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Widow brings gifts to workers on Eyota roundabout

Jan Jech, of Rochester, right, and her daughter, Julie Degener, of Rochester, look on as MnDOT workers enjoy the cookies Jech brought to them on Tuesday. Enjoying the treats are, from left, Randy Schultz, Paul Bissen and Mike Hendrickson. "I've been doing this 30 years, and people just aren't this nice to us," Bissen said.

EYOTA — Armed with baked goods and a brave face, Jan Jech has returned to the scene of her husband's death six times in the last month to provide moral support and sustenance to construction crews who have nearly completed the new Eyota roundabout on U.S. Highway 14.

The routine is simple, but the anguish is palpable.

Jech, 65, spends every Tuesday morning baking homemade treats. When MnDOT officials gather for weekly project updates at 1 p.m. in Eyota, she provides the goodies, and they exchange smiles and hugs. The leftovers are distributed to those toiling in the summer heat.

Tears were shed on Jech's first visit, May 5, when she explained that Marvin Jech's 2013 death at the intersection of Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 42 was the impetus for the roundabout project. She's since become a friendly face embraced by the workers, who admit they've become conditioned to citizens' scorn for delaying their travels.

"I've been doing this for 30 years, and no one is ever this nice to us," said MnDOT chief inspector Paul Bissen, whose last project caused waves in Cannon Falls . "We're always talking about it. We're like a bunch of dogs every Tuesday — treat day, treat day, treat day."


The baked goods are a surprising gesture from a mourning family, whose patriarch died hours before a family celebration. Marvin Jech was en route to pick up a cake from Jem's Confections in Eyota to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary. Criminal charges were never filed against the driver who drove through a stop sign and crashed into Marvin Jech's car. Julie Degener, his daughter, said the family is "just focusing on Marvin and that legacy and what we can do from here on out."

MnDOT spokesman Mike Dougherty said Jan Jech's efforts are unprecedented, but the widow offered a very simple explanation.

"It's good for me to express appreciation because I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that this really is more than moving dirt," Jech said Tuesday after delivering a batch of chocolate chip and oatmeal butterscotch cookies. "They're saving lives by the roads they build."

Jech became a vocal critic of the dangerous intersection in the months after her husband's death. MnDOT records show 40 crashes occurred at that site between 2003-2013, including 16 with injuries. The fatal crash on April 6, 2013, prompted MnDOT to added rumble strips and an enlarged, blinking stop sign as interim safety enhancements until funding was secured for a long-term solution.

The community rallied around the grateful Jechs, packing community hearings to echo their calls for action. MnDOT responded by allocating $2.73 million for a roundabout that will reduce speeds and limit serious accidents for an intersection that now sees 10,400 vehicles per day, about half from each highway.

Construction began on May 4 and is expected to wrap up next month, though it's slightly behind MnDOT's July 3 target date, Bissen said.

"The irony is Marvin hated roundabouts," Dougherty said.

Jan Jech ruefully confirmed Dougherty's statement while watching workers gobble down her goodies. Later, while gazing upon the roundabout construction site, she suggested that his views may have changed.


"From two years of total heartbreak to this," Jech said. "I know my husband is in heaven smiling down."

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