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History meets the 21st century

Norma Berke seemingly comes to life, reading a newscast through a new augmented reality poster created for Litchfield’s Heritage Preservation committee.

Litchfield’s unique 19th-century downtown aesthetic recently received a 21st-century update with the integration of augmented reality, QR codes and real-time history lessons all available from a smartphone. In May 2018, the Heritage Preservation Committee received a Legacy History grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to create a downtown walking tour guide. Darlene Kotelnicki, HPC chair, said the HPC has basically three functions under the city’s ordinance and were the reasons why it applied to the grant.

“One is regulatory which includes reviewing applications for any changes to properties on the National Register of Historic Places,” Kotelnicki said. “The second function is promotion of our city’s historic resources, and the third is public education about those resources. This grant, which is federal money from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, is part promotion and part education.”

Through the grant, Dan Hoisington, owner of Hoisington Preservation Consultants, created a brochure with listings of Litchfield’s historic sites and videos for all 28 locations. The brochure has a QR code on the back that anyone can scan to see a video of each historic site. Kotelnicki said Litchfield’s use of history and technology is unique.

“A very few cities have video tours, and no one else has the augmented reality that we used,” she said. “We are the first historic group to use this in Minnesota.”

Hoisington, who has worked as a historian for more than 40 years, said he enjoyed Litchfield’s two to three block stretch of historic downtown buildings. To start, Hoisington worked with the HPC.

“I like telling real stories, so I started research all of the buildings,” Hoisington said. “I wanted to tell stories of these buildings and not list a bunch of facts. Each building has an interesting story to tell.”

Hoisington said he then created 28 Ken Burns style mini documentaries for each location.

“We made a DVD of them all then we created the brochure,” he said. “I like to think of this project as a museum without walls.”

To Hoisington, telling history is more than just reading facts about a place — it’s all about how the story is told. He created a podcast series called Pastcast, which can be viewed online, of unique historic places around Minnesota and Wisconsin. From this series, Hoisington developed the mini documentary series used in Litchfield’s downtown walking tour.

Hoisington said he always looks for new and unique ways to talk about history.

“We did the Pastcast series and that’s when I started to do a few video tours,” he said. “10 years ago, we didn’t have smartphones, but I’m going to try different ways to look at history with all of the new technology.”

Along with the video series, Hoisington created four posters of famous past Litchfield residents that use augmented reality to “come to life” when they are scanned by the Zappar app. Norma Berke, Ole “Music” Olson, a Civil War soldier and Peter E. Hanson.

Mayor Keith Johnson played Olson for the augmented reality poster, lending his voice and likeness to create a life-like Olson.

Johnson said he has played Olson before and also portrayed him in a play.

“His experience back then was like mine now,” Johnson said. “He was in the community 60 years, and I’ve been here for 55. I hope I can keep going a few more years.”

Cole Lawrence played the Civil War soldier, Sue Berg played Berke and Hoisington played Hanson. Through the app, the characters of Litchfield’s past come to life through claymation video and the voices of those who played each character to bring a 3-D image of each to life.

All of the videos and AR posters are available to view online without scanning the QR codes by going to

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Getting results: Survey suggests Litchfield residents support some tax increases for school district

A recent survey of 400 Litchfield School District residents indicates residents would be willing to increase taxes to fund schools.

The survey, conducted by the Morris Leatherman Co. for Litchfield Public Schools, suggested that 67 percent of respondents agree that local taxpayers need to step up to support the district. Additionally, three-fourths of respondents stated they were for all or some tax increases (52 percent for some) while 23 percent were against tax increases.

The survey also suggested that 78 percent of respondents felt Litchfield Schools is “excellent or good in quality.” The survey, conducted to gauge the residents' initial feelings about a referendum in the fall, selected Litchfield residents at random for questions by phone. The board discussed survey results during a work session June 27.

