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Hutchinson's Erika Tillmann crowned Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes
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When 2019 Miss Hutchinson Erika Tillmann passed on her crown this past June, it turned out her time as royalty was not yet finished. The 22-year-old was crowned the 2022 Queen of the Lakes during the Aquatennial Ambassador Coronation Saturday at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in downtown Hopkins.

“Truly I was not expecting to be selected,” she said. “There were 42 other amazing women beautifully representing their communities. I was extremely shocked and obviously so excited and proud to continue to represent Hutchinson.”

Tillmann's crowning made history, too. For the first time, back-to-back Ambassadors were chosen from the same community. Tillmann follows in the footsteps of Princess Erin Westlund of Hutchinson, who was crowned in 2019.

"I felt quite a bit of pressure knowing Erin had received the crown, for me to follow her in this legacy," Tillmann said. "The Aquatennial has never had two in a row. It's fun to be making history with Erin."

The coronation was also a blast to the past for Hutchinson. Emceeing the festivities was Natalie Neubauer, 2000 Miss Hutchinson and 2002 Queen of the Lakes.

Tillmann is the daughter of Brian and Jenny Tillmann of Hutchinson and a 2017 graduate of Hutchinson High School. She has two siblings — an older sister, Samantha, and twin sister Loraina, who was crowned Hutchinson Water Carnival Princess in 2017. Tillmann followed in her footsteps and was crowned Miss Hutchinson 2019-21, a two-year term rather than the traditional one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the cancellation of 2020 summer festivities.

"The moment I was going to run for Aquatennial, they (my family) accepted the position as if I was selected," she said. "They told me from the beginning that I was completely capable of becoming Queen of the Lakes. It was so nice to have the support from day one when I didn't believe in myself. When I was crowned, they went wild."


Tillmann said she started her new job as Queen of the Lakes following Saturday's coronation. Among the perks of her new position is a working wardrobe.

"As soon as we were crowned, we tried on all these clothes — what worked, what fit," she said. "I felt like a celebrity. We took the clothes home with us and will bring them to events to wear."

The Aquatennial team of six — which includes Tillmann and Princesses Ariana Velishka of Jordan and Hannah Rodgers of Red Wing, Captains Judy Holmquist and Paulette Christopher, and Commodore Brent LaSalle — will make 250 to 300 appearances during the coming year in Minnesota and across the country. Their first appearance is July 31 at Rails to Trails in Watertown. 

"I'm looking forward to all of them," Tillmann said. "This is going to be so fun. One thing super special is we get to go to the Rose Bowl in California — an absolutely breathtaking experience. I'm very excited to be representing Hutchinson and Minneapolis halfway across the United States."

Tillmann passed her Miss Hutchinson crown to Madalyn Prokosch June 20. Although she didn't have any official duties until Aquatennial Candidate Week July 19-24, she juggled two summer classes working toward a master's degree in school counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and she just finished a stint as the university housing coordinator where she managed COVID-19 policies and procedures.


While there can only be one Queen of the Lakes and two princesses, all 43 young women who competed in the Ambassador Coronation program are winners as former representatives of their home community or festival. 

Going into Aquatennial Candidates Week, Tillmann said she thought a lot about it and came to the conclusion that her goal was to make herself proud.

“That way I would be happy with the week no matter what,” she said. “I wanted to make new friends and new connections with other candidates ... during the week, (that way) I was happy no matter what the outcome."

Among the skills that helped Tillmann was a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, which provided her with experience in reading people, gauging when to speak up and when not to, and how to use her conversation skills.

While she had been interviewed for Miss Hutchinson, Tillmann described the Aquatennial group and individual interviews as "being on steroids."

Stephen Wiblemo / Submitted photo 

Erika Tillmann, right, and her twin sister Loraina Looft pause for a photo while representing Hutchinson during Aquatennial festivities. Both women are former Hutchinson Water Carnival royalty.

"They ask questions different every year," she said. "It was hard to prepare in advance for them. I was absolutely challenged by the interviews."

