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Visitation center named after late Mower judge

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

As a Mower County judge, Michael Seibel was known as a strong advocate for families and friends.

Even as an attorney, Seibel always served as a beacon in family court situations, providing good ideas at a tough time, said Aleta Christopherson, who served as Seibel’s court reporter.

On Thursday, officials announced that a new facility for serving and protecting troubled families in Mower County will be named in honor of Seibel.

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The new facility in Austin will be called the Michael H. Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center.

"The beacon shines on through this," Christopherson said.

Seibel died in June 2000 from kidney cancer at age 49. He was appointed to the bench in 1988 at age 36, making him one of the youngest judges selected to serve in Minnesota.

From 1978 to 1981 Seibel served as an assistant Mower County attorney before joining the Leighton, Meany, Cotter and Enger law firm. He later was appointed as a judge by then-Gov. Rudy Perpich.

The Mower County Visitation Center Planning Consortium has headed the creation of the facility that will offer a safe, supervised setting for custodial and noncustodial parents to interact with their children.

After holding meetings for more than a year, the consortium on Tuesday got approval for $200,000 from the Mower County Board to help acquire and rebuild the one-level, L-shaped section of the former Downtown Motel at First Street and First Avenue Southeast, across from the U.S. Post Office.

Overall, it’s a $719,000 project, said Kathy Stutzman, the consortium’s leader.

On Thursday, Seibel’s widow, Linda Seibel, read a statement on behalf of her family, which includes three adult children. The family believes that their late father’s commitment to help families in need will be fulfilled better with the center.

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"We are proud to be part of such a wonderful legacy that will continue to carry on his name and his values," Linda Seibel said.

Mower District Judge Donald E. Rysavy held a plaque honoring Seibel while speaking Thursday. The plaque has hung on a wall in the court’s jury hall since shortly after Seibel’s death, Rysavy said.

"Mike was all about family," Rysavy said, whether it be his own or other families interacting with him.

Tori Miller, director of Austin Medical Center’s Crime Victims Resource Center, came up with the idea to name the facility in honor of Seibel.

"It just fit," said Miller, who knew the judge from six years of working in the court system.

Carter Wagner, head of The Joseph Co. and a friend of Seibel, spoke about the late judge as well as the construction that Wagner’s company oversee with the facility. Wagner called Seibel a strong advocate for family and family values.

About 2,600 square feet of new construction is to be added to the former motel building. The L-shaped building will become more of a box, with nearly 2,000 square feet of existing space being renovated.

Work is expected to start in October with demolition work on part of the building. New construction likely will begin in November and be done by July 2008.

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What happened: Mower County’s upcoming facility for parents to visit and exchange children will be named the Michael H. Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center.

Why: Seibel served as a Mower District Court judge until his death in 2000 from kidney cancer at age 49. He’s remembered as someone who was dedicated to ending violence against women and children.

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