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Vanessa Baumann's host family — parents Julie and Barry Gilmer and brother Reed — joined her for a photo during a farewell party last week.

Making face masks, saving lives

With face mask supply running low and the demand running high, about 70 Litchfield women hope to provide at least some assistance by creating thousands of the masks for those who need them.

DeAnn Rothstein, co-owner of DeAnn’s Country Village Shoppe in downtown Litchfield, said she saw a social media post that talked about the need for more face masks due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and she saw a way to pitch in. She helped rally a team of local women — who dubbed themselves the Masked Mamas — and came together to make about 500 masks in a week. And they plan to continue making more, Rothstein said.

“We would like to get to the point where we can put them at the grocery stores for the seniors to wear when they come into the grocery stores,” Rothstein said. “People need them. They should not be walking around without them. … It’s not like an N-95 mask, but it will extend the life of a disposable mask.

Although an N-95 mask is recommended by the Centers for Disease and Prevention as protection for health care professionals, the Masked Mama masks can also help, Rothstein said.

Rothstein said she contacted Dr. Deb Peterson, a family practice physician at Meeker Memorial Clinics & Hospital, who offered advice as to the best materials to use for the masks. The dimension of the masks is 6-inch by 9-inch, and the fabric is made of flannel, cotton and elastic. The masks come in different colors and shapes — from a Minnie Mouse character to flowers and more.

“These are being used by the hospital and the nursing home,” Rothstein said. “We’ve had a few elderly people ask us about them. First responders and the clinics. I had a couple of different people send me letters asking if we could get them for the food prep people and that kind of thing.”

The CDC allows the use of homemade masks, bandanas and scarves for health care professionals to use as a last resort.

“However, homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment, since their capability to protect health care professionals is unknown,” according to the CDC. “Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”

DeAnn and her husband have had their quilt business for about 28 years, selling colorful clothes, socks, home decor, children’s toys and books, and kitchenware among others. But during the uncertainty COVID-19 has caused worldwide, the couple have received a lot of encouragement.

“I can’t believe, people who even can’t do anything, can’t sew a stitch (ask), ‘Can you get me scissors, I will help you cut. I can iron.’ Some people who just say, ‘I just can’t do anything, but here’s a $10 bill,” Rothstein said. “Here’s a $20 bill, put it towards whatever you can do.’ It’s been absolutely amazing.”

Rothstein watched a YouTube mask-making tutorial created by Missouri Star Quilt Co., and she recommended it to others who may want to learn. It takes about an hour to make one mask, Rothstein said, from cutting the flannel and cotton, sewing it together, pressing it, washing and packaging.

“I have gone on to our (DeAnn’s Country Village Shoppe) store Facebook page, and I posted five pictures two days ago that has each step of what they need to do to get them made,” she said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on March 25 a two-week stay home order beginning at midnight Friday to help reduce community spread of COVID-19, with some exceptions to certain businesses that are considered essential.

“We are still going to be able to supply people back and forth,” Rothstein said. “And we will not be allowing people to come into the store to (shop) and that kind of thing. It will have to be curbside. And of course, now with the front road being tore up, it’s going to be more like backdoor side.”

These interesting times for the world, Rothstein said, are an opportunity to reflect on how we are living and managing our lives.

“I thoroughly believe God has His hand in this,” Rothstein said. “This whole world was spinning out of control. And suddenly, kids are staying at home with Mom and Dad in the evening. They’re putting puzzles together. They’re baking cookies from scratch. They’re doing crafts, they’re spending more time with grandma and grandpa. … We need to slow down and find out what’s important. It’s not all the stuff that we have. It’s not all the places we go to. It’s our families.”

One of those special seasons

John Carlson recently watched a recording of the 2000 State Class AA boys basketball championship game after cleaning out his basement, almost 20 years to the day since Litchfield claimed the title.

“It’s still a very good memory, but we’ve experienced a lot of great things,” said Carlson, who coached the Dragons. “We’ve played in five state tournaments counting that one, so it kind of broke the ice for us. It made it possible to go to the state tournament and challenge for a championship.”

Many of the players from that team had a hard time believing that it has been 20 years since that magical season, when the Dragons posted a 30-0 record and grabbed the attention of not just the Litchfield area but the entire state.

“Patients come in here from all over the area that continue to talk about the 2000 state championship,” said Chris Patten, a Litchfield chiropractor who was co-captain of the teams 20 years ago. “For that to continue to happen, it had a pretty good impression on the basketball lovers in this area, which is pretty amazing.”

“We all knew we had something special,” said sixth man Brent VanLiere, who now lives in California. “It was our goal from Day 1 to go to the state tournament and try and win it.”

The team featured a stifling full-court press defense and forced turnovers that turned into fast break baskets with regularity. No one could run with the team and that’s one thing that made them special. But Carlson believes that there was something else that made the 2000 team and those that followed successful: leadership and the reserves.

