6 dogs, shed lost in Wednesday night fire

By Per Peterson /

David and Ashley Freeburg were counting their blessings Thursday morning. They still had their house, and their three kids were safe after a fire quickly engulfed and destroyed a granery-turned-dog shed Wednesday night.

“It’s a pretty negative deal, but you look for the positives and move on,” David said.

The shed was home to six Boston terriers.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my house,” Ashley said. “The first thing that went through my head was, ‘How am I gonna tell my kids?’ because their family dogs were in there. Luckily, my pastor helped me with that. He has such a way with words, and it helped a lot to have that support system.”

A neighbor originally had called the Baptist Church down the road to let Ashley know of the fire.

Emergency personnel from Garvin, Tracy, Slayton and Marshall responded to the 7:24 p.m. fire call at the Freeburg home, about 2 miles south of Garvin on U.S. Hwy. 59. David said it didn’t take long for the old out-building to go down in the flames. He believes the dogs inside — Boston terriers the family raises and sells — might have ripped down materials David had installed to contain heat in the shed and that those materials came in contact with a portable heater.

“I had some insulation hanging up in there to keep the heat down; the only thing I can think of is the dogs have been known to kind of jump up and pull on that. If they pulled that down right on top of the heater … “ David said. “The wall was totally in flames from the inside-out when I came out here.”

David said he’s always had a garden hose at the ready in case of a fire, but the hose has so many links stretched together that it got kinked up.

“I had a couple hoses and thought I could take care of it,” he said. “I suppose I should’ve left all my hoses unhooked, then if I needed more I could’ve added more.”

Ashley is thankful David wasn’t injured as he attempted to fight the blaze prior to when firefighters showed up on the scene.

“He tried, but nothing was working for him,” she said. “Obviously there was a reason for this, and we’re thankful and blessed that it was nothing worse. I knew he was smart enough not to run into the building. It’s devastating to lose animals, but it would’ve been much worse if we’d have lost him.”

The blaze took off so quickly that David didn’t even have a chance to get inside the shed to rescue the dogs. He quickly shut off a nearby propane tank that’s about half full; the flames got to within a few feet of the tank. A large tree right by the tank also caught on fire.

“I’ll take that tree down sometime and cut it up,” he said.

The main building, David said, was about a 12-by-20 structure and included roughly 12-by-20 L-shaped leans around the north and east sides.

“We want to thank all the firefighters who responded,” David said.

History in the making

Jake Byrne (black shirt), Nash Mayer and the rest of the Panthers lift high their Section 3A championship trophy after their 36-22 win over the Vikings. See Pages 6 & 7 for coverage of Saturday’s Section 3A tournament.

Dramatic Buchholz pin qualifies team for state

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted the drama any better.

Needing a pin to lock up Panther wrestling’s first-ever Section 3 team title, senior Austin Buchholz came through with an inspired second-period fall.  Hundreds of exulting Panther fans erupted into a cacophony of cheers and bear hugs.

The team victory qualified the Panthers for the state Class A mat tourney, March 1-3 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  This Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23-24, the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove squad competes in the Section 3A individual tournament in Pipestone.

The Panthers’ Section 3A team championship rolled through two long-time Section 3 wrestling powerhouses:  Canby and Minneota.

“This is the way I wanted it,” said longtime Panther mat mentor Karl Campbell.  “Beating Canby in the semis and Minneota in the finals was a lot of fun.  Both were old District 9 rivals going way back to when I wrestled (in the 1980s).”

Saturday was the first time in 13 seasons that a Panther wrestling team had beaten Minneota. The last win over the Vikings came in a regular season dual during the 2005-06 season, which was also the last time Panther wrestlers advanced to the Section 3 finals.  Competing in Class AA that season, the Panthers upset Windom in the semi-finals and then lost a close match to Adrian in the finals.  Assistant Panther coaches Cody Arnold and Andy Nelson were seniors on that team.

TMB fell to the Vikings, 35-30, on Jan. 11 — one of only two dual meet losses this year.

Many Panther wrestling alumni—including some who’d hit the mat 50 or more years ago—helped fill the bleachers in the Windom gym and provide vociferous support for their team.

