In Emmet County, 2021 was a year of coming back to a new normal. While the first half of the year saw continued event cancelations and restrictions due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, once the vaccines became increasingly available, restrictions lifted and gatherings returned to normal.
This year for the top 10 stories of 2021, we found there were too many important things that happened to narrow them down. Instead, we came up with 10 categories and decided on multiple events and stories within those categories. Enjoy this review of our coverage, and we’ll see you in 2022.
Those who moved on:
Dick Beaver: Estherville’s Fire Chief is retiring. In Beaver’s time, the volunteer fire department gained new trucks, new specialties among its members, new capabilities and new challenges.
Mitch Eveleth: After over 25 years as electric superintendent, Eveleth took a step back to enjoy a slower pace of life.
Roy Gage: the owner of the eponymous mechanic shop turned the keys and engines over to his son, Alan Gage. However, his popular and folksy stories will continue in the Estherville News.
Gene Haukoos: Haukoos left a legacy on city council and as director of Estherville Ambulance.
Roger and Barbara Jacobson: the Jacobsons retired and sold the KILR radio station.
Lili Jensen : The longtime school librarian thanked her mentors and the students for making her job one to love. Jensen retired after decades of service to the schools in a time when the way we gather information and learn from it has changed drastically.
Joseph May: May served one term as Estherville mayor. In that time, his letters and video addresses to the city grew in popularity and seemed to draw the community closer. May, who also left a vacancy as Director of Missions at Avera Holy Family Hospital, moved with his family to Virginia to accept a new position and live closer to extended family.
Gary Phillips: known as the tree czar, Phillips’ years on the Parks & Rec board saw him transform the way the city plants and replaces trees, build relationships between his students at Iowa Lakes Community College and real conservation projects in the city, and lend an instrumental voice to trails projects and the new pool. Phillips retired in the summer of 2021.
The Old Pool: After 90 years of service, with the major structures overhauled in 1962, the Estherville Pool on the west side of town was demolished, and a new ninja park and sand feature coming in, as well as future renovations to the pool house to create an enclosed shelter and an open air shelter.
Father Merlin Schrad: After a life in the priesthood, the last seven years in Estherville, Father Schrad returned to his hometown to spend more time with family, especially his mother.
In with the new:
Travis Sheridan puts on a new, bright red hat as he adds Estherville Fire Chief to his responsibilities as Emergency Management Director.
Matt & Jessica Beaver: the Beavers purchased KILR Radio from Roger and Barbara Jacobson.
Randy Feenstra: after defeating Rep. Steve King in primary, Feenstra started as congressman for the Fourth District of Iowa on Jan. 6, 2021.
Henry Stone: Henry Stone of Forest City became state representative, filling the vacancy left by Tedd Gassman.
The Estherville Police Department welcomed Pepper, a Belgian Shepherd, to the force. Pepper showed her skills soon after arriving in Estherville when she helped find a child lost in a field in Ringsted. Pepper completed her certifications and continues her duties with the assistance of her human partner, Sgt. Matt Reineke.
Father Paul Kelly: Father Kelly has served the Spanish-speaking parish at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church since 2018. In July, he began as full time pastor for St. Patrick’s in Estherville and St. Mary’s in Armstrong.
Shannon Landauer and Tom Nelson joined the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation as President and Vice President of Business Development, respectively. Landauer came from Carroll, Iowa, and Nelson from Jackson, Minn., in similar roles. Nelson said he’ll have a presence in Estherville at Studio 12.
Andy Spurgin: Pharmacist Andy Spurgin opened Estherville Pharmacy in what was the Godfather’s building. He brought in some new and some familiar staff members, innovated processes based on patient needs, and cooperated in numerous community initiatives for COVID testing and immunization. Spurgin was named Entrepreneur of the Year in November by the Iowa Lakes Corridor.
Jerry and Becky Wiseman, Kris and Jay Grabinoski: June 1, the Estherville News once again enjoyed local ownership as the Wisemans and the Grabinoskis bought the newspaper and went right to work making it bigger.
