Where are We in February?


Where are we?

Where are we?

Our January WHERE ARE WE? location turned out to be pretty easy. We had a few wrong guesses, but most people recognized the shoreline near Five Mile Rock, near Mile Marker 116. Thanks Kristi Silence for sharing the lovely photo.

And congratulations to Olya Wright of Grand Marais! Olya was drawn from all the correct entries and she and her parents will receive a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the February photo. If you think you know where we were when we took this picture, send us your answer. You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.

Whoever is drawn will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Answer to the February WHERE ARE WE? must be received by March 16, 2015.

Send your entry to:
Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604

Drop it by our office at:

15 First Avenue West
Fax: 218-387-9500
email: starnews@boreal.org
Questions? 218-387-9100

Top shelf research

It is time to do the column I set out to do several months ago before I was distracted by coffee cups. I can hear my friend Dan in Florida laughing, “You and your coffee mugs!” but honestly, I did not set out to do a series of essays on cups. I meant to write an Unorganized Territory about a silly thing that takes place at the News-Herald office nearly every day.

As an introduction to the need for a scientific—or semi- scientific— study of our office phenomena, I recalled a silly investigative report on the Today show. Readers may remember that I spent several inches of column space sharing the results of a study done in Australia on whether or not the color of your coffee cup makes a difference in the taste of your java.

According to the people who conducted the study for Flavour magazine, the color does make a difference. But who really cares? Why conduct this coffee cup study?

No explanation is given in the report as to why Flavour magazine publishers felt this was important. So we will be left to wonder.

However, I do have a reason for wanting to do an investigation into the odd human response to a simple shelf in the News-Herald office. I want to do a study just because I want to know why!

So what is this intriguing behavior? It’s not the fact that nine out of 10 people call or come in to the office to renew their “prescription” instead of “subscription.” That makes perfect sense to me. The words just get jumbled up in the average brain.

No, the weird thing that happens day after day, year in and year out, has been noticed by all of us in the office. It isn’t just me. All of us at one time or another have chuckled and wondered.

The scene of the top shelf mystery...

The scene of the top shelf mystery…

Here’s the scenario. We have a metal shelf next to the front counter. The top shelf is slanted a bit, to better display whatever is on top. The other shelves are typical horizontal shelves. There are three horizontal shelves. Each week when the current edition of the News-Herald arrives, we move the newspapers down a shelf. So, at any given time we have four issues of the News-Herald on the shelves, with the most recent issue sitting on the very top, slanted shelf.

Sounds like a reasonable way to display the paper, right?

Apparently it is not. Because inevitably, someone enters the office to buy a copy of the News- Herald. They approach the metal rack. They peruse the shelves. And they reach for the older newspaper on the second shelf.

At least once a day, one of us in the office has to say, “The most recent issue is on the top….The very top…The top shelf there,” as we point to the current issue.

For a very long time I thought it just happened to me. Then one day, someone else mentioned that people never seem to want to take the papers off the top shelf. After that we all became aware of the odd habit of newspaper-buying people. And we all wonder why.

I think that we should conduct a study to find out why people are hesitant to take papers off the top shelf. Sillier things have been done.

Look at all the research that received the “Golden Fleece Award” from the late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire. Studies by the National Science Foundation for comparing aggressiveness in sun fish that drank tequila versus gin; a Department of Defense study on how to buy Worcestershire sauce; or a NOAA study on whether or not marijuana is harmful to scuba divers and more.

Where do we apply?


Research is what I’m doing
when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Wernher Von Braun

A good foundation at Birch Grove

Since this issue of the Cook County News-Herald is our Valentine’s Day edition, I should write a column about the joy of receiving truffles or roses or handcrafted valentines from the grandkids. But instead I’m going to write about something else near and dear to my heart—our local schools. We have some amazing schools, thank you teachers and staff at all of our schools! Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m thinking of Birch Grove Community School in particular today because as I write this Unorganized Territory, the West End elementary school is preparing for a public meeting.

The meeting is one of hundreds that have been held to discuss the future of the little school in Tofte. Maybe thousands, since the land was donated to the community in the ’60s; since it was closed and then reopened in 1985; since it was reopened as a charter school in 2004.

A wonderful tradition at Birch Grove Community School -- on the first day of school every student gets to ring a bell to announce that school is in session!

A wonderful tradition at Birch Grove Community School — on the first day of school every student gets to ring a bell to announce that school is in session!

