Week in review April 5
State observes Vietnam Veterans Day
When Vietnam veteran Gary Gullickson returned home from Vietnam in 1970, there were no welcome home parades. Instead, veterans were being spit on and heckled.
"Vietnam to me was leaving one war to come home and fight another one," he said. "Coming home was probably one of the worst parts of Vietnam."
Saturday marked the first-ever Vietnam Veterans Day in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill designating March 29 as a day to remember the service of Vietnam veterans. March 29, 1973, was the day the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam.
Bill sponsor Rep. Larry Howes, a Republican from Walker, Minn., said the bill was inspired by a friend he has known since junior high named Diane Finnemann. Her brother, Wallace Schimdt, who served in Vietnam and was spit on and laughed at when he returned home, later committed suicide. Howes said he wanted to help make sure that Vietnam veterans get the appreciation they deserve.
"This is a way to show our thanks," he said.
Five other states already have a Vietnam Veterans Day, and 26 other states are working on similar legislation, Howes said.
Area truckers keep on working through fuel cost protest
As truckers across the country planned to strike this week to protest the high cost of fuel, those in southeastern Minnesota kept on trucking.
"Here in southern Minnesota there’s nothing of any kind of slowdown or anything," said Kermit Watts, owner of Austin Auto Truck Plaza. "Everything seems to be as normal."
Many independent truckers parked their rigs and others slowed to a crawl on highways to protest high fuel prices. The demonstrations were only scattered, but long lines of trucks were moving about 20 mph on the New Jersey Turnpike, and three drivers were ticketed for impeding traffic on Interstate 55 outside Chicago, driving three abreast at low speeds.
The lines at the pumps at the Cannon Ball Truck Stop in Cannon Falls were slow Tuesday morning, but manager Heather Benson said she wasn’t sure if that was because a winter storm was just trailing off, the just-increased state gasoline tax, or because it was Tuesday, typically a slow day.
There’s no doubt filling up is costing truckers more.
On average, to fill one of his 300-gallon tanks, Paul Novotny, an owner of Chatfield Trucking Inc., spends $1,200. That’s compared to about $580 18 months ago. Back then, diesel was $1.80 a gallon, he said. Now the price of diesel is hovering around $3.95 a gallon.
IBM gives System i the boot
In a shock to the system, IBM is rebuilding and rebranding Rochester’s favorite computer from the ground up and breaching "Fortress Rochester."
That means goodbye, System i ... so long, iSeries ... farewell, AS/400.
IBM is launching the Power Systems product line, one part of which calls for "unifying" System i and System p midrange computer servers.
Staffing at Rochester’s IBM campus, long-associated with the design and manufacture of System i, the descendant of the AS/400 machine, will not change, said Ian Jarman, the Rochester-based manager of IBM Power Systems Software.
What is changing is Rochester’s status as the maverick creator of one of IBM’s star computing boxes. Today, design and manufacture of the System i is spread across IBM units in Texas, North Carolina and New York as well as Rochester.
Pepsi machines go dark in Mayo buildings
It’s lights out for Pepsi vending machines at Mayo Clinic’s downtown Rochester campus.
In an effort to trim its energy consumption, the clinic plans to turn off the lights on all 120 Pepsi machines at its downtown campus today. The change will save an estimated $80 per year in energy costs for each machine, a total annual savings of $9,600.
"This is just a very small example of what people can do to save energy," said Paul Sims, a Mayo Clinic architect who suggested the idea last fall after thinking about the waste involved in lighting the machines, most of which sit in employee areas, for 24 hours a day.
Mindful of its vending contract with Pepsi, Mayo couldn’t simply turn off the lights on the machines. So the medical and soda giants started discussions last November, eventually reaching an agreement in which Pepsi provided Mayo with signs to make it clear that the machines work even when dark.
As a result, Mayo will affix triangular green signs to all of its Pepsi machines in downtown Rochester.
"Lights out to conserve energy," the signs say. "This machine is in working order."
Channel One joins statewide suspension of venison distribution
In light of lead particles found in venison donated to food shelves in North Dakota, Minnesota food shelves, including Channel One Food Bank and Food Shelf, have stopped distributing donated venison.
Channel One Food Bank and Food Shelf has 7,000 pounds of venison at its facilities, said Channel One executive director Cynthia Shaffer. She was unsure of how much venison had already been distributed locally since the donation program began last year. It is unknown if any of that meat is contaminated.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it will test venison donated through the state’s voluntary venison donation program and advised food shelves to withhold distribution of the meat donated through the program until testing is complete. A physician and professor at the University of North Dakota medical school says he found lead bullet fragments in 60 percent of the samples tested there. Lead can be toxic if ingested.
Storm brings school closings; warmer weather in forecast
Tuesday was no April Fool’s Day for students of Zumbrota-Mazeppa public schools. They had the day off due to snowy, icy weather that went through southeastern Minnesota on Monday and on Tuesday morning.
They weren’t alone. Students in the Kenyon-Wanamingo, Goodhue and Cannon Falls school districts also enjoyed a snow day.
The precipitation totals weren’t large, but the mix of rain and snow with temperatures that fluctuated above and below freezing made roads and sidewalks slippery.
Law-enforcement officials didn't have accident totals, but they spent considerable time Monday evening and this morning on traffic calls ranging from vehicles sliding into ditches to rollovers.
Band gets shot at Hollywood
Mark McKenzie is helping 80 Lincoln High School Tiger band students get their 15 minutes of fame.
It helps that McKenzie, a Lake City native, is a Hollywood composer and arranger. He contacted band director Paul Holland because he needed pep band music during a football game scene for an upcoming film he’s been working on and the band has agreed to record a song.
"We jumped at the opportunity," Holland said this week before band practice. "We spoke to the administration and they were excited, too."
McKenzie has composed or arranged music for several films over the years, including "Dances With Wolves," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "Spiderman 2" and "8 Below."
Holland chose "On Wisconsin" to record. It’s the school song. It’s the same school song that McKenzie played before he graduated in 1974.
The film, called "Jake’s Run," will be released by Hallmark late this summer, Holland said. The film has been described as an inspirational, family film.
"The students won’t receive any monetary compensation, but they will receive a short credit at the end of the movie," Holland said.
There will be no golf, softball, baseball, band or Spanish classes next year for students in the Grand Meadow School district.
It’s a huge loss for the district, said Superintendent Joe Brown, but nearly $400,000 had to be trimmed from the district’s $4 million budget. The district is in statutory operating debt. A levy override vote failed in November.
At a recent school board meeting, board members opted to cut and reduce several programs and teaching positions for next year. Eliminations include about five teaching positions, including the current half-time band teacher, the Spanish teacher, part-time secondary social studies/physical education teacher and family and consumer science teacher.
Positions being reduced are media specialist, agriculture/industrial technology teaching and custodian.
Office hours at the elementary school will be cut, as will funding for classroom and general supplies and staff development.
The speech team, yearbook and several sports will be eliminated.
Voters are returning to the polls Tuesday to decide another levy override.
The district wants to replace the existing levy that generates $853.01 per pupil with a new one that would provide $1,200 per pupil a year for the next 10 years.
Voters also will consider a second proposal for an additional increase in general education revenue by $240 per pupil for 10 years.
If both proposals pass, the total operating levy would be $1,440 per pupil.