My Father always stressed the importance of educating the next generation in the outdoors….so this Sunday’s lead feature is close to my heart! We meet a teacher who wants to get every elementary school student OUTdoors. This Sunday night, on KARE-11 NBC.
Kelly Jo McDonnell, and her production teammates recently won an Emmy for her “Boundary Waters at Risk” program which aired on KARE-11/NBC up in Minneapolis. They won for public/current/community affairs program.
Royal native receives 4th honor for television project
MINNEAPOLIS — Kelly Jo McDonnell, after growing up in the shadow of her Hall of Fame father Jim McDonnell in Royal, continues making a name for herself in the broadcast journalism world after recently winning an Emmy in November for her production work on “Minnesota Bound,” which airs on KARE-11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The award winning production piece, a Boundary Waters Mining special, won in the category of public/current/community affairs program.
“We called it ‘The Boundary Waters at Risk,’ and it highlighted the Minnesota mining quandary of Twin Metals wanting to mine copper right on the edge of the Boundary Waters,” she explained. “We covered both sides — can they mine safely, etc. Boy, did we find plenty of opinions … mainly up in Ely, Minnesota, where the whole debate is a pretty hot topic.
She added, “Our whole team got behind this one, led by host Bill Sherck, who loves the area up there, as well as founder Ron Schara, who had retired, but got involved with this show. It’s a topic close to our hearts, that goes without saying. (We film up there often) for the state of Minnesota, it’s a tough topic to beat as far as current community affairs go. But as media, and a television program, we still have to tell both sides … regardless if we’re an outdoor/nature program or not. You have to walk that line. I thought we walked it well — and the Emmy judges thought so, too.”
The honor marked McDonnell’s fourth Emmy. She won her first Emmy for best magazine show back in the 1990s. McDonnell won another with her fiance, Cy Dodson, for best topical documentary for “My Last Breath” in 2015, which was through his production company, Triumph Pictures. She also won in 2018 as producer for “Backroads with Ron & Raven,” which is a show on Fox. The company itself, has probably won over 30-plus Emmy’s over the years.
McDonnell has a B.A. in mass communications from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City — where she played basketball for four years; as well as an M.A. in communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
McDonnell is the operations director at Ron Schara Productions, a TV production house in Minneapolis, where she started in 1996.
“I got lucky,” said McDonnell, suggesting her father knew the right person.
Her first job right out of college was an on-air job as a DJ at KDWB/WDGY in Minneapolis, working the night shift.
“I was still super excited,” she said. “I had wanted to get right into TV, but Minneapolis can be a tough market to break into … so I bided my time.”
After working in radio for a few years, she worked in agency/public relations work for a year before getting her break.
“My dad called me to let me know he had ‘heard through the grapevine’ that Ron Schara was starting a TV show on NBC/KARE-11 in Minneapolis. Dad, being “The Fishing Professor,” had gotten to know Schara during his many years in the fishing industry.”
At the time, Schara was the full-time outdoors feature writer for Minneapolis Star Tribune, and like McDonnell, was wanting to break into TV.
“So I picked up the phone and called NBC, asked for Ron Schara, and he picked up the phone,” McDonnell said. “Just like that. I went in for an interview the next week, and started work the next. Been there ever since.”
She added, “I love the variety of it. Some days you’re out in the field filming wraps or stories, and other days you’re move into the nitty-gritty production of it; the logging of the video, the writing of the scripts, and wrangling of the reporter’s and their deadlines. I seem to do well with a lot of projects going at the same time. It appeals to both my creative side and my organized side.”
With COVID-19 numbers spiking in Minnesota, McDonnell and her co-workers have pulled back a bit on the filming.
“We still have to do some things, but it’s minimal,” she said. “So I’m hunkered down, mainly logging video, producing ahead on spring/summer stories, and writing ahead. All our events were cancelled in 2020, so I’m on hold with those, too — we’ll see what 2021 brings. We are currently producing and filming for nine or 10 network TV shows right now, ‘Minnesota Bound’ is just one of them. So our plate is still full.”
McDonnell has been a divorced, single mother since before her son Hayden went into kindergarten, so her work/life balance has been tricky on occasion. Hayden, now a senior, spent a great deal of time on the job with her.
