Now that the mask mandate is in effect for the state, the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce has passed along an advisory to Owatonna businesses. In a memo from Brad Meier, Chamber President has pledged the Chamber’s support to members who are dealing with the mask mandate. Meier lists the details that businesses in Owatonna must follow: Masking is mandated in public-facing indoor places including retail stores, and in similar outdoor settings where social distancing is not possible. Signage at businesses is required. The state is producing sample signs. Businesses will be required to make a “reasonable effort” to educate non-compliant customers. Businesses will be required to deal with non-compliant customers in a manner similar to how they deal with any other non-compliant customers relative to store policy. Businesses and other impacted parties that blatantly disregard the order will be subject to penalties.

The Owatonna Chamber will receive 30,000 one-time use masks from the state to distribute to businesses in Steele County. These can be used to provide to customers who arrive without a mask.

A note of encouragement

Meier passes along a note of encouragement. “You have been dealing with running and working a business during a pandemic. There are multiple stresses on your time and resources. THANK YOU FOR STICKING WITH IT. No matter where you are on the mask wearing debate, one thing is for sure, we want your business to succeed. We will work with the mask mandate to assist your business and we all hope this moves us through this pandemic as safely and quickly as possible.”

OHS grad Brandon Katzung Hokanson’s story

I always find it fascinating to read about what our OHS grads are doing with their lives after graduation from high school. This week the Hale spotlight signs on Brandon Katzung Hokanson, son of Paul and Cindy Hokanson. Brandon graduated from Gettysburg College, Summa Cum Laude with honors in both history and anthropology this past May. While growing up in Owatonna, Brandon developed a strong interest in history, most notably an interest in the Civil War, ultimately resulting in being appointed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to Minnesota’s 150th Civil War Commemoration Task Force as its only student member when he was in the 7th grade! It was this interest that led him to Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. This is the only college in the United States with a Civil War Era Studies minor. While at Gettysburg, Brandon discovered that even though he was still interested in the Civil War, his interest started to expand to other areas, one of which was Anthropology. He had the opportunity to participate in an archeological excavation in southern France and in two different excavations on the Gettysburg battlefield. In addition, he started to get drawn first to Asian history, even taking a year of Chinese language training. Next, after taking an African history class, he changed his focus from the Civil War to African history.

An acceptance to Princeton

Brandon has been accepted into Princeton University’s History PhD program where he will continue his story of African history, specifically African environmental history with a focus on how West African indigenous veterinary practices were impacted by French colonial occupation. His research will ultimately take him to Senegal. In order to prepare, he took two years of French and was fortunate to be able to start his language training in the language of Pulaar, a popular language spoken in several West African countries, this summer. He heads to Princeton to begin studies at the end of August. Ultimately, after earning his PHD in History, he hopes to teach at the college level.

Special OHS teachers

Brandon wrote in an e-mail that perhaps what he enjoyed most during his high school experience relates to his connections to a number of teachers who are especially important people in his life. “During my four years at OHS, hands down my favorite activity was to chat with English teacher Will Fish in his room before and after school. It was in his classroom that I firmly believe that I was set on the right path to become a better student and a better person. Those skills have served me well and I have no doubt they will continue to do so in grad school at Princeton. If I achieve my goal of becoming a college professor, it is my hope to create a teaching methodology that that is as beneficial and impactful as Mr. Fish’s was for me.”

Three other teachers were named by Brandon as being instrumental in his life. Dennis Will was his biology teacher and his classes flamed a spark of interest in science. “I found his course about infectious diseases to be especially captivating.” Bob Churchill, his history teacher, was incredible according to Brandon. “His class on international relations was probably the most fun class I had at OHS. It also sparked an interest in world affairs and human cultures around the globe.” Brian Kuhn, art teacher was also special to Brandon. “I made sure to take a class with him every single year because I always appreciated how he encouraged students to be free spirited and to think outside the box. These teachers and others make me proud to have graduated from OHS.”

Knowledge Bowl was one of the activities at OHS Brandon fondly remembers. “I was interested in Knowledge Bowl competitions and found out hardly anyone had signed on for that year’s team. So, I quickly got to work essentially recruiting what became a ragtag team of close friends. I was supposed to be the “history guy” while the others specialized in all the STEM stuff. We performed exceptionally well, ending up in the top 1/3 of school teams in the state. An experience such as that convinced me of the success that collective minds with different backgrounds and perspectives can create.”

Fair Fest coming

There’s no official fair this year, but plans are being made to offer some of fairgoer’s favorite fair foods when the 2020 Fair Fest is held during fair week. I talked with fair manager Scott Kozelka who told me as of the time of this writing that he is still working on a list of fair food vendors that will set up on four of the days when the fair would normally be here at various locations on the fairgrounds, spaced distantly for social distancing. A similar event was recently very successfully put on by the Steele County ADA, but on a smaller scale. Kozelka hopes to have up to 20 food vendors participating. There will be a good mixture of foods spread around the fairgrounds. You won’t even have to pay 20 bucks to patronize the food booths, as you will be charged at the state fairgrounds in a similar event in August through Labor Day. All you have to pay for is your favorite food you’d normally enjoy at the fair!

Noel Jenke passes away

Noel Jenke, one of the finest athletes ever to represent Owatonna High School, passed away this past week at age 72. He went on to play at the University of Minnesota and even had a short stint in professional sports. He was among the first inductees in the OHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Status of “Support Police” yard signs

Over 450-yard signs expressing support for our Owatonna Police Department have been issued. If any are left, they will be available at the City Administration office at West Hills. Providers of the signs will not be ordering any additional signs at this time.

