A look back at the top news of 1999

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson and Linda Stelling on 1/5/00.

(Editor's note: These expansions, anniversaries, closings, openings, and achievements were selected by our editorial staff as being the most important events in our community for 1999. We chose ten events as the leading newsmakers of 1999.)

PAHCS expands
A few years ago, the Paynesville Area Health Care System undertook a number of significant initiatives: joining with a group of local doctors in a Physician-Hospital Organization and building a new clinic in Paynesville.

Those investments appeared to pay off this year as PAHCS enjoyed a very successful year financially. According to their year-end audit, the system had a total profit of $684,000 for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 1999.

Years from now, 1999 may be considered another crucial year in the growth of PAHCS. The system wasn't content with its operation, despite the high profits, and undertook a number of new initiatives this year.

One primary area of expansion was in Richmond, where construction of a new clinic began in May. The new Richmond Area Medical Clinic should be ready for operation in January. The new clinic should provide more space for exams, including room for physical therapy, more confidentiality for patients, and a more efficient practice for providers.

Also in May, the city of Richmond joined the hospital district, becoming its ninth entity. The tenth wasn't far behind, as the city of Roscoe joined the district in July.

Besides the clinic in Richmond, PAHCS also opened two new facilities in 1999. The system bought an old clinic building on Highway 124 in Paynesville and opened the Integrated Health Center in September. The idea is to integrate so-called complementary medicine with traditional primary care. Dr. Tom Sult, who does this integration in his practice, moved his office hours to the Integrated Health Center two days a week. A chiropractor was also hired to work at the Integrated Health Center, which utilizes acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition.

PAHCS also acquired a clinic in Watkins this year. The clinic was going to be closed by CentraCare, who offered it to PAHCS at a discount price. The clinic reopened for PAHCS in October.

The addition of two new clinics to the system put practitioners in high demand by the end of the year. With the Richmond Area Medical Clinic expected to be busier in the new year, the recruitment of additional practitioners became important. So far, PAHCS has signed three doctors for next year. All three will start practice for PAHCS next summer. The system is continuing to recruit another physician's assistant.

The expansion for PAHCS was not without growing pains. The clinic project in Richmond involved sometime contentious negotiations with the city of Richmond, who approved a Tax Increment Financing District for the project. The start of the Integrated Health Center involved a controversial decision concerning the hiring of a chiropractor. And, even with the profits for 1999, the new clinics and recruitment have left cash flow tight at the system.

In 2000, a state-of-the-art CT scanner should arrive at PAHCS, and another building project is expected to begin. The extent of that project, which would include remodeling of the hospital and the nursing home, will be determined this winter, with construction expected to begin next spring.

Voters approve auditorium
Addressing an idea that's been around for many years, the school board decided to ask voters for a $3.4 million auditorium and fitness center. The board formed a 20-member task force in February, consisting of school personnel, administration, and members of the public.

The task force had to assess the district's needs in the two areas and help the architects come up with a design. The task force visited four schools to get ideas about different auditoriums and fitness centers for Paynesville.

The board approved the architect's preliminary plans in September. The proposal included a 499-seat auditorium, a 2,900 square foot fitness center, and four new tennis courts. A new lobby on the north side of the school was included along with new bathrooms. The project also will install a new air ventilation system for the basement to improve air flow in the locker rooms and wrestling room. Some fire code violations should be addressed by the project.

The fitness center will have space for 14 fitness stations, including aerobic equipment, and free weights.

The ground floor access to the auditorium and fitness center will provide easy accessibility to the facility, which will be located close to the north parking lot.

At two information meetings this fall, the plans were presented to the public. Board members and task force members campaigned for the project by attending various meetings of organizations to explain the proposal to the public.

On Dec. 14, voters in the Paynesville Area School District approved the $3.4 million bond referendum by a margin of 667 to 493.

With the voters giving their support to the project, soil tests and survey work started in December.

Bids for the auditorium and fitness center should be in by March. Work on the project should start in the spring of 2000. The building project is expected to be completed by May of 2001.

