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Mark Grewe is fishing for rusty treasures and cleaning Hutchinson's river

When most people head to the river hoping to reel in a big catch, they’re thinking about fish. But not Mark Grewe of Hutchinson.

“My goal was I want to find a gun, an ax and a knife,” he said.

That’s because Grewe is magnet fishing, which involves using a powerful magnet tied to rope, dragging it along the riverbed and pulling out whatever sticks. He took up the hobby this spring when, like many Americans, he was put on furlough from his job due to COVID-19. And after a dozen “fishing” trips, what he’s pulled out has shocked him.

“I’m comparing it to what I see on YouTube, and I am very shocked, because it seems like I am getting almost 100 times what anyone else is pulling out of the water, and it’s clearly not me,” Grewe said. “I’ve done it 12 times. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just throwing a magnet in the water. So clearly there is enough out there, which is just shocking and surprising, and really almost hurtful because I’ve always been a nature guy. It’s tough to see that crap happening.”

Among the items Grewe has caught with his magnet include power tools such as drills, saw blades and nails; razor wire; a microwave; an old ice skate; a shotgun shell reloader; a wheel rim; a beaver trap; an exhaust system; fishing lures and buckets of rebar and scrap metal.

Submitted photo 

During his dozen fishing trips in the Crow River, Mark Grewe has pulled up truckloads of scrap metal such as this. Most of it he gives to a local scrapper, and he suggests others do the same before illegally dumping things in the river and polluting the environment.

“I’ve never been skunked,” he said. “I always have at least half a bucket full of stuff.”

Grewe became interested in the hobby this past winter when his son, Travis, showed him magnet fishing videos on YouTube. Then in early May, he was put on furlough from his job and looking for a way to fill his days.

“So I started getting the bug and I thought, ‘What the heck, I haven’t got anything else to do with my time.’ My yard is up to date, so I bought my first magnet.”

Grewe started with a 600-pound strength magnet and set out to Hutchinson bridges to see what he could catch. After pulling in a few fishing lures at his first couple stops, he went down behind the former Shopko building and really started reeling in the scrap.

“I’m pretty sure I found a tool box, because I kept dropping it in the same spot with the 600-pound magnet and I was pulling out a hammer, a pliers and things like that, and a bunch of nails,” he said.

Submitted photo 

Here are the tools Mark Grewe uses for his magnet fishing trips, a pair of power magnets attached to rope and a grappling hook.

Grewe decided he needed to up the ante and purchased a 1,700-pound strength magnet. He also added a grappling hook to his repertoire to help him dislodge larger items that may be stuck beneath silt and debris.

Websites such as bridgehunter.com help Grewe search for fishing locations. He looks for bridges that are in high-traffic areas, as they are more likely to have stuff under them, and bridges that are older, as they are more likely to have older stuff in the water below. In shallow areas, he’ll also walk the river with his magnet dragging behind him.

“If I don’t get anything with the magnet when I’m throwing, I’ll start throwing out the grappling hook and tear up the bottom of the river,” Grewe said. “That removes the silt that’s on top of it, and then I can throw my magnet again and I’ll usually end up getting something. Going after a good rain also helps shake loose silt in the water and helps uncover what is on the riverbed.”

Submitted photo 

Saw blades, a shotgun shell reloader and bottles containing gun powder aren’t what you’d expect to find in the Crow River, but that’s exactly where Mark Grewe pulled them from with his powerful magnets.

Since his first fishing trip in Hutchinson, Grewe has ventured to other areas and tributaries of the Crow River, and he has plans to continue.

But what does he do with everything he pulls up? While he at first intended to just throw most of it away, he quickly realized he had too much. He also can’t leave it by the bridges where he fishes, as that is considered littering, according to a DNR officer to whom he spoke.

So while he keeps some souvenirs for himself, such as old tools or anything he thinks is cool, much of it he gives to a scrapper he met online who picks it up and hauls it away.

But what about his goal of finding a gun, an ax and a knife? Well, he’s already two-thirds of the way there with the ax and knife.

Submitted photo 

These are some of the more interesting items Mark Grewe has pulled out of the river, including an old ice skate, some tools, a gopher trap and a sickle.

“A gun is a possibility of maybe helping someone out if there’s been a crime,” Grewe said about the reasons for his goal. “An ax because I happen to be an ax collector, and a knife, well, I just kind of like knives.”

Grewe said he plans to continue magnet fishing for the time being, at least until he finds a gun, goes back to work and is too busy, or he picks up another hobby.

“The way I sum up magnet fishing is, I like to be outdoors and like to fish, but I don’t like to eat fish,” he said. “So this way I get to fish, I get to wade in the rivers and be outdoors, it doesn’t cost me a dime other than the gear, and I get to keep whatever I want and there’s no limit to what I keep. It’s basically fishing without any hangups.”