Campbell said that the wrestlers greatly appreciated their fan support.

“I do think that made a huge difference for our kids.”

Foes agree: It’s time to move on

Councilman, organizer of petition to have him removed from council share optimism about city’s future

Rosemary Martin
Tony Peterson

By Per Peterson

The year 2017 was filled with negativity at City Hall. There was name-calling. There were accusations. There were resignations and finger-pointing. Since the beginning of it all — more than a year later — the dust has settled. The city council has undergone a facelift with a new mayor and two new members. A failed, citizen-led recall election last week to oust a city councilman served as the exclamation point to a year’s worth of vitriol.

A year ago at this time, “We were headed down a really negative trail,” said Rosemary Martin, one of the main organizers of the recall petition to get councilman Tony Peterson removed from the council.

Martin said a lot of research and due diligence went into the recall process.

“We had many meetings, lots of soul searching,” she said.

The recall last Tuesday was rejected by 54.8% of the voters (211-174).

“When I learned about the votes, I thought, at the end of the day, we ran a clean campaign, we did everything we could to keep Tracy’s name as clean as we could,” Martin said. “One hundred-and-seventy-four people said they don’t want him in that office. The people were heard. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to stay involved, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to work the committees and try to keep Tony in check.”

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

‘You don’t expect this in a small town’

Milroy residents adjust to a most unusual day

By Per Peterson

As light traffic slowly crept through the quiet intersections of Milroy on a balmy 50-degree Wednesday, it didn’t take residents long to realize that this was not just another quiet day in their sleepy town.

A plethora of law enforcement officials worked for hours to peacefully put an end to an unfolding crime drama small-town residents are accustomed to seeing only in fictional portrayals on TV. With the school on lockdown after a man fled the police and holed up in a storage shed on the southeast side of town, armed law enforcement officers dotted the surrounding area — from the Milroy baseball field, to a number of street locations on that side of town.

The five-plus hour ordeal, which was centered around the large, blue Spartan Storage building on the southeast side of town, ended just before 5:30 p.m. when the man who hours earlier was involved in a traffic stop relating to an alleged domestic assault incident was apprehended and taken into custody.

“We left (our house) about 12:30, not realizing that we weren’t gonna be able to get back in,” said Rae Ann Flesner, a longtime Milroy resident who lives on Marion Street, right in front of where a pair of State Trooper squad cars were stationed nearly all day. “They rang the doorbell and said there was a situation and we should lock all our doors. We thought, ‘Fine, we’re going to Marshall now anyway; we just went around the trooper’s car and left. When we got back, we couldn’t go home.”

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

Milroy standoff ends peacefully

By Per Peterson

A nearly five-hour standoff in Milroy that included law enforcement officials from four levels with weapons drawn at a storage building housing a man with an outstanding warrant for domestic assault ended without major incident at about 5:25 p.m. on Wednesday.

After a traffic stop stemming from an in investigation of a domestic assault incident, the suspect led a pursuit into Milroy and fled into a Spartan Storage building. Police officers from Morgan and Lamberton, along with Renville and Redwood County Sheriff personnel and the Minnesota State Patrol, set up a multi-block perimeter around the building, located on the southeast edge of town. Officers with guns and rifles drawn surrounded the building about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and remained there until late afternoon. Later, the Brown, Lyon, Redwood, Renville Emergency Response Unit arrived on scene with personnel to assist on getting the man out of the building.

The man, 35-year-old Zachariah Marczak, of rural Milroy, is listed on the Redwood County Jail Roster as being held on charges of terroristic threats and fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle. His first court date is pending.

Speaking over a loud speaker, law enforcement was able to get the man inside to finally open the large doors, but he closed them again after a short time.

“We want everyone safe,” the negotiator said over the public address system. “Step outside for your safety. I give you my word you won’t get hurt. Nobody out here will harm you. Help yourself out.

“Step out with your hands above your head, and I guarantee you, you will be safe.”

A few minutes later the unidentified man — a tall, white male — came out for good after a smoke bomb-type device was fired into the building. He was immediately taken into custody.

