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Sydney McCann, shown in a game earlier this season against Dassel-Cokato, led the Dragons in scoring with 16 points Friday night in Litchfield's second meeting with D-C.

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Picking up STEAM: New Lake Ripley Elementary program teaches science, technology skills
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Though bundled up in winter wear, the class of Lake Ripley Elementary School fourth-graders still shivered in the February cold, especially as the wind whipped across the playground, delivering an extra-chilly blast.

Listening to the students offer exclamatory objections to the cold, teacher Lori Weseman offered them a reminder.

“What are we building this for?” Weseman asked, referring to the ice block wall positioned in a corner of the playground, to which students were continually adding milk carton-sized blocks of colored ice. “What can we do when the wind is blowing?”

There were some knowing “aahhs” as several students gathered on the east side of the wall and crouched below the top row of ice blocks.

“Does it work?” Weseman asked.

To the uninitiated, it might have seemed like just a fun time at recess, but the students were experimenting and learning as part of the newest class offering at Lake Ripley, the district’s STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — program.

And the answer to Weseman’s question, was “yes,” the ice-block wall did work as a wind break. Though not perfect, the students agreed that “it’s warmer behind the wall.”

Building the ice wall was the first all-school STEAM lesson that Weseman, who became the district’s first STEAM teacher this year, had taught. But she expects there will be many more, as she incorporates STEAM activities for kindergarten through fourth grade into the program’s inaugural year.

Bringing the concepts of science, technology, and engineering to the young students was exactly the point when the district decided last year that, with the retirement of its elementary art teacher, it would launch a STEAM program as a replacement to art.

“In analyzing our day, the day is based on reading and math blocks, and sometimes science can get shortchanged,” Lake Ripley Principal Christ Olson said. “Looking at 21st century learning — hands-on learning, collaboration, the inventive side of things — that all goes into the program.

“We also saw this as a program that can get our kids away from a screen and give them an opportunity to make things with their hands,” Olson added. “They’ve done just a ton of different things.”

Those things start with Weseman. In her 29th year as a teacher in the district, Weseman had spent 10 years as a second-grade teacher, after many years as a kindergarten teacher, when the move to STEAM came up last year. And she immediately expressed interest.

“I like to change it up once in a while,” Weseman said. “And the STEAM position is just all the things I’m excited about, the things I like the most. I was thrilled to be able to make the switch.”

Weseman learned in March that she would be the STEAM teacher and she began preparing from that point. While STEAM curriculum can be purchased, the district opted to build its own, with Weseman looking for lesson ideas that could work at every grade level, kindergarten through fourth grade.

Her previous involvement in selecting the new reading program for Lake Ripley School helped in that area, she said.

“All of the modules are science or social studies based,” Weseman said of the reading curriculum. “My idea was to make connections wherever I could to whatever they are reading about. So that’s really what I look at for inspiration — what they are learning about in reading. How to make something hands-on that applies to the real world in STEAM.”

That was where the ice wall got its start. Second-graders were in the midst of a weather unit, and fourth-graders were reading about the marvels of nature. Weseman knew she wanted to do something outside that could pull in many ideas. As she searched the internet for inspiration, she saw pictures of an igloo made from colored blocks of ice. And while constructing an igloo raised safety concerns, building a wall was doable, she thought.

It also worked as a sort of art unit, with the multi-colored blocks offering an opportunity to talk with younger students about colors and shadows, as well as how colors mix to form other colors.

And when she mentioned the ice wall to fourth-graders, they took the lead on the project. Building the wall on the west side of the school, they thought it might be a good way to test the ideas of a wind break, in addition to testing construction techniques for a stable wall.

“I think they all thought we were going to build some wall that was 30 feet high at first,” Weseman said with a laugh. “But I just tried to let them come up with the ideas. I’m just guiding from the side, and they’re trying to solve their own problems.”

And in that is where the STEAM lesson really lies.

Creating scientists and engineers means leaving room for students’ minds to grow through experimentation, and sometimes failure.

That’s why Weseman’s teaching style and her own inquisitive nature made her a strong choice as the first STEAM teacher, according to Olson.

“She is so strong in her questioning techniques, in posing problems to students,” he said. “Those situations, and allowing kids to struggle through and brainstorm ideas and collaborate and discuss to go through the problem and try to solve it.

“Her class is very student driven, very student oriented,” Olson added.

As fourth-graders discussed building the wall, they initially thought of stacking blocks and packing snow between the cracks. But that didn’t allow for stability in construction, so they instead decided that using a slushy mixture between the blocks — as a mason would use concrete between bricks — was a better option.

“They had such wonderful ideas,” Weseman said of the construction discussion. “It was so fun for me to listen to the conversations. This is as fun for me as it is for them, for sure.”

Making learning fun, especially amid the challenges, is a key for the STEAM program, Weseman said, because the younger students are when they learn the concepts of reasoning and collaboration, the more success they can have in the STEAM areas as they get older.

