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Morris in 2008: What happened around here?

January 2008

• Because its mission has changed in the nearly 40 years since it was built, the Morris National Guard Armory's renovation began.

The armory needed more storage space and interior renovations to bring it up to code and make it a more inviting place for larger gatherings, such as weddings or community dinners.

The Morris Guard was an infantry unit when the armory opened. It's an artillery unit now, which entails caring for considerably more equipment.

"It used to be people and guns -- now it's artillery," Fuhrman said. "There's so much more we needed to lock up. We outgrew the building."

• Sergio Ismael Valdes was charged with five crimes, including first-degree attempted murder, second-degree attempted murder, first degree assault, second-degree assault and a weapons charge in connection with a shooting in Morris last summer that seriously injured an acquaintance of his. Valdes later pled guilty and was sentenced to almost eight years in prison.

Valdes, 18, faced the charges in connection with the early morning shooting of Reynaldo Sanchez Reyes, 21, at an apartment at about 1:20 a.m. on July 15, 2007. Valdes allegedly shot Reyes in the chest with a small-caliber weapon, then fled before law enforcement could apprehend him, the weapon allegedly used in the shooting, or get a description of the vehicle he fled in.

Valdes was arrested by Phoenix, Arizona, law enforcement during a traffic stop on Dec. 7, and he is facing weapons charges in Phoenix.

• Morris Area schools and the Morris Teachers Association reached a tentative two-year contract agreement that was later ratified and saved the district about $22,000. Morris Area School Board chairman Kurt Gartland and MTA lead negotiator Deb Swezey confirmed that the contract for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years calls for salary increases of 2.45 percent in 2007-2008 and a 2.2 percent increase for 2008-2009.

• Nancy Huot was presented the city's Human Rights Award last month during a council meeting, honored for her work in bringing to fruition La Tienda, a grocery and services store geared to the area's Hispanic community.

• Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in Morris briefly as part of her 2008 Main Street Tour of the state's 87 counties. Klobuchar embarked on what University of Minnesota, Morris Chancellor Jacquie Johnson called the "Green Energy Tour," then touched on a variety of subjects related to renewable energy and conservation during a talk with community members at UMM's Imholte Hall. In Morris, because of time constraints, the senator was limited to drive-by tours of the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab, the wind turbine at the West Central Research and Outreach Center and the biomass burner under construction at UMM.

• The Morris City Council approved appointments to the new commission. The commission will be comprised of landlords, renters and citizen members, and is expected to review disputes and legal issues related to rental housing. The council approved appointments: Landlords -- John Anderson, Dan Johnson and Henry Fulda; Tenants -- Cheryl Brevig, Noah Clark and Melissa Sherod. Citizen members -- Hilda Parks and Carol Wilcox. Steven Rudney, a landlord and the city's rental inspector, will serve on the commission as an ex-officio, non-voting member. Hill will work with the commission as an administrative assistant.

• The Chokio-Alberta High School was named to the 2008 "U.S. News & World Report" list of America's Best High Schools. Chokio was among the few schools singled out from among nearly 19,000 public high schools in the nation. For many years, "U.S. News & World Report" has compiled and published a list of the Best Colleges in America. This year is the first time the magazine has published a high school list.

• A 28-year-old Morris man was sentenced after pleading guilty to having sexual contact with a person under the age of 13. Gerald Lee Thorstad Jr. was sentenced to 144 months in prison. As part of the plea agreement, other charges against Thorstad were dismissed. Thorstad must serve at least two-thirds of that sentence -- 96 months -- in prison. Once out of prison, Thorstad will have 10 years of conditional release and will have to register as a sex offender.

February 2008

A former Morris priest charged with 20 counts of possessing pornographic images of children on computers was released on his own recognizance and will be evaluated at a Maryland institute. John Lloyd Caskey, 53, was charged in Stevens County District Court. Caskey was priest at Assumption Church in Morris and Associate Pastor in Chokio and Herman. He was officially installed Sept. 16, 2007. He left Assumption in December 2007.

• The Morris Agriculture Research Service is slated to be closed in the proposed budget President George Bush released. Known commonly as the Soils Lab, the Morris office employs seven scientists and 30 people in various support roles. ARS is the primary scientific research agency for the Department of Agriculture. ARS has more than 100 research stations and offices in the U.S. and abroad, and employs more than 8,100 scientists and support staff on a 2007 budget of $1.1 billion.

