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A sweet year to celebrate: 2017 full of feel-good happenings

Sophia Strand raised thousands for cancer research last summer by selling cup cakes in Frazee. Submitted Photo1 / 12
Logan Hilde of Detroit Lakes had two points in four games to help lead the Hurricanes to the Youth Sled B Division championship. Submitted photo2 / 12
Sophia Strand of Frazee sold dozens of cupcakes last year when she was a fourth grader to raise money for cancer research. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 12
Fly Time program director Mark Gloege helps Frazee Elementary student Atlas Dorman to roll across the foam cylinders that form one of several fun fitness activities designed especially for students with special behavioral, physical or mental needs. Vicki Gerdes / Tribune4 / 12
Camp Cherith recently had a little piece of history returned to their camp: a bell that was stolen from atop the mess hall some 35 years ago. Submitted Photo5 / 12
Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander presented Deputy Kayla Jones with a Lifesaver Award after rescuing an 11-year-old boy from drowning. (Submitted photo)6 / 12
The ribbon cutting and public tour of Detroit Lakes' new community solar garden drew a big crowd to the Terry Street. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)7 / 12
The staff of the MANNA Food Co-op includes (from left) Wendy Gordon, Trudi Goodspeed, Luke Pfeifer, Sarah Martinson and Katerina Barnard. The store at 805 Barbara Ave. opened early this fall. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)8 / 12
There were lots of smiling faces — both human and canine — as the inaugural Zorbaz Dog Run got underway at Peoples Park in Detroit Lakes on Labor Day morning. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)9 / 12
2017 Class AA state champions, L-R: Head Coach Kris Smith, McKenna Mallow, Lauren Tschider, Abby Schramel, Maddie Herzog, Shelby Busker, Anna Cihak, Assistant Coach Margery Smith. Robert Williams/Tribune10 / 12
This is the concept design for the Detroit Lakes Ice Palace that was created by local artist Hans Gilsdorf. (Drawing courtesy of Hans Gilsdorf/DL Ice Harvest Committee)11 / 12
Detroit Lakes captured a third consecutive state gymnastics championship at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Robert Williams/Tribune12 / 12

It's the new year, with new dreams, new goals, new projects, new everything. But before we write 2017 off as history, it's only right that we give this year it's due. Clearly, there are many fun-filled, good-hearted events that happen every year in Becker County, but here are some of the more unique "feel good" stories from 2017:

Frazee fourth grader fights cancer with cupcakes

Sophia Strand stole hearts around Becker County this year when the fourth grader at Frazee Elementary School started organizing a cupcake sale to raise money for cancer research. In first grade, Sophia found out her teacher had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she felt compelled to do something about it.

"I wanted to help," said Sophia.

She took to a stand at the city-wide garage sale in Frazee with a few dozen cupcakes and a handful of other baked goods in tow. After a morning and afternoon of hard work and slick salesmanship, she walked away having raised $300 for her teacher.

In her fourth year this year, she ordered up 90 dozen assorted cupcakes. In her goal to raise $3,000, she first raised $2,138 by pledging local businesses.

"I'm just proud of her," said Nicole Strand, Sophia's mother.

Her local 4-H group has also made the fundraiser their community pride project, and she also paired up with entities like Relay for Life and the Ronald McDonald House Charities to help.

Community rallies around ice palace plans

Detroit Lakes was prompted to go back to its roots this year when a local Ice Harvest Committee decided to proceed with its own plans for a smaller-scale ice palace right here in DL — as the centerpiece of the community's February celebration of all things winter, Polar Fest 2018.

"It's a huge opportunity for Detroit Lakes," says Ice Harvest Committee member Amy Stearns, referring to all the national media attention that will be focused on Minnesota in the coming months, as the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul prepare to host one of the world's largest sporting events, the National Football League's Super Bowl LII.

With the plans for DL's own ice palace and its attendant lake ice harvesting project now beginning to take shape, the community rallied to fun the project.

"We've had so many calls from people who want to support this project," Stearns added, noting that there was a surge of in-kind support in the form of donated equipment and materials as well as many hours of volunteer effort put into planning and implementation. Local artist Hans Gilsdorf is the lead designer on the ice palace project and will be working with 1,600 blocks of ice to create the estimated 24x60x30 foot structure, which will take place over two days, Jan. 11-12. The castle will be located down by the Pavilion.

It's Fly Time: Gymnastics program for kids with special needs expands into new schools

Kids climbing the wall on a rope, walking along a balance beam, jumping on a trampoline, or rolling along the top of a series of air-filled cylinders — it's all part of the fun at Fly Time inside the Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics facility in Detroit Lakes.

The program, which caters specifically to kids with special needs, has grown exponentially since its beginnings three years ago.