“He jokes that he’s ‘grown up on the set’ of ‘Minnesota Bound,’ which isn’t far from the truth,” she said. “He was always with me when our company would do events, such as our TV booth at the Minnesota State Fair … he, literally, has been working that since he was in third grade. He grew up seeing his mother work, but also saw that I enjoyed my work — a lot of the time it was fun.”
McDonnell’s parents, Jim and Almeda, were with her often at company events to help with Hayden, who now a senior in high school, has shown an interest in going into communications. Schara himself wrote reference letters for Hayden while he was applying to colleges this past fall.
“I genuinely enjoy what I do,” McDonnell said. “It helps that I’ve been with the company for so long, and have helped build it up from the ground up. I’ve learned you have to stay curious, always be learning, and that will help you stay engaged.”
McDonnell points to her own upbringing for helping guide her. She grew up with and graduating alongside 22 students whom she still keeps in touch with.
“We still come back to just ‘hang’ in the area, we miss it,” McDonnell said.
Her mother moved to Minnesota after her father Jim passed away in 2012, breaking her last direct tie to the community.
“We have had such good memories in Royal, however, that my son and my brother’s kids love to visit Royal in the summer,” she said.
The trip now includes a stay in a hotel in Spencer which she referred to as “all part of the experience now.” McDonnell said the trip allows them to pay respects to her dad who is buried right outside of Royal. She said the entire family have an Okoboji vacation planned for summer 2021 and they come back annually for her father’s yearly Wild Game Dinner that the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club also puts on with them.
“When I go back to visit, I still know everyone,” she said. “Small towns don’t change a whole lot … and that makes you feel real solid. I’m grateful I had that experience. I loved growing up in Royal. There’s something about ‘small-town’ community, and I sure do miss it. I love Minneapolis … but Royal will always be ‘home.’ My father was a teacher/coach, so the school system and sports were a huge part of my life growing up. There’s a discipline to sports, so that helped with the work ethic, also.”
The announcement that Centennial students in grades K-12 will shift from the hybrid learning model to distance learning resulted, unsurprisingly, in conflicting emotions within the community.
The change is hard for Centennial parents and students, as well as the teachers.
Jessica Robinson, a Centennial English teacher since 1998 known as “JRob” to her students, said the reason teachers go into teaching is because of the kids. “Now they are further away from us than they were,” she said, “and it’s hard work to catch back up to them.”
Robinson explained that she and all her colleagues miss the young people in the actual classroom. Robinson has 147 students she teaches in her 9th and 12th grade classes.
Robinson said the staff has pulled together, but that everyone is experiencing some sort of anxiety. “All of our mental health is being affected by the pandemic,” she said. “It’s an added challenge. The kids are needing that one-on-one attention, but now that’s difficult to supply.”
Shane Rasmussen, a Centennial math teacher since 1993, is also working to adjust while maintaining the same positivity. “Connections are the foundation to good teaching; it’s the reason we all teach. And this learning model is challenging. It’s not just about teaching curriculum. Our teaching is much more than that. It’s being mindful of social and emotional needs.”
Centennial teachers have been prepping and pivoting full time since the pandemic hit. This latest change is another challenge, but one they are ready to meet. Resilience is the word of the year for 2020, and while the teachers are living it moment to moment, they say no one is more resilient than the students.
“It breaks my heart we’re not in the (high school) building,” said Rasmussen, “but I’m amazed at the positivity of the seniors. They are rolling with it. It makes us focus on things we can do something about. We can still do a lot, even though it might not look like how we want it to. We’re moving forward, and there’s hope ahead.”
There are a lot of moving parts in the school system to make this work. Robinson said she is grateful her subject can translate to online instruction easier than other topics. Yet, tasks that were once easy have become cumbersome. While Robinson can pull a PDF of a book they are studying online, there are certain things that are lost.
“When you look at the skills of reading, writing and communication, it’s now all online. Just to get a paper copy to students, logistically, has been a nightmare.”