Industry expansions
Louis Industries, which started in a blacksmith shop in 1940, moved into a new $2.2 million plant in 1999. Construction of the plant was done last winter, with operation beginning in March and complete relocation into the new facility by May.

Originally, the business did custom repair and manufacturing, exclusively for agriculture. Over the years, however, the business has changed to steel fabrication and wholesaling. Leo and Cecil Louis bought the business from their father, Alfred, in 1976.

Prior to the move, the business was located in three buildings totaling 25,000 sq. ft. The new building, located in the north end of the industrial park, has 40,000 sq. ft. of production space and 3,000 sq. ft. of office space.

Not only is there more space, it's more usable space. There are fewer walls and more open space, which allows for greater efficiency.

New equipment helps efficiency as well. Notably, the new plant has an overhead hoist that can load and unload steel from incoming trucks. The hoist can lift 10 tons and runs on the ceiling, allowing the hoist to pick up any stack, even if it is surrounded by other stacks. In their previous buildings, one employee spent almost the entire day on the forklift, moving stacks around.

The other major piece of equipment in the plant is a new, top-end laser cutter. Louis Industries has been doing laser cutting for almost five years now. The new laser has a larger bed, a more powerful beam, and a faster reloading mechanism.

The completion of the Louis Industries plant had other impacts. Spanier Welding bought two of the buildings that formerly housed parts of Louis Industries. The purchase expanded its indoor working space from 6,000 sq. ft. to 20,000 sq. ft. when they took possession in April.

"I either had to start turning work away or we had to expand," said Greg Spanier, who started the company in 1987. After the expansion, Spanier hired three more employees, bringing his total to nine. Spanier Welding does manufacturing, contract work for other manufacturers, and repairs.

Also in March, Valley Industries moved to the other Louis Industries building in Paynesville. The company, which sells agricultural products, was founded in Eden Valley 30 years ago. With 10 employees, the business does welding, precision machining, and runs a tool shop. It also buys and resells products through its direct mailing division. It uses an Internet site and fliers that specialize in pressure washer parts.

Church centennial
Past and present members of St. Louis Catholic Church gathered to help the church celebrate its 100th anniversary on in August. "Celebrating Our Faith...past, present, and future" was the theme for the celebration on Sunday, Aug. 22.

Special services were held that afternoon with Bishop John Kinney officiating. Several former priests attended the celebration. On display in the parish hall were historic artifacts from the first church, which included a tabernacle, chairs, and chimes.

The church was first organized in April 1899, after a notice was published in the Paynesville Press asking all interested Catholics to meet in Dr. Pilon's office. The group moved quickly to build a church, by documenting sufficient population, funds, and leadership. On May 29, 1899, St. Louis Parish was incorporated by Bishop James Trobec of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

According to the early history of the church, the church name was decided upon by a vote between the French and Irish. Each vote was worth 10 cents. The two names on the ballot were St. Rose and St. Louis.

The first church structure was a frame building moved to the church lot (near the former American Legion site on Augusta Avenue) in June 1899.

In 1915, the parish had its first resident priest, Father Stan Kuzniak. A milestone for the parish came in 1928, when a rectory was built.

In 1957, a campaign to build a new church was started. In February 1960, the first mass was held in the new sanctuary.

In 1987, Father Richard Leisen learned that a first priority for him was to begin planning for a building expansion. The renovation of the worship space increased seating from 345 to 650 and added a new parish hall.

Since the formation of the church, they have had 15 different priests serving the parish. In its first year, mass was only held once a month. Today, mass is held daily and twice on Sundays.

Fifty years of fun
Paynesville celebrated 50 years of having a community festival from June 12-16 with another splendid Town and Country Days.

The community's first festival was in 1949, with a one-day event that featured a German band, a baseball game between town teams from Roscoe and Lake Henry, a radio broadcast, and lots and lots of free ice cream. Ice Cream Days, as the festival was called until 1961, started because the North American Creamery was the major industry in town and manufactured ice cream under the "Arvilla" label.

