YIR Part 1: 2017 – the year the Sartell Center finally opened

Janelle Von PinnonFeatured News, News, Sartell – St. Stephen0 Comments

by Dennis Dalman


The year 2017 in Sartell could well be known as the year a Sartell Community Center was finally built and opened for residents.

For two decades – at least – residents and city officials had wanted a city center. At long last, revenue from the regional half-cent sales tax made the center a possibility. The $11-million facility in south Sartell opened to the public in late fall. It has three gyms, an elevated walking track, a senior center, a books and learning area, a kids’ play center, locker rooms, kitchen facilities and public-meeting rooms.

Other upbeat news from Sartell included the city and school board getting excellent marks from auditors about their handling of finances, more business and residential growth, and the start of construction on the new Sartell High School.

One concerning note at the end of the year was the possibility of a strike by 83 school-district employees who said they are frustrated by lack of progress in labor negotiations and what many of them consider nearly unlivable wages. They are still working under a contract signed in July 2016.

The following are just some of the highlights of the year as culled from the 50 issues of the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader during the past year.


An under-river gas line is installed 50 feet under the Mississippi River. The “tunnel” line will house the Xcel-gas line from a point on Benton Drive N. to directly across the river. The new line will replace a much older one on the “old bridge” near the River Boat Depot bar-restaurant.

Three Sartell residents win “Under 20” and “Under 40” awards in the 11th annual St. Cloud Times Media contest honoring achievers in central Minnesota. The honorees are Bryan Burns, president and CEO of the DeZurik valve plant, 17-year-old student Josh Maricle-Roberts and Kate Hanson, vice president of commercial brokerage for Granite City Real Estate, who now lives in Annandale but grew up in Sartell.

The city council lifts a moratorium on three parcels of property along the Mississippi River in Sartell at and near the former paper-mill site. The moratorium was imposed so a task force would have time to study past, current and possible future land uses for those parcels, now zoned “Heavy Industrial.”

Sartell’s oldest continuous resident, Rollie Weis, is honored for seven decades of service in the American Legion of Sartell. Weise, now 93, is a World War II veteran born in Clear Lake but raised in Sartell since boyhood. He served aboard a destroyer in the Pacific in the big war. An older brother, Phillip, was killed in Europe during the war against Nazi Germany.

Sartell seems to be in a “boom” period. The total valuation of permits issued by the city last year for projects was $57,266,554, far ahead of the total for previous years. In addition, the valuation for new single-family homes in 2016 totaled a healthy $20,217,00.

Mike Chisum and Ryan Fitzthum are welcomed to their first Sartell City Council meeting. Both newcomers won the November election for the two open seats on the council, seats formerly held by Steve Hennes and Amy Braig-Lindstrom.


Korean War veteran Duke Knafla of Sartell is honored by the American Legion for his many years of dedicated service to the organization. Knafla, who turned 83 in 2017, has been a member of the Legion for 70 years.

Sartell City Engineer Mike Nielson’s term as city engineer comes to a close. A member of WSB & Associates, Nielson advised the city, on a contract basis, for four years, attending scores of council meetings and consulting often with city staff. Another engineer, Jon Halter, assumes the position.

Michelle Meyer is chosen chair of the Sartell-St. Stephen School Board for 2017. Meyer has dedicated many years to duties on the school board and to school issues in general. (Toward the end of 2017, Meyer resigned from the board because she and her family are moving from the area for other opportunities.)

The Sartell Police Department had a very busy 2016, with 10,859 complaints received, an increase of 1,069 compared to 2015. The complaints had to do with every conceivable kind of problem: traffic accidents, domestic disputes, burglaries, medical calls, juvenile problems and many upbeat calls for which police officers helped residents with non-crime problems.

At a city-council meeting, it was reported the Sartell Fire Department answered 160 incident calls in 2016, fortunately none of them ending in tragedy. Many of the calls were false alarms – warning systems going off when they shouldn’t have.

St. Francis Xavier Elementary School celebrates Catholic Schools Week with guest speakers, fun games, prayers written by students and guest speakers.

Sartell student Rylee Molitor wins his 150th high-school wrestling match. He started his wrestling wins when he was in eighth grade as a 106-pounder. Molitor said he is happy about his 150th win, but that it has never been his big goal. His sight is set on more improvements and perhaps winning a state title.

Three students take top honors at Sartell-St. Stephen Middle School. They are Anthony Berndt, Jayke Peters and Nivanthi Wijetunga.

The Retired Firefighters organization in Sartell gives an artist’s print of a river view of the former historic Verso paper mill to the city council so it can be displayed at city hall.

