade this fall, while his daughter will be a sixth grader — to have similar experiences, he said. He and his family purchased acreage in Blooming Prairie nearly four years ago.
Farm life teaches “responsibility” while providing “an ability to explore, be outside, and (play in) an unstructured environment,” he said. “It was a very valuable way for me of growing up.”
In fact, that “unstructured” time is critical inside school buildings, as well, he said. “We want (more) engineers and inventors,” so it’s paramount for schools to allow students “freedom to create and freedom of thinking.”
Staffing and tech
Blooming Prairie, as many other districts, can struggle to find qualified applicants for some positions, but the key is “get them in the doors, because they’ll see Blooming Prairie is awesome and want to teach here,” Schwarz said. “You can have a great livelihood.”
While in Grand Meadow, Schwarz actually started an introduction-to-education class to expose students to the teaching profession. He also supervised student teachers from local universities.
Schwarz believes Blooming Prairies elementary school has “a nice balance with technology,” as it’s integrated into the curriculum, but not overused, he said. “There’s lots of value with that connection between pen and paper,” and “I think our kids get enough screen time when they leave school.”
Sharing a school with his own children
Schwarz is looking forward to knowing even more about the school his children attend and being able to see them whenever he wants during the day.
“I think they’re excited,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re proud of me.”