Lead For Minnesota is working to revitalize cities across the state by bringing young, hard-working individuals back to their home state or area to help. Waseca is the hub with LFMN Founder and Executive Director Benya Kraus working out of city hall with staff members and a fellow working with the city.
Waseca native Anna Pollock is the Deputy Director of LFMN and recently hired Robert Harris III of Chicago, Illinois is the Director of Programs.
Pollock started with LFMN in January and oversees recruitment and worked to lay groundwork for communications and social media. With Harris joining the efforts he will take over the recruitment part for Pollock who will then focus on fellowship support.
Harris is a graduate of Carleton College in Northfield and he will be leading the fellow recruitment and post partnership development.
“I hope to give them (fellows) the tools and the confidence to do the work that they want to be doing,” Harris said. “I know from my own experience that you deal with a lot of impostor syndrome, especially being an outsider in the community. I mean you have some connection to place, but you know just realizing that you can create a huge amount of change with the work that you’re doing.”
In LFMN there are 21 fellows and two Corps members for a cohort size of 23. In Lead for America there are over 100 fellows nationally with Minnesota having the largest cohort size. In Minnesota there are fellows all across the state; Waseca, St. Peter, Owatonna, Fairmont and numerous other cities.
After fellows are chosen they are to attend a month long program, but COVID-19 changed the format. The fellows instead did a week-long summit by Zoom with over 65 guest speakers. Some of the guest speakers include Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, former mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges, Waseca Mayor Roy Srp, journalist Sarah Smarsh and many others.
COVID-19 not only affected the fellow training program but the overall work LFMN does.
LFMN primarily works with higher education and local government entities according to Kraus, which were both affected by COVID-19. LFMN didn’t lose sight of the goals to help with housing, childcare and downtown redevelopment through the pandemic.
“We repurposed a lot of project scopes to have a lot of fellows taking on a COVID-19 lens,” Kraus said of how COVID-19 affected the organization. “Fellows are responding and a part of the both immediate and long-term recovery of COVID-19.”
Sophia Hoiseth is a fellow located in Waseca working for the City of Waseca.
She has lived all across the world, traveling for her parents’ jobs until it was time to attend college. She returned to Minnesota where her parents are from to attend Minnesota State University, Mankato and majored in political science.
Hoiseth works directly with Economic Development Coordinator Gary Sandholm and City Manager Lee Mattson.
She is working on Vision 2030 and will be the go to person on the initiative. Vision 2030 is an initiative of BEST of Waseca County in partnership with organizations in the county including the city of Waseca to determine what the future of the community will look like by the year 2030.
“My first thing that I really want to accomplish is to get to know Waseca better,” Hoiseth said. “So I’m going to do this big tour and listen and interview a bunch of people in the community, because I think that listening to it with a fresh set of ears, hopefully, I can get unique perspectives back to city hall. Then from there with the new knowledge that I have and after hearing what people are excited about and what motivates them to make Waseca an even better place to live in and moving from there of how we are going to mobilize Vision 2030 committees to make that vision a reality.”
Hoiseth started her first day in city hall on Monday, Aug.17 and is a traditional fellow with LFMN. A fellow is a recent college graduate who returns to their hometown, region or state to strengthen public institutions, revitalize local communities and cultivate the next leaders according to the LFMN website.
“I’ll add that every corps staff member and our fellows too, we really prioritize being locally rooted,” Kraus said. “In every staff description is; investment and integration into the Waseca community. So part of the application process is that we are asking what is your commitment or connection to place and knowing that it doesn’t have to look like the place where you were born and raised, but a place in which you are taking this fellowship is a full embodied experience being a part of your community.”
In Waseca there are also two junior fellows or corps members; Amina Mungani and Boatemaa Agyeman-Mensah who have the same mission as fellows but have not yet graduated from college.
Mungani is a local 2019 Waseca Junior Senior High School graduate who will be working with WJSHS Principal Jason Miller on how to facilitate conversations around race, mental health in the schools and substance abuse.
Being from Waseca she will use her own experiences with the students of Waseca to guide the topics she tackles in the next year. She spoke specifically about students attending parties and no compassion to help the students being shown when the parties are busted. She wants to work with the students and figure out how they got to that point.
Another thing Mungani talked about addressing is Waseca Public Schools being open on Martin Luther King Jr. day and the need to educate students more about the holiday and break the narrative students have of it being time out of class.
Kraus said Mungani will split her time between the school and working in city hall doing outreach and recruitment in diversity, mental health and youth empowerment in Waseca and across the state.
“My hope is to, of course, make change, but also if I move or if I’m not here, I want that to stay,” Mungani said. “I don’t want it to just be Amina brought this and it left with Amina. I want other people to pick up on this and I want the school to hold themselves accountable and be like, how do we better ourselves. It’s not just about the school being held accountable, but also holding the students accountable.”
Agyeman-Mensah will work with the Greater Mankato Diversity Council as well as with Waseca Art Center Executive Director Andrew Breck. She is a graphic artist and will be using her art to help facilitate a series of conversations in Waseca and across the region on issues of race and similar issues Mungani is tackling.
Jose Martinez-Ortiz was seen laughing daily in the Waseca Junior Senior High School cafeteria surrounded by friends.
On July 17 he died in an ATV accident near Finland, Minnesota. His friend Carlos Gallegos was a passenger of the ATV and was also injured.
Martinez-Ortiz was a son, a brother, an uncle, a student and a friend, who is missed by many. A memorial made of balloons, signs, candles and flowers was set up on the fence of the Waseca Central building.
“Jose was a quiet, humorous guy,” Retired WJSHS Principal Jeanne Swanson said. “I will always remember him as a kind and respectful young man. He was intelligent, knew how to work and had many friends. He added a spark to the boys soccer team. He overcame challenges achieving his diploma this spring and had a bright future to look ahead to. His smile will be missed by many, including his friends, but especially by the family who loved him and whom he loved and protected.”
