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2017: Take a month-by-month look back at the year's highlights

Highway 371 through Nisswa was the final part of the expansion project to open. Jim Stafford / Brainerd Dispatch and Echo Journal 1 / 9
With the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Aaron Nelson takes the reins as principal of Pequot Lakes High School. Dan Determan/Echo Journal 2 / 9
Brian Mathiowetz, president of Mathiowetz Construction, introduces project managers Randy Shoen (left) and Dave Domm at a celebration Wednesday, Oct. 18, marking completion of the Highway 371 expansion project. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal 3 / 9
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal Ray Schrupp is congratulated by chamber member, business owner and friend Janice Gardiner after being named the Distinguished Service Award winner in Piner River.4 / 9
Submitted Photo Teri Kaminski-Peterson was named the 2017 Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year.5 / 9
The fire tower is clearly visible from the new highway 11 bridge, which in turn, is visible from the fire tower as well. Travis Grimler / Forum News Service6 / 9
Travis Grimler/Echo Journal During the first day of the 2017-18 school year, students got the chance to meet the new high school principal, Chris Halverson.7 / 9
Submitted Photo Kim Sheley is the 2017 Teacher of the Year for the Pine River-Backus School District.8 / 9
Astronaut and former Minnesotan Mark Vande Hei chatted live with Pine River-Backus Students on Sept. 18 including Kenzlee Sawyer, who wanted to know how the astronauts work in micro gravity conditions.9 / 9

Following is a month-by-month look back at some of the highlights from Echo Journal stories published in 2017. Enjoy!


• Paul Gazelka, Republican state senator from Fairview Township in Cass County, is elected Senate majority leader when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3.

• Shawn Bailey takes over as Nisswa fire chief, succeeding 19-year chief Richard Geike.

• Six Crow Wing County youths are among those who attend President Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington, D.C.

• Miles Weske, a paramedic from Mission Township who nearly died when his helicopter crashed in September 2016, is able to walk down the aisle to marry Brook Weber.

• Josh Maucieri becomes the all-time leading scorer in Northern Lakes Lightning boys hockey history by raising his career point total to 118.

• Les Laidlaw, of Mankato, wins the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Hole-in-the-Day Bay of Gull Lake with a 5.54-pound northern pike. He chooses a Ford truck as his prize.


• Pequot Lakes High School juniors Grace McGuire and Reid Pierzinski represent Pequot Lakes in the ExCEL - Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership - program.

• Merle Weaver, of Backus and a member of the Ponto Knights Riders Snowmobile Club, is named the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association 2016 Unsung Hero.

• Pequot Lakes High School senior Alex Stone, competing for the Brainerd Warriors ski team, finishes eighth at the state alpine ski meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, earning all-state honors for the third consecutive year. Pequot Lakes junior Grace McGuire places 46th.

• For the first time in 27 years, the Backus school gym hosts a Backus Wolverines basketball game after Foothills Christian Academy students form a basketball team.

• Pequot Lakes High School sophomore Olivia Lane scores her 1,000th point and breaks the school record for points in a game with 44 points Feb. 23 against Hinckley-Finlayson.


• Crosslake Community School and the LAKE Foundation unveil design plans for a new school and kick off fundraising efforts for the $7 million project.

• Chip Rankin, Pequot Lakes High School principal for the past seven years, announces he is leaving at the end of the school year to be superintendent of the Minnewaska School District.

• Historian and state archaeologist Doug Birk, of Pine River, dies at age 73.

• Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang learns he will attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, from October to December this year.

• Driftwood Resort owner Sue Leagjeld dies at age 87, three and a half months after her husband, Ted Leagjeld died in December 2016. The couple opened Driftwood Resort on Whitefish Lake in 1959.


• Work on the Highway 371 four-lane expansion project resumes with completion anticipated later this summer.

• Brianna Adkins is crowned Miss Pine River. Tara Huston is First Princess, Avery Cunningham is Second Princess, and Sydney Davidson is Miss Congeniality.

• Kyra Blaukat is crowned Miss Nisswa. Morena Hammer is first runner-up, and Sydney Darkow is Miss Congeniality. Serving as Little Miss Nisswa are Abby Hansen, Nora Gerlich and Ava Zahn.

• Longtime Pequot Lakes coaches Jon and Kate Dale will retire from coaching after the spring sports season.

• Pequot Lakes High School speech team members Savannah Ellison, Sheridan Wilson and Mollie Pierson participate in the Class A state speech tournament.

• Alexis Lueck is crowned Miss Pequot Lakes and Miss Congeniality. Princesses are Mariah Weise and Kenna Yutrzenka. Escorts are Isabelle Ziesemer, queen; and Madeline Buss and Audrey Job, princesses.

