YEAR IN REVIEW: Getting to know you… Ten fascinating folks of Champlin in 2012

One of the things that makes Champlin a great place to live is the people.

There are many people living in Champlin who find ways to make the community a better place or are simply downright fascinating. In 2012, we had the opportunity to meet and feature many of them in the Champlin-Dayton Press.

Here’s a look back at 10 of the people whose stories we got to know and shared with you this year.



Champlin resident Barb Beyer shared her miraculous story with the community in August as the guest speaker at Champlin’s Relay for Life.

Beyer is living proof that miracles can and do happen. In the face of a Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis that left her with the prognosis giving her 18 to 24 months to live. Her oncologist told her if they were extremely luck and all the planets aligned, they might be able to control the cancer enough to give her 5 years. That was in October 2011.

“My husband, Tim [Beyer], was devastated,” she said. “But I knew I was going to beat it. That’s the attitude I had going forward.”

After the first chemotherapy session, her body shed so many dead tumor cells, the hospital oncologist could not believe what was happening, according to Barb.

“That’s when the miracles started happening,” said Barb.

With each chemo session, she made progress. Her December 2011 PET Scan was a stark contrast to the one taken in October.

Her second PET Scan showed all the tumors were gone, as well as her breast tissue, liver and lymph nodes were all clean. There was even significant decrease in the cancer cells in her bone scans.

“That never happens,” Barb said.

Her story inspired the hundreds that attended Champlin’s Relay for Life.



Champlin bid farewell to a beloved longtime business owner in 2012. On Oct. 26, Walter Griese died at the age of 81, leaving behind his successful decades-long career and countless devastated customers of his business A-1 Sew Craft.

His passion for people won over generations of families as customers.

“I grew up in Champlin with my mom going to his store,” said Kyleen King. “I bought my first sewing machine from him in the 1980’s and have been a long time customer.”

Over the years, Walter moved his business three times but always remained in Champlin. The most recent move was this year to their current location off Hayden Lake Road.

Bouley says his biggest focus was helping people.

“That’s what made him special,” she said.



Jackson Middle School student Aaron Magness headed off to school on Nov. 2 like any other regular kid. By the end of lunchtime, he’d become a hero.

Magness was sitting next to his friend Malachi Franz at lunch. During the meal, Franz tipped his head back while dropping Smarties, a small, hard candy, into his mouth one at a time. When someone bumped him from behind, one of the Smarties got lodged in his throat. Knowing he was in trouble, Franz held both hands up to his throat, the international sign for choking he learned in Ann Stalboerger’s health class.

“At first I thought he was joking,” Magness said. “But he got red really fast and I realized he wasn’t joking. I remembered what I learned in sixth grade (the Heimlich maneuver) so I did that.”

Franz is very grateful to his friend and said he learned a lesson.

“I’m very pleased to hear that someone was listening and used the skills I taught in class. It was impressive for a seventh grade student to think that fast; it was pretty cool,” said Stalboerger.

She plans to use this real-life example from the JMS cafeteria when teaching the Heimlich maneuver with future students.

“I think it will help them to take it more seriously,” she said. “They think nothing bad is every going to happen, but these things do happen in real life.”



For more than 35 years, Champlin residents Diana and Jim Merkl have owned Sinclair Gas Station located on the elbow of Highway 169 and the Ferry Street Bridge. In 2011, Diana began dressing their dinosaur mascot, Dino in a wool scarf.

“I was knitting prayer shawls and decided to knit the scarf as a lark and it just mushroomed from there,” said Diana.

Dino has been spotted donning all kinds of garb, often to celebrate popular holidays; but Diana has also dressed him for unique celebrations such as National Mailman Day.

“I try to dress him about twice a month,” she said. “I often find items to dress him from Goodwill and garage sales or arts and crafts stores.”

As a 22-year cancer survivor, Diana decided to bank on Dino’s dressed-up popularity by creating a calendar with different photos of his fashions throughout the year. The calendars are a fundraiser for Champlin Relay for Life.



Ice cross, the newest extreme sport, made its U.S. debut in St. Paul in January 2011 and Champlin’s Jordan Miller was there, in the middle of all the action.

The sport has evolved into a racing event that sends four skaters at a time in helmets and pads downhill on a uniquely designed course of pure ice with ramps, rollers, hairpin turns, bumps and jumps. Athletes fly down the course at speeds up to 40 mph.

While 60,000 spectators showed up in St. Paul to check out the daring spectacle that is ice cross, Miller was one of 100 U.S. athletes who qualified to lace up his skates and take to the course.

“It’s been an experience of a lifetime,” he said.

Miller made it through the first night of competition and raced in the second day’s elimination rounds before getting cut. He skated to 104th place overall and made it into the top 55 out of 100 U.S. competitors.

The experience hooked him on the sport and so he set his sights on the Quebec competition. Qualifying is easier said than done and requires a bit of luck mixed with skill. With so many interested in the sport, qualification begins with a lottery.

Ten thousand people entered the lottery, which was narrowed down to 2,500 spread out over 13 qualifying races. Those races take place on flat tracks with obstacle courses, still challenging but different than the championship competitions.

