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Polar Plunge participants cannonball into the freezing water. (Photos courtesy of Ed Lee)

Polar Plunge

Business owner Shorty Johnson shares fervor for photography

Shorty Johnson showcases his photography in the lobby of his local tire replacement business, Shorty’s Tire One. Johnson has been an avid photographer for 15 years. (Carson Hughes/

To many St. Peter residents, Shorty Johnson is the one you call when you’ve blown out a tire or need a fresh set of wheels. But the owner of Shorty’s Tire One has a passion for more than just fixing up automobiles. When he doesn’t have a lug wrench in hand, Johnson can often be found carrying a camera in pursuit of his other passion: photography.

Johnson’s proclivity for camerawork is little secret to regular customers of Shorty’s Tire One. Self-taken snapshots of wild horses, birds of prey and magnificent landscapes of Midwestern natural parks adorn the walls of the Shorty’s Tire One lobby.

The auto mechanic said he always had an interest in photography and started taking pictures himself around 15 years ago when he bought his first high quality camera. Johnson is largely self-taught, having developed his talents through watching YouTube video tutorials and applying his skill in the field. Today, Johnson can be found capturing new photos every week.

“It’s kind of like someone going fishing or golfing or something, you’re always after the bigger, better thing,” said Johnson. “It forces you to travel, and with photography, you tend to look at things in a different perspective sometimes.”

In pursuit of the next big shot, Johnson regularly travels to places like the Gunflint Trail, Bear Head Lake State Park near the Boundary Waters and North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. With just a camera and the bare essentials in his van, Johnson will spend several days immersing himself in the natural landscapes and looking for a good subject to shoot.

Many of the memories from these locations and other parks from across the Midwest are preserved in glass frames at Shorty’s Tire One. For example, visitors may see a picture of an island on Bear Lake that appears clouded in fog. But what appears to be fog is actually smoke from a forest fire.

From the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, customers can see shots of a gathering of bighorn sheep and a picture of a lone wild horse running through a field. Johnson said there are around 50 horses at the park and can be usually found running in groups of seven to 10.

But it doesn’t take a vacation to capture a great photo. Some of Johnson’s favorite nearby places to get pictures of wildlife include Hallett’s Pond, Minneopa State Park and the hummingbird gardens in Henderson. And sometimes the best pictures come at times when they’re the least expected.

“There’s a little surprise around every corner,” said Johnson. “You might be driving down the road at the Gunflint Trail or Hwy. 1 up north come around the corner and there’s a moose standing there and you;re scrambling trying to get a picture of them. Half the time it doesn’t work, but sometimes you get a little glimpse of them in there. If nothing else it’s an awesome memory.”

Such experiences have taught Johnson to be attentive of his surroundings at all times. He recalled one of his luckiest pictures was when he captured a photo of a loon hatching from an egg in the nest. He didn’t realize there was a loon chick in the nest until reviewing his photos.

Shorty Johnson, owner of Shorty’s Tire One, displays his photography at the Arts Center of St. Peter. (Carson Hughes/

“I was just drifting by this nest and the two loons were there and one was in back and one was sitting on the nest and I just started taking pictures and I ever even knew that was actually going on,” said Johnson. “It was a pretty incredible deal.”

Through his photography, Johnson prefers to take shots of flora, fauna, landscapes and architecture. The one subject he typically avoids is people. Animals tend to be better models anyway, Johnson noted.

“Typically they’re pretty polite and give you a nice pose every now and then that you don’t necessarily get out of people anyway even if they want their picture taken,” said Johnson.

In his 15 years of photography, Johnson has rarely displayed his pictures outside of his home and Shorty’s Tire One. A few years ago he entered one of his works in a photo contest at the Grand Center in New Ulm and placed third, though he modestly chalked up the win to beginners’ luck.

But in the summer of 2022, Johnson was given the unique opportunity to display his work in the Members Art Show Gallery at the Arts Center of St. Peter. Johnson, alongside other members of the Arts Center, was allowed to hang up two of his own works in the collaborative exhibition.

“It was really the first time I got out of the box and did something like that. Ann [Rosenquist Fee] at the Art Center down there did an awesome job helping me out and it was pretty successful I think,” said Johnson. “A lot of people showed a lot of interest in my photographs which is pretty rewarding when you can do something you really, really enjoy and other people like to sort of participate in that.”