National Guard members come home: Unlike the sendoff of a large group of Estherville members of the Iowa National Guard in August, 2020, locals who served were sent home in smaller groups, returned to various locations around Iowa on different days, and experienced different homecomings. Sgt. Mat Hollinrake returned in April, 2021, and the community came out for a homecoming. Mrs. Keri Hollinrake and their children picked him up in LeMars and drove him to Estherville for a welcome home parade.
Sgt. Eric Schmidt of Wallingford returned with a group from the 194th Field Artillery into Fort Dodge Airport July 31. After a ceremony, Schmidt reunited with his wife, Tayler, and daughters Leah and Marci. Schmidt met Marci for the very first time that day.
Student wins in music, speech, art, dance, academics and more are too numerous to name here. Highlights include Grace Johnson and Saige Hengeveld taking their comic duo “Words” to All-State, X, Y, Z, P, D, Q from the dance team also going to All State, and the ELC National Honor Society continuing to grow.
Estherville United Methodist Church installed its new organ thanks to a couple of long, long time members who wish to remain anonymous.
The Emmet County Fair won a prize for a new facelift. Soon it will be more expedient to get homestyle grub at the Snack Shack, a staple of the fairgrounds.
Tony Condon II soared to great heights with his aviation…
And Clayton “Bubba” Grieg made bull riding look easy with his win in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association Permit Challenge in Las Vegas on Dec. 2, making him the 2021 Permit Member of the Year.
Marlene Walthart was awarded a Touchstone Award worth $5,000 to care for animals at Emmet County Animal Shelter.
Emmet County resident Joseph Gries is still missing. In June, Gries’ former wife and mother of his children filed a petition to have him declared deceased. As of press time, no court decision had been entered.
Elizabeth Lausen of rural Estherville was featured for her equestrian skills and static exhibits ahead of the Emmet County Fair with an uncertain future for her horse, Jax. Jax sadly succumbed to his injuries, but Elizabeth rode her pony, Gigi in the timed events.
Sweet Corn Days came back after being cancelled in 2020, but hot, dry weather made the river too low for the annual float event, and cancelled numerous other kayak and canoe adventures.
Among the unexpected and sad losses of other local residents, the loss of three young men in the community made an impact: Sam Woolery, 25, died in a vehicle-motorcycle accident in April, James Woodyard, 16, died in a one-car accident in June, and David McDowell, 20, was killed in October.
Winter gave way for a while March 11 as a family led their little dogs along the trail at Spurgin Park. The mild weather didn’t hold out, but by mid-April spring was in the air.
For once, little ones hoping for treats at the city’s Easter Egg Hunt didn’t have to don snowsuits and mittens. The Easter Bunny was popular during a day in the sun.
Estherville Lincoln Central high school Prom was held in the Lakes for better social distancing. Seniors like Ethan Masters, accompanied by sophomore Saige Hengeveld, took the cold in stride during an outdoor Grand March and class photos. Later, dinner, dancing and games went to 1 a.m. before revelers headed home.
The Estherville High School & Junior High Rodeo was back with a touching grand entrance, and back-to-back events to boot.
The HUG Puppets from the United Methodist Church were back in action, too. Ariana Manwarren and Marcus Finn were part of the team entertaining with puppets through the spring and summer.
It got hot, and kids of all ages enjoyed the Splashpad located outside the RWC. By next summer, the Splashpad will be partnered with the new pool.
The Thoreson Park playground saw heavy use on regular summer days and during events.
The Estherville Flight Breakfast was back and better than ever on the Fourth of July.
Dalton Lutat made good time and earned high marks for handling at the timed events for the Emmet County Fair.
Kate Van Cleave found freedom from cancer and showed great equestrian skills during the timed events at the Emmet County Fair.
The 12 Mile Lakers 4-H Club took part in a new fall activity. 4-H Clubs decorated and dressed hay bales in Library Square.
While Estherville’s service clubs and law enforcement kept the kids’ Halloween Parties quiet this year, trick or treaters came out in droves, celebrating a mild night. As a bonus, Halloween was on a Sunday.
Changes and Progress
The new municipal pool was dedicated as ground broke in April. Through the summer, Sande Construction has dug, filled, framed and built the new pool. As of this month, the project manager, Gary Streit, said the pool will be ready for the first splash Memorial Day weekend, 2022. The city is looking for a pool manager and lifeguards to work this summer.