I’ve been at more meetings than I can count since I started reporting West End news as a freelancer for the News-Herald back in 1995. I wasn’t around for those early days when the building was built. But having heard the history; having seen it reported on in our Down Memory Lane feature week after week; I know West End citizens worked incredibly hard to make sure the kids in the community had a school within a reasonable riding distance. I know parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends worked hard to keep what many felt was “the heart of the community” in the community.

I was around during the struggle to keep the elementary school open during the final years as a School District 166 facility. There were many, many, many meetings to try to find a way to fund the little school in Tofte. There were a lot of hard feelings between the Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder town boards and the ISD 166 administration. ISD 166 had good reasons to cut staff and services, declining enrollment the biggest issue. West End citizens had good reasons to keep the school open—the long bus ride for little ones, the ability for parents to be close to participate in school activities and of course the need to have a school in the community for families considering a move to the West End.

There were major fundraising campaigns in those final days, from 2000 – 2003. I bought a brick myself for the Cook County News-Herald as part of the effort to keep teachers on staff and class sizes small. For full disclosure, I should mention that my daughter-in-law Sara now works at Birch Grove and my granddaughter Eloise goes to preschool there. Although the fact that they are both happy and thriving at Birch Grove, I was a supporter long before they became involved with the school. “My” brick long predates that familial bias.

I have always been impressed with the way the West End community came together to keep its school going. It wasn’t easy to gain charter school status. There were many more meetings and a huge learning curve, but after years of effort, the Birch Grove Community School was officially opened as a charter school, under the auspices of the Volunteers of America. Birch Grove Community School was for once and for all, a school owned by the citizens of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder.

The school has done remarkably well. It has received the Minnesota Department of Education financial award at least five times. It has grown its offerings to include the Saplings preschool that my granddaughter loves. Just this week, Birch Grove Community School was recognized by the Minnesota Department of Education (along with Great Expectations School in Grand Marais) as a “High- Quality Charter School,” one of only 22 schools in the state so honored.

However, sadly, there is a downturn in enrollment. I don’t think it’s a reflection on Birch Grove Community School. This is a problem for all of our Cook County schools. When enrollment goes down, so do the dollars from the state for operation of the school. All of our schools are struggling, because whether there are 10 students or 30, the lights and heat need to be on, teachers need to be paid, the sidewalks shoveled, and special education needs must be met.

The major reason for our declining school enrollment is that the demographics of our county are changing. Just last night at the Cook County/ Grand Marais Economic Development Authority meeting, I listened to a summary of an affordable housing study being completed by that group. According to the most recent census, it appears that only one in eight households in Grand Marais is a “family” unit—parents and children. I think that demographic is pretty true for the entire county. Overall we are becoming a community of seasonal residents or retired, empty nesters. That’s not a bad thing. These folks contribute greatly to our communities through their property taxes, their buying power, and for many, their volunteer efforts.

But it is bad news when it comes to our schools.

There is work under way to try to change things. The EDA is working to develop affordable housing. The UMD Small Business Development Center, working with the EDA, and the Cook County Chamber are working to make businesses successful so young families can find jobs.

All of our schools are thinking outside of the box to find funding to support various school programs. Birch Grove has done a good job of finding funding in the past. They have sought grant after grant. They participate in little things that add up like the Target for Schools, Box Tops for Education, and Soup Labels for Schools programs and more. They host fun fundraisers—food at the Tofte 4th of July celebration, a wonderful, family-friendly dinner and silent auction at Papa Charlie’s and the elegant and very successful Gala for the Grove at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Unfortunately until enrollment goes back up—as I’m confident it will—Birch Grove will be struggling. I hope that the West End community will impress me once again. I hope township residents will come together once again to support the little school, even if it means an increase to the township levies.

I’ll do what I can by participating in the Birch Grove Community School fundraisers. But the school needs more. It needs continued community support. After all, even for an amazing cause like a community school, you can only sell so many T-shirts and glasses of wine—and bricks.


A good school teaches you resilience – that ability to bounce back.

Kate Reardon

Grateful for good news

MNA award 2015

Photo by Charles Silence Minnesota Newspaper Association Board President Pete Mohs, of Echo Publishing, Pequot Lakes, presents the Lynn Smith Community Leadership Award to Cook County News-Herald Editor Rhonda Silence. The News-Herald was recognized for its work with community partners on the 2014 Move It! Awards.