"Our first year, it was just one day a week, with kids from Detroit Lakes," says MFG executive director Kari Stattelman. "Now we're up to three days a week, with three area school districts... and we have a group of adults that comes over from the Becker County DAC (Developmental Achievement Center) as well."

Stattelman added that the program expanded this year to include the Frazee-Vergas and Lake Park-Audubon school districts, for the first time.

The program expanded to over 175 kids and are still looking towards further expansion in 2018.

Community rallies to send DL boy to National Hockey Festival

"It was an experience of a lifetime," Logan's father Jason Hilde said. Logan Hilde is the now 7th grader who, in April, helped the HOPE Inc. Junior sled hockey team capture first place in the Youth Sled B division at the 13th annual Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in San Jose, Ca. Fellow classmates were among those who rallied around the young athlete, who has cerebral palsy, as they helped fundraise to get Hilde family to the tournament. Logan had a goal and an assist in four tournament games, making his team, his family and his community back home proud as can be.

Boys & Girls Club receives coveted award

The Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes was the recipient of this year's Wellstone Legacy Award from the Minnesota School Counselors Association.

"To get this is an honor," said the club's executive director, Patrick Petermann. "They don't give this (award) every year. You have to meet stringent criteria to receive it. The last time it was received by a local organization was in 2009 — our very own Lakes Crisis & Resource Center."

This presentation was followed by presentations from Jocelyn Jiminez, the 2017 Youth of the Year for the Detroit Lakes Boys & Girls Club, who is a freshman at the Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center; club alumni Samantha Hanson, who was the recipient of the Youth of the Year award in both 2011 and 2014, and has gone on to seek her degree in social work, specializing in child welfare; and Cindy St. Claire, whose family has provided a home to over 50 foster kids from the area over the past eight years — which she said she couldn't do without the assistance of the Boys & Girls Club.

Detroit Lakes' first official Dog Park opens

Detroit Lakes' first-ever designated Dog Park opened in June at 1023 10th Ave. SE.

The four-acre park includes two fenced-in areas of roughly equal size, one for large canines (25 pounds and over) and one for smaller dogs.

"All of the sidewalks are in, and the fencing is complete," said Public Works Director Brad Green. "It's completely handicap accessible."

A waste disposal area has also been designated, with free plastic baggies available to use and dispose of on site. "We ask that owners put the used bags in the waste receptacle before they leave," Green said.

There is also a portable toilet available for human use, and a picnic shelter and park benches are already in place, courtesy of generous donations from local residents. Though the park is open to all dogs, whether they are official residents of Detroit Lakes or not, Green said that the city expects all dogs to be properly licensed and have their shots up to date.

The Graystone Hotel turns 100

One of Detroit Lakes' oldest and most iconic landmarks turned 100 in September.

The centennial celebration and public open house drew in people from the community, as well as distinguished speakers.

"Historic renovation is one of the most challenging — but also the most rewarding — forms of community development, and the Graystone Hotel is proof of that," says MMCDC President Kevin Shipley. Completed in 1917, the Graystone was billed as the city's first fireproof hotel.

Conveniently located across from the train depot, the Graystone offered the combination of city amenities and relatively easy access to outdoor recreation opportunities. The hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places, as are the red-brick buildings known as the Holmes Block.

Becker County deputy honored for saving 11-year-old boy from drowning

There must have been a higher power at work this past May when Becker County Sheriff's Deputy Kayla Jones happened to notice the predicament of 11-year-old Wyatt Simon, who had been out playing in Eilertson Lake, south of Audubon, when he suddenly found himself in over his head — literally.

"We were attending a birthday party, and some kids had been playing in the water," recalls Jones, "but most of them — including my own kids — had already gone back inside, where the party was. There is a point that goes out into the lake, about 200 yards from the house. I saw there were a couple of kids left playing down there... I'm not sure what prompted me to go down there, but then I heard Wyatt trying to call for help.

"I could barely hear him," Jones added — so she was fairly sure no one would have noticed the boy's distress if she hadn't gone down there to check on the kids.

The boy had apparently been walking out from shore when he stepped off a steep shelf, where he could no longer touch the lake's bottom.

When Jones went out there to try to help him, she discovered the same shelf on the lake bottom, and found that she couldn't touch bottom either, so she had to swim the rest of the way out to him.

"I was yelling back to the shore for somebody to get the boat," Jones said, "but no one could hear me at first, because of the party going on.

"I got out there and he (Wyatt) was floating, but struggling to keep his head above water," she added, "so I just started treading water and holding him up (so he could breathe), trying to keep him calm until the boat got there."

"I believe it was by the grace of god that I happened to be down there by the lake at just the right time to hear him."

Jones's bravery in helping to keep the young boy alive has earned her a Lifesaver Award from the Becker County Sheriff's Department.