The one-way conversation over the loud speaker lasted for more than one-half hour.

Milroy Area Schools were on lockdown most of the day, even though there was no tangible general threat to the public.

As of Thursday morning, the man’s identification is being withheld pending formal charges.

The Milroy Fire Department, North Ambulance and Wabasso Ambulance assisted the Redwood County Sheriff’s Office at the scene.

Tracy Area High School’s Hook is Region 3A Triple ‘A’ winner

By Per Peterson

Sarita Hook, a Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award winner her junior year, is Tracy Area High School’s second straight Region 3A Triple ‘A’ Award winner.

The MSHSL announced the 2018 winners last week. The MSHSL sponsors the award, which goes to select nominated high school seniors with a “B” or better GPA and who participate in League-sponsored athletic and fine arts activities.

Hook expressed humility this week when discussing the award.

“I am very humbled to have received this award, especially since many of my classmates were very deserving of this recognition as well,” she said. “I believe any one of us could have been chosen and would have been a great representative of our school and community.”

Aside from being an honor student, Hook is involved in band, choir, one-act, speech, cross country, and track and field. In speech, Hook was the Section 3A runner-up in Extemporaneous Reading in 2016 and was the winner in the same category last year. She finished in the top six at state the last two years. Hook has also received “Superior” ratings in music contests in both band and choir and has been heavily involved in her schools’ fall theatre productions and is a member of the schools’ chamber choir.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

Tracy Tornado

50th anniversary remembrance set

By Seth Schmidt

Planning is underway to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tracy Tornado this summer.

The infamous June 13, 1968, tornado killed nine people, and left a path of destruction through the heart of Tracy.

“It’s such an important date in Tracy’s history,” said Scott Thoma, a 1977 Tracy graduate who is helping organize the event.  “I just think it is important to pass on the stories of the tornado to the next generation and remember those who lost their lives that day.”

“Never Forget” has been chosen as the theme for the 50th-year remembrance, which will be observed Saturday, June 9. Events will be held at Central Park, Tracy Lutheran Church, and The Caboose. The Veterans’ Memorial Center will serve as indoor back-up site in case of inclement weather.    

The Tracy  Chamber of Commerce is helping sponsor the event, and the City of Tracy has granted permission for use of VMC and Central Park.

The “Never Forget” itinerary includes:

• Live music at the Central Park bandshell, with performances by several local groups.  Pizza and refreshments will be served.

• A program about severe summer weather and the Tracy Tornado staged by KSTP television meteorologist Jonathan Yuhas.

• Speakers will share memories of the 1968 tornado.

• A silent auction will be held to raise scholarships for nine TAHS seniors, in memory of the nine people who lost their lives in the tornado.

• Commemorative T-shirts, emblazoned with the “Never Forget” logo, will be sold through the end of February.

• A  50th anniversary Tracy Tornado quilt will be raffled off.

• An evening comedy dinner show at The Caboose will feature Tracy native Jeff Bergs.

• A community lunch will be served at Tracy Lutheran Church.

• Historical displays will be set up about the Tracy Tornado.

• A medallion hunt will be held in Central Park.

All net proceeds are earmarked for the senior scholarships that will be given in memory of the tornado victims.

The nine people who died in the tornado were Nancy Vlahos, 2; Barbara Holbrook, 50; Walter Swanson, 47; Ella Haney, 84; Mildred Harden, 75; Ellen Morgan, 75; Otelia Werner, 75; Fred Pilatus, 71;  Paul Swanson, 60.

Thoma wants to include a framed summary of each individual’s life, when the memorial scholarships are presented to the seniors.  In order to do that, he’s hoping to find surviving family members who can share biographical information about their loved ones.

Thoma is also looking for donations for the silent auction, or for cash donations to help meet up-front expenses.  He can be emailed at scott@thomabooks.com., or called at 320-894-6007.   His mailing address is  2113 21st. Ave. SW, Willmar, MN. 56201.  Checks should be made out to “Tracy Tornado Scholarships.” The “Never Forget” T-shirts will be sold on-line during February at https://tinyurl.com/yayhz48t.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

Administrator timeline sees late May job offer

By Seth Schmidt

The City of Tracy’s search for a new administrator is about to be put on the front burner again.

