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2021 Highlights: For the second year, COVID-19 dominates news coverage by touching everything around us

The Echo Journal shines the spotlight on other top news stories from the past year in a month-by-month recap.

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Vegetable beef soup was served from a window of a portable ice shelter Saturday, Feb. 6, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area. As is tradition, the soup was cooked outside in a black cast iron pot and stirred with an oar.

2021 started much like 2020 ended with the state, nation and world continuing to grapple with a health pandemic.

However, after positive cases of COVID-19 surged and schools returned to distance learning in the last months of 2020, that slowly changed with the arrival of 2021 and COVID-19 vaccines.

Area students started returning to the classroom and business restrictions were loosened bit by bit as COVID-19 case numbers started dropping.

Events were still held virtually, including the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza in January and Happy Dancing Turtle’s Back 2 Basics in February. Crosslake was able to host WinterFest and SoupFest with mostly outdoor activities on a bitterly cold February day.

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Wade Miller, of Baxter, takes samples of Fresh Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Smoked Gouda Bisque with homemade croutons served at Whitefish at the Lakes Senior Living in Crosslake on Saturday, Feb. 6, during the SoupFest portion of WinterFest. People appreciated the drive-thru option to get their soup on a bitterly cold day.

But the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled for the second year as the area marked the one-year anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival here.

High school winter sports seasons did go on, as did spring sports seasons. As spring approached, children’s Easter events were held in communities though some were in a different format than usual. Traditional Easter egg hunts were held in Pine River and Lake Shore. Area scholarship pageants were held, though attendance was limited.

As spring arrived, in-person learning continued at area schools and Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus High School students had their proms - with a few restrictions - and graduation ceremonies - with no restrictions.

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Smiles were big as Pine River-Backus High School Principal Chris Halverson moved graduates' tassels during the June 4 graduation ceremony. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

In mid-May, the Centers for Disease Control and state of Minnesota suddenly lifted mask mandates for people who had been vaccinated. Just like that, people went out in public and entered stores with no face masks.

Unfortunately, just as everyone thought life had returned to normal, COVID-19 variants emerged, specifically the very contagious delta variant and most recently the omicron variant.

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Events still occurred, including the Minnesota State Fair at the end of August/beginning of September. Summer festivals went on as planned in the area, including Fourth of July parades and festivities, and Nisswa turtle races.

When school resumed with in-person learning, most area school districts didn’t require face masks. Only the Brainerd School District, which includes Nisswa Elementary School, set a mask requirement that became effective a week before school started.

A week into the school year, Pequot Lakes High School fell under a 14-day mask mandate among other measures because of positive COVID-19 cases in the school. The fall sports season was normal, followed by the start of winter sports contests.

The year ended with no statewide mandates or restrictions regarding COVID-19, but with hospitals at capacity and short-staffed, mainly due to the pandemic.

Of course, the Echo Journal reported on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the communities we cover. But we also reported on other news.

Following are highlights from our news pages in 2021.

JANUARY

  • COVID-19 restrictions carry into 2021, though high school winter sports teams and fine arts activities are allowed to start practices Jan. 4, followed by competitions the following week.

  • Pequot Lakes students in grades K-6 and Crosslake Community School students in grades K-8 return to in-person learning Jan. 11 after doing distance learning since November 2020.

  • Businesses - including restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters - are allowed to reopen Jan. 11 to indoor customers, with restrictions.

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Kristy Miller heads the family responsible for producing Pine River's favorite baked goods. She bought the Pine River Bakery on Jan. 4.

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  • New owners take over at two well-known area businesses: the Pine River Bakery and Pequot Lakes Chiropractic.

  • The Crosslake Chamber announces the 2021 Crosslake St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Celebration in March is canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. WinterFest activities will go on early February.

MARCH

  • Connor Tulenchik, a junior, scores his 155th career wrestling victory March 1 with the Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus Road Crew to break the program record for wins, passing 1996 Pequot Lakes graduate Randy Rager’s 154 wins.

  • The area marks one year of living with COVID-19 in our midst with continued warnings to wear masks, social distance and practice good hygiene as many businesses still operate under state mandated restrictions. There his hope and more and more people are vaccinated against COVID-19.

  • Crosslake Community School Director Cliff Skagen resigns and the school’s director of online learning, Stacy Bender, is terminated as the school board has several special meetings.

  • Pequot Lakes freshman Calia Chaney finishes 44th at the alpine ski state meet.

  • Pequot Lakes sophomore Josie Harguth finishes 29th on the beam at the Class 2A individual state gymnastics meet.

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Northern Lakes senior Carter Holtzleicer leaps into the arms of goalie Adler Hoagland as the Lightning celebrated its section championship on Thursday, March 25. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

  • The Northern Lakes Lightning boys hockey team wins its first-ever section championship and advances to its first-ever state tournament appearance. The team loses its quarterfinal game.

  • Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus Road Crew junior Connor Tulenchik finishes second for the second year in a row at the Class 2A individual state wrestling meet. Owen Carlson also competes at state, losing his two matches.

  • Pequot Lakes senior Megan Buffington qualifies for the national speech meet that takes place in June.

APRIL

  • Pequot Lakes High School senior Samantha Jackson is crowned Miss Nisswa. Carsyn Krassas, a Brainerd High School senior, is First Princess; and Sonja Palmer, a PLHS junior, is Miss Congeniality.