• Morris Area agriculture teacher Natasha Mortenson was among the semifinalists for Minnesota Teacher of the Year honor. A selection panel of 25 community leaders meeting in St. Paul chose the semifinalists from an initial field of 114 candidates from across the state.

• A new major degree program focusing on renewable energy is available for students who choose to attend the University of Minnesota, Morris. The new major in environmental studies will complement the renewable energy and sustainability initiatives that are already in place or in progress at UMM.

• Morris Area National Guards soldiers received notification that they are among a number of state units told to prepare for a "future, possible mobiliztion," according to the state Guard's spokesman. The National Guard announced that Guard units receive mobilization orders about two to three months before the unit is scheduled to leave for active duty. Typically, a Guard unit has between six and 18 months from the time it is notifiied of possible service until receiving mobilization orders. The 1-151st Field Artillery C Company -- Charlie Company -- trained at Fort Dix, N.J., in fall 2004 and served in Iraq from December 2004 until December 2005.

• Steven "Skip" Sherstad, a long-time Stevens County resident and public servant, died.

Sherstad, 53, died Feb. 20, 2007. Sherstad served on the Morris City Council from 1982 to 1989, and on the Stevens County Board of Commissioners from 1989 to 2004.

Sherstad was a Right of Way Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Willmar.

• North Dakota State forward Brett Winkelman was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America University Division men's basketball first team selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America

March 2008

• Morris Police Officer Anita Liebl was awarded the 2007 Police Officer of the Year for her continued commitment as the Morris Area School Resource Officer. Mark Anderson and Robert Ritzschke received the Citizens Valor Award for their bravery. In September 2007, Mark and Robert were traveling in a vehicle in Morris when they observed an individual with a rifle. It was apparent that the individual was preparing to harm himself, said Morris Chief of Police Jim Beauregard. "Robert and Mark, at great personal risk to themselves, intervened and were able to take the weapon away," Beauregard said.

• The City of Morris and property owners who appealed the city's special assessments in Stevens County District Court reached an out-of-court settlement. Paul and Zoe Bankord for the past year have protested publicly assessments for improvements on West 6th Street, which is where their Dormer Apartment Building is located. The council opted to take the advice of the City Attorney's office and City Manager Blaine Hill and reduced the Bankord's total assessment by more than half.

• Arnold Henjum, a Hoffman native and long-time University of Minnesota, Morris educator, died at West Wind Village in Morris. He was 82. The Henjum Creative Study Institute at UMM is named in his honor, and family, friends and colleagues will remember him as a big, athletic man whose desire to impart knowledge was as robust as his physical bearing.

• Andrew Zimmern's visit to Cyrus to taste the Cozy Cafe's lutefisk was featured on the host of the Travel Channel program, "Bizarre Foods." Zimmern was at the Cozy on Sept. 15, 2007, for his first taste of the Scandinavian fish dish and other Scandy foods. Zimmern and a production crew spent several hours in Cyrus filming at the Cozy Cafe.

• Morris Area High School sophomore Mary Hu claimed first place in the state Poetry Out Loud recitation competition. The Minnesota State Arts Board judges selected Hu for the top prize in the Poetry Out Loud: 2008 Minnesota State Competition at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Hu was among 12 finalists who competed at the state level. Another Morris Area student, Annika Kildegaard, placed second at the Minnesota Poetry Out Loud competition in 2007.

April 2008

• University of Minnesota, Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson was among three leading educators who described the way American colleges and their students are leading the fight against global climate change. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to highlight the importance of college and university research on clean energy and to spotlight the leadership of college students in fighting greenhouse gas pollution. Testifying, in addition to Chancellor Johnson, were Dr. Richard C. Levin, president of Yale University, and Dr. Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

• Although the Morris FIRST Robotics Team, the PLAID Pillagers, finished a disappointing 56 out of 60 at Milwaukee Regional Competition last month, team members have already begun their plans to improve next year. What's in store? Public robot demonstrations, year-round fundraising, and a more well-organized building process for their next robot. Twenty five students attended the regional competition in Milwaukee.

• Glen Menze, a Starbuck accountant and former farmer, announced he would try to knock off incumbent 7th District Congressman Collin Peterson in November.

• Morris Area students and volunteers collected more than 40 tons of electronic waste as community flocks to dispose of computer and television components.

• The Morris Senior Community Center celebrated its 20th anniversary.