Marcia Ward and I had a long talk Tuesday.

Marcia, also known as Winona County Commissioner Marcia Ward, was planning on heading out to do some ice fishing that afternoon. She was also a little sad about the fact there wasn't enough snow on the ground to snowmobile or cross-country ski on her land.

By the time you're reading this, it's probably snowing or just about to snow in your own driveway, so you can thank Marcia for tempting the weather gods and making you get out to shovel your walk.

In the days before COVID-19, I'd have lots of talks like this, usually in person, with Marcia and other people I would meet along my travels.


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Mike and his dog

That night, I drove up to Pine Island. The city has a batch of volunteers who work most nights to keep the ice rink going. There, I met folks who love skating and people who are learning to love skating.

Three guys in particular —Collin, Brady and Jordan — all started skating when they were 10 or 11 years old. They now range in age from 17 to 25, and they skate around a rink of ice like I know how to eat pie. That is, they look like they've done this a time or two before.

What I really went for was to talk with City Council member Mike Hildenbrand. Two years ago, when the school district's workers' compensation insurance wouldn't let the schools operate the ice rink anymore, the city ended up with a year without an ice rink. Hildenbrand decided he wanted to make a difference. By fall 2019, he'd arranged a group of volunteers to run the ice rink, and this year, they've moved it to a new location: Trailhead Park.

Usually when I do stories involving city governments, I talk to the city administrator or the mayor. So, focusing on Hildenbrand was a change.

He brought his dog to the ice rink. She'd jump over the boards and onto the ice, then ran around a bit while Hildenbrand told me the story about how he got her.

These are the conversations you get by knowing people, talking to them in depth.

Mayor I never met

Altura is within the region that I cover, but I've never been to a City Council meeting there. So my introduction to Bob Schell was over the phone. Well, I got his number from Marcia, so that helped.

Schell, who is now a member of the City Council, but had been mayor for quite some time, told me the city is hoping to get a cheese production facility. That little tidbit came at the end of a long, friendly discussion on the divide that's such a problem in Winona County. The city used to have a turkey production plant and would like a new employer.

Hopefully, someday, when the world returns to normal, I can cover an Altura City Council meeting where they approve a new deal for a cheese facility.

Regional Reporter Brian Todd covers Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Houston counties along with some cities in Olmsted County. In the After Deadline column every Thursday, he shares behind-the-scenes tales from the newsroom.