Aaron Schumann couldn’t find a megaphone. He didn’t need one to make sure his and other peoples’ voices were heard Saturday in Waseca.
Schumann spearheaded a demonstration on the lawn of the Waseca County Courthouse for the second time in a week to bring to light the impact of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 28 while in custody of Minneapolis police.
The incident has sparked worldwide protests and even reverberated to small communities like Waseca.
Schumann describes himself as a redneck, who enjoys the outdoors and fishing, but recently underwent a transformation where he has gained insight into racism. The image of Floyd calling out for his mother remains emotional for Schumann.
“I cried,” Schumann said. “When he screamed, ‘Momma’ It gets me every time I talk about it. When that man screamed out for his mother that broke me. That broke me as a man. It gets me right now.”
Around 30 people joined Schumann in the demonstration Saturday, many of whom brought signs calling for justice for Floyd. Passing cars frequently honked and drivers waved to support the crowd.
Keith Deike raised two African American children and felt compelled to join the demonstration Saturday.
“It’s brought back some memories from when my kids were real young,” Deike said. “They were called names, they were excluded, things like that. They didn’t have it as bad as a lot of African Americans because they had our kind of cloak of whiteness. We were a white family. In Waseca they had good lives and all that stuff but every time I see the pictures on the news, it could be one of my kids. ”
For Aminia Mungai the incident conjured up her own experiences of racism. As a Muslim growing up in Waseca, she has felt the stigma of racism and ignorance from an early age.
“Especially when you’re a minority in Waseca, and I am,” Mungai said. “I faced a lot of different things. I wanted people to come together here to listen and learn from each other, and learn different perspectives.”
The group’s goal is to raise awareness and bring an end to racism in the community. As with Schumann, education is the vehicle to do so.
“I was an ignorant redneck for a majority of my life,” Schumann said. “Three months ago I was an ignorant redneck hunting and fishing. I was a good ol’ boy. Then I had to take a good hard look at myself and realize that’s bull---. How am I going to stand by and let this happen when I can affect change? I started learning and then all of a sudden that changed my whole morality. It didn’t just change my life, it changed my heart. It changed the way I felt about everything. It’s crazy how a little bit of education will do that and I’m still digging. Every day.”
The status quo is no longer acceptable for Schumann.
“We have to start over,” he said. “What we have, what we call OK is not OK and everybody knows it’s not OK but we just deal with it because that’s the way it is. There are millions of people marching around the United States today, there are millions … we can make a change and it needs to happen.”
Waseca Public Schools honored all staff retiring this spring in a parade around the Junior/Senior High School.
COVID-19 has affected numerous aspects of the school year — canceling sports, activities, even the traditional graduation — and the latest event to be canceled is the teachers banquet, normally held in person each year.
Retirees lined the sidewalk on the west side of the Waseca Junior/Senior High School to celebrate their time with the school district.
All of the 13 staff members retiring combine for more than 400 years of experience leaving the district.
“It’s not what we expected at the beginning of the year, but as we were standing there and saw far removed students here, there’s some good in this celebration with community members not just fellow educators,” committee member and English teacher Karen Pfarr-Anderson said.
COVID-19 has once again changed a tradition for the district.
In a usual school year, a committee would work to plan the end of the year teachers banquet for the retirees, their families and fellow educators. This year, instead, the committee had to think outside the box on how to celebrate during a pandemic.
With a banquet not possible, the committee in charge of planning a celebration for the retirees came up with the parade idea. This had been done for all schools to boost morale and for the seniors’ graduation day already.
“There is a committee and (planning the parade) was a collective effort,” Pfarr-Anderson said. “We came up with a plan to honor these retirees. They’ve given so much to our district and community. ...”
As vehicles drove by the retirees could be seen waving signs, cheering and smiling. Some vehicles had balloons tied to them or signs hanging out the windows.
Some of the attendees stopped to chat and some stopped to hand out a card or a gift to each of the retirees. Each person being honored had a sign set up by them with their name and the number of years they have been in education.
The parade was a chance for everyone to celebrate and to get closure. When an educator retires from the Waseca Public Schools, they receive a bell.
“This goes back to the earlier days when they would ring the bell to start the day,” committee member and band teacher Craig Brenden said. “Now it signifies the end and closure.”
The retirees lined up on the sidewalk and among them and their family members was the Teacher of the Year, Waseca Public Schools Support Staff of the Year and the Friend of Education.
The Teacher of the Year is Tracy Kopetzki, an English teacher at the Junior Senior High School. She was surprised, as she was awarded this at the end of the Veterans Day program in November 2019.
Support Staff of the Year is all paraprofessionals in the district and the Friend of Education is Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca.
“Congratulations to all the retirees — so many years,” said Jim Ferch, representing Grace Lutheran Church. “We’re just happy to support Waseca Schools.”
Waseca Area Caregiver Services is returning, and it’s also expanding with Journeys and new objectives.