The Sartell Sabre Dance Team wins third place in the Class AA Jazz division at the state tournament in Minneapolis. To top off that triumph, the next day the team went on to win the state championship for their high-kicks performance, which wowed not just judges but a wildly cheering audience.


The Sartell-St. Stephen School Board continues to fine-tune the budget for the new high school under construction. Voters previously approved spending $89.5 million for the new facility. The superintendent and the board, working together with the architect and construction officials, found five areas in which the budget could be trimmed, including the use of less-expensive building materials.

Sartell High School sophomore Cole Fibranz is only the second student in the school’s history to win the state wrestling championship. He won in the 220-pound division in St. Paul.

The Sabre boys’ swim team takes fourth place at the state swimming tournament at the Minneapolis Aquatics Center.

Sartell Middle School fifth-grader David Zhang, winner of the MathCounts contest, will go on to state competition. This is the third year Zhang proved himself to be a math prodigy by winning in the contest. He scored tops among 135 competitors in Plymouth.

Three Sartell Youth Hockey Association teams advance to state competition.

Local grocer and benefactor Daniel Coborn, a resident of Sartell, dies at the age of 86. His grandfather began the first Coborn’s store in 1912 in Sauk Rapids. Through three generations, the stores proliferated in central Minnesota and elsewhere, including the two in Sartell.

Two Sartell Boy Scout teams will compete in the VEX Robotics world competition in Louisville, Ken.

Karrie Fredrickson is named Sartell Teacher of the Year by her peers. She teaches leadership and personal-development classes at the high school. Fredrickson said, “I think kids today are awesome. I love them. They are very talented and insightful.”


The Sartell City Council approves a plan to landscape three roundabouts in the city at a total cost of up to $100,000. The vote was 3-1 (council member David Peterson not present), and council member Mike Chisum vigorously opposed the plan, saying it was far too expensive. Members of the public, later in the month, also speak out against the expenditure.

The city and school district will both chip in $100,000 in hopes of getting a $100,000 state recreation grant that could be used for ongoing improvements to Champion Field.

Sartell Middle School students Riley Hengel and Shea Stuckey win an essay contest sponsored by the Optimist Club of St. Cloud.

The Sartell High School Sabres baseball team gets the happy chance to play ball at the new US Bank stadium in Minneapolis. They and the Moorhead Spuds were the first high-school teams chosen to play this year at the stadium, and everyone involved thought it was an experience never to be forgotten.

Sartell High School art students Lucy Reitz, Tayler Kalthoff and Brenden Bellinger win awards for their art works in the High School Art Exhibition and Competition, with their works displayed in a prestigious show at the Paramount Center for the Arts.

The City of Sartell gets high praise from its auditor for keeping its efficient budgeting process during 2016. It’s the latest of many auditing reports that have praised the city for its good job of balancing its budget while providing services for a growing population.

Sartell is one of the river cities chosen as a site for the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener. The governor, his entourage and media are set to visit Sartell, as well as St. Cloud, where a big party is planned at Lake George.

Claude Dingmann Jr., a long-time Sartell-LeSauk firefighter, retires after 36 years of service. In that time, he answered 3,447 emergency calls and, remarkably, missed only 19 response calls only because he was away from Sartell or for other good reasons.

The city council nixes proposals to allow beekeeping in the city, as well as a request to allow short-term rentals in residents’ homes.

Participants have a fine time at the “International Community Festival” at Celebration Lutheran Church. Local people with varying cultural backgrounds and nationalities get together to share knowledge and foods of their native countries. The festival was organized to promote kindness, understanding and the vibrancy of a society made stronger by diverse cultural backgrounds.


Children from Pine Meadow Elementary School Kidstop participate in the Earth Day run at St. Cloud State University, joining more than 800 other students from central Minnesota for the event.

The ground is broken for the new Sartell High School site near Pinecone Road N. near Oak Ridge Elementary School. The school, expected to open for school year 2019, will cost about $90 million.

The Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader and 23 local businesses honor Sartell police officers in a double-page newspaper salute for National Police Week (May 14-20).

Emma Zenzen and Jaren Martin are crowned queen and king of the Sartell High School Prom.

The TARGET organization at Sartell High School once again launches its “cool-to-be-chemical-free” campaign. The students create posters and give talks to younger students to promote a chemical- and alcohol-free life. TARGET stands for Teens Achieving Recognizable Goals Through Education and Teamwork.

For the second consecutive year, the Sartell City Council voted 4-1 in late April not to allow beekeeping in the city limits. That decision brings disagreement from many residents, who express their displeasure in May.