  • Pequot Lakes High School senior Mollie Pearson is crowned Miss Pequot Lakes. Senior Jackalyn Fox and junior Maya Orvis are crowned princesses, while Orvis is also named Miss Congeniality.

  • Pequot Lakes senior Megan Buffington places third in the state speech meet.

  • The Pequot Lakes High School Knowledge Bowl team of Megan Buffington, Logan Haberman, Will Hallbeck and Cole Trottier places 23rd in the state.

  • Longtime Nisswa resident Lee Seipp is named the 2021 Nisswa Citizen of the Year for her commitment to service in the city.

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Nikki Stark reacts in surprise upon learning Monday morning, May 10, in her Pequot Lakes High School classroom that she is the school district's 2021 Teacher of the Year.

MAY

  • Nikki Stark, a high school math teacher, is recognized as the Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year.

  • Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm resigns after eight years with the school district after accepting a superintendent position with Cook County.

  • Pequot Lakes aims to hold a first outdoor graduation ceremony on the football field for its 136 graduates.

JUNE

  • Pine River-Backus returns to its traditional indoor graduation ceremony with 57 graduates.

  • Sgt. Brian Sandell takes over as Breezy Point police chief with Kevin Merschman’s plans to retire in 2021.

  • Chloe Andrus is crowned Miss Pine River. Tiara Crannell will reign as First Princess and Miss Congeniality, and Mara Adams as Second Princess.

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Interim superintendent Kurt Stumpf joins the Pequot Lakes School District, with the intention to apply for the full-time position when possible. Here, he stands in front of the school Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

  • Kurt Stumpf, superintendent in the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District, is appointed interim Pequot Lakes superintendent.

  • Pine River City Council member Tammy Erickson (formerly Hansen) resigned her council seat after moving out of the city. Brent Norman was appointed to fill the position through 2024.

  • The Pequot Lakes girls golf team places fifth in the Class 2A state tournament.

  • Pine River-Backus golfer Hannah Barchus places sixth in the Class A state meet.

  • The Pequot Lakes boys and girls 4x800 relay teams each place fourth in the Class 1A state track and field championships. Dawson Ackerman, Isaak Geroy, Jesse Clausen and Ethan Johnson set a school record. Veronica Broskovetz, Carly Chaney, Lydia Hubbard and Calia Chaney make up the girls relay.

  • Breezy Point City Council member Mark Miller resigns his seat after being indicted for securities fraud in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

AUGUST

  • Fire danger is high and the Department of Natural Resources makes a rare move of banning campfires as the drought persists.

  • Former Breezy Point Mayor Tom Lillehei is appointed to the vacant city council seat.

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The race might be shorter, but the sidewalks on either side of the new Highway 84 bridge in Pine River, which opened Sept. 3, 2021, may be a prime location to drop ducks for the annual summer races. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

SEPTEMBER

  • The Highway 84 bridge in Pine River opens after being replaced.

  • Area schools open their doors to in-person learning and no mask mandates, except Nisswa Elementary School, where masks are required after a Brainerd School Board ruling.

  • A federal judge overturns the death penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who was sentenced nearly 15 years ago for kidnapping and killing Dru Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she was attending college.

  • The Minnesota Loons junior league hockey team plays its first game at Breezy Point Arena, replacing the Breezy Point North Stars and under a new ownership group.

  • A North American Tier III junior hockey team - the Minnesota Loons - debuts at Breezy Point Ice Arena under local ownership.

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Carl and Jerry Anderson display the plaques they received during the Oct. 4, 2021, Pine River Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award dinner at Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River. Contributed / Jerry Anderson

OCTOBER

  • The Pine River Chamber of Commerce recognizes brothers Carl and Jerry Anderson as the year’s Distinguished Service Award winners.

  • Pequot Lakes tennis player Megan Muller celebrates her 100th career victory as the Patriots mark a 24-0 regular season record.

  • Jerimey Flategraff is appointed to fill a Jenkins City Council vacancy through 2022.

  • Marjorie (Mody) Gardiner is remembered for her devotion to Pine River when she dies just days before her 100th birthday.

  • The Ideal Community Service Organization recognizes Ron Meyer as the 2021 Volunteer of the Year.

NOVEMBER

  • Breezy Point City Administrator/Clerk Patrick Wussow resigns his position after being with the city since 2018.

  • Pequot Lakes sophomore Calia Chaney finished third in the Class 2A state cross-country championships. The Pequot Lakes boys team places 13th at state.

  • Mike and Ruth Schwieters, owners of Boyd Lodge in Crosslake, are named the Resorters of the Year by the Community of Minnesota Resorts.

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Mike and Ruth Schwieters, owners of Boyd Lodge in Crosslake, were selected as the Resorters of the Year at the Community of Minnesota Resorts Fall Conference in Duluth, held Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2021 . Contributed / Community of Minnesota Resorts

DECEMBER

  • Melanie Lindquist, a French teacher, is named Pine River-Backus Teacher of the Year.

  • The lakes area receives more than a foot of snow the day after Christmas, followed by bitter cold temperatures.

Happy new year, and welcome 2022!
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

Related Topics: PINEANDLAKES ECHO JOURNAL
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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