• Crosslake police chief Robert Hartman announces he will retire May 31, and Sgt. Erik Lee is appointed chief upon Hartman's retirement.


• Ray Schrupp, owner of Schrupp Excavating, is named the Pine River Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award winner.

• Pine River-Backus boys golf coach Steve Heslop learns he will be inducted into the Minnesota High School Golf Coaches Association's 2017 Hall of Fame class.

• Karl Brine-Doyle, Abby Person and Alex Stone are Pequot Lakes High School's last valedictorians as the school will no longer make that designation after 2017.

• Joe Davidson is valedictorian and Autumn Crawford is salutatorian at Pine River-Backus High School.

• Teri Kaminski, speech pathologist, is named Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year.


• A four-lane Highway 371 opens from Pequot Lakes to Jenkins, featuring a new route just east of downtown Pequot Lakes with a full interchange and roundabouts at County State Aid Highway 11 as work continues on the $49.9 million project north of downtown Nisswa.

• The Pequot Lakes City Council learns the fire tower is closed to the public and the Department of Natural Resources wants another entity to take over the structure. The fire tower receives state approval to be on the National Register of Historic Places and is next being considered at the federal level.

• The Pequot Lakes girls and boys track and field teams place second at the Class A state meet in St. Paul. Junior Reid Pierzinski earns three first-place finishes. Boys and girls relays also earn first-place finishes.

• Alex Stone of Pequot Lakes High School ties for third in the Class 2A state golf tournament. From Pine River-Backus High School, Brady Raph finishes 16th and Nate Brasel 34th at the Class A state golf meet.

• Pine River-Backus High School Principal Andrew Forbort leaves after two years to become an assistant principal with the Grand Rapids School District.


• Mike Lyonais is promoted from finance director to city administrator/treasurer in Crosslake after the mayor said the city needed permanent leadership because of various ongoing projects.

• The landmark bobber water tower in Pequot Lakes marks 30 years.

• The Pine River-Backus School Board hires Chris Halverson as high school principal.

• The Nisswa City Council hires Jenny Max as the city's first administrator/clerk.

• The Pequot Lakes fire tower off County State Aid Highway 11 is added to the National Register of Historic Places.


• The Pequot Lakes Fire Department celebrates 100 years with a street dance featuring the Wylde Ryce Band, which comes out of retirement for the night.

• Pine River Family Market grocery store marks 40 years in the same location.

• Ed Larsen - former Pequot Lakes High School principal, mayor and citizen of the year, and former Crow Wing County commissioner - dies at age 76 of cancer.

• LAKE Foundation members ceremoniously breaks ground for a new Crosslake Community School.

• Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie is appointed to fill a Ninth Judicial District judgeship chambered in Brainerd.


• Aaron Nelson begins his tenure as principal at Pequot Lakes High School.

• Chris Halverson starts as principal at Pine River-Backus High School.

• Pine River-Backus students talk to an astronaut aboard the International Space Station via a NASA video downlink. The school is one of a select few Minnesota groups to experience this opportunity.

• Pine River Bakery is named the Sweetest Bakery in Minnesota, and competing in a social media campaign against bakeries across the country finished in the top 10, at No. 9. Dawn Foods sponsored the contest.


• Cassie Evenson-Carey and Joe Neznik are inducted into the Pequot Lakes Athletic Hall of Fame.

• Chris Monroe joins the Pequot Lakes Chamber as its director.

• The four-lane Highway 371 project from Nisswa to Jenkins is complete with all lanes open and a 65-mph speed limit. An All Roads Open dedication is held at Pequot Lakes Supervalu to celebrate the milestone, particularly in Pequot Lakes.


• Pequot Lakes senior runner Reid Pierzinski races to 76th place in the state Class A cross country meet in Northfield with a time of 17:24.6.

• The Pine River-Backus volleyball team competes in the Class A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the first time since 2005. The Tigers lose their quarterfinal and consolation matches.

• The Pequot Lakes football team competes in the Class 3A state tournament, winning their quarterfinal game before losing in the semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The team had its most successful season in program history.

• Kim Sheley, Pine River-Backus High School Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, is named the 2017 Teacher of the Year.


• Pine River-Backus girls basketball player Bailey Wynn scores her 1,000th point Dec. 15 against the Northland Eagles.

• Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang graduates from the FBI National Academy Program in Quantico, Virginia.

• Renee Anderson, a longtime piano player and piano teacher, is the 2017 Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point-Crosslake Citizen of the Year.