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Ryanna Steinhaus


Touch-a-truck introduces students to manufacturing careers
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The blast of an air horn filled the air around Lake Ripley Elementary School Thursday morning.

And each blast was accompanied by the smiles and giggles of dozens of students who stood in the school parking lot, waiting their turn to climb into the cab of a snowplow truck and pull the cord that would release the low, powerful “hooonnnnkk” of the horn.

One could say it was the sound of careers being formed.

The students were participating in “touch a truck,” an event planned by The Chamber serving the Meeker County Area as part of Minnesota Manufacturing Month. And the two snowplow trucks parked at the Lake Ripley Elementary parking lot were provided by one of the city’s larger manufacturers, Towmaster Trailers and Towmaster Truck Equipment, who make the truck bodies in addition to trailers of all sorts.

“We saw some other Chambers doing touch-a-truck … and we thought it would be a fun thing to do, a good way to promote our manufacturing,” Chamber Executive Director Judy Hulterstrum said. “So we asked (Towmaster) if they would bring a truck over, and they graciously agreed.”

In addition to the touch-a-truck event, which ran throughout Thursday morning, giving all Lake Ripley students in kindergarten through fourth grade an opportunity to see the work of a local manufacturer, The Chamber also sponsored a coloring contest and featured local manufacturing on its weekly program on KLFD radio.

“We’re just trying to encourage kids (to consider) going into technical institutions,” Hulterstrum said. “A lot of them this morning are telling me, ‘Well, my dad is a welder,’ and ‘My dad does this,’ so we’re glad to have that, but we need to have more so we raise awareness of these kinds of careers.”

Lake Ripley Principal Chris Olson said he appreciated the touch-a-truck effort, which, even though simple, gave young students exposure to a different kind of career track than they might otherwise receive.

“I just think this is so cool for our kids to be able to see this and climb up in a truck,” Olson said. “These types of manufacturing jobs, hands-on stuff, you know, I just don’t think there’s enough (discussion) about them.”

“You can never start too early to introduce them to this kind of work,” said Tim Erickson, truck equipment sales manager at Towmaster.

And that’s not just a manufacturer tooting their own horn.

There were plenty of elementary students who wanted to do that.

“We’ll let them keep doing it until we run out of air,” said Josh Paulson, who works in truck equipment sales at Towmaster, raising his voice to be heard over another blast from the horn. “It might not take very long.”

LHS Hall of Fame inductee Pete Heimdahl advises others to 'let the wind take you'
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Pete “Heimdahl’s” zest for life and sense of humor belies a man of integrity, intellect and perseverance. Not only has he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service awards and Joint Service Commendation Medals on three separate occasions, Heimdahl also retired as professor emeritus from University of Wisconsin-Stout after having served as a dean in the Engineering Department at West Point Academy. He served in the military for 31 years, with tours in Germany, Vietnam and Korea.

And now, Heimdahl is joining the Litchfield High School Hall of Fame.

Pete’s parents settled in Litchfield after his dad came back from World War II. His dad was an athlete, a four-letter man at Macalester, in football, basketball, track and tennis, becoming an initial member of the Macalester Athletic Hall of Fame. He went on to teach German and biology, until World War II, when he served as a medic in various arenas, including France. Things were difficult for men returning from the war, and Pete’s dad didn’t have a job in his field, so he started out working for the U.S. Postal Service, then began selling insurance, which brought him to Litchfield, where he eventually secured a position as biology teacher at Litchfield High School.

Pete’s first job was as a paperboy, delivering the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. It was, he said, a terrible experience at first, largely due to the fact that he delivered papers on the end of town where there were a lot of dogs that chased him as he delivered the paper from his bicycle. But then he got the route downtown, where he could deliver to businesses up and down main street, collecting nickels and dimes from the businesses, including two sisters who owned an eccentric hat store and gave the appearance of being miserly but were actually quite well off. His mom worked at a department store in downtown Litchfield, where a pulley system was used to send cash up to the cashier on the next floor, who counted the change from the purchase and sent it back down to the clerk.