Sartell artist Janice Courtney’s painting of cloud formations, called Luminous Light, is one of the artworks chosen by the National Weather Service for an exhibition of weather-related art works. It was one of 560 entries in the contest.

Some Sartell High School seniors tackle a difficult debate topic – physician-assisted suicide. The students are part of a college speech class the students are taking via Southwest Minnesota State University under the leadership of Sartell English teacher Lisa Wilson. The audience, when asked which side won the debate, seemed to call it a tie.

Two neighbor women, Laurie Bloom and Ann Popp, finally succeed in getting a “Quiet Zone” designation for the railroad track next to Benton Drive N. by Sartell. With help from others, the women spearheaded the effort back in 2015 after train whistles would often annoy neighbors, including waking many of them up from sleep. Their efforts involved support from the railroad, city councils and township officials, among others.


At the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Veterans Park, Mike Mills of Freeport gives a talk about how veterans can have two types of wounds – the visible ones and the invisible ones. Mills, a U.S. Army veteran, was severely injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He suffered burns that left him scarred, as well as mental and emotional anguish. Support from others, including family, helped him deal with the heavy load.

Sartell High School student Karen Radi is named Big Sister of the Year by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. She has been a “Big Sister” to “Little Sister” Dakota for more than two years.

A benefit by the Sartell Lions for resident Kelly Orndorff is a big success at the Blue Line Sports Bar & Grill. Right after graduating from college, Orndorff was diagnosed with a virulent brain tumor that had to be removed. During the long and delicate process, she lost her sight. The benefit, dubbed “Never Lose Sight” was not just a fundraiser but also an awareness and education session for those who attended. Orndorff and her family called the event and the generous kindness of people “truly amazing.”

Generous donations from businesses and individuals start coming in for the Sartell Community Center under construction. Among the gifts are $100,000 from Sartell resident George Torrey, $20,000 from BankVista and a book-raising project by the LeSauk Lions Club and the Senior Connection, as well as other contributions.

Despite scorchingly hot weather, the annual Sartell SummerFest attracts thousands of people to Sartell who enjoy the parade, family activities, a street dance, fireworks and other fun things.

Violet Halverson, at age 92, brings home the “gold” from the National Shuffleboard Competition in Birmingham, Ala. “Oh, I loved it,” she said after arriving back home. “But it took me a couple days to recover. I was a bit achy in the joints.”

The Sartell-St. Stephen School District Activities Director John Ross, after many years in his position, announces he will step down to take on the role of associate activities and management of the middle school’s activities program.

(To read any of the above stories in their entirety, visit thenewsleaders.com and search for your favorite stories.)

photo by Dennis Dalman
Morgan Crusoe of Sartell (left) is assisted in building her birdhouse by Bev Supan, a member of the St. Stephen Sportsmen’s Club. Behind Morgan is her mother, Sara Crusoe.

contributed photo
In a recent match at 126 pounds, Rylee Molitor throws and nearly pins Alex Kern of St. Cloud Tech who is currently ranked 4th in the state at 120 pounds. Molitor went on to win the match 11-0.

photo courtesy Sabres Facebook page
The Sartell Sabres perform their championship performance of “Circle of Life” from the Disney movie “The Lion King.” Dressed as African woman warriors, the team had to learn all kinds of new choreography for the dance number, which led them to the Class AA state championship last Saturday at Minneapolis Target Center.

art work from City of Sartell website
This is an artist’s conception of how the Sartell Community Center will look on a summertime day.

contributed photo
Sartell Sabre baseball pitcher Brandon Kramer (front) prepares to throw the ball, while second baseman Jordan Och watches during a scrimmage against the Moorhead Spuds at the U.S. Bank Stadium on April 4.


photo by Carolyn Bertsch
Bill Vankoevering and his daughter Erin Vankoevering thrill the audience with a belly bump. Erin is a senior this year and has danced with the Sartell Community Education Danceline for 15 years. In the background from left to right, Dana Justin, Kent Gehrke and his daughter Alyssa Gehrke, and Randy Somadlen and his daughter Samantha Somadlen get ready to perform in the dad-and-daughter danceline during the Sartell Community Education Dance Show which took place at the Sartell High School on April 22.

photo by Jenny McDermond
Even superheros need candy at the Sartell Summerfest parade on June 10. Henry Jenner, 16 months, and his parents Christina and Kevin Jenner, Sartell, watch the 25th annual parade.







photo by Angie Heckman
Prom king and queen, seniors- Jaren Martin and Emma Zenzen at Sartell Prom on May 13.

Author: Janelle Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.

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