“(The reserves) that just battled every day in practice and we got better every day because of our reserves,” Carlson said.

Practice was where the Dragons separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Having such a deep team — a lot of the players said their bench would have been the second best team in the West Central Conference — allowed the starters to practice against quality opponents and not lose a step in the games. The practices had a game-like intensity to them, which was exactly what Carlson wanted.

“I think coach Carlson’s attitude was, ‘if you guys practice hard in practice, then we don’t have to do much conditioning, because I know you guys are working hard.’” Patten said. “So it was a battle, all out battle.”

“With that, we got more playing time at the end of games because the games were out of hand,” said Zach Piepenburg, a reserve on the 2000 team, who is now a teacher and Litchfield girls basketball assistant coach.

Carlson said that one time he looked at the rosters of his championship squads and found that all of the teams had seven or eight seniors on the team. Veteran leadership is important in any sport, especially basketball. Eleven of the 16 players on Litchfield’s 2000 team were seniors.

“That’s really the key to the whole thing,” Carlson said.

For the players, it meant a lot more. Many of the seniors had played together since they were kids, and they pointed to their seventh-grade year an indicator of the group’s potential and that eventually the goal would be to win a state championship by the end of high school.

“There was a core group of us that have been playing varsity since eighth or ninth grade,” Patten said. “And that was our ultimate goal was to get to the state tournament and to win the state championship. We knew it was doable. It’s pretty special knowing that was an obtainable goal to us at a young age. And then to actually do it was just that much more special.”

Team members recalled a strong bond they had, a team-first mentality. Everyone knew what their role was and worked their hardest to make sure they were doing their job.

“Our goal our senior year was to go out there and play as hard as we could every single game,” Piepenburg said. “It didn’t matter who scored, as long as we came out on top in the end.”

Before every season, Carlson and the team set goals for the season and for each game. Every year the goal after each game was to be better than the last one. But the goal for the season was always the same — to make it to the state tournament and win a championship.

“Our kids would buy into that and they still do,” Carlson said. “I watch our Litchfield teams now and it’s really fun to watch how they just get better every day.”

The buy-in led to great team basketball that was enjoyable to watch. The team came in with high expectations, and the town didn’t forget about it. The gyms were packed every game, there were lines out the door to come watch the Dragons play.

The crowds never gave the players more pressure. Instead it gave them more support knowing that the Litchfield faithful came out to support them team. It gave them the boost they needed to go out on the court and perform at the top of their game.

“It meant that much more than what we were doing,” Patten said. “It just gave you that second edge to just go out and win.”

The 1999-2000 Litchfield boys basketball team represents a time team members will remember for the rest of their lives..

“It’s something that I’ll hold very special,” Piepenburg said.

But 20 years sure flies by. The road sometimes takes people places they never thought that they would be.

That’s life for many of the players from that team. Carlson, Piepenburg and Patten have remained in Litchfield. Carlson retired from teaching but is still the Litchfield boys tennis coach, Piepenburg is the girls assistant coach, and Patten co-owns his own chiropractic business.

VanLiere moved out to California eight years ago for his construction job. He hasn’t had much contact with many of his former teammates, but being with them for most of their first 18 years is a bond that doesn’t go away. They all have their own lives and families that require a lot of their attention now, he said, but the 2000 championship still keeps them together 20 years later.

Some of the players still participate in the basketball alumni fundraiser that takes place at the LHS gym around the holidays, which is a time for many former players catch up. It’s a big deal to Carlson to have not just the 2000 team be a part of the Litchfield basketball community, but all alumni supporting Dragon basketball.

“They care,” Carlson said. “Not just the year 2000, we have a lot of great alumni.”

Steve Dille remembered as 'dedicated and committed public servant'

Steve Dille spent more than two decades interacting with Minnesota’s power elite and, sometimes, making decisions that made him unpopular — with both other politicians and some in the public.

But Dille always went about his work with the best of intentions, according to those who worked with him.

“Steve was a very dedicated and committed public servant,” state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, said. “He cared about the state generally, but he also cared individually, about his constituents.”

“He was the most genuine person you would ever want to meet,” recalled Bob Ness, a former state representative and school superintendent from Dassel. “Always a gentleman. Respected by his peers and those who had a chance to work with him.”

Dille, 75, died March 25 at his home in rural Dassel. His was a political career that started as a township supervisor, then a county commissioner and school board member, and eventually grew to the state capitol.

Though he had been outside of politics and legislative proceedings for 10 years, when Dille’s death was announced Thursday on the floor of the Minnesota Senate, there were many members who still recalled his contributions. He spent 24 years in the Legislature, first in the House from 1986-1992, then the Senate from 1992 to his retirement in 2010.

“He was a very popular senator,” state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson said. “A number of senators who served with Steve are still there. They started telling stories about him. It was very obvious that he was a popular man when he was in the Senate.”