In the February 7 issue of the Cook County News-Herald, you will see an article announcing the great news—to me at least—about the Minnesota Newspaper Association industry awards. I am thrilled that the News-Herald received three awards.

It is especially nice because just a few weeks ago I wrote about judging the Iowa Better Newspaper Contest. When I wrote that Unorganized Territory, I didn’t think the News-Herald would win any awards because our paper doesn’t fit the mold of many modern newspapers. However, as I was reviewing and evaluating those Iowa papers, judges from newspapers in Iowa were perusing ours. And happily, they liked our unique style and found three stories that they felt worthy of recognition.

One was a no-brainer to me. Our designer—of ads and pages—Laurie Johnson always does a wonderful job creating clean, creative and organized pages and ads, so I think she is deserving of first place honors in all categories. She received special recognition for her layout of the 2014 primary election results. If you remember, we had a lot of candidates in Commissioner Districts 1 and 5, so it was a complicated design project. As always, Laurie put it together in a nice, easy-to-follow format. Thanks for that, Laurie and for all your hard work on everything you do!

Another great award that is especially meaningful to me was the Lynn Smith Community Leadership Award, which wasn’t a no-brainer. I knew that the “Move It Awards,” which we partnered with Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and the Cook County Senior Center to present, was inspiring to our community. That is why I submitted it for consideration. But I didn’t know if it would be as interesting to the Iowa news folks.

The Community Leadership Award is not like the other awards which are selected and judged randomly. For other awards, the Better Newspaper Contest sends out a request for copies of newspapers from three calendar weeks. We never know from year to year which weeks will be selected for review in the various categories. MNA received over 3,000 entries in all and in our circulation class of 2,500 – 5,000 there were about 800 entries.

The Lynn Smith Community Leadership Award, which is not divided into newspaper circulation classes but reviews all newspapers across the state, did not receive as many entries. I checked with the Minnesota Newspaper Association and they said there were only six submissions, so the competition was not as fierce. However, the newspapers that did submit something in this category ranged in size from papers smaller than ours to papers much larger. All had fabulous community leadership entries, so I feel it is a great honor to be selected. It’s nice that it is recognition of our community, not just our community newspaper.

Again, thanks to our designer Laurie who created the “Move It! Awards” ads and designed the pages that featured the winners. I’m sure the attractive layout scored points with the Iowa Newspaper Association judges.

Thanks also to all of our News-Herald staff, who not only helped promote our “Move It! Awards,” but who work diligently every day in service to our community.

Thanks to Bill Neil, our super city beat reporter as well as subscription supervisor. Bill is also a master at helping edit the myriad press releases we receive each week to mine out the local connection and highlight it. And finally, Bill is our archivist, each week finding a delightful—or tragic—tale from the past for Down Memory Lane.

Thanks to Brian Larsen, who covers just about everything while riding herd on his kids and helping out with logrolling, church and other community activities. Brian’s forte is sports for which I am incredibly grateful as it is not mine. He does a great job keeping tabs on our college and community athletes and reading his sports articles brings the action to life.

Thanks too, to our “new” ad sales representative Mary Kay. If you haven’t met her yet, stop by and say hello or give her a call. She’d be happy to sell you some ad space to support our award-winning newspaper! And she’s just plain fun to talk to.

And of course, thanks to our Publishers Hal and Deidre. If it weren’t for their bravery and investment in the Cook County News-Herald, the 120-plus year old tradition of community newspaper would have come to an end years ago. There would be no place in the county to share public notices, births and deaths, sports news, weather reports, historical reflections and hard news—both good and bad.

There would be no Minnesota Better Newspaper Contest Awards to hang on our office wall. Thanks Hal and Deidre and crew. I’m grateful to and proud of all of you!

People love newspapers. We have hundreds of visitors at the Newseum every day. Why? Because newspapers are like works of art. Think about it. Every day, every week, there is a blank page to be filled.

Charles Overby, Director of the Newseum, Washington D.C.

Windshield wiper whining

It is amusing to hear the reaction of friends and relatives to the recent snowfall. Some folks are aghast at the precipitation. They don’t care that it is usually warmer when it snows or that new snow is certainly prettier than the dirty, off-white and gray stuff that was covering our streets and sidewalks. There are people who just don’t like winter.