Fair memories

With no fair this year, I am finding it enjoyable sharing with you some of my fair memories. I covered the fair on KRFO for close to 30 years and following my retirement I worked at the fair office for over 25 years. I met so many wonderful people at the fairgrounds during fair week. I especially remember Grandma Elise Abraham who was employed to keep an eye on the fair rest rooms below the Mother’s Rest building. One day I was in the rest room taking care of business when Grandma Abraham walked in and started mopping the floor. It didn’t bother her one bit that I was there so I finished my duty and walked out fairly red-faced. I also remember Elma Skalicky, who was Superintendent of the Culinary Arts department at the fair. Everything had to be home-made that was entered and Elma could spot a “box cake” a mile away and it was disqualified. Elma was also the Secretary of the Local 490 Musicians Union. I remember her standing by our radio tent making sure that the bands that were playing for us were members of the 490.

Remember Art Burke and his taffy wagon? Art is no longer with us, but his taffy stand is one of the longest food vendors at the fair and is run by his family. Not much change over the years other than the size of the taffy pieces, which have become smaller. I remember Mr. Burke coming to Owatonna a week or so prior to the fair and paying a visit to my father-in-law’s machine shop to have a part made for his taffy pulling machine. When he was in his stand, he always wore a white shirt and white pants. A good share of fairgoers bought bags of taffy to take home and enjoy after the fair was over.

Remembering those bands

Over the many years of broadcasting from the fair, as you can see by the photo included with this column, our evening shows featuring local old-time bands was a popular hit with fairgoers. Folks would arrive well before the starting time of old-time music and stake out their ownership of a place to sit and enjoy the music and fun.

In the early sixties, we provided music from the fair for our KRFO listeners provided by the Marigold Jazz Band. There were lots of local musicians associated with this band. We would travel around the fairgrounds with the band and broadcast their music

In later years we erected a large tent with a stage we called the KRFO Radio Tent Theatre. Each night we would feature an old-time band and as you can see by the photo included it was a very popular entertainment location for fairgoers.

We not only featured many of our Owatonna bands, but went outside the county to bring in bands such as the Blue Banners from Austin, and Howard Fratzke from Janesville. Howard boasted one of the few female tuba players in the state, which happened to be his daughter, Darlene. Steele County native Larry Rysavy provided the fair audience with authentic Czech version of the Black Crow polka. One of the most entertaining groups was the Country Farmhands. George Meixner teamed up with the Ulrich brothers, Frank and Bob. Meixner played his concertina, accompanied by banjo and guitar from Bob and Frank on the drums. It was an evening full of antics and laughter matched by no other entertainment we brought to the fair. I’ll never forget the night that Frank Ulrich took his false teeth out of his mouth and set them beside his drums!

Remember the “Golden Aces”? Personnel included Bob Horecka on accordion, Merv Kruckeberg on tuba and Orville Kruckeberg. Another band we featured yearly was The Dan Stursa Band which still plays at the fair. Other bands we brought to the fair stage were Paul’s Little Band, George Dusek and his band, The Czechmates with Lloyd and Mary Zolnowsky, Molly Cupkie, Little Joe Martinek and Ray VonRuden. I certainly can’t forget Luverne Wanous and his band including Bob Krell on drums, Ken Marker and his bent-up tuba and later Mert Hoover played tuba after Marker passed away. Luverne was on the concertina and brothers Don and Ken Teeters played trumpet, sax and clarinet. Luverne still plays at the fair. He featured his Musicmobile for many years that inched its way through the crowd and for the past few years has greeted folks at the entrance to the Four Seasons Arena during fair week.

The Armond Rezac Band played at the fair for over 50 years, starting as the Sauter-Rezac Combo playing nightly in the old beer garden. After Sauter’s death, Armond formed his own band and played in Fair Square Park for years. He had some great musicians play with his band including Norrine Jensen, and Jack Hockenberry.

Fairgoers would come to our tent up to two hours early and hold a seat under our tent until the show started. I will never forget the good times we had and the friends I made from these bands.

Brief fair history

The first fair in Steele County was in 1860. There was no record of fairs between that time and 1871. Historians suspect the advent of the Civil War terminated fairs until 1871. From that year until 1917 the SCFF was held at various sites throughout Owatonna including Central Park.. In 1871 the fair was held on forty acres of pasture land at the head of Main Street in east Owatonna and eventually moved to the current site of seventy acres in 1918. By 1927 the fair board made the decision to make the fair a “free fair” which continued to prosper and grow. The 1930’s brought lavish stage shows that played nightly in the grandstand. Auto racing and motor events became huge attractions. Harness horse racing was also a continuous part of the fair since 1871. Steele County was one of four Minnesota county fairs to feature harness horse racing. Free stage shows developed by 1979 hosted hundreds of talent and music performances. The fair has also reflected a strong agricultural history. The fair has been billed as Minnesota’s largest county fair, a billing it still holds today.

Joke of the week

The truck, filled with 127 penguins breaks down on the highway. The trucker flags down a car and asks the driver to take the penguins to the zoo. The driver agrees and the penguins pile into the car. A few hours later the truck is repaired, so the trucker goes to the zoo to make sure the 127 penguins arrived safely. But at the zoo, there’s no sign of them. Worried, he jumps into his truck and drives around town, finally spotting the driver and the 127 penguins walking down the street. “I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo”! he yelled. “I did,” replied the driver. “I had a little money left over, so I thought I’d take them to a movie.”

Todd Hale can be reached at or write him at 632 14th St. S.E. Phone contact is 507-456-7304.

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