BY LINDA HERKENHOFF AND SUSAN VAN CLEAF
2013 was a year of heroes, opening of new parks and city buildings, turbulent storms, tragic deaths and much more. Here are some highlights of 2013 happenings in Rockford, Greenfield, Independence, Medina, Loretto, Delano and Franklin Township.
Medina experienced many headline events in 2013. Tom Crosby took his oath of office for his third term as mayor in January and then discovered in late February that he had pancreatic cancer. He resigned in April and died just before Memorial Day. City Councilor Liz Weir moved over to the mayor’s chair.
In June a violent wind/rain storm slammed into both Independence and Medina. Lightning struck Independence City Hall, Downed trees blocked roadways in both cities. Power was out in city buildings. Medina residents deposited a gigantic heap of trees and brush at the city brush pile. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) soon will reimburse both cities for storm damage to city facilities.
In a nine-month endeavor, Medina and the Hamel Fire Department gave birth to a new two-year contract for providing fire service to a major chunk of the city. At the start of it all, Corcoran decided not to renew its contract with the HFD — leaving Medina as the HFD’s only customer. Long time Fire Chief Brandon Guest resigned in order to spend more time at his regular job, and Neil Wolfe put on the chief’s helmet. New HFD leadership worked at improving the department’s performance, and Medina liked the results. Talk of merging the HFD with the Loretto Fire Department ended.
As November arrived, the Medina Police and Public Works Departments moved into a renovated office/warehouse building at 600 Clydesdale Trail. The new facility is expected to meet Medina’s needs for the next 30 years.
Medina also discovered a hero when Robert Johnstone administered CPR and saved the life of a truck driver. Johnstone was in his office at Rockler Corporation when he saw two semis collide at the intersection of Highway 55 and Willow Drive. He ran to the scene to help.
Rockford Area Schools, District 883, passed a bond proposal not to exceed $27 million for upkeep, repair, improvements and remodeling of the district’s building and grounds in late 2012, but the ball really started rolling in 2013.
Some phases have been completed, while others are in the planning or construction stage.
One of the highlights in 2013 was the grand opening of the district’s new and improved outdoor sports stadium on Sept. 6, at which the crowd was invited down onto the new artificial turf during a varsity home football game. The stadium is also equipped with an electronic scoreboard.
Major improvements to the district’s pinwheel ball field complex and gymnastics facilities were also made in 2013.
In the works for years, Greenfield’s first city park — “Greenfield Central Park” — was named, had a shelter installed and memorial site added. The city conducted a dedication ceremony on Night to Unite in August.
Playground equipment has been ordered and will be installed in the spring along with grills.
Getting to this point required a dedicated group of volunteers and a Park Advisory committee, which spent hours going over plans, recommendations, ordinances and other details related to opening a city park. A bonfire event was held in the fall, and events and individual use of the park are expected to grow significantly as area residents become aware of it.
The Rockford City Council, with a number of improvement projects in the works, changed engineering firms from Stantec (formerly Boonestro) to Wenck.
Included in the scope of work Wenck has taken over are the construction of a new wastewater facility, and the scheduled replacement of water and sewer mains throughout the city.
And, facing a dilemma no one expected, the ability to raise chickens and other domesticated foul was fought over and lost as the council decided to amend its ordinance after receiving noise complaints.
Also, a proposal for a 250-plus capacity event center in Riverside Park was something the council went back and forth on for months before deciding not to move ahead last summer.
Independence residents found their own hero, when James Buck pulled a Rockford woman out of her car — just before it burst into flames. Her car had gone off the road on County Road 11 and hit a tree. Emergency responders said Buck had saved the life of the 24-year-old mother of two children.
The city of Independence brought in two huge entertainment events, including the Carson and Barnes big top circus. Mayor Marvin Johnson and City Administrator Toni Hirsch rode an elephant in front of the crowd prior to the first performance. Heritage Fest returned in September to Pioneer Creek Park with a unique attraction — pig races. Area citizens had opportunities to sponsor a pig — thus adding excitement to the competition.
Loretto took a major step in revitalizing its downtown. The Redevelopment Committee unveiled a marketing plan for a strip of land located along County Road 19 north of Railway Street West. The goal is to attract a developer for a mixed used building on a site that once included the Loretto Apartments. Several years ago, fire consumed the apartments, which then were demolished.
The Metropolitan Council and area cities began to discuss a plan for connecting Loretto’s sewer system to metropolitan sanitary sewers that would utilize a lift station in Maple Plain. If the Met Council chooses this plan, Corcoran and Independence would get additional sanitary sewer connections. And area cities would save money on sewer construction.
A headline man hunt began in Loretto and ended hours later in Corcoran after a Loretto man was kidnapped from his driveway. Police freed the man — unhurt — from the kidnappers’ car some 45 minutes later. Multiple area law enforcement agencies tracked the suspects on the ground and a State Patrol helicopter conducted the chase by air.
Town ball fans in both Loretto and Delano sat on edges of their seats as both the Larks and A’s narrowly missed competing in the state town ball championships in August. Delano and Maple Lake hosted the championships, and this brought excitement to the area — win or lose. Delano civic groups and the city of Delano had spent over a year improving the municipal ball park and Delano Central Park to get ready for the tournament.
Delano High School brought more sports fever to the area, when the girls’ volleyball team narrowly missed winning the state tournament. And the Tigers football team was in the hunt for a state championship until close to the end of competition.
Also in Delano, years of planning reached their peak, when the city broke ground for its new Northwest Industrial Park. Randy’s Environmental Services announced plans to be one of the park’s first inhabitants.
In Franklin Township, Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, of Minnetonka, attempted to gain support from the Franklin Town Board for the congregation’s plans to build a new church. Neighbors of the proposed church spoke out against the project, and the town board decided not to recommend approval. Wright County Planning and Zoning had the final say and approved the plans.
Who could have predicted this eventful 2013? Very likely more surprises will pop up in the Crow River area in 2014.