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Michael and Sherlyn Mendenhall have opened up an new mattress store, Mattress Today, in St. Peter. The location will eventually serve as an office for Sherlyn as well as she operates her cleaning service Save Your Achy Bones. (Carson Hughes/

St. Peter Middle School revives History Day exhibitions after 3-year hiatus

From the sinking of the Titanic and the fall of the Berlin Wall to the origins of Betty Crocker and the polio vaccine, seventh graders at St. Peter Middle School could tell you all about it and more.

Dozens of students showcased their knowledge and exhibits on major turning points throughout the ages Wednesday, Feb. 8 during the schoolwide History Day competition.

Nora Barnick and Ivy McHugh showcase their presentation on the history of Walt Disney. (Carson Hughes/

For students at St. Peter Middle School, History Day marks one of the largest projects in their education thus far. Over the past several months, seventh graders have chosen historical topics to research and developed their choice of project — cardboard exhibits, documentaries and even websites — to present what they’ve learned.

St. Peter High School students evaluate a student’s presentation on Jonas Salk and the development of the polio vaccine. (Carson Hughes/

Presentations developed in social studies and English classes lined the middle school library from end-to-end as judges filtered in to hear from the students and test their knowledge. St. Peter High School students from Danielle Roehrkasse and Peggy Dimock’s classes served as judges alongside community volunteers from the League of Women Voters and University of Minnesota Mankato and guest judges Mayor Shanon Nowell, City Councilors Keri Johnson and Ben Ranft and City Administrator Todd Prafke.

High School students react to Benazir Hussein’s presentation on the Berlin Wall. (Carson Hughes/

This year marks the first in-person History Day competition at St. Peter Middle School since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a lot of work. This year we actually had the English Department working together with the Social Studies Department, so this was actually two separate classes working together to accomplish one large project,” said Social Studies Teacher Dustin Sharstrom. “And this is by far the biggest project that middle schoolers have done.”

Students at St. Peter Middle School represent just some of over half a million middle and high school students participating in the National History Day competition.

In total, 24 SPMS students qualified to advance to the regional competition at MSU Mankato on Thursday, March 16. This marks a record-breaking cohort of St. Peter students advancing to the region level.

Select students may then qualify for the state competition on April 22 and the National Contest at the University of Maryland on June 11-15.

Students share their presentations for History Day. (Carson Hughes/

For this year’s theme, “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas,” students researched topics from ancient history to the recent past which show-cased pioneers and world-changing movements and events.

Scarlett Wendt poses with her regional-qualifying exhibit on the Manhattan Project. (Carson Hughes/

In her regional-qualifying exhibit, seventh grader Scarlett Wendt, explored the new frontiers created by the development of the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project. It was the ominous image of the mushroom cloud that Wendt said inspired her to find out how the first nuclear weapons were developed and how such weapons of mass destruction impact the world today.

“I also found it interesting the after effects about how other governments do have the atomic nuclear weapons that can kill thousands,” said Wendt. “For example, according to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia, in 2022, the estimated stockpile was 5,977 and the stockpile itself is thought to be increasing over time.”

Esme Gramse (left) and Benazir Hussein pose with their exhibits on Elizabeth Blackwell and the Berlin Wall respectively. (Carson Hughes/

Many other students explored historic social movements like women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement and key figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Before developing her presentation on King, Evaney Garza said she hadn’t realized the Civil Rights leader was involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott spurred by Rosa Parks’ arrest or that played a key role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Evaney Garza stands next to her History Day exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr. (Carson Hughes/

“I have always been interested in African American history and how the laws were changed and who helped change them,” Garza said on why she chose her topic.

Students Olivia Mish and Makayla Guth took a page out of Minnesota’s own history for their regional-qualifying presentation on the Willmar 8 Bank Strike, in which eight female employees of the Willmar’s Citizens National Bank organized a two year strike in protest of unequal pay and gender discrimination.

Marcus Lemke and Jazmyn Hermel-Eggers pose with their exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr. (Carson Hughes/

Mish described the numerous challenges the protesters faced, from picketing outside the bank in negative 70 degree temperatures to being ostracized by members of their community. The lawyer who chose to represent them in their gender discrimination complaint was forced out of his position as the Republican county chair.

“In the end, they ended up having to go back to work. They never got their pay raised but they brought national attention to the fact that, even though the Equal Pay Act went through 14 years ago, they still didn’t have equal pay,” said Mish. “They brought national attention to the fact that was still going on.”

The Bulldogs gather together as a team after the final whistle. (Ben Camp photo/

Drag Me with a Spoon founders Miss Ava Cado and Wanda Gag open the Valentine’s show at the St. Peter American Legion.

Electric, stormwater rates to rise back-to-back over 2 years

Facing major electric utility expenditures in the next two years and a slim stormwater fund balance, the St. Peter City Council approved significant back-to-back electric and stormwater rate increases for the next two years.

On Monday, Feb. 13, the City Council approved a 6% electric rate increase effective April 2023 and another 6% rate increase starting in January, 2024. The approved budget represents the first change to electric rates since 2017 and the largest single increase since a 6.5% jump in 2008.

As energy prices soar, the St. Peter City Council has approved back-to-back 6% electric rate increases in 2023 and 2024. (Carson Hughes/

The actual rate increases aren’t flat across the board. Residential customers, for example, will see a 7.4% increase in their energy charge in April alongside a 7.9% jump in their customer charge. But with the elimination of the existing $3.24 per month transmission charge, some residential customers may pay less in 2023.

The city’s own electric rates are rising in response to skyrocketing energy prices. In November of last year, the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency pumped up on-peak and off-peak energy rates by 15.6%.

City staff noted the rate change would both pass on the increasing costs of energy to consumers and assist with improvements to the Front Street substation. To finance the development, which includes the replacement of a 50-year-old transformer behind city hall, the city plans to debt service $2 million of the estimated $3.4 million project costs.

“We have a spike in energy prices and we’ve had a spike in the cost of a transformer,” said City Councilor Brad DeVos. “It’s going to take us almost two years to get a new transformer in and the price has almost doubled from when we were looking at this a few years ago.”

Councilor Keri Johnson said the City Council has been aiming for smaller, gradual rate increases rather than pass larger rate hikes all at once, but that the city is also feeling the pinch of inflation.

“The city feels inflation just as much, we have to pay people a decent wage, keep up with rates, we have to make investments in our equipment,” said Johnson. “We don’t want to be like Texas, we want to have a really strong system and in order to have that we have to make investments.”

The Council approved similar rate increases for the stormwater fund, raising charges by 5% in 2023 and another 5% in 2024.

Currently, the stormwater fund balance sits at a healthy $372,000, but with increasing staff, insurance and capital project costs, the fund balance is projected to fall into a deficit without substantial rate increases.

Wages are budgeted to increase by 4.5% in 2023 and 2024 while health insurance has risen by 7.5% in 2023 and is projected to rise 10% in 2024.

The fund will also be used to issue approximately $1.8 million in bonds to support infrastructure improvements to Hwy. 169, Hwy. 99, Hwy. 22, 361st Street , Park Row and Pine Street.

With the rate increases and $200,000 transferred out of the wastewater fund to the stormwater fund over the next two years, the general fund balance is expected to drop to just below $28,500 in 2024. The projected fund balance falls well below the city’s $289,000 goal, but remains above a deficit.

But those budget projections could change if the City Council decides to alter the special assessment policy and take on a greater share of local infrastructure costs, or if contractor bids are higher than anticipated.