One of the most difficult, Tillmann said, was a situational question. She had two minutes to read a prompt and then go into a room and act out that prompt. As an ambassador she would attend a city council meeting. How do you feel about the events happening in Minneapolis and St. Paul?

"You could take it anyway you wanted," she said. "It was hard to focus on one thing. I said, 'Our job is to learn and grow from uncomfortable situations — really going out of my way to understand and put my own biases aside to be more knowledgeable and empathetic.'"

Tillmann said on Monday and Tuesday, she did two virtual interviews with panels of five judges. Wednesday brought another interview and the candidates walked in the Torchlight Parade. On Thursday, the candidates talked about their communities and how they connect to their communities. Tillmann shared the story of the Hutchinson Brothers.

“It was a lot of fun, fun to learn about their communities,” she said.

They also visited the Woman's Club of Minneapolis, which she described as "outstanding, breathtaking how beautiful."

“We met women volunteers who are members," Tillmann said. "They were amazing inspiration, super fun to meet them all."

Friday brought an opportunity to help others through the Bags of Smiles program, which provides "smiles one bag at a time to local pediatric patients in Minnesota." The candidates tied blankets for younger individuals in cancer wards, clinics and hospitals. The evening brought a boat ride with the Minnetonka Powerboat Squadron.

“We had sandwiches on a private island,” Tillmann recalled. “We were treated like royalty. We had a tour of Lake Minnetonka — it's huge. That night we celebrated the outgoing commodore, outgoing ambassadors. Saturday was coronation all day long and fireworks at the end of the evening.”


Miss Hutchinson was Tillmann's first ambassador program.

"I never would have done it if Loraina hadn't run two years before me," she said. "I didn't understand it. Watching her, I found out it was so much more about community building and volunteerism. That's what got me interested. It was a super fun candidate week and I ended up getting selected."

Asked if she enjoyed serving as Miss Hutchinson, Tillmann called that an understatement.

"Seriously, it was such an honor to represent Hutchinson," she said. "I love Hutchinson. I humbly bragged, we have a beautiful and amazing community. I grew immensely from going to parades, coronations, all the fun events we got to do — reading at the library, visiting local senior facilities. I definitely grew in confidence and leadership from the experience."

During the next year, Tillmann will juggle classes at UW-Stout, working as a server at a Menominee restaurant, and her Aquatennial duties. 

When asked what advice she would give to those thinking about becoming a queen candidate, "Do it," Tillmann said. 

"Really, that is my advice," she said. "If you're even remotely considering it, go out of your comfort zone and do it. Even being a candidate is an honor in and of itself. Take a step and do it. You're treated like royalty during candidate week. Even that week, you have so many opportunities to grow. It's a great way to practice those interpersonal skills, meet some girls and have a good time."

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Long time, no see: National Night Out brings Hutchinson neighbors together again
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After a year of isolation, it's time to get out of the house and meet your neighbors. One way to do so is during National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 3. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year's festivities, 21 neighborhood gatherings are planned this year in Hutchinson. Options range from private, residents-only get-togethers to the big bash at Grace Lutheran Church, which bills itself as “the largest and best block party in town."

Whether it's a dish to pass, root beer floats, games with prizes or sandwiches and chips, these events bring people together. It's a fun and easy way to build fellowship as well as protect your community by getting to know your neighbors. 

Continuing a tradition that began with local National Night Out observances, emergency responders from Hutchinson police, fire and ambulance services will make personal appearances at as many events as possible to explain their work and their vehicles’ life-saving equipment. Children can look forward to such police giveaways as mood pencils, stickers and public safety activities/coloring books. The books feature tips on home and fire safety, calling 911, dealing with bullying and other concerns. This is a hands-on opportunity to learn more about the safety of your neighborhood and what you can do to help local law enforcement.

Coordinating National Night Out events is Hutchinson Connects. You may also know it as the Hutchinson Connect Wholeheartedly Committee an informal group of volunteers who promote activities that bring people together, including National Night Out; One Book, One Community; the Kind Neighbor Spotlight and Little Free Libraries. The group, which has been around for more than 10 years, was known early on as Heart of Hutch, a grass-roots "movement" established in 2010 to support activities that help Hutchinson residents live well.

