It might have seemed an odd pairing to some, but mixing an Easter celebration with a child pedestrian and bicycle safety event drew smiles of appreciation Saturday.
Two teens dressed in Easter Bunny costumes welcomed visitors and distributed bags of goodies as part of the Community Easter Party in the Litchfield City Hall parking lot. But the traditional also merged with something new as children were encouraged to participate in a Safety Town interactive exhibit where they rode pedal-powered three-wheelers through a child-sized replica of a town, complete with stoplights, railroad crossings and other vehicles.
Organized by Litchfield United Methodist Church, Litchfield Downtown Council and Greater Litchfield Opera House Association, the Community Easter Party drew an estimated 300 children to downtown Saturday. The event replaced the Easter egg hunt traditionally held in Central Park, which organizers decided to forego this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
“The kids seem just as excited as any other year,” said Robbie Brown, who helped plan the event through United Methodist Church.
“Very happy with the weather and turnout,” Darlene Kotelnicki, a City Council and Downtown Council member, said. “Glad we could sponsor an outside event that allowed for social distancing.”
Jesse Hudec, a transportation generalist with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and coordinator of the Meeker Safe Roads Coalition who brought the Safety Town exhibit to the event, said he thought it a great opportunity — and the perfect setting — to reach a target audience about pedestrian and bike safety.
“If we can teach them when they’re young, get them thinking about things like pedestrian and bike safety from the get-go, we can change the culture,” said Hudec, a Grove City resident and 20-year MnDOT employee. “They’ll grow up knowing how to be safe in different situations.”
Safety Town has been a feature at the Minnesota State Fair for several years, and MnDOT invested in a traveling exhibit last year, which had not been used prior to Saturday. Hudec said he was happy to make Litchfield the exhibit’s first stop.
Planning for the Easter party started late last year as Downtown Council members, including Kotelnicki and fellow City Council member Betty Allen, were discussing a calendar of events for downtown.
Brown said that when first contacted by the Downtown Council, she wasn’t sure about the United Methodist Church’s involvement, because of concerns about COVID. But the closer it got to Easter and spring, the closer she moved to wanting the church to participate in an Easter event.
“There had been upwards of 400 to 500 kids that came (to Central Park) for the Easter egg hunt,” Brown said. “And they came over to the Opera House right afterwards and it was just packed. It was a great pairing. So we knew it was a good partnership to continue on.
“You know this event today, it’s kind of all new, so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” Brown added. “We knew there was a good possibility we would make some mistakes. But you know, our hearts are in the right place. We wanted to bring something to the community after this length of time when there really hasn’t been anything.”
Volunteers from United Methodist Church, Litchfield Downtown Association and the Greater Litchfield Opera House Association helped fill 4,000 plastic Easter eggs with candy, and put those and other donated gifts into 600 goodie bags in preparation for Saturday’s party.
“Fortunately, we just have such a great relationship ... the local businesses have been so kind and generous, you know, in donating gifts for the bags that we filled,” Brown said. “It’s really, you know, we called it a Community Easter Party, because it’s really been a community effort. Everybody really was working together to do something. So that was really kind of special.”
Have you ever wondered what it's like to cha cha to a Latin beat, or gracefully swirl to a Viennese waltz? Tune in at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 11, for “Dancing Like the Stars.” Hosted by 2BContinued, the new fundraiser, which benefits suicide prevention, mental health and wellness, features 11 local couples who will compete for fun, fame and funds in a full production, live-streamed show.
Judging the event is Mike Phelps, Ridgeview Medical Center CEO; Charlene Knorr, retired and former owner of Charlene’s Dance Studio, Waconia; Dr. John Bergseng, retired surgeon from Glencoe Regional Health; and Mandy Peterson, Ms. United States. Dancers will compete in four award categories: fundraising, judge's choice, people's choice and grand champions, with the winners who earn the highest overall ranking taking home a large mirror ball trophy.
In case you're wondering where the money raised from this event is going, Tammy Diehn, founder of 2BContinued, said it will help carry out the nonprofit's mission to increase awareness of suicide prevention, mental health and wellness. The group does this through a variety of ways including advocacy, education and outreach through activities such as a monthly suicide loss support group, continuing education conference for professionals, interventional trainings and community-based trainings.
INSPIRATION FROM A SONG
The idea for the fundraiser came together one Saturday morning in March 2019. At the time, Diehn had been pondering the idea of forming a nonprofit in memory her sister, Shelly Teubert, who died by suicide in 2017.
“I kept trying to think of a way to focus on how she lived instead of how she died, while still raising awareness about suicide prevention and mental health,” Diehn said. “I’m usually pretty creative but this time I just wasn’t coming up with anything that seemed to fit. However on this day, while driving and listening to a CD of some of Shelly’s favorite songs, the song, 'I Hope You Dance' by LeeAnn Womack came on. For whatever reason, that day the lyrics to the song jumped out at me. I was overcome with emotions and had to pull over because I was sobbing so hard. In that moment, I felt a sense of comfort. It was like she was talking to me through the lyrics of the song, inspiring me to positively encourage others.”
Music and dancing were links the two women shared. Everything clicked for Diehn when she remembered her coworkers talking about the "Dancing Like the Mankato Stars" event.
"I was excited about the thought of it and immediately looked to see what day of the week Shelly’s birthday would fall on in 2020," Diehn recalled. "It was a Saturday. I knew right then and there, I was going to form the nonprofit organization and plan a 'Dancing Like The Stars' show as the annual signature fundraising event."