USDA/Farm Services Agency building: In June of 2020, the USDA filed a notice of intent to lease or purchase a new building for its Estherville operation. The new building in East Estherville next to the credit union includes a shared reception area, and virtual capabilities in its high-tech conference room as well as workstations for field agents to complete work then return to their remote locations.
Apartments: Eagle Apartments is readying for its first tenants to move in as early as March 2021. The new, 64-unit apartment complex is located in what once was Sunderland Field at the old Estherville High School.
Iowa Lakes Aviation: Eighteen students seeking hours toward their pilot licenses were sent to Iowa Lakes Community College for training this summer. From volunteering at the Flight Breakfast to other activities in the community, they made an impression during their short stay in Estherville.
Water trails dedication: The West Fork of the Des Moines River could be part of the first ever interstate water trail. June 23, local officials and community members met at the Swinging Bridge to dedicate the water trail. After a process that took about 15 years, the water trail designation means the community is now eligible for grants to improve the recreational experience and conservation on the river.
Williams & Co.: Danny Dekker of Williams & Co. told the Estherville News the new addition on the accounting firm’s building includes a conference room, storage room and expanded break room, plus a net gain of three new offices. Christensen Construction also added a new entrance portico that raised the profile of the building and added room in the reception area.
Mystic Arts Tattoo/M’s Salon: The first floor of the 700 building started to buzz with the addition of Mystic Arts Tattoo, the creation of Alyshea Pettyjohn, and Morgan Soper’s M’s Salon. Pettyjohn is already booked months out for tattoos, and brought in an apprentice who is taking appointments for plain and basic color ink. Soper offers a host of self-care services she’s honed through years of experience working in local salons.
J&S Custom: Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg marveled at the construction in the former Estherville city hall and fire station on South 6th Street where Shannon Edwards led a tour of the future display garage on the first floor, and the Edwards’ residence on the second floor. The display garage’s large windows will show off the finished products from J&S Custom’s shop.
Redwood Farms addition: Redwood Farms added freezer and warehouse space to its meat processing facility.
GKN/moovero: GKN has a new name as its parent company sold to moovero.
Estherville Communications: Two northwest Iowa companies came together to provide high speed broadband to downtown Estherville, with an offer to expand to residential areas if community demand fit the need.
Emmet County emergency trailer: Emergency Management Director Travis Sheridan presented a completed emergency trailer in September. The mobile command center will allow the coordination of multiple law enforcement and rescue departments in an emergency, as well as temporary shelter and a place to feed, hydrate and update officials and volunteers.
Montandon towing: Justin and Zach Montandon saw a need in the winter storm of 2020 and started their towing company and mechanic shop by simply doing it.
Heyl Trucking: Holiday Trucking was purchased by Heyl of Sioux Center.
Good Samaritan Society renovations: Good Samaritan Society has overhauled its rooms and corridors wing by wing, creating a more modern feel and more single rooms to meet the demand.
Central Kut Salon: Yesenia Blanco opened the first bilingual hair and nail salon in Estherville, in the Central Ave. Mini Mall. Also offers salon-quality products for sale.
Bomgaars move: The Estherville Bomgaars store moved from the former Pamida building a few hundred yards west to what was the Shopko building on east Central Ave.
Estherville Golf Course: Trace and Lesli Iverson have fun covered all year between owning the bowling alley and purchasing the Estherville Golf Course. The Iversons held events, added to the golf course menu, and updated the inside of the clubhouse.
Jamie and Katniss Watt rollerskating: Jamie Watt practiced the physics of balancing on rollerskates with her daughter, Katniss, 8, in Library Square on a hot summer day.
Middle school kids lemonade/pop stand: Four middle school students in Estherville found a way to be enterprising on the long Labor Day weekend by opening a lemonade and pop stand on the well-traveled area of North 13th Street.
Various fun/surprise photos
Dr. Cory Hoyer and Michelle Hoyer celebrated 20 years of chiropractic care at their clinic in Estherville.
Warrior Ruck March – The Warrior Ruck March moved its starting and ending point to the National Guard Armory. This year’s march attracted new participants, and provided needed energy and funds for the American Legion.