National Night Out dates to the 1980s. The annual community-building campaign promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie. The first year involved 2 million neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states. Today, Hutchinson is one of 172 Minnesota cities that will observe National Night Out. Joining Minnesotans will be 38 million participants in 16,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories and military bases worldwide.

National Night Out party map 2021

The following list of National Night Out parties was compiled by the Hutchinson Connects Committee:


Who's invited: Area neighbors

Location: Golfview Court cul-de-sac

Time: 4 p.m.

Contact: Bev Wangerin at 320-583-3652

Bring: A dish to pass and eating utensils. Water provided.


Who's invited: Area neighbors

Location: Hidden Circle Southwest

Time: 7 p.m.

Contact: Jim and Becky Felling at 320-587-3309

Bring: A lawn chair. Root beer floats will be served.


Who's invited: Anyone who wishes to attend. This party is billed as "the largest and best block party in town.”

Location: 430 Fifth Ave. S.W.

Time: 5 p.m.-dusk

Contact: Church office at 320-587-3051

Bring: Nothing. Chairs, food, games and prizes will be provided. Kids may want to bring their own water soakers, shields and buckets for “Hutchinson's largest water fight.”


Who's invited: Anyone who wishes to attend.

Location: Northwoods Park Shelter

Time: 5:30-7 p.m.

Contact: Mavis Schwanke at 320-587-2058 or schwanke@hutchtel.net

Bring: A lawn chair and a dish to share.


Who's invited: Park Towers residents

Location: Park Towers Community Room

Time: 3:40-4:30 p.m.

Contact: Amber at Across@hutchtel.net

Bring: Nothing. Sandwiches, chips, lemonade and cookies will be served.


Who's invited: Area residents

Location: Lions Park West on Sunset Street Southwest

Time: 6 p.m.

Contact: Toni Fischer at 320-552-3977

Bring: A chair, individual snack and beverage. The new Lions Park will be dedicated at the party. 


Who's invited: Residents of Twin Oaks Townhomes

Location: Deer Park Community Room, 309 North High Drive N.W.

Time: 4-6 p.m.

Contact: Janis Rannow at Twin Oaks Townhomes, 320-587-7505

Bring: Nothing. Meal and beverage provided.


Who's invited: Country Club Terrace residents

Location: Grassy area by the office

Time: 5-8 p.m.

Contact: Dawn Aldrich at 320-587-2000

Bring: Super nachos will be provided but guests are asked to bring a dish to pass and beverage. Lots of activities for children are planned including a bouncy house. There will be a drawing for one month free lot rent for a donation to the McLeod Emergency Food Shelf. 


Who's invited: Everyone

Location: Elks Park on Sherwood Street Southeast

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Contact: Tammy Lehn at 320-583-8330

Bring: A lawn chair. Root beer floats will be served.


Who's invited: Area residents

Location: Oakwood Court gazebo

Time: 6 p.m.

Contact: Dick Lennes at 763-227-6773

Bring: A dish to pass and chairs. Tables, utensils and beverages will be provided.


Who's invited: 300 block of Adams and Jefferson streets

Location: 326 Adams Street, in the alley

Time: 5 p.m.

Contact: Rose Anne Bailey at 320-583-5846

Bring: A dish to pass and chairs. Plates, utensils and water provided.


Who's invited: Deer Park Apartments residents

Location: Deer Park Community Room, 309 North High Drive N.W.

Time: 4-6 p.m.

Contact: Janis Rannow at 320-587-7505

Bring: Nothing. Meal and beverage provided.


Who's invited: Neighborhood residents

Location: 605 Tyler St. S.W.

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Contact: Tim Welch 

Bring: A lawn chair and your own beverage


Who's invited: Neighborhood residents on Ottawa, Sherwood and Calgary

Location: 245/249 Ottawa Ave. S.E. 

Time: 4-5:30 p.m. 