Stolen mess hall bell returned to Camp Cherith after 35 years

In the fall of 1982 Camp Cherith, a local kids' summer camp north of Vergas, was winding down for the year as usual. But this time, something was different. When maintenance came to check on the buildings, they noticed an important piece was missing: the mess hall bell.

Camp directors tried to figure out what happened, who took it. But, finding no answers, the camp moved on. They returned to business as usual, and all but forgot about the old bell—that is, until a mysterious package arrived at the camp's gate this summer.

The package contained the bell, along with a note, written in green marker, that read, "This historic bell was removed from its resting place in the fall of 1982. In that time, it has resided as far east as Michigan, as far south as the Gulf Coast, and as far west as the Pacific Ocean. It is time it is returned to its rightful place to ring in a new generation of Camp Cherith campers."

"It's just a mystery!" said Becky Nelson, who served as executive camp director for 18 years.

Nelson was on the board of directors when the bell was taken. As for the old bell returning to "ring" in a new year of campers, it's in pretty tough shape to do so. The bell did return just in time for the camp's 70th anniversary celebration, held in October. "God sure has a sense of humor and timing," Nelson said.

DL's community solar garden is now open for business

Detroit Lakes' community solar garden officially went online in October, and the ribbon cutting for the event happend to bring with it a sunny day, showing locals what the instant production of energy output was for the solar garden. The on-site equipment included a digital display that was able to provide readings of its output "at any given second." At the time of the big day, two solar arrays on-site were providing energy for a total of 40 utilities customers and were open to more.

Though the current site has room for at least a couple more arrays — a total of between 60-80 panels — Roberts said those won't be added until the DLPU has signed up enough solar customers to make it financially feasible to do so. Mason noted that investing in the city's solar garden project is "an easy way to get into solar energy" — without going through the effort and expense of having an array installed on the roof of their home or garage.

Local food co-op opens after two years of work

It was just about two years ago that a group of local residents began making plans to establish a food co-op in Detroit Lakes that focused on locally grown food products — and now those plans have become reality.

"Our store is now open!" says Wendy Gordon, founder and board president of the MANNA Food Co-op. "We had our 'soft' opening Aug. 26, and the support of this community so far has been over the top fantastic."

Though MANNA has now reached its initial goal of 500 member-owners, Gordon said, "eventually we hope to have thousands of member-owners supporting our local farmers and vendors."

"We have producers of grass fed, organic beef, lamb, pork, chicken and bison who will all be here with grills to allow the community to taste our amazing local meats; local farmers who will be bringing their freshest produce, and there will be sampling of all our products both inside and outside the store."

Who let the dogs out? First-ever Zorbaz Dog Run a big hit with area's 4-legged denizens — and owners

It was quite a sight for a sunny, yet comfortably cool Labor Day morning in Detroit Lakes, as dogs of just about every shape, size, breed and description — big and brawny, short and stubby, sleekly graceful, adorably fluffy, excited pups and laid-back elder canines — were accompanied by their humans to the starting line of the inaugural Zorbaz Dog Run at Peoples Park.

"We had about 150 registrants, or dog-human teams, which means about 300 racers altogether," said event director Mark Knutson. "It was a great way to kick off Beardsley Marathon Week, on a beautiful, sunny day... and it was so much fun!"

The first human-dog pair to cross the finish line was Fargo resident Derek Johnson and his 4-legged companion, Nikki Newman — "my wife's a big fan of 'Young and the Restless,'" he said, explaining the dog's name — who completed the 1.5-mile run in just 5 minutes, 46 seconds.

Two Laker girls teams repeat as state champions

The Detroit Lakes Gymnastics team captured a third consecutive Minnesota Class A team championship in a record-breaking performance in late February at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. The Lakers began the meet on uneven parallel bars and set a new state scoring record on the apparatus with a cumulative team score of 38.150.

"There were little things here and there that could have gone better, but overall it was just fantastic," said senior Molly Lyngaas. "We came in and did what we needed to do."

The Lakers built on the strong start and cruised to a victory of more than two points with a new state team record score of 151.675, breaking the former mark of 150.4 set by Section 8A rivals Perham in 2005.

The Detroit Lakes girls golf team recorded their best team score of the season at the perfect time to erase a five-shot deficit to Lake City and win by four strokes for a fifth Minnesota Class AA state championship in the past six seasons at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan last June.

"It's so cool, your last time being a Laker, being able to accomplish winning a state championship, especially under the conditions we had this year," said senior Abby Schramel.

Those conditions revolved precisely on playing without five-time individual champion Kate Smith and making their own mark as a team.

"For me it was a must-have; I wanted to show everyone that we could do it without her," junior Maddie Herzog said. "My family and our team believed we could do it. It was something special."

The low four Lakers: Herzog and Shelby Busker (77s) and Schramel and Anna Cihak (79s) totaled 312, the best combined rounds of the season.