And even though technology has been a huge player in 2020 education, it brings with it certain barriers for students and teachers. “The lack of nonverbal communication is a barrier,” said Robinson. “If the camera’s not on, it’s hard to create a culture of faith and community space via Google meet. It’s hard enough to do it in a classroom. It takes a long time for kids to share in the classroom, and you’re building relationships, students talking to each other. Building that culture has been more difficult.”
Another big challenge for teachers has been time. “Giving feedback, even chatting with a student is time consuming, and if you multiply that times 147 students,” said Robinson, “that’s 12 hours to assess a piece of writing that is short. I’ve tried to do videos, then save the video upload and email the kids in a message. It all takes time. People don’t understand how much time everything is taking.”
“It’s a long day for all of us,” said Rasmussen, “there’s no teacher that I know of that’s been working (from) 8 to 4. The biggest hurdle that goes along with technology is time. What I’m doing today, crafting individual learning modules, focusing on engagement, scaffolding those lessons together, that all takes time. A lot of time.”
Both teachers and Superintendent Brian Dietz noted that they don’t think education will return to where it was before the pandemic. “The pandemic has changed the way schools operate,” Dietz said.
But sometimes with change comes new inspiration. “Sometimes the knock against education is we don’t change with the times as quickly as we should. We get stuck in ruts,” said Rasmussen. “The pandemic has pushed us to really look at what we’ve been doing. Taking what was good — those connections — and combining that with technology and our creativity and our collaboration is really transforming how we’re going to teach for many years down the road. There’s no doubt in my mind this experience has made us stronger educators. We’re collaborating and sharing more than we ever have in the past. It’s pushed us as teachers, our curriculum and how we deliver that curriculum to students.”
Both Robinson and Rasmussen want to give kudos to parents, who are also struggling with the changes. “Navigating the challenges of being a teacher at home, that is nothing short of heroic,” said Rasmussen, “We’re all in this together, and we’re succeeding the best we can because of our community.
“I’m really proud of our students,” said Rasmussen. “They’ve lost prom, homecoming, graduations last year … I’m so thankful they are resilient. They are just taking and making the best out of a horrible situation. They are rolling with it.”
If there’s one word, besides COVID, that defines 2020, it’s uncertainty.
Though the COVID-19 storm is still brewing, life marches forward, including school and a student’s journey to college. Last year’s high-school seniors finished their school-year in a very different time due to the COVID pandemic, and the 2020/2021 seniors will be no different. But as colleges are shifting plans and expectations to weather the storm. Your student and your family can, too.
Angela Law and Heather Trettel, both School Counselor’s at Centennial High School, said seniors are coming in and still asking the general questions; how to apply, where, what major. “There’s no frame of reference,” explained Trettel, “they don’t understand yet. It’s going to be different. But it’ll be their experience. It’ll be super different than when you and I went to college.”
Law said for seniors to embrace the changes, but also know that some things are stable. “Things are changing every day, but there are constancies, too,” she said, “You can still apply online. You still have to look at admission requirements. A lot of school are test optional now and doing a wholistic approach.” Both counselors stress to take advantage of the virtual visits; the college rep that visit the school, and Naviance.com, a college and career readiness web-based portfolio. Centennial also has a full-time Career Center Specialist (Leslye Erzberger), who is there to help students every step of the way. They stress to remember deadlines. And by all means, fill out the FAFSA form – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Centennial Mother and Lino Lakes resident, Julie Lindgren Frank knows this three times over. Her triplets are all in their senior year and the family is learning together how to navigate applying for college’s during a pandemic, as well as finish up a hybrid-learning senior year. “We’re trying our best considering the state of life and three completely different lives,” she said, “All plans went out the window right at the time we were going to get serious in our (college) search. That unfortunately resulted in a few visits (sports related) to no visits due to restrictions.” Like a lot of families, she said they have been trying to embrace the virtual tours, but they’ve been tricky. “It’s been difficult to impossible to spark interest in virtual tours,” she said. “Best we’ve done with visits, outside of sports, is driving through some empty campuses to try and get a feel for the atmosphere,” said Frank.