Young Pete’s days in Litchfield High School were memorable and full of humor and mischief. He was part of the Litchfield Thespians in his senior year, taking a lead role in the fall play “The Tiger House.” Pete admits he was no actor, but amusedly related that the highlight of the show was that he got to kiss his co-star, who shall remain nameless. He played basketball for Litchfield, against their arch nemesis, the Willmar Cardinals, who always beat them because back then, according to Pete, you could keep playing high school basketball well into your 20s. He remembers breaking his hand during a particularly brutal game against Willmar and had a cast on his arm for the rest of his senior year.

He applied to West Point Academy when Hubert Humphrey put out the call for candidates to take the civil service exam. Pete recalled the moment his dad came into the school and told him he had received word from Humphrey that Pete had achieved his appointment. About a month after he suffered the fracture during the Willmar game, he headed to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, to partake in the rigorous PT tests that would be his last hurdle into West Point.

The Gold Corduroy Suit

In 1960 Pete, a cadet at West Point Academy, came home for the holidays and accompanied his buddy Dick to a basketball game between Litchfield, and, you guessed it, Willmar. The game went according to plan, but the highlight of the game came at halftime, when the Willmar High School dance team performed, and Pete was instantly enamored by a lovely young woman named Pat Burke. He felt confident his sharp gold corduroy suit, snappy tie and clean white socks would impress her, but, just in case, he positioned himself in the hallway when the dancers went by, caught her eye, and said, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

Pat, who was less impressed than Pete had hoped she would be, replied, “I’ve heard that line before.”

Not to be deterred, Pete set out to meet her through his Willmar connections, and when he drove her home that evening, Pat’s mom sealed the deal, having had a huge crush on Pete’s dad when they were in high school together. Pete and Pat dated off and on for a few years, writing letters to each other when Pete was sent to Germany for his first Army assignment and Pat went to the Cities to go to college.

During the summer of 1963, a Colonel’s daughter caught his eye, and he began to contemplate the future in a more serious way. He sent a letter to Pat with an ultimatum. “Either agree to marry me, or I’m running away with another girl.”

There was no reply.

In October, still with no reply, Pete’s battalion deployed to Grafenwoehr Training Area. While hanging out in the barracks, the phone rang, a field phone with a crank to operate the ringer, connected by a field wire to a portable battalion field switchboard, miles from the Schweinfurt base, patched through the battalion field switch in Grafenwoehr. “Hey, Heimdahl, it’s for you.”

Pat said “yes” only because her mother made her do it, Pete said.

When they returned stateside, Pete continued his education at West Point. Over time, he had an inside shot at a permanent faculty position in engineering, but he really wanted to command a battalion. He left West Point to attend Command General Staff College and a hardship tour in Korea, where he was stationed to support a command center set up near Seoul.

He and Pat decided to bring the entire family to Korea at his their expense. Because his was considered a hardship tour, Pete’s family was not sponsored by the Army. But to both Pete and Pat, the years spent in Korea were some of the best times of their lives.

Pete worked nights in eight-hour shifts, slept when he could, and they spent their time touring the area. Pete later asked to be transferred back to Germany to stay with the troops rather than return to West Point, despite the objections of his command.

Upon retirement from West Point and the Army, Heimdahl developed an accredited Engineering Department at University of Wisconsin-Stout. Part of his job as program director was to solicit new faculty for the department. During this time, he formed the STEPS program for girls, a summer camp formed to encourage young women to follow career paths in engineering and technology.

“Make it fun and give them something to take home,” Pete said of his directive.

He and other faculty members put together the camp that would take the students through various steps of a manufacturing process, where the girls would eventually build a remote-control airplane. The program got some grants from various companies, including Honeywell.

It was a success from the start, with 40 girls per week participating in the camp for four weeks every summer. Over time, they moved from remote airplanes to remotely propelled boats and built a 75-foot pool, complete with sharks, innertubes and Bratz dolls for the students to test their skills. The program ran for 23 years at UW-Stout and is still offered in several other locations around the United States.

Heimdahl fondly recalls the weekly Wednesday evening celebrations for the students in the program, which included karaoke and DJ music, refreshments and dancing.

Pete and Pat Heimdahl raised two children during his years in the service. He says his best friend was his granddaughter, who passed away at an early age due to an aggressive form of cancer.

The Heimdahls continue to live in Wisconsin, and Pete spends his days designing and building a model train set intended to replicate the Willmar train station. He also volunteers with his local lake district board.

Pete still marvels when he speaks of West Point Academy.