“There are hundreds of thousands of really good technical jobs that can’t be filled because there’s nobody qualified for them,” Weseman said. “It’s important to start in elementary years, because even by middle or high school years, some kids have the idea they can’t do this, they can’t be engineers, or can’t be scientists. It’s interesting, I even see it kindergarten through fourth grade. Kindergartners think they can do anything. They’re willing to try. Fourth-graders are more hesitant to jump in and try it, kind of that fear of failing.

“A lot of STEAM is being willing to try,” Weseman added. “Thomas Edison tried to invent the light bulb 1,000 times before succeeding. Kids have to know that when it doesn’t work out, that’s OK. It’s better to know what not to do and learn from it and persist and try again.”

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Litchfield music festival seeks city assistance
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Plans for a new summer music festival received a warm reception from the Litchfield City Council last week.

But a full embrace of the event — including about $3,500 in electric upgrades around Litchfield Civic Arena — will have to wait for a legal review by the city’s attorney.

The Songs of Summer Festival is a nonprofit organization which aims to stage a music event on Saturday, Aug. 14, to raise money for youth-oriented programs and activities, according to Eric Mathwig, a council member and a spokesman for the event.

The Songs of Summer Festival replaces the Lichfield Community August Bash, which had been held in the parking lot on the north side of the Civic Arena. With a new name, the event’s organizers also hope to hold the festival in a new location — a grassy area on the south side of the civic arena.

Mayor Keith Johnson praised the event, saying it was a good way to bring people together in the summer.

In addition, Mathwig said, the event — when it was the August Bash — raised $10,000 to $15,000 which was donated to youth-oriented organizations.

However, moving the event to the south side of Civic Arena will necessitate installation of electrical power stations both for the bands and for vendors, Mathwig said.

Staging the Songs of Summer is estimated to cost about $20,000, and the organizing committee already has raised $14,000 through donations, Mathwig said. He asked if the city might also support the event by funding the power stations.

“We need more power in the new location,” Mathwig said. “We would like the city to consider helping us with it in any way shape or form, if they can.”

To adequately support the event’s power needs, three 50 amp services would be needed on the exterior of the Civic Arena’s southwest corner — to support the bands’ stage — and six portable 20-amp “trees” that could be extended from the skating rink warming house near the south end of the green space.

The trees would be removed and stored after the event, but could be made available for other groups, Mathwig said.

Asked if there might be other needs for the additional power service in the area, City Administrator Dave Cziok said that whenever an outlet is added, “we find a use for it.” He also said a couple of different funds could be used to pay for the work, depending on what the primary use for the electrical service might be in the future.

Before the city moves forward with the project, however, City Attorney Mark Wood suggested he be given time to review the arrangement.

“The city, in making a donation to a nonprofit, we have to be careful,” Wood said. “We would have to clarify exactly how this is going to happen.

“Not that it can’t be done,” Wood added later, “just that we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to do it.”

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Litchfield City Council approves plan for part-time pro shop manager
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By the time they meet next, Litchfield City Council members could be approving the hire of a part-time pro shop manager for the Litchfield Golf Course.

The Council approved a plan during its Feb. 16 meeting for city staff to develop a job description and seek someone to fill the role of a pro shop manager at a salary of $15,000 to $20,000 for the coming golf season.

City Administrator Dave Cziok told the Council he already had someone in mind for the position, someone who worked at the pro shop last summer.

While finding a pro shop manager was a goal set by the Council during a recent work session, Cziok moving on that was difficult.

“I struggle a little with the management,” he said, “because the council hasn’t completely explained to us what the new vision or goals are.”

Two weeks earlier, the City Council had agreed to scrap plans for a transition in management and go forward with a 2013 contract between the city and Litchfield Golf Club Inc. That agreement, however, deals primarily with GCI’s management of the restaurant in the clubhouse at the golf course.

Meanwhile, the city continues to maintain the golf course itself with existing city staff, something it has “handled extremely well for the last eight years,” Cziok said.

That arrangement leaves the pro shop — and marketing of the golf course — as the one area needing attention. Cziok said his initial job description thoughts included the pro shop manager handling advertising, retail sales and training of pro shop staff, as well as spearheading new initiatives such as membership cards. While the pro shop manager would not be expected to put in hours “behind the till,” Cziok said, there likely would be times on rainy days with light pro shop traffic when the manager might be the only person needed to staff the pro shop — a decision the manager would have to make.

Cziok said he didn’t have a clear answer about how the manager’s salary would be paid. He expected that with the right person and situation, pro shop revenues would increase, which could help pay the salary, “but I can’t quantify how much. I doubt this person will self-fund … given time, it’s possible.”

Mayor Keith Johnson supported the idea of the part-time manager, saying that person training staff could help reduce some of the complaints that were received last summer about pro shop employees.

Council member Ron Dingmann asked what the relationship between the pro shop manager and Golf Club Inc. would be.