The top 100 were chosen to compete in Quebec. Miller was one of only five Americans who competed in Quebec. While the U.S. has come to the party a little late, the U.S. Team has been making strides at almost as fast a rate as the athletes skate down the course.

“I plan on continuing to compete in ice cross for a while,” said Miller referring to the longevity potential in the sport. “I want to make a name for myself and let people know that I’m a contender for placing in the top.”



Accountant, businessmen, marketing managers, human resources directors, mechanic, salesperson — these are all common careers neighbors hold.

Keith Rice’s Champlin neighbors might tell a different story. On any given day, Rice might be a roller rink designer, a father of the most envied girl in town, or even a cross-dresser. In reality, Rice is an actor who has performed professionally at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres nearly continuously for the past 15 years. These are all roles he held just this year in the theater’s productions of “Hairspray,” “Xanadu” and currently running “Bye Bye Birdie.”

He and his wife had two sons, Luke and William. When they were small, the Northridge earthquake severely damaged Rice’s home and neighborhood in southern California.

“We literally had to crawl out of our home,” he said. That event contributed to a point in his life when Rice began to reflect on the fast-pace and instability that life in the theatre created for his family.

“My son asked me, ‘Daddy can you just stay home?’” Rice said. “I was touring all the time.”

He felt he needed to make a change. That’s when he got the call for “Phantom of the Opera” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in 1997. His wife has family living in the Twin Cities area, which made the opportunity all the more clandestine.

Rice forged a strong rapport with director Michael Brindisi, who continues in his 24th year as artistic director and is a member of the new ownership team for Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Rice still has to audition every time but since his arrival in 1997, he has continually been employed in shows, whether on the main stage or one of the other theaters at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

“It has given me a life you don’t normally have in the theater,” Rice said. “For that I am so, so grateful.”



From her work with Northern Intercultural Spiritual Experiences (NISE) to her 25 years of volunteer work as a musical director at Champlin United Methodist Church where she also works as a worship director, Kay Roberts has been an active community member, working to make Champlin a great place to live.

Some people may feel uncomfortable if a perfect stranger walked up to them in the grocery store and started asking about their religious and spiritual beliefs. But for Champlin residents Roberts, who did the asking and Tasneem Rattansi, whom she approached, that moment of curiosity and stepping outside the box sparked more than a friendship. It was one of the many seeds planted that has grown into the fledgling Northern Intercultural Spiritual Experiences (NISE) group that is now entered its second year of programming in 2012. It is a group that attempts to open lines of communication between a diverse population and help explore multiple different religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs.

They have sponsored talk series and hosted plays with grant assistance. The group has also volunteered time throughout the community work at such events as the Anoka Pride Day Picnic.

This past December, Roberts capped off 25 years of directing the annual holiday musical at Champlin United Methodist Church. While she is handing over these responsibilities, she remains the worship director at the church.



Champlin’s own Olympic athlete, Jake Sawyer, 23, capped off a whirlwind year including competing in the 2011 Special Olympics in Greece with a spin down West River Road as Champlin’s 2012 Grand Marshal for the Father Hennepin Days Parade.

Born with Down Syndrome, Jake’s special needs are a part of who he is but definitely not all that he is.

“From a young age we looked for ways to keep Jake active,” said his mom Pam Sawyer. He started in soccer with his sisters through Champlin’s park and recreation programs eventually moving into Special Olympics activities. For 12 years he has participated with the organization trying his hand at such sports as softball, bowling, gymnastics, golf, basketball and swimming.

The inspiring and delightful young man also volunteers regularly at the Champlin Library, holds two jobs and has raised $5,000 for charity.



One of Champlin’s younger residents, Pierce Sonderup, age 6, sped into the news with his go-kart racing. Pierce began racing at age 5, the same age Jeff Gordon was when he got his start in go-kart racing. Pierce’s father, Ken Sonderup bought him his own kart and they spent every other weekend last summer racing it. Pierce raced in about a dozen races last year, finishing 6th in the state championship.

“It is absolutely such a good feeling as a parent when your son has found something they really have a passion for,” said Ken. “It’s important for parents to help kids find something they have a passion for.”

Last year, sponsored by Acceleration Racing, Pierce participated in the Midwest Sprint Series. The series includes one race in Illinois, two in Wisconsin and one in Cokato.



Champlin Park High School alum Alyssa Maurer Wolf was serving in the Peace Corps in Fiji.

After marrying Matt Wolf in 2008, the couple decided to do something different.

“My husband and I chose to join Peace Corps to experience life in a different culture, travel, gain career experience and grow as individuals,” said Alyssa.  She wanted to move away for a year or two just to experience something different. That’s when Matt suggested if they were going to do that, they should consider joining the Peace Corps. So that’s what they did.

It took them about 1.5 years from the time they began the application process to the time the finally arrived in the country they would serve. The Wolfs got a call to serve in Fiji. They arrived in July 2010 where they served a two-year stint.

Alyssa and Matt’s life in Fiji including assisting with medical care, teaching, cooking, helping with nutrition and exercise, participating in community activities such as church and government meetings, and living without many of the comforts of American life such as electricity.