Contact: Kay Yoch at 320-583-2855

Bring: A chair and your own beverage


Who's invited: Lynn Township residents

Location: Lynn Township Hall, 14995 County Road 7

Time: 5-8 p.m.

Contact: Cheryl Bleil at 320-587-2746

Bring: A dish to pass. Plates, utensils and beverage are provided.


Who's invited: Area residents

Location: Birdie Court cul-de-sac

Time: 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Contact: Michelle Kiefer at 507-430-2280

Bring: A dish to share and a lawn chair. Pulled pork sandwiches, plates and utensils will be provided.


Who's invited: Detroit Avenue neighbors

Location: Middle of Detroit Avenue

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Bring: A dish to pass, plates, utensils, beverages and chairs.


Who's invited: Rolling Oaks neighbors

Location: Rolling Oaks cul-de-sac

Time: 6:15-7:30 p.m.

Contact: Tammy Lauer at 320-583-2567

Bring: Dessert potluck


Who's invited: Neighborhood residents

Location: 315 Jefferson Court Southeast

Time: 6:30-8 p.m.

Contact: Pamela Houk at 320-587-8220


Who's invited: Residents of Echo Manor Apartments

Location: Deer Park Community Room, 309 North High Drive N.W. 

Time: 4-6 p.m.

Contact: Janis Rannow at 320-587-7505

Bring: Nothing. Meal and beverage provided.


Who's invited: neighborhood residents

Location: 1401 Southfork Drive S.E.

Time: 6-8 p.m. 

Contact: Tim or Cheryl Sanken at 320-587-3008

Bring: Chair and beverage. Hot dogs, chips and dessert will be provided.

22. JC Women's Park playground

Who's invited: Everyone

Location: 1050 Goebel St. S.W.

Time: 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Contact: Liz Stearns at 480-343-5921 or email eselby11@gmail.com

Bring: Bring your own main dish, beverages and seating. You may also bring a side or dessert to share.

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How should Hutchinson Public Schools spend COVID-19 relief funds?
  • Updated

America's schools have received two rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds in response to COVID-19. With a third round of ESSER funds on the way from the American Rescue Plan, Hutchinson School District residents can provide their thoughts on the school's plan.

The Hutchinson Public Schools' plan, which can be found on the district website at isd423.org, is currently in a preliminary draft form. It and an online survey can be found by scrolling down to the "featured" section and clicking to "read more" regarding the school's safe learning plan. A direct link to the plan is tinyurl.com/2dne6nkp, and the survey, which is available until Aug. 1, is at surveymonkey.com/r/82DWMBX. Residents may also see what feedback has been left at tinyurl.com/veejdnnr.

Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said stakeholders including staff, students, parents and community members are welcome to leave comments.

"As a district we are required and obligated to accept feedback," he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, ESSER funds are available through June 30, 2024, and schools must apply by Oct. 1, 2021. Hutchinson Public Schools are eligible for roughly $2.24 million in third-round ESSER funds.

Similar to what has been heard from county officials regarding pandemic relief funds, district staff are still seeking clarity from the federal government as to what precisely qualifies for various ESSER requirements. The plan must include intervention plans, such as summer learning or after school programs. Requirements also demand 20% of funds be spent to address learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listed out in the draft plan are items proposed to be funded, including:

  • staff and student mental health;
  • academic intervention and student support;
  • full-time staff for math and reading intervention at West Elementary, Tiger Elementary, Park Elementary, and Hutchinson Middle School;
  • before- and after-school programming;
  • full-time staff to aid in credit recovery at Hutchinson High School;
  • heating, ventilation and air conditioning filtration at West Elementary and Hutchinson Middle School;
  • cleaning, food service and technology equipment; and
  • behavior specialists.

The plan notes ESSER positions will be one-year positions, or a maximum of three years at this time, and should be targeted to address learning loss from the pandemic. It also notes positions cut due to lower enrollment can be added back if student enrollment increases sufficiently in the 2021-22 school, but those positions would be covered in the general fund. On Thursday afternoon VanderHeiden confirmed the school is still planning to target learning loss with ESSER funds, but the school has started adding back positions weighed with enrollment.