Though he was a Republican and advocated conservative values and fiscal approaches, Dille often reached across the aisle, sometimes at great political and emotional cost.

Perhaps his most perilous vote came in 2008 when he joined the DFL majority and a handful of Republicans to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a $6.6 billion transportation bill, which included a gas tax increase. Long after he left the Capitol, Dille held on to a large stack of letters and emails from anti-tax residents and organizations that attacked him and his decision, political scars that came with the territory, he said.

Much of his work was far less controversial, however.

He worked tirelessly on legislation aimed at strengthening marriages, and on the Wetland Reform Act. He also teamed up with Urdahl to author legislation that created Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area, then worked to secure state funding for land purchases for the area. They also helped secure state bonding money for an expansion of Litchfield’s wastewater treatment plant, a key component in First District Association’s ability to grow its processing facility. Dille also pushed for funding to improve the Luce Line State Trail, even though the effort was lost to a governor’s veto.

Urdahl said he appreciated being able to work with Dille on many pieces of legislation through the years.

It was a continuation of admiration Urdahl had for Dille all the way back to junior high school. Urdahl recalled as a seventh-grader watching a Litchfield High School basketball game in which Dille tipped in the winning basket in an overtime game played at what is now Bernie Aaker Auditorium.

“I remember my first real contact with him was as a junior high kid admiring the starter on the basketball team,” Urdahl said.

Though they did not always take the same approaches politically, Urdahl said he observed Dille’s ability to work with DFLers as well as Republicans to get things done.

“It comes down to, if your goal is to do the best you can for the people you represent, you have to work with both sides,” Urdahl said. “Steve knew that.”

Newman acknowledged that trait, as well, while offering a bit more of an explanation to Dille’s bipartisan nature.

“In terms of politics, he was more moderate than I am, but you have to take into consideration that was when he was in the minority, sometimes part of a very small minority,” Newman said. “At one point, I think, there were 21 Republicans out of 67 (in the Senate). In order to survive, he had to be a little more moderate.”

But in recalling Dille, there were two things Newman thought most important in his predecessor’s legacy — his involvement in Vietnam, and his sense of humor.

Dille, who earned a veterinarian degree from the University of Minnesota, spent more than three years in Vietnam as a civilian veterinary advisory during the Vietnam War. He continued to hold a special fondness for the region and its people after the war, including sponsoring families to immigrate to Minnesota.

As for his sense of humor, Newman recalled, Dille had some of the best laughs about himself.

“He had a marvelous sense of humor, a self-deprecating sense of humor,” Newman said. “When he would start telling a story, by the time he was halfway through the story, he’d be laughing so hard that everyone else would be in tears, just laughing at him laughing at himself.”

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COLUMN: No basketball, no problem for the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation (copy)

It’s about this time of year that for the past decade I write a column reminding people to get out and support the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation, which raises money to help children and their families pay for medical expenses. This past Saturday would have been the foundation’s 22nd annual basketball jamboree in Glencoe, but like virtually everything in this upside down world we now live in, the event was canceled in response to COVID-19.

Believe it or not, this is the first time in more than two decades that the event has been canceled.

“One time we were close because of a snow storm,” said Ralph Johnson, an organizer of the event.

I’ve interviewed many high school seniors over the years who look forward to playing at this event, so it’s sad that this year’s boys and girls players won’t have the opportunity. But as with so much of the bad news we are reading these days, there are also glimmers of hope that remind us we will come out the other side of this global pandemic, hopefully stronger than before.

Although the jamboree was been canceled, the fundraising for this year’s 12 recipients is ongoing and Johnson is optimistic that even a public health crisis will not dampen people’s generosity.

“We had the fundraiser in February … and I think we’re going to be OK,” he said. “I think we can come close to matching the funds we had last year. The donations are coming in and people have been good with the silent auction.”

Although it's too late to purchase raffle tickets, which were drawn Saturday, there is plenty of time to check out the silent auction, which is now being handled online by Fahey Sales. There are more than 50 items available to bid on now through April 15 at tinyurl.com/vja46qu.

If you want to donate but aren’t interested in buying auction items, there are several ways you can do that, too:

  • To donate online, visit timorthfoundation.org/donate
  • Mail donations to Ralph Johnson at 558 Juergens Road, Hutchinson, MN 55350
  • Call Johnson at 320-587-6733 to set up a donation

As always, all of the money raised goes directly to help this year’s recipients:

You can read stories about some of this year’s recipients on page A2.

I typically like to end this column by urging everyone to go with a full heart and leave with an empty wallet, but that doesn’t quite work this year, so I’ll try something else.

While everyone around the world is dealing with difficult circumstances right now, we know that for many of us we’ll eventually emerge from our pandemic bunkers healthy, at the very least. But for these children and their families, their crisis will continue, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

Please consider giving what you can, and remember to be thankful for what you have.