Submitted photo 

Here's more scrap, including a microwave and exhaust system, Mark Grewe pulled out of the Crow River.


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Playing ball with the in-law

In baseball, the trust a pitcher has in his defense is important. It’s easier to relax and throw strikes when you know the guys behind you will take care of the ball.

For Hutchinson Huskies veteran ace Kyle Messner, there is no doubt he trusts shortstop Jayden Fleck to take care of the ball, as well as more important things. After all, Fleck recently married Messner’s daughter, Amber.

Jayden and Amber met in high school six years ago while watching a Huskies game, coincidentally. After graduating, both attended Southwest Minnesota State University, where Fleck was a standout with the Mustangs baseball team. On July 11, they officially tied the knot.

If Kyle had any concerns about his daughter marrying a baseball player, he has nobody to blame but himself. After more than three decades of playing town ball, he and his wife, Anita, practically raised their four daughters on a diamond.

“When I was younger, I remember going to the baseball park every single weekend, spending all weekend there,” Amber recalled. “During the week, that was always where we ended up, eating hot dogs or popcorn for supper, not having shoes on the entire time and our feet turning black as soot and playing volleyball. That was pretty much our life growing up.”

Kyle is happy about his daughter marrying his teammate, in part because he’s gotten to know what type of person his son-in-law is, on and off the field.

“I’ve known Jayden for a lot of years,” Kyle said. “Eight or nine years ago, I was asked if I would help out a kid pitching, and it happened to be Jayden. He was a great kid back then and is still a great kid.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Kyle added. “He cares about my parents, our family, and that’s special to me. I love him dearly.”

The feeling is mutual for Jayden, who has admired Kyle as a baseball player in the past, and now as a father-in-law as well.

“He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to,” Jayden said. “He’s a leader on the team, and he handles himself well, not only on the team but as a person. … He’s someone I want to act like and have that demeanor.”

Amber called it a blessing getting to watch her two favorite guys play ball together for the past six years, and she hopes there are more memories yet to come, including this year as the Huskies prepare to make a playoff push for state. But is she ready to spend another two decades at the field watching Jayden, like she did the first 22 years of her life with her father?

“I’m ready if he’s ready,” Amber joked. "That’s a big question.”

“I don’t think I can do it as long as he can,” Jayden said about his father-in-law. “I’m already getting achy.”


Education
Gov. Walz’s school plan: In-person classes if infection rates are low

The current 14-day rate of coronavirus infections in Minnesota counties is the key metric state leaders will use to help school districts determine whether it is safe to hold classes in person.

If rates climb above 10 new cases per 10,000 residents, state officials will recommend older students are taught in a hybrid model where buildings are used at 50 percent capacity each day.

Counties that exceed 50 cases per 10,000 residents over a two-week period should strongly consider holding all classes online.

Those metrics are how Gov. Tim Walz along with state and health officials are providing guidance to education leaders around the state as the 2020-21 school year approaches. Walz emphasized the benchmarks are not set in stone and decisions will be made by local leaders with input from the state.

“By bringing together the local education leaders who know their students, staff and communities the best, and the public health experts who know the virus the best, this plan will help determine a learning model that makes the most sense for each community,” Walz wrote in a letter to school officials released Thursday outlining the plans.

THRESHOLD BREAKDOWNS

In the coming weeks, local district leaders will be informed by state health and education officials the severity of their community's coronavirus outbreaks. That will help them decide which model to use when classes begin.

Outbreak data will be closely monitored and state officials are expected to routinely update recommendations with the help of regional experts. State health officials reserve the right to step in should a district’s outbreak get out of hand.

Here’s the specific breakdown of where cases need to be for different types of instruction:

  • Cases below 9 per 10,000: In-person learning for all students
  • 10 to 19 cases per 10,000: In-person for elementary students and hybrid learning for others
  • 20 to 29 cases per 10,000: Hybrid for all students
  • 30 to 49 cases per 10,000: Hybrid for younger students and distance learning for secondary students
  • More than 50 cases per 10,000: Distance learning for all students.

Under these thresholds, current infection rates suggest just a few schools would be recommended to only use distance learning. There are 41 counties where a mix of in-person and online learning would be recommended.

Forty-five counties have infection rates low enough today they could offer in-person instruction to all students under the state’s guidelines, including McLeod and Meeker counties.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, McLeod County had a rate of 6.14 cases per 10,000 residents, and Meeker County had a rate of 6.07 case per 10,000 residents, meaning schools in both county's are recommended to open for in-person learning.

The Leader reached out to Hutchinson Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden for his reaction to Walz's guidelines but did not receive a response in time for this story.