Trettel agreed that virtual tours can be challenging. She said Naviance is trying to help with this, as well as college’s coming up with their own ideas. “I had a student who went down to see a school in Iowa, and she had a tour app on her phone, and was able to take her own tour,” she explained. “There’s nothing like being on the campus, and I would still tell kids, don’t commit as a student until you walk the campus, see what the community is like. Those things are super important. Even though it’s during COVID, they still have to live there.”
And how about the big question in a time of uncertainty – money. “Stay the course,” stresses David Purdy, Founder and CEO of Wealth Management Midwest in Forest Lake, MN., “This is called a ‘K shape” recovery, as opposed to a V. Part of the K is going down, industries such as food, restaurant, airlines, but you do have an upside,” he said. “Bike sales are up 81%. RV sales are up. Boats and motors, those sales are off the charts.” He said not all industries are suffering, but if your family had an income change, due to COVID or something else, be sure to inform the school when you’re researching financial aid options.
Purdy’s philosophy is to look at all the options with what works for your family at any given time. “If you’re needing the money within 36-46 months, don’t run the risk of putting it into the market”, he said, “rather, perhaps open a 529 while your child is still young, perhaps 9 or 10”.
Even if parents are behind the eight ball in timing, Purdy said not to panic. There are options out there and experts to help you along the way. “If you can do it, saving something for education makes a lot of sense,” he explains, “I don’t think that (idea) should be abandoned”. He and the Centennial counselors both agreed to do your due diligence on researching financial aid options that are a fit for your family.
Every student and their circumstance is different. Helping your student keep their eye on the big picture and stay organized, even during a pandemic, will help.
“We will continue the process,” said Frank, “And hopefully by decision time, pray there’s more certainty and clarity about the future.”
Published: Oct. 13th 2020-QUAD PRESS (clients: Dead End Hayride, Quad Press)
Life post-COVID may be full of uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean that 2020 can’t be full of fall celebration and Halloween frolicking. The show must go on, albeit, with precautions.
Jeremy Hastings, creator and owner of The Dead End Hayride in Wyoming, is grateful his business of boo has been able to pivot and adopt to the ever-changing landscape.
“When COVID started to pop up, we obviously didn’t know what was going to happen. But we were kind of hanging on to the fact that the State Fair never cancels, so we’ll just look to see what sort of measures and due diligence they put in place for the State Fair, and we will emulate that,” he explained. “And then when the announcement came that the State Fair was canceled, we’re like OK, we need to watch what the Renaissance Festival is going to do. When they canceled, we were like OK. We kept saying OK. OK. OK,” he laughed. “We (and) other pumpkin patches and corn mazes were going to have to write the playbook.”
As luck would have it, another out-of-state haunted venue volunteered to help. Hastings said a Salt Lake City haunted house opened for a “halfway to Halloween” event, complete with a 30-page COVID preparedness plan. They were able to open up and run their event successfully and safely for one weekend. Afterward, the venue offered their playbook plan up to others in the haunted house industry, complete with a list of what worked and what didn’t.
Armed with that information, Jeremy and his dedicated year-round team at The Dead End Hayride also paid close attention to theme parks across the country that were opening up and what measures those businesses were taking. Hastings, an eternal optimist, said there were times that he wasn’t 100% sure they were going to be able to have a Halloween season or not.
“It was a struggle against the virus, and a struggle against the unknown,” he said, “A week in COVID is like a year during any other normal time. In any business, we rely on consistency and being able to predict what the customer behavior is going to be. Just the uncertainty and not knowing what the future holds in the year 2020 is the hardest part.”
Some of the high-level changes that Hastings and his team started with was capacity. On average, they hosted several thousand people in a night, so they had to cut that by 50%. “We knew the biggest struggle was going to be social distancing people both on our hayride and in our queue lines, where people line up to go on the hayride,” he explained.
Hastings said it was time to get creative. They came up with a system of queue line pods: Members of a social group who came together stay in close proximity with one another but are distanced from other groups. The queue line holds 250 people, but all spaced apart. The Dead End Hayride opened Sept. 25, so they now have a couple of weekends under their belts; customers are responding very well with complying with masks and the queue pods, Hastings noted.