Monday, the council reviewed a proposed timeline that would seek new applications in April, conduct interviews and select finalists in May, and strive to have a new administrator on the job by June 11.

Wendell Sande of the South Central Service Cooperative, who has been hired to coordinate the city’s administrator search, drafted the timetable.

Public Works Director Shane Daniels has been serving as interim administrator since the resignation of Madonna Peterson in September.  Councilman Tony Peterson expressed some urgency Monday night to find a permanent administrator.

“I want to keep on top of this because Shane is getting ready to roll into his busy seasons,” said Peterson.

Daniels, when he accepted the additional city administrator responsibilities, said he’d be able to handle the added workload over winter, but would have a more difficult time when spring arrived.

The council began advertising its city administrator vacancy last fall, but Sande told the council in October that he didn’t consider any of the 13 initial applicants to have the necessary qualifications for the position. A second application period was opened, with hopes that interviews could be held in December, and a new administrator hired in January. But Sande later recommended that the administrator search be suspended until spring, after only a limited number of applications were received.

The short tenure of the last city administrator, and a Feb. 13 council recall vote, Sande indicated, had likely raised questions in the minds of some potential candidates and resulted in fewer applications than normally could have been expected.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

Leonard jumps in race to give voters a choice

Nick Leonard

Progressive Democrat, attorney from Walnut Grove will challenge Tina Smith in special election

By Per Peterson

Nick Leonard is taking his passion for politics to a whole new level.

Leonard, a Tracy Area High School graduate and Democratic activist originally from Walnut Grove, announced last week that he will challenge former Minnesota Lt. Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Tina Smith for the seat to which she was appointed after the departure of Sen. Al Franken, who stepped down in January after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

Leonard is the first Democrat to challenge Smith in a November special election. Republican state Sen. Karin Housely, R-St. Marys Point, is also running for the seat.

“I think it’s really important for people to have a choice within the party,” Leonard said in an interview with the Headlight Herald on Tuesday. “Politics have gotten so contentious, and I think it’s time for someone with core Minnesota values to represent the people.”

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

Faster Internet eyed for Tracy

Public invited to hear updates from providers

By Seth Schmidt

Faster and higher-capacity Internet services are on the horizon for Tracy, according to local business leaders.

“The way it’s been explained to me, what we now have in fiber optic capacity in Tracy is like a two-lane highway,” says Tracy businessman Mark Seager. “What’s coming in the future is going to be like a four-lane freeway.”

Local people are invited to find out more about this digital super-highway of Tracy’s future Wednesday, Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m. at The Caboose.

The Tracy Development Corporation, which has made improved broadband services in Tracy a priority, is sponsoring the meeting.

All four of Tracy’s Internet providers have been invited to give an overview of existing fiber optic cable, and outline plans for the future.

Seager said that he’s “really excited” about the new offerings he’s been told will be available soon for both fiber optic cable, as well as increased speeds for coaxial cable speeds.

VAST Communications, Charter-Spectrum, and Woodstock Communications have all confirmed that they will have representatives at the Feb. 21 meeting, Seager said. The fourth provider with an Internet presence in Tracy, Arvig, has also been invited.

Seager, who is a part of both the Tracy Development Corporation and Tracy Economic Development Authority boards, said that fast, affordable broadband services will be increasingly important for attracting new businesses to Tracy, and help existing enterprises to expand.

“Fiber optic communications are part and parcel of what is needed for business development.”

Seager’s business, Second Wind CPAP, does the majority of its business on the Internet. He feels  that e-commerce could be a vital factor in re-purposing some of the vacant commercial buildings in downtown Tracy.  The trend of people working from home, he adds, is another reason why improved fiber access is important for Tracy’s future.

• • •

There is no charge for the Feb. 21 forum.  Seager said that both business people and homeowners will find information of interest at the forum.

The Caboose was chosen for the meeting because of its capacity to accommodate a large crowd in its ballroom.

Attendees will have the option of ordering food and beverages, at their own expense.