The reception was such a success that Johnson was motivated to register at the Arts Center to host a full-fledged gallery of his own. The auto mechanic estimated the gallery may be a year away, but in the meantime he can take even more photos to add to the show.

The six St. Peter All-Conference wrestlers, L to R: Cole Filand (1st), Leighton Robb (1st), Nakiye Mercado (3rd), Brock Guth (3rd), Ryan Moelter (3rd), Harold Born (2nd) (Photo courtesy of St. Peter Wrestling Twitter, @stpwrestling_mn)

River’s Edge reports year-end growth in State of the Hospital meeting

River’s Edge CEO Paula Meskan speaks with community members at the State of the Hospital. (Carson Hughes/

While area hospitals continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, River’s Edge CEO Paula Meskan reported that 2022 was a year of growing services, positive revenues, but also high staff turnover for the hospital.

Meskan sat down with members of the public at the Community Center on Tuesday to deliver her State of the Hospital report, outlining the condition of River’s Edge’s financial health and services entering the new year.

The River’s Edge CEO announced the hospital ended the year 2022 on a positive margin despite the stresses of the pandemic. A report from the River’s Edge Hospital Commission’s December meeting showed the hospital operating with $563,000 in excess revenues at the end of November.

“We are in a good spot having that positive margin when it’s actually a trend throughout the state, and the nation actually, that there are hospitals that are really struggling to maintain a positive bottom line,” said Meskan.

According to a September report by the American Hospital Association, more than half of hospitals were projected to have negative margins through 2022.

Part of River’s Edge’s revenues are owed to a rising number of inpatient and outpatient surgeries. As of November, 2022, River’s Edge had performed nearly 9% more surgeries than than at the same time in 2021.

Meskan said the hospital was offering more surgeries in the OrthoEdge joint replacement program, a partnership between River’s Edge Hospital and the Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic, with addition of OFC spine surgeon Dr. Tom Jones.

River’s Edge further brought in Mankato Clinic Urologist Dr. Gavin Stormont, in partnership with the clinic. In adding another ophthalmologist to River’s Edge’s roll of providers, the hospital can now offer cataract surgeries every Wednesday of the month, said Meskan.

Patient turnaround after surgery is also quickening, the River’s Edge CEO added. Due to a change in what insurance companies will allow, Meskan said the hospital has decreased the number of days patients stay after inpatient surgery.

“We used to say you could have surgery and plan to stay three days and now you have surgery and you probably will go home tomorrow or the next day,” said Meskan.

The CEO said the hospital was accommodating these shorter stays by having nurses and care coordinators work patients before they come in for surgery to discuss what resources they will need at home upon discharge.

River’s Edge also recently debuted a tele-emergency system financed with a near $200,000 grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program.

The system allows River’s Edge staff to virtually communicate with a medical team that is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. High definition cameras and microphones allow the tele-emergency virtual team to both see and hear everything that is taking place in the emergency room and provide additional guidance and consultation for Emergency Department nurses and providers in real-time. They can also provide support in the most difficult cases.

“In the event that we need to bounce something off of somebody or an extra set of eyes we have — it’s a doorbell essentially — we push this little doorbell and somebody on the other end over in South Dakota comes on in their control center and gives us exactly what we need either as a consultant or some support,” said Meskan.

River’s Edge is in a contract to use the telehealth emergency system for three years, at which point the hospital will reevaluate if they wish to continue the service. Meskan was optimistic about the system’s utility so far. In less than five minutes after going live, Meskan said emergency room staff used the service while treating a patient who had just come in suffering from cardiac arrest.

The hospital’s outlook isn’t all rosy, however. In the year 2022, Meskan reported that River’s Edge suffered a staff turnover rate of 27%. Much of that turnover was in nursing and staff members within their first year at River’s Edge. Meskan said the hospital’s current goal is to reduce the turnover rate to 20%.

“We have refocused and reshifted our managers and some of the tools we have been using. We do monthly rounding with our employees so every month managers are expected to go around and we try to collect the same information,” said Meskan. “We want to know what’s working well. Do they have the tools and equipment they need to do their work? Are there any systems that they would recommend changing or improving so that we can get their feedback and then really work at how we can bring things to light at the hospital.”

Retired MN Supreme Court Justice and Minnesota Vikings Hall-of-Famer Alan Page (right) discusses the state of race relations and civil rights in America with Gustavus professor of English and African Studies Phil Bryant (left). (Carson Hughes/