I’m not one of them. I’m one of the many Northlanders who are delighted to see the fluffy white flakes falling. Everything looks clean and fresh. Driving at night is especially lovely, with headlights creating sparkling diamonds on the newly fallen snow.

I do, however, have a winter pet peeve. I don’t mind the snow, but it irritates me that the engineers who design vehicles apparently all live in warm climates. I thought that Detroit was still one of the places where automotive technology is tested, but I’m doubtful. Anyone who lives in an area that gets sufficient snowfall—like the Motor City—would not build a car with windshield wipers like mine.

Yes, my car is under there somewhere!

Yes, my car is under there somewhere!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my car. It has heated leather seats, which are a wonderful winter luxury. It has well-placed cup holders and a good stereo system. It has room for all five of my grandkids and still gets decent gas mileage. It has Bluetooth, which means I can talk on my cell phone without having to hold the phone.

And a feature I really like is my in-dash back-up camera. I have always had a hard time judging how close I am to other vehicles when pulling into or backing out of a parking space. The back-up camera has saved me from parking three embarrassing car lengths away from other cars. And it makes getting out of tight spaces much easier.

Although it can be easily fooled. It alerts when I’m nearing tall grass at the edge of the road and it thinks a snowbank is a hazard. It was really confused yesterday when the snow had melted a bit off my rear window and trickled down the hatch. I started to back out of a parking space and the annoying high-pitched tone sounded. I looked carefully in the viewfinder and could see nothing. I checked the rearview mirror and side mirrors and craned my neck to look all around.

I couldn’t see anything behind me so I put the car in park and got out to inspect. I had to laugh when I saw the problem. The melted snow had created a tiny icicle. The little icicle was blocking the back-up camera. Since it was clear, I couldn’t see it in the viewfinder. But the camera saw it and did a good job raising the alarm. I flicked the icicle off and was able to get on the road.

I wish dealing with my windshield pet peeve was as easy. What is the problem? Anyone with an SUV has surely figured out my complaint by now. In fact, I think all makes and models have this same set-up. For some reason the windshield wipers on vehicles no longer rest on the window glass above a solid hood. In years past, there were little vents on the hood by the window, but that was it.

Now however, window wipers fold up on themselves and tuck into a vast reservoir on the hood. I’m sure the engineers have a good reason. It probably makes the car more aerodynamic and saves fuel. Or maybe the designer just thinks it looks cool.

But to someone who has to brush three to six to eight inches of snow off of her car, the metal pocket on the hood is an irritant. All of the snow that I brush off of the roof onto the window and the hood to be brushed off onto the ground seems to get packed in that windshield wiper garage.

I can’t use the brush to get the snow away from the windshield wipers. No, I have to flip the wipers up out of the way and then use the straight edge of the ice scraper to try to shovel the snow out. I say try, because it is a futile task. The ice scraper is not a mini-shovel, which is what a person actually needs to clean out the confounded crevice.

All I can do is scoop and brush it out the best I can and then turn the defroster up on high to melt the rest away. I have to turn up the heat too, because I’m wet and cold from the windshield wiper snow removal dance. Darn Detroit!

But it’s okay. In the grand scheme of life my windshield wiper pet peeve is pretty trivial. It’s a small price to pay to live in a winter wonderland. Think snow!


The snow doesn’t give a
soft white damn whom it

E.E. Cummings

Working on a special day

I was delighted when I visited Sawtooth Mountain Elementary this week to see the portraits of Dr. King on the wall. This one was made by my grandson Carter.

I was delighted when I visited Sawtooth Mountain Elementary this week to see the portraits of Dr. King on the wall. This one was made by my grandson Carter.

I’m chagrined that I didn’t write a column last week sharing thoughts about Civil Rights and the pivotal role of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. I’m embarrassed to say that I almost let the important day designated to honor Dr. King go by unnoticed.

Thankfully, it is now a national holiday so I was reminded by announcements of numerous commemorative events around the United States, as well as thoughtful (albeit after deadline) submissions to the Cook County News- Herald from our legislative representatives.

My co-workers remembered and we had a discussion over whether or not the News-Herald office should be open or not. The decision to work or not to work was left up to each individual staffer. I didn’t take the day off. Not because I don’t have the utmost respect for Dr. King, but because I actually think one of the best ways to honor Dr. King is by working.