Although the 2020 event didn't work out due to COVID-19, the dancers are back and ready to show their skills virtually this year.
LEARNING SMOOTH MOVES
The following couples are participating in “Dancing Like the Stars”:
"They are local physicians, health care professionals, behavioral health therapists, educators, financial advisors, insurance agents, general laborers and so on," Diehn said. "One by one, we approached couples and paired them with a choreographer to learn a dance for this friendly competition."
Hutchinson dance instructor Kelly Bestul was one of the local choreographers who worked with three of the couples.
"I have been working with Dean and Carol Nissen, as well as Tina and Cory Carr, and April Trebelhorn and Phil Grochow, as choreographer/coach for 'Dancing Like the Stars,' Bestul said. "My role has been in the creation and rehearsal of all three of those routines. It has been a lot of fun working with all these couples because it was a 'blank canvas,' if you will, and turning it into an experience for them, as well as myself.
"All these couples were apprehensive at first, seeing their only experience with couples dance was just socially at weddings and such," Bestul added. "As they put it to me, they loved to dance, but only if it was the right song and in a group setting. Through our rehearsals, they became more and more confident in themselves and their underlying abilities, which they didn't know they had. All of them took the risks I asked them to take and were very responsive to all I had to throw at them. They definitely surprised themselves."
To find out more about the event and how couples prepared, the Independent Review reached out to the Nissens, former Hutchinson residents who now have a home on Lake Minnie Belle, with a few questions:
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
How did you come to be involved in "Dancing Like the Stars"?
Dean was asked by one of the clinic nurses to participate. We initially said no because we were anxious about dancing in a competition, however, we decided it was something we should do. It is obviously for a good cause, as most families have been affected in some way by mental illness and/or depression. COVID has only increased the frequency of these issues.
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
Has it been challenging with the COVID-19 pandemic? I know this event was originally scheduled to be live at the Glencoe City Center and then it was rescheduled and now it's online. How did this affect your training and your mindset?
We practiced last year to be ready for the event. With COVID forcing the event to be canceled for a year, we are now even older and some of the moves are harder. It is also more challenging to remember all of the steps.
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
Did you have an interest in ballroom dancing? When did you start training, and how often do you rehearse?
We really didn't have an interest in ballroom dancing. We like to dance, but it is usually only at wedding receptions. Carol does like to watch "Dancing with the Stars" on television. Like we said before, we trained last year before the event. During the year of COVID we really didn't start dancing again until Tammy contacted us to let us know the event was back on. Since February we have met with our choreographer, Kelly Bestul, several times and try to go through the routine in our home as best we can.
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
What do you love most/least about ballroom dancing?
It is just fun to dance and something we can do together. Learning a choreographed dance routine is a totally new and challenging experience.
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
Why should the public watch and support this event?
We think it will be a fun event to watch, as the couples involved have been working really hard to do the very best they can on their dance routines. Also, it is a good cause to support, with so many families touched by mental illness and depression.
(INSERT LINE BREAK HERE)
Are you glad you agreed to be part of this?
Yes, we are glad, "we think." We are getting nervous and don't want to fall on our faces or any other body part. Tammy Diehn and her committee have put a lot of work into making this event something the community will enjoy and also be a successful fundraiser for 2BContinued.
Litchfield City Council approved a liquor license Monday for the Litchfield Golf Course clubhouse’s new restaurant tenant.
The license application by owners of Shady’s No. 7 received unanimous approval from the council after a brief review. However, an application for a tobacco sales license was rejected because council members decided the application was not thoroughly completed. It is expected the owners will return with a completed application.
Word of the new tenant has circulated on social media for a few weeks, including a post on the Shady’s No. 7 Facebook page last week seeking “great employees” for the establishment. In response to a comment on that post regarding opening date, Jeremy Glenz, who is listed as one of four co-owners, replied “no set day yet hopefully soon.”
Details in the liquor license application indicate the ownership includes Glenz, Kris Schiffler, Ryan Spanier and Lee Mergen, each of whom own a 25 percent stake in the business.
Shady’s No. 7 would be the seventh Shady’s establishment in the region. According to the application, the partners also own Shady’s Long Shot in Cold Spring, Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center in Albany, Shady’s Railside in Rice, Shady’s Golden Eagle in Burtrum, Shady’s Silver Spur in St. Martin, and Shady’s Bar & Grill in New Munich.
As part of the license application, Litchfield Police Department performed a background check, with the owners supplying names of references. Among the references supplied by Schiffler was Albany Police Chief Osvaldo Carbajal, who described the owner as “very good in the community of Albany, and wants to give back to the community,” according to Detective Travis Rueckert.
Even in recommending denial of the tobacco license until owners submitted a completed application, Council member Sara Miller commented on the owners’ “excellent references.”
The Litchfield Golf Course clubhouse restaurant space has been without a tenant since Peter’s on Lake Ripley closed in late 2019.
Finding a tenant became especially difficult when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in March 2020. But Litchfield Golf Club Inc., the nonprofit organization contracted to oversee operation of the clubhouse, and the city used that time to make improvements to the building.
Early this year, Carl Minton, Golf Club Inc. president, indicated that after more than a year of searching for a tenant, GCI had heard from a group with a serious interest in the space.
The restaurant is seen as a key in helping to revive activity at the city-owned golf course.