WACS was started in 2013 by the first director Sherry Scholljegerdes, to help the local aging population, specifically those with memory loss. It provided caregivers resources. It is now expanding by offering resources to young adults in need, too, through a program called Journeys.
Shortly after opening, Scholljegerdes wanted to focus on volunteering with WACS, so her daughter Kelly Boeddeker took over as the director. In 2017, WACS was closed for a short term and activated again in November 2019 when there was more of a demand for the services again.
“For me to come back and to be a part of a community and to be able to activate Waseca Area Caregiver Services is my passion and my mission, with the youth piece,” Boeddeker said of taking over for her mother.
Aging adult programs
There are numerous programs and resources that are offered through WACS and Journeys for those in Waseca County.
Some of the programs that are offered include REST (Respite Education Support Tools), Tai Ji Quan: Moving For Better Balance, Caregivers Cafe and numerous others.
REST is a program that offers the caregiver of an aging adult a break to go to appointments, the store or other necessary places while a trained volunteer is taking care of the loved one. Tai Ji Quan: Moving For Better Balance is a program that helps the aging adult reduce their risk of falls by improving balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility through coordinated movements in a slow, circular, flowing motion according to the WACS website.
Caregivers Cafe is located in the WACS building. Typically caregivers and workers with others invited by caregivers are able to meet from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday to chat over a cup of coffee and a donut, both free with a free will donation.
Due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the WACS building is not open to the public, meaning most programs are unavailable until further notice.
Changes are being made to help those caregivers stay connected while WACS is closed to the public.
Boeddeker is hoping to receive a grant that will allow her to purchase tablets for caregivers to continue education and activities.
“What’s happening is caregivers are a prisoner in their own home anyway because they can’t go out because they’re caring for people with memory loss,” Boeddeker said. “So when COVID-19 hit they’re really a prisoner in their home and they have no social outlet at all. So that has become one of my missions to make sure they can see our faces …”
Helping the aging population in Waseca County is why WACS was started, and now with its return, the orgainization is working to reach more groups in need.
What Journeys has to offer
Journeys is about a pathway to a positive future for the high risk young adults in need.
This program is for young adults who: are homeless; are struggling with substance/alcohol abuse; are struggling with mental health; are wanting to continue education; and many other reasons.
“Imagine you’re a homeless youth and you’ve already been in a situation of low income, and you’re struggling, or maybe mom and dad are in jail, coming out of foster care, whatever, those are the kids that we really want to push, saying you can do this with a little bit of help and guidance” Boeddeker said. “If you want to go to school and get a college education or get your GED through Community Education, we can get that resource for you and help you get there.”
The organization can help high risk young adults through various resources, including medical insurance guidance, education, finding a job, mental health referral, finding a place to live, help with food supply and substance and alcohol abuse help.
“One thing I’m not going to do is waste my time or theirs,” Boeddeker said. “I’m really strict about that, and I don’t play games. I tell them you can’t play a player. I lived in Denver for 26 years. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve done a lot. I’ve been through a lot. I know what it takes to be successful in the way they want to be successful. And I think that’s the important piece to understand is walking along that path with them until they get to where they need to be.”
Another edition with the reactivating of WACS is the objective to implement resources for Waseca County veterans. Boeddeker has been in communication with the Veteran Services office to offer assistance.
“I am excited to see where they go with this program,” Veteran Services Officer Chris Hinton said. “Anytime we can offer resources for our citizens, it is a benefit to everyone. Here at Veteran Services, we are committed to helping our veterans and their families anyway we can and having this as a referral source from them to us and us to them will be a benefit to Waseca county.”
Through WACS, veterans will be able to engage with others in the community while participating in outdoor activities and spending time with their peers and friends.
“I think that the veterans are very well respected people,” Boeddeker said. “My grandpa was a veteran, my uncle was a veteran and my cousin was a veteran, and I was also on the women’s auxiliary when I was attending the University of Central Arkansas … I have a deep respect for their services, all military. And I think they’re aging adults and so they fall into the aging adult category and the aging adult population that needs that specific help. We know that there’s a lot of mental health that comes with being a veteran and serving your country, we see it in the paper all the time …”
Volunteers and staff
With the variety of programs offered through WACS, the staff and volunteers have extensive training and participate in continuous education. All of the staff and volunteers are also CPR and first aid trained.
“Waseca Area Caregiver Services enforces a strong educational piece to their staff, volunteer development and this is essential with assisting the ability of our organization,” Boeddeker said. “Therefore, Waseca Area Caregiver Services has the utmost respect in regards for continuing education. So we will be implementing this through program training opportunities.”
Some of the staff and volunteers have training from 2013 already that they are building off of to keep updated on what is important to know.
Volunteers through WACS will be assigned to a caregiver and care receiver to help around the yard, cleaning inside, technology help or any odds-and-ends that may require assistance. Anyone can volunteer with WACS to help with the aging population in the county.