The best and highest way to remember Dr. King is probably by spending the day in some sort of volunteer activity, doing something that builds community. In fact, that is what some of the original organizers of Martin Luther King Day wanted the commemoration to be—a day of service. The holiday was designated and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, expanding the mission of the holiday as “a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.”

Since then, every year meaningful tasks are undertaken to remember the work of Dr. King. All over the United States, there are youth expos and anti-bullying events. There are unity marches and symposiums on nonviolence. Volunteers offer hours of service, picking up trash on roadsides, helping repair homes for low income seniors, collecting donations for food shelves, giving blood, serving at soup kitchens and much more.

Our leaders set the example. President Clinton followed up the signing of the service act with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1994. President George W. Bush spent Martin Luther King holidays lending a hand in rebuilding efforts in Hurricane Katrina-torn New Orleans or visiting schools. This year President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spent time with kids completing a literacy project at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. In years past, they’ve served meals at homeless shelters.

All of these are great ways to remember the slain Civil Rights leader. Another way, I learned this week, is to go to school.

I had a nice visit with a local school board member about Martin Luther King Day. I asked if the school had gotten any feedback from people upset because the school does not follow the federal and state holiday policy. Yes, she said, they had heard a few complaints. But not as much in years past as the school has made an effort to let parents and the community know that while school is held, Dr. King’s memory is still honored.

When school is held on the third Monday of the month, the day federally designated as Martin Luther King Day, schools are required to incorporate the story of Dr. King. From kindergarten through high school, on that day or leading up to that day, during history lessons or social studies or English classes, the story of the Civil Rights struggle is woven into the curriculum.

Through age-appropriate lessons, students learn about segregation and desegregation; about voting rights and the Nobel Peace Prize; about bus boycotts and sit-ins and sadly, about the assassination of a great man. Students hear his words of wisdom, such as the famed I Have a Dream speech.

I’m glad the school honors the special holiday. I’m pleased that our school works to bring Dr. King’s legacy to life. And I’m glad that they reminded me to do the same.


Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Putting Christmas away

The gingerbread houses made by my grandkids are long gone, but there are still traces of the holiday around my house!

The gingerbread houses made by my grandkids are long gone, but there are still traces of the holiday around my house!

Once again I’m struggling with putting Christmas away. It seems as if every year something gets left behind when the Christmas decoration boxes get put away. One year it was an Advent calendar; another year my Santa and reindeer salt shaker. It’s always something.

I was aware of this as I put away decorations this year. I was proud of myself that I had started the search and store mission before New Year’s Eve. I boxed up my Christmas village from the bay window, my crèche and the Holy Family, and our tiny Christmas tree. I packed up my Christmas pins and earrings into their pretty red and gold boxes. I found all the gift bags, rolls of wrapping paper, ribbons and put them in the under-the-bed storage box until next year.

It always takes a while to get all my seasonal linens and clothing washed and put away. I have a nice collection of about a dozen Christmas hand towels and dish towels and a couple of table cloths. They end up in the laundry basket over the holiday.

Over the years I also acquired a great assortment of holiday attire, enough that I have an all new wardrobe for a few weeks in December. I have five nice Christmas tops, a couple of sweaters, a couple of festive sweatshirts and a couple of Christmas vests. I also have nine pair of holiday socks. It takes a long time and many loads of laundry before they are all paired up and put away.

So I thought I was doing quite well when I filled up the red-topped Rubbermaid tub that holds all these Christmas clothing items. I had thoroughly swept the entire house and hidden away all signs of the holiday. Operation Christmas over was accomplished.

But, as usual, I was wrong. It took me a few days to notice what was left out this year. It is really ridiculous that I missed it, since it is front and center in my kitchen. I noticed yesterday that my dishwasher was still adorned with the magnet Christmas tree with its cheery gum drop decorations and gingerbread people. Operation Christmas over—failed.

I haven’t taken the flat Christmas tree down yet. Maybe if I leave it in a place of honor on the dishwasher, I’ll fulfill my wish that Christmas could continue. I’m always a little sad when the holidays are over.

I’m not looking forward to the day that the Harbor Park Christmas tree in downtown Grand Marais comes down or when we take down the wreath outside the News-Herald office. Both looked exceptionally lovely today with a dusting of snow. I’m not ready for the stark gray skies and frigid cold weather without the twinkling of Christmas lights.

If my little magnet tree can make the magic last a little longer, it can stay. Operation Christmas continues!

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Calvin Coolidge


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