Vaccine comes to Emmet County- Emmet County Public Health, along with Estherville Pharmacy and Hy-Vee Pharmacy, rolled out the COVID-19 vaccines to residents as they became eligible by age or health status.
U.S. Census – fewer Emmet County residents, but hope is on the way. Emmet County dipped below 10,000 residents according to the 2020 Census figures released in September, 2021. The county had a net gain of 125 residents who identify as Hispanic/Latino, and the median age of county residents is beginning to skew younger.
Excel Arts & Culture gnomes in Library Square – Just as March, 2021 came in like a lion, a snow gnome appeared in Library Square, looking out to Central Ave. Temperatures quickly climbed to the level of lamb, causing the gnome to start sweating. Nevertheless, various snow creatures popped up in the Square, and on a night that returned to frigid, Estherville Arts & Culture gave out Estherville Bucks prizes. Participants stayed warm with hot cocoa and homemade sugar cookies from Eventful Sweets.
Rodeo – after canceling in 2020, the Estherville Rodeo was back, drawing junior high and high school aged competitors from around Iowa and the Midwest.
Free breakfast starts- the Outreach committee of Grandview Baptist Church started a free breakfast in the park once per month. Moving between Thoreson and Spurgin parks, organizer Brett Fuelberth said the spread of eggs, sausage, pancakes, juice, milk and coffee, sponsored by local businesses, is a way to give back to the community.
VFW Auxiliary, The Estherville VFW Auxiliary presented awards for service to its numerous auxiliary and community members during its awards dinner in April.
Lyndsay Towell was the sixth grade winner for the Iowa Association of Counties essay contest on why county government is important.
Valedictorians/Governor’s Honor students, Purple Cord
Several students earned purple cord awards from Estherville Rotary for their service to the community.
Fine Arts Actors: Emma Ross and Bryan Peterson were chosen as best Actor/Actress, and Adrienne Rosfjord, and Cole Danner, as best Supporting Actor/Actress from the 2021 ELC graduating class. Peterson was also best all around Fine Arts student, and Ross was top student in English and Science.
Gary Myers 4-H Hall of Fame – Gary Myers was named to the 4-H Hall of Fame for his extensive work on welding projects with 4-H members, and his service to 4-H over the years.
Brenda Reeves, Champion in Education : Fifth grade teacher Brenda Reeves was chosen as the ELC Foundation’s champion in Education for 2021, for her dedication to teaching and her passion for teaching students in innovative ways, as well as her support of her colleagues, opening new professional development opportunities to them, too. Reeves was especially excited to roll out a 3-D birthday card for Iowa’s 175th birthday.
Veterans Day: the tradition of the Memorial Wreath continued in remembrance of an armed services member from Emmet County.
Hoffman: The Emmet County Fair Board gathered with the family of Desean Hoffman, an active 4-H member who died in November, 2020, to plant a tree in his honor.
Honor Society (Group 3): The National Honor Society at ELC welcomed 17 new members. In addition to high grades, honor society members are chosen by a faculty committee for standing out as citizens in the community and contributions to the school, as well as demonstrating a high level of moral character.
Dunlavy Drug-Free Award: The U.S. Department of Justice honored Det. Nate Dunlavy with an award for his work with DARE and in relating to students during his time as ELC’s school resource officer to help create a drug-free community.
Masks were worn the first half of year at public events.
Vaccine clinics were held throughout the year.
Weather: Winter snowstorms, spring rain, summer heat, fall sunshine, and December tornadoes.
Champion State of Mind celebrated five years of therapy and counseling services with a party in Library Square
A group of women in Estherville kicked off Bible reading marathons in the summer. Part of an international movement, local readers contribute to a lot of scriptural mileage through the activity.
Bobby Bones: Bobby Bones brought his National Geographic show Breaking Bobby Bones to Estherville in January. Bobby accepted the challenge of trying out the job of wind turbine tech and climbed a turbine during the chill of winter. The episode aired in July.
Skattebo boat: While returning from a weekend outing, the Skatebos of Graettinger lost their boat as it detached from the trailer on Estherville’s south end near Iowa Lakes Electric Coop. Randy’s Wrecker and Montandon Towing each responded to the scene and with Estherville Police found a creative way to get the boat off the hill and everyone to safety.
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