“There shouldn’t be one,” Cziok said. “We’re in charge of the pro shop, they’re in charge of the restaurant.”

In answer to a question from council member Darlene Kotelnicki, Cziok said he did not forsee reducing the budget for staffing the pro shop. “This (manager position) would be additional,” he said.

Cziok also stressed again that the pro shop manager would be doing nothing inside the restaurant, or in terms of golf course maintenance. The duties would be directed specifically at the pro shop and providing patrons a good experience there, in addition to publicizing the course, tournaments and memberships.

The Council unanimously agreed to give Cziok and city staff the authority to develop a job description and seek a person to fill the role, and Cziok said he thought that could be done by the next meeting, March 1.

The City Council also adopted the fee schedule for 2021, which was reviewed by golf course staff, city administration, Mayor Johnson and council member John Carlson.

Golf cart purchase

Hiring a pro shop manager is part of the city’s effort to ramp up for the fast-approaching golf season. The City Council took an earlier step toward that goal during its Feb. 1 meeting when it approved the purchase of 28 golf carts – 14 gas-powered and 14 electric carts — for a total price of $183,750.

The city has been leasing a fleet of golf carts at a cost of about $22,000 per season, and golf cart rentals typically bring in about $40,000 annually, according to Cziok.

By purchasing the fleet of new carts outright, Cziok said, the city should realize a greater return.

He said that 28 carts probably will not be enough for the busiest times of the season — such as Fourth of July, Watercade and other events — but the city will rent additional carts to ensure there are enough for those times.

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After 56 years, George Moehring is done saving soles in Hutchinson
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George Moehring wishes he had a dollar for every pair of shoes he held in his hands. Just how much would that earn him? After nearly 70 years in the business of sole protection, it's hard to say, but one thing would be certain.

"It'd sure stack up," he said. "I've seen a lot of stinky, smelly feet."

For the past 56 years, the local artisan has been selling and repairing shoes in Hutchinson. He first sold shoes at Carly's Shoes in downtown Hutchinson while repairing at a side business in the back — The Shoe Inn.

"I bought it from someone else who had it there," Moehring said.

Then, 16 years ago, he moved his repair business down the road to 137 Main St. In a workshop marked with a vintage gold and black sign, the artisan continued to ply his trade as demand dwindled and changes to manufacturing practices meant damage to many shoes sent them to the garbage can. It was once more viable to repair soles and heels than buy new footwear. Moehring sewed many soles, but now manufacturers opt for glue. Even many cowboy boots are molded together.

"Everything is," Moehring said. "It's like the tires on your car. You don't retread them anymore. You put new tires on them."

Those who do come for repair on shoes that can be fixed up do so from all across the state.

"There are still good shoes out there," Moehring said. "The one I fixed today were a pair of $200 dress shoes. It's the second or third time I put soles or heels on there. It's worth it."

In addition to shoe repair — with a special appreciation for men's heels and boots — Moehring has spent time fixing purses and improving lawn chairs, among other projects. But a year of COVID-19 precautions has further lessened business and Moehring, now 85, decided it might be a good time to call it quits.

"My health is good, but my feet and legs?" he asked this past week. "And with COVID and everything else, I'm barely breaking even. There is not that much happening."

There was once a time when a shoe repairman — once called a cobbler — had more demand for his services. When Moehring started, it was part of an internship selling and fixing up shoes at Hanson Shoes in Blue Earth in 1952.

"They said, 'This is how you start. Do this.' They gave me things to do and built up my confidence," he said. "It was all hands-on."

Moehring was at Hanson Shoes for eight years before he moved to Sleepy Eye for three years, and then started his time in Hutchinson. At one time those working in shoe repair in Minnesota were more common, and Moehring could name names in other cities. Now there's a big empty space. He can think of someone in Iowa, a woman in New Prague who mostly works with zipper jackets, and another in Windom. He thinks one person offering repairs in Buffalo might be the fourth generation doing so in the family.

"It's not like it used to be," he said.

In addition to seeking a buyer for his shop space, Moehring has an inventory of tools and machines that would be rarely spotted across the United States. When he purchased The Shoe Inn 56 years ago, many of the machines used there were new, and they've come through for him during the years. One patch machine had hiccups and needed repairs 20 years ago, and even then it took two years to find the right part. The machine had first been manufactured in England, then Germany and then Japan.

"The parts in Japan don't agree with the parts in England," Moehring said. "It was the same part but not compatible."

When he steps fully into retirement, Moehring expects he'll stay busy with the help of his wife, Sally, who many may recognize from her 18 years at Hallmark. The pair have plenty of ties to Hutchinson after so many years living and working in the city, and raising four children. They are considering volunteer work, such as with Meals on Wheels. Sally is already busy helping at their church and as part of the Hutchinson Hospital Auxiliary.

"She's my organizer," Moehring said. "My wife will keep me busy."