“(Litchfield Public Schools) are right at the norm that we see across the state of Minnesota,” said Peter Leatherman, CEO of Morris Leatherman Co. “What differentiates districts is (an) excellent rating. Minnesotans are very difficult graders, and they are not enthusiastic about much. And so, the norm on the favorable rating right now is 80 percent.”

Superintendent Beckie Simenson said the results will help the school board refine what might be included in a referendum.

“We decided to do this survey to help us better understand what the public wanted moving forward with the operating referendum and the bond referendum,” Simenson said.

This was the first time the Litchfield School District administered a comprehensive study, she said.

“This really told us a lot of really good information about what our community wants with Litchfield Public Schools and the direction we need to (go) moving forward,” Simenson said. “So telling (the school board) what the quality of Litchfield public schools is (and) the quality of our buildings and facilities. (Also) everything from job performance ratings and financial management. This is huge for us as a district to know (that) our residents have confidence in what we are doing.”

Of those who participated in the survey, 66 percent of the respondents were either single with no children, young couples with no kids, or older empty-nesters; 29 percent reported having children attending Litchfield schools and 13 percent of the households had preschool-aged children.

The operating levy and bond vote will address some of the district’s operational and facility needs. The survey indicated that 47 percent of respondents felt the district was not adequately funded, while 41 percent felt they were (12 percent chose not sure). In terms of the district’s facilities, 76 percent felt the district’s buildings were in excellent or good condition; 13 percent said fair; and 11 percent reported poor.

Simenson said that custodial staff do an excellent job taking care of the district’s buildings, but when you look around, you start to see improvements that need to be made.

“We need to give Ripley a little bit of love,” Simenson said. “The building is 50 years old, and we just got some preliminary numbers for kindergarten enrollment above what we expected. Our residents know that they have to do something, but we have to be fiscally responsible with the funds that we receive.”

In terms of job performance, 64 percent of the respondents reported positively about the school board and 28 percent reported negatively, he said. Sixty-three percent reported positively about the superintendent and administrations while 26 percent reported negatively. And the teachers received a positive rating of 85 percent.

Respondents of the survey also felt that the district is spending its funds wisely — 68 percent felt the school district spends tax payer’s money efficiently and effectively. Further, 88 percent said the schools are a good value on investment and 81 percent reported the school district does a good job involving the community in decision-making. Also, 84 percent trust the school district to do the right thing and 80 percent said the school district does a good job reporting important issues.

The survey also asked what residents wanted to see used with the bond and levy funds, and 77-81 percent favored using them for deferred maintenance, improving industrial and vocational spaces, reinstating classes and programs and maintaining class sizes. Also, 67-76 percent favored construction of kindergarten space, updating special education space, improving STEM space and improving secured entrances. And 60-67 percent favored renovation of the kitchen and cafeteria, permanent technology budget and improving parking lot safety.

Simenson said some businesses have expressed interest in creating a partnership with the district to provide some vocational opportunities for students.

“We want to put a welding unit in the high school that would train students to go right into the workforce,” Simenson said. “We also want to teach the value of staying in the community to our students.”

After two more work sessions, the school board will finalize three questions for the referendum in the fall. The first question will involve the operating levy and the other two bond questions cover building improvements and the wellness center and pool.

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Missing teen last seen in Litchfield

A missing St. Cloud teen was last seen around 12:02 a.m. June 27 while in Litchfield. 

Family reported Jayden Anderson, 16, missing around June 28, according to Sadie Simonett, victim assistance specialist at Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Simonett said they are unaware of Jayden's location at his time of disappearance.

"We believe he was with another boy around the same age," Simonett said. 

Jayden is 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighs 150-160 pounds, has brown hair and blue eyes. His ears are pierced and a tattoo on his right forearm that reads "Anderson."

Anyone with information about Anderson should contact St. Cloud Police Department at 320-345-4444.

Sarah Anderson, Jayden's mother and Jesse Aaseby said that they just want to know he is safe. 

"Jayden, we love you , we are worried and there is nothing too big that we can't work through," Sarah said. "Please get a hold of anyone in the family to let us know that you are safe."