“West Point is a wonderful, beautiful place,” he said. “As much as you love West Point, though, it will never love you back. Because you walk down the halls and see Eisenhower, and you walk further and see MacArthur, and you look at yourself and think, how can I live up to these guys?”

Never get old

When asked for some parting words of wisdom, he told a story about a time he jumped from a plane during a parachuting exercise. After the jump, he found himself veering off course a bit and it seemed the plane had dropped them a away from the drop zone. He started pulling risers to attempt to stay on course, and as he drifted, he finally saw the reason they had been dropped where they were.

“The smoke was blowing straight away from me as fast as it could go. So, I started pulling on those risers on the other side, and ended up way off the drop zone, in the rocks.” Dropping in hard in a somersault, rump over teakettle, he was left with a lump of dirt on his helmet.

“That’s just like retirement.” he said. “You look for something; you see it off in the distance and you go for it. And then you get closer to it and find out that it really wasn’t what you thought it was going to be ... .

“Do not pull up on your risers. Just let the wind drift you over and enjoy every minute of it,” he concluded.

From Litchfield High School to a rousing career in music education

Music was an integral part of Martha Thoralson’s family life. Even before she made music her career, Martha left a musical legacy at Litchfield High School.

The combination made her an obvious choice for posthumous induction into the Litchfield High School Hall of Fame.

She was born in Litchfield in July 1920, the daughter of Daynor and Linda Thoralson. Both of her parents sang at various functions, like weddings and funerals in the area. The family farm was nearby, but Martha grew up in town.

In her teens, she co-authored the Litchfield Rouser with another student, the same rouser that thunders from the bleachers these days before a Friday night game in the LHS gym. The two won a prize of $10 to be split between them, and Martha’s musical career was born.

After graduating in 1938 from LHS, she received a degree from the University of Minnesota and taught school in New Ulm for a few years before traveling eastward to enroll in the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. It was there she met her future husband, Karl Holvik, who was also enrolled, and also coincidentally, a Minnesota native. Martha left Eastman to teach in Missouri, and after Karl completed his degree, the two married and settled in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

While her husband accepted a position at the University of Northern Iowa (Iowa State Teacher’s College at that time), Martha conducted private music lessons in her home while she cared for their daughters, Linda and Karen. She also directed the choir at the church the family attended, and played in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, before eventually landing a teaching job at Cedar Falls High School.

Music was Martha’s first love and she spent much of her life sharing her gift with others. From private lessons to eventually securing a position at University of Northern Iowa in 1972, she had an ability to nurture and encourage her students. She was, according to her daughter, Linda, interested in other people throughout her entire life, fun to be around, easy to talk with, and had a ton of friends.

“Real friends,” Linda said in an interview, “not just acquaintances.”

Her friendship circle grew as her life evolved.

Linda recalls her own high school friends loved participating in her mother’s classes. Martha was a real educator, her daughter said, but also had a mischievous personality and nurturing spirit that embraced every student under her tutelage. She actively played the piano, organ, violin and viola, but she had great familiarity with all of the stringed instruments.

Linda recalls a young boy whose parents came to her with a dilemma. He wanted to play the cello but was limited due to a disability. Martha, whose commitment to music was unbounded, made adaptations so the boy could play cello. It was these moments that brought Martha great joy, her daughter said.

When teaching at UNI in 1968, Martha attended a concert by a visiting group of Japanese students, who used the Suzuki method for teaching music, and she was impressed. Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy of teaching small children embraces the idea that the potential for learning is inherent in every child, and that, with love and encouragement, learning to play an instrument would be much like learning language, through listening and imitation.

Deeply impressed with the philosophies and inspired by the program, she founded The Suzuki Approach to Teaching String Instruments, and the UNI Suzuki School grew from there. The program encourages a strong relationship between the student, parents and teacher, and the goal is “to bring love, joy, peace, and sensitivity to all things beautiful and artistic into the lives of children.”

This mantra correlates to Martha’s devotion to others and is a concept that continues to thrive at the university and beyond.

Thoralson Holvik’s gift enriched many lives. There is an endowment for the Suzuki School in her honor. In 2012 she was inducted into the UNI School of Music Hall of Fame. Students wrote essays in her honor, impressing upon her energy, enthusiasm, and boisterous voice that would boom across a room. She inspired students to pursue careers in music or teaching and had a profound influence on many young people throughout her career and beyond.