Another new detail in the season of COVID is there are no tickets available at the door. Tickets must be purchased online, and only a certain number of tickets will be sold per half-hour time slot. Hastings warned that time slots are filling out days in advance, so anyone waiting until last minute might not get the day of their choice. Hastings also dialed back his monster actors by 15%. “No one lost their job, we just didn’t hire as many seasonal staff as in the past,” he said.
All in all, Hastings is counting his haunted blessings. “I think people are really thankful to be out and about,” he said, “And with our reduced capacity, I think the show is better. I’ve always struggled with the really busy days in years past. The more people, the faster we have to send them through. Since we’re (at) 50% reduced capacity, it’s almost the perfect number of people, where the show itself is fantastic.”
(Previously Published in The Star Tribune-Midwest Traveler; Photographer: Cy Dodson)
Charm at its best in the little towns along Lake Superior’s National Lakeshore.
The 59th annual Bayfield Apple Festival did not happen in 2020 due to COVID concerns. This fall may look different for many communities and their events, but Bayfield still remains a “must-see” on your list of travel spots…when we all start visiting them again.
A tranquil community, Bayfield Wisconsin, sits along the south shore of Lake Superior. It’s the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Established in 1856, it has a population of 627. Normally.
In the fall, Bayfield hosts its yearly Apple Festival, and the crowds converge on the quaint little town, boosting its population by about 50,000. How does the little town, once known for its boom years of big lumber and commercial fishing, handle the boost in population? In one word: Charmingly.
Bayfield’s rich history is due to its changing assortment of visitors. Through the years, the rise and fall of the commercial fishing industry, lumbering, and the ever-changing settlers have given Bayfield its unique character. This character is evident as one walks the streets of the town, observing its friendly locals. If a more detailed history lesson is needed, Bayfield boats a Bayfield and Madeline Island Historical Museum, a Maritime Museum, and a walking tour that includes a variety of historical buildings. Many of Bayfield’s historical homes now operate and bed and breakfasts or inns.
If your lucky to find a B&B open in the town of Bayfield during the Apple Fest,…well done. Most visitors who didn’t make their reservations months before, may find space tight during this particular weekend. Make a note: there are numerous other charming towns on the way to Bayfield.
Siskiwit Bay Lodge (#715-742-3900 or www.siskiwitbaylodge.com) was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle over the apples. Located in the outskirts of a town called Cornucopia, it’s a truly unique getaway. It was built in 1997, and is a hand-fashioned replica of a turn of the century lakeside lodge. It has dark, impressive woodwork, and the furnishing and lighting create a very elegant, yet homey feel. Guests are treated to spacious rooms, and a wonderful breakfast in the morning. And in the evening, the Lodge boasts some of the best sunset views of Lake Superior (each of the guest rooms has its own private deck) Owners, Bruce and Sandy Von Riedel, love to share their love of Lake Superior with their guests. Both are tireless advocates of Lake Superior, and the Cornucopia and Bayfield area.
APPLES, APPLES AND MORE APPLES
On a tip from the Siskiwit hosts, the Star Route road was the transpiration of choice to visit the numerous apple farms. The Star Route stretches from Cornucopia, and ends right at the edge of Bayfield and is, by far, the most picturesque road to take if Fall “Leaf Peeping” is in order. During the Apple Fest, the leaves aren’t quite in peak color, although they were already in spectacular form this year.
Once you go several miles on the picturesque road, you’ll start to see some signs on the areas apple orchards. (the area has around 15-20 berry and apple orchards)
Blue Vista Farm (www.bluevistafarm.com) offered a one-of-a-kind look at the operations of a berry and apple farm. Upon arriving, one immediately is drawn to the 100-year old barn that over looks the break taking view of this orchard. In the barn is a little store offering homemade wares, such as jellies and jams, jewelry, baked apple pies, and of course…apples, apples and more apples. The store and the barn smell wonderful, and the reason is nearby. The farm’s owner, Eric Carlson, is running an Apple Cider Press. The 22-year old veteran, along with his Father (who was turning the press wheel for his son) explained proudly that the Apple Press was new this year, and was in perfect working order for the Apple Fest. “Take a sip”, he offered. The cider is unpasteurized, but perfectly fresh and light – the perfect refreshment to be sipping at an apple orchard.