The 50th anniversary of an annual festival was celebrated this summer with regular events, revitalized traditions, and reunions. Usual events included the Miss Paynesville pageant, a road race, the pet show and the kiddie parade, the carnival with all its food stands, and the grand parade on Wednesday evening.

To honor the founding of Ice Cream Days, free ice cream was distributed during the games competition on Tuesday night. And prior to the Miss Paynesville pageant, a reunion of the past Miss Paynesvilles was held at the high school. Sixteen former queens attended, including the 1949 queen, Evelyn (Wahl) Carlson, who brought her crown made of paper ice cream cones.

Band marches for awards
In just its second year of competition, the Paynesville Area High School marching band enjoyed a tremendously successful season last June.

At their first parade in Buffalo on June 12, the band, which still wore homemade uniforms this year and which doesn't have the tradition or experience of other programs, thought it might get shut out of the awards, as it wasn't named first or second in its division.

But then the band was honored for best drum major and best color guard. The Paynesville band took home grand champion honors in its first parade of the season.

After five more parades, the band had added three first place finishes and two seconds. The members won their bet with their director, Bryan Mara, who promised to have his head shaved if the band won three events.

In hindsight, the victory at Buffalo wasn't the only early sign of success. After the band members completed their grueling three-day band camp at the high school, where the members march in parking lots, on city streets, and work in groups, the band holds a dress rehearsal for parents and spectators in front of the high school. At the conclusion of their routine this year, the band members preferred to march in formation back to the band room, instead of walking.

Over 100 students, including all four grades of incoming high school students as well as outgoing seniors, participated in the band.

The band was second in their class at Benson, first in Long Prairie, first at Foley, second in St. Cloud, and first in Alexandria. The Alexandria parade is considered to be the premier marching band competition in the state. Entry is by invitation only. Competing in Class AA, Paynesville had the highest score of any band in Class A, AA, or AAA, and the fourth highest score overall.

At the conclusion of its competitive season, some members of the marching band took a nine-day trip to Boston and New York City. While there, the band members saw historic sites in both cities and marched in four parades in the Boston area over the Fourth of July. The parades were memorable for the huge crowds, the patriotic fervor of the people, and the heat. "I've toured with a lot of groups," said assistant director Ken Vork, "and I felt that overall this was the best group I've ever toured with."

Hawick Post Office closes
On March 31, 1999, the end of an era was marked in Hawick. Tom Quarfot watched sadly as they took down the post office sign and removed the mailboxes from Gil's Store. For 113 years, Hawick had had a post office.

The post office had been located in the store since 1949. The small grocery store had been the home of the post office for three generations of Quarfots.

Reed Quarfot, the grandson of the original owners, took over the store and post office from Harold Paulson, on Oct. 1, 1998. Harold and Katie Paulson were in charge of the post office and store since 1942.

After the post office was notified that Reed Quarfot was closing Gil's Store, they tried to find another place in Hawick to take the post office.

Effective April 1, 1999, postal box delivery and retail services were changed to the New London Post Office, located seven miles away. For post office box customers not wanting a rural mailbox at their home, cluster box units were installed in Hawick near Monson Lumber.

The Hawick mail had been sorted in New London since Katie's retirement in 1996, then delivered to Hawick. After Katie's death in the spring of 1998, the post office department had talked about closing the store, but the people in the area stressed the need for continued service and they decided to keep it open.

New city wells
Two city wells were found to be contaminated in the fall of 1998. In 1999, the source and the amount of contamination was found to be greater than first thought. The source was a former gas station at the intersection of Lake Street and Mill Street.

In March 1999, the city was still able to use the well behind the city garage as it contained only small amounts of benzene. It was being treated and used as part of the city water supply. With permission from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, water from behind city hall was being discharged directly into the storm sewer system and into the North Fork Crow River.

With the noncontaminated wells working overtime, the city decided to purchase land for two new wells. These wells would be located in new locations to avoid similar contamination from the plume that had affected two of the four city wells.

