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Ryan Kastenschmidt / Staff photo by Ryan Kastenschmidt  

Jeff Wollin, head coach of the Litchfield baseball team for 30 years, will be inducted into the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in October. Wollin and seven others will be honored at Target Field prior to a Minnesota Twins game on Aug. 23.

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Pioneer spirit on display at Forest City Stockade

It might be more than 150 years later, but Bob Hermann believes that at least a little bit of the pioneer spirit that built the original Forest City stockade exists today.

Early Meeker County settlers built the original stockade as safe harbor against impending attack in the early days of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

No such threat exists today, of course, but the can-do attitude of the dedicated group of volunteers who run the Forest City Stockade is just as evident these days.

“It’s very impressive how all this turned out,” Bob Hermann said last week as he showed a visitor the finally completed walkway that encircles the stockade interior walls. “We can handle hundreds of people on the walkway. Everything is completed, rebuilt. We’re so proud of this project.”

The walkway project and other Forest City Stockade attractions will be on display again during the 36th Annual Rendezvous Saturday and Sunday.

The walkway, which had fallen into disrepair and became unsafe to use but has been rebuilt over the past few years, is just the most recent example of pioneer spirit. The walkway reconstruction project started in 2015, and required hundreds of volunteer hours and about $70,000 in private donations, Hermann said.

“I want people to know .. that was one heckuva big contribution,” Hermann said. “Everybody talks about going to get their grants, but we just started out with the thought that, ‘No, let’s raise the money locally.’”

Local donors supported the effort to rebuild the stockade’s walls and then the walkway by purchasing logs at $25 each. There might have been easier and faster ways to get the job done. But it would not have seemed as gratifying or realistic as the process undertaken, Hermann said.

That’s been the way at the Forest City Stockade, which 20 years ago this year suffered a major blow when its signature settler’s cabin was gutted by an arsonist’s fire. The cabin was rebuilt over a two-year period, and along with it, a small prairie village sprung up just to the north of the stockade walls.

“Historic Forest City,” as it’s been dubbed, today includes a land office, woodwright’s shop, candlemaking shop, school, church, hotel, livery stable, gunsmith shop and newspaper office, among other buildings that house a variety historic equipment, both of the stockade era and newer.

“There was no master plan,” Hermann said when asked if he could have envisioned the expansion of the stockade grounds that has happened during the past two decades. “It’s what we always say, too. This is realistic to how it could have been in any of these rural communities in outstate Minnesota.

“We are like pioneers,” he continued. “We just do it and get it done and hope for the best. But you know, it turns out beautiful. This is as close to how Forest City would have looked back in that 1862 time period as you can get. We’re proud of it, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.”

National Night Out connects Meeker County residents

Litchfield residents gathered for National Night Out on Aug. 6 in three locations.

National Night Out seeks to bring the community together, so that people familiarize themselves with their neighbors through an evening of food, fellowship and fun. The event also strives to make communities safer and more caring places to live.

Observed across the nation, National Night Out promotes police-community partnerships and awareness of emergency services. In Litchfield, people gathered at Central Park, Zion Lutheran Church and Prairie Park. Grove City and Dassel also had National Night Out events.

Stephanie Vanderbill of Litchfield and her family attend Zion Lutheran Church. She said the free supper served as part of National Night Out event was nice, meaning she didn’t have to cook, and she also enjoyed the music and seeing a lot of familiar faces.

“National Night Out is just an event to get everybody out,” Vanderbill said. “Lots of people that don’t go to this church that are drawn here. I think it’s good seeing community members, like the firefighters is here is good, and the car seat clinic — good community outreach.”

Meeker-McLeod-Sibley Public Health Services staff were present at Zion Lutheran Church during the event, checking the safety of car seats.

“We look for, like, recalls, we look for problems with the car seat, and how they’re used, and any safety issues they might have,” said Catherine Birr of Litchfield, a public health nurse for Meeker County Public Health. “Then we help the family make fixes so that when they leave, they’re leaving as safe as possible. And we know that most car seats are actually used incorrectly and that’s what causes injury and death in car accidents.”

The event has been happening for several years, and with the collaboration between Meeker County Sheriff’s Office with Robbie Brown, leader of Litchfield’s National Night Out, the event has been a success, Sheriff Brian Cruze said.

“Along with myself, we had deputies and Meeker County Sheriff Mounted Posse at these events,” Cruze said. “It is a great way for people to get to know us and for law enforcement to get to know their communities.”

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Litchfield School Board approves referendum questions

Beckie Simenson

Litchfield School Board, on a 5-1 vote Monday, determined the language for three questions for a fall operating and bond referendum.

The School Board plans to place those three questions on the ballot Nov. 5. One question will deal with an operating levy to provide additional funding for classroom instruction. Meanwhile, two questions will focus on bonding, which involves building construction or improvements.

Those official questions, followed by tax details, are:

1. The board of Independent School District No. 465 (Litchfield Public Schools) has proposed to increase its general education revenue by $625 per pupil. The proposed referendum revenue authorization would increase each year by the rate of inflation and be applicable for ten years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law. Shall the increase in the revenue proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 465 be approved?