Martha embraced all, seeing no difference, for example, between her grandchildren and her step-grandchildren. She was progressive in her beliefs and values when it came to social issues. She was in no way someone who passed judgment; rather, her daughter said, she had a profound belief in the rights and equality for women and the LGBTQ community.

When she died in 2014, many tributes were shared with her family, and her legacy lives on. Music was, according to her daughter Linda, the perfect vehicle for her to share her passion with the world, but it was her personality that inspired others. If she were with us today, her daughter said, she would encourage every one of us to find our passion, make it fun and share the joy with the world.

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Rocking the holidays with Roy Orbison & friends

While Roy Orbison passed from this life into the next on Dec. 6, 1988, his music lives on in the great American songbook of rock ‘n’ roll hits. What sets Orbison apart from many of his contemporaries is his run of hits. From 1960 to 1966, 22 of Orbison’s singles graced the Billboard Top 40, including “Only the Lonely” (1960), “Running Scared” (1961), “Crying” (1961), “In Dreams” (1963), and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (1964).

David Keiski, or better known as David K, returns with his Rockabilly Holiday Show 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Litchfield Opera House. This afternoon tribute features the music of Orbison, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. Expect to hear their hits and Christmas standards, too.

“We’re redoing hits from Roy Orbison and his only recorded holiday song, ‘Pretty Paper,’” Keiski said. “It’s a great tune! And hits from Buddy Holly, as well as some Christmas hits, mixed in a fun way to the show. For example, we’ll transition from me as Jerry Lee Lewis doing ‘Great Balls of Fire’ into ‘Santa Clause is Coming To Town.’ We’ll wonder, ‘What would Roy have sounded like singing ‘White Christmas?’ Well let’s’ find out. And (we) might as well do Roy’s pal’s tune, ‘Blue Christmas!’ It’ll be fun!”

Like many musicians, Keiski started making music as a child growing up in Eden Prairie.

“I’ve played since I was a kid,” he said in an earlier Leader interview. “I’m a Methodist minister’s son. As a little boy, my dad brought home albums by Bob Dylan, The Band, Simon and Garfunkel. He’d quote pop lyrics in his sermons. That’s the first place I personally heard the hook, line and sinker. I’d look around and watch people. It was passionate and from the heart.”

The Orbison tribute show is a relatively new effort for the Minnetonka-based musician. His first gig was in 2019 at the Westonka Performing Arts Center, where he incorporated historic tidbits of Roy’s life story with his music. A crowd of 400-plus people attended the event.

Keiski’s portrait of Orbison struck a chord with fans, so much so that an audience member came up to him after a show and asked him to sign his guitar. The fan had never seen Roy perform, so figured having the tribute artist sign it was the next best thing.

Keiski said the Orbison tribute show was taking off. They were selling out shows, booking a lot and then boom … everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like artists everywhere, he was hit hard.

“So as a band, and for me, we rehearsed at home a lot, and zoomed with each other to keep sharp,” he recalled. “I dreamed a lot of songs because I was so focused on rehearsing, and life was 100% uninterrupted. I’d wake at night singing ‘Pretty Woman’ and tell Roy, ‘Stop it, Roy, I have to get back to sleep!’ Then I started writing Roy-style songs in my dreams, or did Roy send them to me? So, we’re making an album of five of Roy’s biggest hits and eight of the ‘dreamed’ songs.”

Keiski believes his tribute shows have caught on because this music is from a simplier time, plus it’s so fun to play and “just great songs.”

“There’s a huge population of fans that just love to hear them done again, one more time or more, live,” he said. “I love playing Roy because it’s a style that just so happens to be within my wheelhouse. I’ve always had a wide musical range and can sing multiple octaves and so on. So, when I do Roy and see how much it means to people, it really feels good. It’s touching for me and his fans. His super dedicated fans come out of the woodwork to celebrate his legacy, so we’re trying to keep it alive. I can’t say how his popularity is growing but I do have younger fans also come up to me and say that discovered Roy after he died and that they love him.”

The Nov. 5 show marks a return to the Opera House. Kieski and friends have performed there several times over the past couple of years.

“It’s just such an honor to do these Buddy, Jerry Lee and Roy tunes,” he said. “We also all love the holidays, so to create a rocking rockabilly fun Christmas show, well, that is such a blast to do. I hope you all come out and enjoy the fun.”