Our favorite stories: Nathan HansenWe cover a lot of stories over the course of a year, but there are always a few that stick out. These are some of editor Nathan Hansen's favorites from 2011.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
A surprise story
One of my favorite things about my story on Koo Koo Kanga Roo, the band formed by Farmington High School graduate Neil Olstad and one of his friends, is the way it came about.
I wasn’t working when I learned about the band. I just wanted to see a concert. Olstad’s band happened to be the opening act, but I didn’t know that until his mom tapped me on the shoulder a couple of minutes after I arrived.
There were plenty of other things to love about the story, of course. Like the enthusiasm Olstad has for a project he hopes can grow into something big. Or the crazy energy of the band’s live shows. Or the fact the band plays the exact same show for audiences of children as it does for adults and gets largely the same reactions.
Olstad hopes Koo Koo Kanga Roo can ultimately grow into a children’s television program along the lines of Yo Gabba Gabba, a production with which he has some experience, after touring some with its live show over the summer.
It’s hard to capture a Koo Koo Kanga Roo story in writing. Writing about grown men bouncing around on stage and singing songs about friendship bracelets makes the whole exercise sound kind of silly. And it is silly, but when you see the show, and you see the audience bouncing right along with them you realize it’s silly in a pretty wonderful way.
And while I’ll admit I didn’t do a lot of singing along with Olstad the night I discovered his band, I hope the project turns into everything he hopes it can.
A love story
I wasn’t sure what to think about Tony Schneider the first time I met him. I think he was helping move furniture at the shop that was next door to our office at the time, and he came in wearing overalls and no shirt. But he had a story to tell, and it was a good one.
Schneider talked about his wife, Tamara, who had died not long before of cancer. He talked about a woman who, even as she grew weak, even as the cancer in her jaw made it impossible for her to open her mouth more than a fraction, continued to think of others.
Tamra Schneider made gifts baskets for other people who were dealing with cancer. She would do anything she could to help another person, including leaving a meal at a Farmington restaurant and going to buy two gift cards for the waitress who was worried about providing Christmas gifts for her children.
Lisa Endres was one of the people Tamara Schneider helped. Endres talked about her friend during the opening ceremony of Farmington’s Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
It was clear as he talked that Schneider had loved his wife a great deal, and that he was having a hard time adjusting to life without her. Getting to peek into a stranger’s life like that isn’t always easy, but it can be one of the unique perks of doing this job.
That’s why Schneider’s story was one of my favorites of 2011.
Farmington’s pancake man
I never actually met Rex Pettis, but I’ve heard his name plenty in the years I’ve worked in Farmington. If you paid much attention to activities around Farmington over the past few decades, it would be hard not to.
For years, Pettis has been Farmington’s go-to guy for pancakes. If you needed someone to throw a pancake breakfast fundraiser for you, Pettis was the man to talk to. He started the tradition with the Boy Scouts in 1952, but it wasn’t long before he was helping out anyone who needed pancakes in bulk. He built his own griddles out of half-inch boilerplate, and he continued to haul them out even after he was no longer able to drive himself to and from the breakfasts.
Petis cooked pancakes for Farmington Lutheran Church, for Dakota City Heritage Village and for Farmington High School, among others.
“It was a community thing,” said Steve Krech, who was Scout under Pettis and is currently a Scout leader himself.
My own Scouting career didn’t last much beyond my first pineweood derby as a Cub Scout, but it’s obvious Pettis made an impact on the people around him. That much becomes clear when you talk to someone like Krech, who was one of the people who continued to drive Pettis to his breakfasts.
“He was just a very likeable guy,” Krech said after Pettis died in July at the age of 93. “He was one of the best.”
A fair tradition
One of the nice things about this job is it gives you an excuse to be nosy, even if it takes a while to get around to asking the questions that are on your mind.
I’ve been to the Dakota County Fair every year since I started working in Farmngton in 1997, and every year I went out there saw the Trinity Lutheran Church food stand. It was one of the few permanent buildings at the fair not dedicated to housing animals, but until 2011 I’d never actually been inside.
That’s too bad, because the Trinity stand has a good story. Started in 1958 in a much humbler setup, it’s been serving burgers, hot dogs and the church’s popular roast beef sandwiches ever since. It’s also provided fairgoers a place to sit down out of the hot summer sun, all while raising money for the church.
Making the stand happen is a monumental challenge for the church. Planning starts in January, and in the weeks before the fair organizers filled dozens of foam-board schedules. Some of the volunteers have been working the stand for decades, and in some families it’s a tradition that spans generations.
It took me a while, but I’m glad I finally got a chance to step inside the building, and even happier I got to peek inside the story.
An old-fashioned shootout
This job also gives me an opportunity to learn about things I might otherwise never have explored, and in some cases might not have known existed.
Take, for example, a hobby called cowboy action shooting. I was introduced to it in 2011 thanks to an session held at the Dakota County Gun Club.
Cowboy action shooting, it turns out, is a cross between shooting sports and historical reenactment. Think Civil War reenactment, but with live ammunition.
Participants dress up as cowboys and use period-appropriate weapons – in some case originals that are more than 100 years old – to compete in a series of events that put participants as much as possible in the boots of a cowboy.
Some people get really into the activity, taking on cowboy personae. Leroy VanBrunt, who served as my guide into the world of cowboy action shooting, said there are some participants in the event who he knows only by their cowboy names.
The last time I fired a weapon I was a kid shooting at discarded jack-o-lanterns from the deck of our house. I don’t have a lot of interest in participating in cowboy action shooting. But it sure was fun learning about it.