Blue Haven’s perfectly manicured apple orchard is very well marked, and one can find numerous kinds of apples, including Liberty, Priscilla, and the Sweet 16. A cheerful apple picker, driving a John Deer full of crates of apples, whistled while he worked.
If Apple Wine is on your list, you can head down the road to the Hauser’s Superior View Farm and Winery outside of Bayfield (www.bayfieldwinery.com), which also boats an old barn (build in 1928), and a view that was made for a postcard. During Apple Fest, this Farm and Winery is jam packed, and there was barely walking-room only as folks browsed the barn store and took part in the apple wine tasting. But that didn’t seem to dampen spirits, as folks still lined up, wine crates in hand, to purchase homemade wines such as Schneewittchen, Blackberry Farm House Cider, Golden Pear, Cranberry Farm House Cider, and of course, Sweet Apple Wine.
BIKING & MADELINE ISLAND
As one might guess, although traffic usually isn’t a problem for this town, it jams up a bit during this particular weekend. Parking can be had on hilly, town streets, or you can get around easier on your bicycle. If the streets of Bayfield are a tad too crowded during the day, take the ferry to infamous Madeline Island for a little more secluded bike ride.
The Ferry schedule is consistent and on time, and drops off at the little village of LaPointe, Wisconsin. – (you can pay a little extra to bring your car along and your bikes). Big Bay State Park offered some scenic bike rides, as well as hiking paths and excellent camping sites. There are also several beaches in the area.
The little village has many little nooks and crannies to explore, including several restaurants, a wine bar, and art galleries. The locals will point you to a place called
“Tom’s Burned Down Café”, which offers food, drinks and merriment. Even though it’s basically a bar sitting out in the open with a canopy over the top, (it did indeed burn down) the locals and visitors alike swarm to its open chairs to warm themselves next to the outside stoves.
If your looking for a longer cruise-type ride, try the Apostle Island cruise service (www.aposteisland.com), which offers morning, and an evening Lighthouse cruise.
INTO THE LION’S DEN (OF APPLES)
While the entire surrounding area is involved in the hubbub, it’s downtown Bayfield that has official Apple Fest Festivities abound. Numerous vendors selling things from home made jewelry, to hand knitted scarves and mittens, to Lake Superior rocks that have been made into candles, and much more. Food and drink vendors seem to outnumber the actual craft tents, and busy themselves with their wares, including apple brats, caramel apples, hot apple donuts, hot sandwiches, and the old reliable – hot apple cider.
There’s also ongoing stage entertainment, fish boils, dances, rides and games for the kids, and pie contests. An evening Venetian Boat Parade and a Grand Parade featuring the Wisconsin Mass Band of over 500 members also join the fun on Sunday.
If you prefer to walk “off the beaten path”, there is plenty of street shops and antique stores to explore, as well as ghost walking tours as the Halloween season moves closer.
There are numerous places to pick from while in Bayfield, including the many Apple Fest concession stands that include Apple fritters, apple cider, and hot apple pie.
Locals (and visitors who are paying attention) swarm to a place called Greunke’s First Street Inn. (www.greunkesinn.com) The small restaurant was overflowing with breakfast customers, all seated around tidy, little tables with mis-matched table placemats The walls are covered with old, album covers and nostalgic coke and Orange Crush signs. And behind the check out counter was an antique shelf that was jammed full of receipts from top to bottom – the waitress at the counter commented some of them are years old. The locals recommend the “Fisherman’s’ Breakfast” – 2 eggs, sausage or bacon and American fries.
Bayfield, Wisconsin is around a 3-4 hour drive (211 miles). Most hop on 35 N and exit towards Taylors Falls and enter Wisconsin. Take US-63N the rest of the way. (Some like to pit stop in Duluth) There are several scenic routes that can be taken into Bayfield – check their website for the best routes during certain seasons.
EMMY nominations are out…and Ron Schara Productions is up for #7 of them! I am producer on #2 of them-(fingers crossed) SO proud to be a part of talented story-tellers! (virtual event this year, however- no dress shopping) https://midwestemmys.org/emmy-awards/emmy-nominees/