An increase in the operating levy of $625 per pupil will increase property taxes by $142 per year for a home valued at $137,000, the average-valued home in the district, according to school consultants.

2. Shall the school board of Independent School District No. 465 (Litchfield Public Schools) be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $32,995,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities at Lake Ripley Elementary School, Litchfield Middle School and Litchfield High School, including the construction of improvements to the overall traffic flow, the creation of secure entries, the repurposing and creation of educational spaces, the repurposing and creation of common spaces, the completion of various deferred maintenance projects and the acquisition of furniture, fixtures and equipment?

Funding for building additions and improvements of $32.995 million, will increase taxes by $128 per year for homes valued at $137,000.

3. If both School District Question 1 and School District Question 2 are approved, shall the school board of Independent School District No. 465 (Litchfield Public Schools) also be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $11,430,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including the construction and equipping of an aquatics facility addition to the existing high school facility?

This would fund construction for $11.43 million toward a new pool facility, create and improve a weight room or cardio space and soccer fields. As a result, this will increase taxes by $67 per year for homes valued at $137,000.

Board member Greg Mathews, the lone dissenter in the 5-1 board vote on referendum questions, was concerned that the third question does not clearly state that a new and improved cardio or fitness center is going to be built.

“I think you are misunderstanding,” Superintendent Beckie Simenon replied to Mathews. “It’s not being added to the aquatic center. If (a) pool were to be built, in our plan (we) would have to take the existing pool area and upgrade that into a fitness area. That has always been part of the plan. … It says right there, ‘to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities.’”

“Again, I just don’t like hidden messaging,” Mathews said. “And that’s what I am concerned about here, is that any of the ($11.43) million is going to be used to fund some of the fitness equipment, just like the soccer field, I think that should be mentioned as well. I know we’re concerned about space, but let people know.”

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Forest City Threshers keep building on history

The Forest City Threshers grounds is in the midst of a building boom.

Or, perhaps more accurately, a rebuilding boom. During the past two years, the organization’s members have moved a handful of buildings to the grounds, located six miles northeast of Litchfield on State Highway 24.

Each of the structures will have new purpose. Eventually.

A piece of the former Litchfield train depot-turned house — moved to the grounds in March — will return to its roots as a depot museum. An old Department of Natural Resources building from Litchfield, taken down piece-by-piece in 2018, is being reconstructed on the grounds and will serve as storage for a variety of old farm equipment. Two buildings from the former Ideal Lumber yard in Litchfield will house a variety of displays, from lumber history to grain cleaning and handling, to gas engine shops.

“We have had a whole bunch of people telling us, ‘we’ve got a lot of stuff, and we’ll donate it to you, but we want it inside,’ so we’ve been moving buildings in when we find them,” said Dave Jutz, Threshers club president. “Our big shed, (the main building) that’s full of stuff that people have donated. That’s kind of how it works. And the more (storage space) we make available, the more it happens.”

Added club member Butch Schulte: “Once they think we have an open building, I mean, the building’s full before it’s done.”

Such is the case with the aforementioned buildings, which all seemingly are dedicated as storage or display for specific items, even though their completion dates might be a few years in the future.

Another new building will be open this weekend for visitors to the Forest City Threshers Show, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The show focuses on farm life from early 1900s to about 1960, Jutz said.

A former two-stall garage, moved to the grounds two years ago, has been remodeled, with a new front added, and will serve as a dairy museum, primarily housing equipment that has been collected by Milferd Smith, a rural Darwin farmer, over several decades.

“This is less than half of his equipment,” Jutz said as he and Schulte walked the Threshers grounds with a visitor last week. “It (the building) will be full. In fact, he says he might not be able to get it all in here.

“Milferd told us a while ago, ‘If you guys put me up a building, I’ll put it there,’” Jutz added. “That’s just the way it happens.”

And while it might seem at times — even to club members — that there’s a lack of a clear development plan, they also are reluctant to say “no” to opportunities that will add to the historic lessons about farming and ag-related business and activities the Forest City Threshers Show offers.

“We all go off on our tangents,” admitted Schulte, who was a key player in having the old depot moved to the grounds.

“We have plans, but you know, with all the stuff we’ve got going on, actually, the real projects we’re supposed to be getting done, we’re not getting done,” Jutz added. “Like I say, hopefully we live long enough to get it all done.”

It’s difficult to believe it won’t get done when one listens to the passion with which Jutz and Schulte and other Threshers club members talk about each project — and the importance of sharing it with visitors.

“Part of it is, most of the guys who are involved in this, we come from some sort of ag background,” Schulte said. “As a kid, and I only got to do it one time, I got to be part of a real threshing bee. Some of the older guys, they had that chance more often. But a lot of us, I suppose, are just trying to be a kid again.”

“Everybody’s got their thing,” Jutz said. “We could be golfing, or doing other stuff, you know. This started as a hobby. My wife calls it a sickness. I don’t know if it is (but) some days we think that maybe we’re crazy. But it’s just what you want to do. We enjoy it.”