Martinez-Ortiz, 18 years-old, was a 2020 WJSHS graduate, a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, spent time with his family and worked at the local McDonald’s.
He could be seen at the McDonald’s serving customers, many whom he knew personally, on a regular basis.
“Jose Martinez-Ortiz gave me my coffee through the window where he worked, this day like so many greeted me,” WJSHS employee Jenaro Delgado said. “His face had a certain joy, which radiated tremendously when talking. When we were inside the place of his work he always greeted effusively, as if there were no tomorrow.”
When he wasn’t working or at school he spent his time playing soccer, being outdoors, playing video games or hanging with friends and family.
“During the school day in the high school where he attended, he was always seen in the school lunchroom, with a group of eight kids,” Delgado said. “They always hung together and you could see that the leader was Jose. However, he did not direct the group directly, but everyone who came to him had his opinion. He only laughed openly at the anecdotes of others. He looked calm, enjoying being able to have that group as friends. When I observed that they were there, I could see that the other kids respected Jose a lot, they listened to him carefully, he was very loved by them. When he stood up, everyone followed him, he was a quiet and kind leader.”
Martinez-Ortiz played soccer for the Waseca high school varsity soccer team and the club soccer team. Delgado is a soccer coach for the summer soccer program and often drove Martinez-Ortiz to club games along with other players.
“On one occasion when we returned from playing in Austin, we laughed so hard because he had told so many anecdotes about his life,” Delgado said. “He had a special way of telling his stories.”
Martinez-Oritz is remembered for his kindness, his infectious smile and humorous personality that he shared with everyone he met.
His friend Gallegos was injured in the ATV accident and was taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth.
He was treated in the trauma center for injuries that included several broken ribs, a collapsed lung, bruised liver and a fracture in his shoulder, according to the GoFundMe page.
Gallegos is home and is able to eat with no restrictions according to his uncle Delgado.
“My nephew is a respectful kid,” Delgado said. “I have known him since the day he came to this world. He is a kind, cheerful and also a quiet boy. Every time we meet, he gives me a warm hug. Very reserved with his daily life, but very intelligent when doing activities that are of his importance.”
Since the crash two GoFundMe accounts were set up.
One account is for Gallegos to help with medical costs and at the time to help the family pay for hotels, food and other costs while he was in the hospital. So far just over $9,000 has been raised for the family out of the $15,000 goal.
The other GoFundMe account was created for Martinez-Ortiz to help with funeral costs and bills. In the month that the account has been active just over $14,000 was raised of the $15,000 goal.
Waseca Public Health announced last Thursday the county has its first death related to COVID-19.
The male victim was in his 70s and had underlying health conditions, a release from Waseca Public Health said. He’d been in a local hospital receiving treatment, according to the release.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the patient’s family and friends,” said Sarah Berry, Waseca County Public Health Director in the release. “This serves as a very unfortunate reminder to the community about the importance of wearing face coverings and physically distancing when moving about in the community, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Public Health continues to work very diligently to support our community partners – our local health care providers, senior living facilities, law enforcement, emergency management and first responders in a collaborative local effort to respond to this pandemic.”
Waseca Public Health declined to provide additional details about the man, the name of the hospital nor where he lived.
Waseca County has seen 182 COVID-19 cases, according to the Waseca Public Health. The county saw five new cases last Thursday. A total of 14 cases have required hospitalization. The average age of an infected person for the county is 36 and the median is 33.
Waseca tabled a tax abatement resolution for Conagra Brands, Inc Tuesday at its city council meeting until an agreement can be finalized between the city and the developer.
The tax abatement is being looked over by the developer, who then has the chance to offer comments for changes before the final agreement is made.
“We’re hoping to hear back from Conagra at the end of the week with their comments on the agreement and then we both have to agree,” City Manager Lee Mattson said.
Mattson is hoping to bring the final agreement to the next council meeting for the resolution to be voted on by the council.
The preliminary tax abatement city council looked over is a 20-year agreement and is estimated to be just over $2 million. The property tax abatement is for 50 percent over 20 years, but will not exceed $115,000 in any given year.
Part of the tax abatement agreement is the business subsidy agreement that the city and developer must agree on as well. Under the subsidy agreement between the city and the developer there are certain benchmarks that must be met.
One of the benchmarks is the number of jobs created through the new facility. The new Conagra building will offer 225 full-time jobs, 119 of which need to be created in the first year the facility opens and 250 seasonal jobs within the first year as well. These two goals need to be met by the end of 2023 or there is a violation of the subsidy agreement.
Conagra, the parent company of Birds Eye Foods, plans to build a new 220,000-square foot facility on 47 acres to replace the current facility. The new facility will operate as a fresh-pack vegetable processing plant and it is believed it will process corn and peas.
Construction is expected to begin in the fall and the facility will open in 2022, according to a WCN July 22 article. Site improvements, facility and equipment is budgeted at $200 million, according to an application for a Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure grant through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Waseca Economic Development Authority filed.
The construction of a 16-inch water main remains a hurdle for the city to clear for the Conagra project to take off. At the Aug. 18 council meeting the council unanimously approved Stantec to make the water main improvements on Brown Ave needed for the Conagra project.
The construction of the trunk water main improvements are to enhance system fire flow capabilities, strengthen the water distribution system and to provide a potential future water tower site along Brown Ave.
This water main project is estimated to cost around $95,000.
This cost includes design research, existing and proposed utility tabulations, water main plan/profile design, standard utility construction details, notes and utility quantity tabulations.
The city has applied for state funding for 50 percent of the entire project including; engineering services and the segments of the water main. The grant has not yet been approved by the state.