Michelle's favorite things: A look back at 2013
There is something to be said about being a reporter for a community newspaper. Every year, I share the stories of others with our readers. At the same time, I have the honor to share in those experiences.
It’s something I don’t take lightly.
As I looked back at 2013, I realized that a couple of my favorite stories might seem a little weird. But at the heart of all of them are people. Good people. People who have, in different ways, been an inspiration to me.
A bull on the loose
There are certain advantages to being in a reporter in a community for the better part of 20 years. Take, for example, that night in August when a bull escaped from his pen at the Dakota County Fair.
I had been spending time with family that evening. Turned off the volume on my cell phone and everything. Probably a good thing I had that off, too, because when I looked at it later, my text message box was full of messages from friends who were at the rodeo that night. I went to Facebook, and found more messages.
Apparently a bull got loose during the rodeo. It was all over the television stations, of course. But I had the benefit of knowing people who were there, witnessing it firsthand. And I could share their stories.
It was a crazy situation, to be sure. The Dakota County Fair has held rodeos for years and years. It’s nothing new to this local fair, or any others around the state. My cousin was one of the bull riders that night. He’s been in the rodeo circuit for a decade, and he’d never seen anything like that happen before.
There was some debate, in the aftermath, about whether the Dakota County Sheriff’s deputies should have intervened or if they should have just le the rodeo pickup man do his job. Really, since there haven’t been a lot of bull escapes in the community’s history, it’s hard to say how it should have been handled.
The bull hit several people, one of whom had to be airlifted for her injuries. One of those people struck by the bull was a sheriff’s deputy, who tried to stop the animal by shooting at it. Deputy Matthew Regis did the best he could to keep the community safe. It might not have been effective, but that he was willing to put himself in harm’s way for the sake of others says a lot of his dedication and character.
In May, I received word of a project Farmington Sypal-Lundgren Post 7662 commander Ron Ersfeld was taking on. He wanted to buy U.S. flags for every light pole in downtown Farmington, from Rambling River Park to Highway 3.
Ersfeld’s goal was simple enough. Buy 72 flags at $55 apiece. It was a pretty hefty financial goal, so he reached out to the community and sought donations to help his project along. The community came through, with many organizations and businesses making contributions.
His reasoning was simple. Farmington used to have flags mounted on light poles years ago, but after a downtown streetscape project a few years back, those flags were lost. He just wanted to replace those flags.
The project was successful. On Memorial Day, U.S. flags lined Oak Street and flew proudly downtown. I love that Farmington can now have those flags posted. Ron’s project was a great contribution to the city, and I thank him for his commitment to his community and his country.
Citizens Valor Award
To share this next tale, I actually have to go back to a cool morning in November, 2012. That’s when I wound up at a house fire, and first heard about how this guy named Jason Rose rescued Arik Reger from the burning house.
They lived in the same neighborhood, but had never met. Rose had just poured himself a cup of coffee and looked out his front window. That’s when he saw the front of the house down the street engulfed in flames.
He kicked in the door, then entered the burning house to see if anyone was inside. He found Reger, who worked overnights, fast asleep in one of the bedrooms. Not only was Reger able to escape, but both of the pets inside the house were saved, as well.
After giving his statement to police, Rose left to go to work. He didn’t want any attention for his efforts. He even asked police to not release his name that morning. But in March, Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist did make a big deal out of Rose’s heroics. It was that night Lindquist gave Rose the Citizens Valor Award.
“It is my opinion that if Mr. Rose had not done that, we would have had a different outcome,” Lindquist said at a March city council meeting.
It was also the first time Rose and Reger met. To see Reger’s gratitude as he hugged Rose brought tears to my eyes.
I had the opportunity to talk to the two men after Lindquist gave the award. Rose’s actions that November morning were absolutely selfless, and I’m thankful I had the chance to meet this humble man.
“Every single bell and whistle thing said ‘this is the wrong thing to do. You’re kicking in somebody’s door,’” Rose said after that council meeting, “but I’m like, I have to do it.”
See what I mean?
The chicken ordinance
I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t bring up the chicken ordinance.
In this world of journalism, sometimes there are stories that are riveting and hard-hitting. And then other times, there are stories about chickens in residential neighborhoods.
Only, the chicken ordinance isn’t just one story. It’s a series of stories that unfolded over the course of more than two years.
Back in 2011, the Farmington City Council received a request to consider an ordinance to allow chickens to be raised in residential neighborhoods. The proposal took on the “chicken ordinance” nickname, but eventually, council members denied the proposal.
The ordinance came back for consideration last February, though, after several residents brought a request to the city council.
These weren’t just any residents, though. They were middle school and high school students who are in 4-H. The core group of four did their research. They made a presentation to the council, then attended every planning commission and council meeting and public hearing on the matter that followed.
Council members approved the chicken ordinance in March, with the stipulation that residents can only raise three chickens on their property in the first year. The original proposal had been six chickens, so the teens were both happy and disappointed with the outcome.
I enjoyed the chicken ordinance saga in 2011, but I really liked the outcome in 2013. I liked the ambition of those students who took advantage of their right to address their elected officials. I admire them for having the tenacity to attend all of those meetings, and to be willing to stand for questions.
They were respectful and well-composed. What’s more, in talking with them afterward, it turns out they got an educational experience out of the process, too.
If I had to choose one story for my absolute favorite, it would be the story of Dian Bloom.
I met Dian, a then-senior at Farmington High School, in early February. I was with the folks from Make-A-Wish Minnesota and Dian’s family when they surprised her with the news that she had been given a trip to Bora Bora.
Dian had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer — Angiosarcoma is the technical term — in May, 2012. She went through months of treatments for her cancer.
Dian was trying to lead as normal a life as she could, given that it was her senior year in high school. She was upbeat and determined. She got a little teary, certainly, when the Make-A-Wish folks told her she and her closest family and friends were going to Bora Bora for spring break, but that’s to be expected.
It was Dian’s spunk that struck me the most that day. She was completing her treatment a couple of weeks later, and had hoped to hear she was cancer free in March.
“I do have my days where it’s like, ‘This really sucks’ and I get down on myself, but I don’t keep up on it. It’s not going to change anything. If anything, it’s just going to make things worse,” she said when I met her.
I met up with Dian, her family and the Make-A-Wish folks again in March, at a send-off party for the Bora Bora-bound clan. Her results didn’t come back the way they had hoped — her doctors had found an area of concern — but she was still going to make the most out of her trip, and her time with her family and friends.
I haven’t seen Dian since her graduation last June. I don’t know how she’s doing now, but I hope she’s still got that fighting spirit.