Estimated construction cost for the two new wells is $570,800. This estimate does not include the price of land acquisition. In an agreement with the state, the city will have access to a $500,000 fund for the drilling of two new wells, to replace those wells contaminated with benzene.

One of the wells should be located south of Highway 55 and the second well should be located west of Heatherwood Addition. A purchase agreement for four acres of land south of Highway 55 was approved by the city council at the end of November.

Poor farm economy
Despite the lack of rain, Minnesota farmers harvested the second largest corn crop on record, according to the Minnesota Ag Statistical Service.

Farmers in the Paynesville area were optimistic about their crops in August. Where the soils were heavier, the crops were still looking pretty good. However, in areas of lighter soil which are not irrigated, corn crops were shriveling and turning brown.

Besides the dry field conditions, the prices in August were also hurting the farmers. Corn prices were $1.50 per bushel, down from $3 a year ago. The price for oats was 90 to 95 cents and then the prices were docked more for low test weight. By October, the soybeans prices were $4.29 per bushel and $1.46 per bushel for corn.

In October, the U.S. average for hay was $73 per ton for baled hay. The Minnesota average was only $62. The U.S. average for calves was $92 per hundredweight. This compares to $84 in Minnesota. The national and state averages for hogs were comparable at about $34.10 and $33.50 per hundred weight respectively.

In the last decade, the number of farms has continued to drop. In 1987, there were more than 91,000 farms in Minnesota. By 1998, that number had dropped to 80,000.

According to the Minnesota Ag Statistical Service, land in farms decreased to 28.9 million acres from 29.1 million in 1997. A farm is defined as any establishment from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were sold or would normally be sold during the year. Government payments are included as sales.

According to the Center for Rural Affairs, rural midwesterners are being left behind. The study finds that despite a national economy of historic prosperity, agriculturally based counties of the region are experiencing significantly higher rates of poverty and lower incomes than urban counties in the region.

"This report confirms what people in the rural areas have known for a long time; there is a two-tiered economy in this region, and rural people and rural communities are being left behind," said Jon Bailey, farm and community policy project leader at the Center for Rural Affairs.

In rural farm and urban farm counties, over one-third of the households have annual incomes less than $15,000. One in five households in metro areas have such low incomes.

Irregardless of the farm economy, rural farm and urban farm counties had persistently low earned income. Importantly, this data was collected between the farm crisis of the 1980s and the current crisis. Therefore, it is clear that when the nation began to prosper, rural areas in this region did not, according to the study.

The trail around the lake
Organizational efforts for a proposed pedestrian trail around Lake Koronis became a public issue last year. Although the efforts started before that, momentum for the trail built throughout the year.

The idea is to build an eight-foot wide trail around the lake that could be used by walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, and other pedestrian traffic. Some of the roads around the lake are quite narrow and currently some don't even have shoulders adequate for safe pedestrian traffic. Proponents say a designated trail would be safer as well as a draw to the area.

The trail would need to be completed in parts, as the roads around the lake include township, county, and state roads. Eventually, the trail could be linked to other pedestrian trails in the area.

As the first portion of the trail, County Road 124 was the center of most of the action this year. The trail group talked with the county about widening the shoulders of that road this year, but in the end the county and the township agreed that it might be easier for the township to take over the road and do the construction. An agreement for the turnover of the road to Paynesville Township has been negotiated but a final agreement has yet to be drafted and approved. Construction along County Road 124 could begin next summer.

The Paynesville Area Jaycees, who have spearheaded the project under the leadership of Paul Osborne, held a Trail-a-Thon as a fund raiser for the project in October. The Trail-a-Thon had 68 registered participants who either walked, biked, rollerbladed, or ran from the Gazebo Park in the city to the Veteran's Memorial Park on Lake Koronis. Many participants chose the long way to the park, around the entire lake. The event raised $1,300 for the trail, and the Jaycees also raised $5,000 in donations from area businesses.

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