In an email to parents from Glencoe-Silver Lake Superintendent Chris Sonju, he said he believes GSL schools should be able to open for in-person learning on Sept. 8.

"I believe this is a good thing, but I also recognize and understand that there is still details and work to be done to ensure the health and well-being of everyone involved," Sonju said. "We will also be working on a distance learning component for families that feel that this model is in their best interest. Our goal is to work with families and our staff to make sure your educational experience is done at a high level and that we are working with and recognizing the health and safety for all involved."

FOCUS ON YOUNGER LEARNERS IN CLASS

State and national data have shown younger people are at lower risk of developing serious cases of COVID-19. The benchmarks Walz announced Thursday uses that growing evidence to prioritize having younger learners in classrooms.

If infections grow in a county, older students will be the first ones to move to learning online part of the time. Prioritizing younger students in classrooms will also help working parents and address the struggles elementary school students faced learning virtually.

Hybrid learning is a mix of in-person classes and distance learning.

The hybrid model requires 6 feet of social distancing at all times with buildings and buses being used at 50 percent capacity. Districts must also have adequate staff to ensure students are taught equitably and safely.

There were large disparities in access to robust distance learning during the spring because of limits on equipment and internet access. Under the new plan, districts must provide equitable distance learning opportunities to all students.

Any families can opt into distance learning if they prefer to learn from home.

State officials said the safety of staff is also a top priority and teachers also will be given the option of working from home if they choose. Walz acknowledged that districts may struggle to offer in-person courses if many teachers opt to provide instruction from a distance.

“This is a plan that is data driven, localized and grounded in science,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, education commissioner. “It allows schools to build on their strengths, receive critical health information they need from experts along with the guidance they will get from our department. This plan prioritizes safe teaching and learning environments for all our students and staff.”

MASKS, TESTS AND CLEANING

All students and staff will be required to wear masks throughout the school day. State leaders will help districts provide protective gear for students and staff including face shields for teachers who work with younger students.

“We all recognize that COVID-19 is going to continue to impact our schools and our communities for months to come, but those impacts are varied and hard to predict,” Malcolm said. “It is important for the well-being of Minnesota children that we get this right, and that we have solid and flexible plans in place to adapt to the COVID-19 challenge.”


Local
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A new face at McLeod County's Health and Human Services Department

Starting Aug. 24, McLeod County will have a new director at the helm of its Health and Human Services Department.

"It's a job that I have looked at and admired in my career," said new hire Berit Spors. "As a current provider of senior services, we work with the county and utilize those services. I have admired the people in those positions. ... An opportunity like this doesn't come around often."

Locals may recognize Spors as the regional director of operations at Ecumen, or in her previous roles as housing director and marketing manager in Hutchinson. She has worked in health and senior services for decades.

As Health and Human Services director, Spors will lead a merged department that provides both social services and public health services to county residents. That includes support programs and financial programs for people of all ages in the county. She steps in for interim director Meghan Mohs, who has been with the county the past four months. The department was previously headed by Julie Erickson, who started the role in July 2019. Mohs will stay on for a month after Spors begins in order to assist in the transition.

"(Mohs) has been a really good asset," said McLeod County Director Sheila Murphy. "We plan to keep a relationship with her as long as it makes sense."

Spors was selected after two rounds of interviews that included County Board members, Murphy, Mohs, department heads and county staff with whom Spors will work.

"She was definitely the person I saw as the best fit for the role," Murphy said. "I am excited to have her at the county. Berit is knowledgeable and thoughtful and kind. ... She will do a very good job heading the Health and Human Services Department in the right direction and helping them during a challenging time with the pandemic."

Spors attended high school at Lac Qui Parle Valley, and that's where her work in health began. She worked at her local nursing home as a nurse assistant.

"I really loved that," she said. "I thought I would go to school as a nurse, but realized it was more working with people, supporting them (that I liked). I loved the geriatric aspect. So I grew my career that way. Most of it has been working in senior services."

She has worked in senior services for 26 years, including time at the Area Agency on Aging in Appleton. She moved to Hutchinson and started work at Ecumen in 2008. When she became regional director of operations, she supported assisted living facilities across the state and elsewhere.

"I learned over my professional career that I really enjoy leading people, being a mentor, supporting, encouraging and growing people in their profession. I am only as good as the people I support," Spors said. "Going to the county, the leadership role I provide will affect those in the county I live in. That excites me. My work will directly affect the community I live in."

Spors will be joining the county in the midst of a response to a public health pandemic. She says she will bring direct experience and knowledge about how COVID-19 is handled by health professionals, especially in congregate living facilities, and is not daunted by the challenge. She'll also work to expand public awareness of what services are available through social services and public health.

"I see a large undertaking in my new role to be about providing education," she said.