A winning campaign

It was fun getting to know the candidates who were running in the primary for the Minnesota House 3A seat. As Rob Ecklund said in the statement that he gave to the Cook County News-Herald

Rob Ecklund of International Falls advances to the special election for the Minnesota House 3A seat in December.

Rob Ecklund of International Falls advances to the special election for the Minnesota House 3A seat in December.

the day after the primary, it is a sad way to get to this election, with the passing of Representative David Dill, but it was nice to see an intelligent and caring field of candidates coming forward to fill the vacancy.

I didn’t know Rob Ecklund at all before the primary campaign, but he seems like the type of person who will be straight with you. He didn’t dodge the tough questions at the Cook County Chamber Election Forum or tailor his answers to the audience. Statements he has made in articles in other newspapers in District 3A have been consistent.

And, he is friendly and easy to talk to, so although I’ve only talked to him a few times, I feel like he’s a friend.

Of course I already knew our “local guy,” Bill Hansen. It was nice to see the overwhelming support he received from the North Shore. And it was really nice to talk to Bill the day after the primary, to hear his still-positive voice. He assured me he will still be involved in the community in some other way, so that is good news.

I did know Eric Johnson. I met him the last time he took a run at the House 3A seat and he too, is a hard-working, goodhearted guy. He became a good friend of my son, Ben, when they took a class together during the previous campaign. He stops by to say “hi” whenever he makes it to Cook County. And of course he got bonus points with me when he told me what nice guys both of my sons are.

I didn’t know Heidi Omerza before the primary campaign but I’m glad to have met her too. She’s a well-spoken and outgoing person and you can tell she is passionate about public service. She’s also warm and friendly. I’d love to sit down over coffee with her sometime.

I wish Eric and Heidi well in whatever they go on to do. I hope they are facing the disappointment of the defeat as well as Bill Hansen is. As Bill said in his concession statement, they ran campaigns that were always cordial and they stayed focused on the issues that are important to the voters. I really appreciated that.

I would like to add my thanks to all of the candidates. It takes a huge leap of faith to run for office. Taking on the task of phone calling, traveling, speaking to the press, posing for photos and TV interviews is daunting and all of the House 3A candidates appeared to be having a great time doing it all. There is energy to spare amongst these folks.

It takes a major financial commitment. In addition to raising money for advertising and yard signs and travel, it means a lot of time away from regular jobs.

It also takes immense courage to run for office. I can only imagine the reactions of these candidates’ families. “You want to do what?”

Running for office you put not only yourself in the public spotlight, but spouses and children as well, so that is a hurdle to overcome even before applying to run for office. The candidates were all able to get their family members on board and they went on to campaign with smiles.

In that respect, they were all winners.


Advocacy groups and voters are not wrong to push candidates to declare their position clearly on policy issues. That is good citizenship. Hard questions should be asked of every candidate, every politician. And those public servants should be prepared to answer, but in their own words.

Mark McKinnon

Where were we in September?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE? I’m a little late getting this one posted, so we’re asking Where were we in September?

If you know where this photos was taken, give us a note!

If you know where this photos was taken, give us a note!

All of the people who entered the August contest were correct—the old car being reclaimed by the forest is on the Moose Viewing Trail off of the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais. Drawn from the correct guesses was Nicole Bockovich of Grand Marais.

Nicole will receive a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the September photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, 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 from the correct entries will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Answer to the September WHERE ARE WE? must be received by October 12, 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

Serious and trivial in Unorganized Territory

UnorganizedMy husband Chuck and I were at an event recently, and as it frequently does, the question “What’s happening at the paper?” came up. Usually my answer is “what isn’t happening?”

Our small Cook County News-Herald staff is constantly on the run. We spend a lot of time covering meetings. There is a meeting of one of the myriad governmental entities nearly every day. There is a list on page C1 of meetings that we try to keep track off.

We don’t attend every meeting every time. It’s enough to cover the “core” newsmakers, the county, city, townships, the school, hospital and EDA boards, especially when there are big projects or actions that require special meetings.

Case in point, the hospital board with its renovation and School District 166 with its administrative shakeup. Lots of extra meetings!

We keep our ears open for news that comes out of the meetings we don’t attend. And of course, after the meetings we do make it to, there are often follow-up questions, which means phone calls and emails later.

My colleague Brian Larsen was recently asked why he wasn’t “on time” for a meeting. The reason—he had been at another meeting!

And sandwiched in between meetings of all kinds there are events of all kinds. Those are actually really fun. Because we cover celebrations, we also attend things like the Schroeder Historical Society Lunde Tour, Unplugged and Mountain Stage concerts, plays, concerts, art openings and more.

There is always something to do and something to be written up. So when my friend also asked, “So, I suppose you have several weeks of your columns typed up and ready to go?” Chuck and I burst into laughter. When I mentioned the comment to my friend Laurie in the office, she also laughed out loud.

Chuck has seen me frantically typing away in the wee hours of the morning. Coworkers have seen me putting finishing touches on Unorganized Territory in the minutes before the paper is sent off to the printer.

Our stellar proofreader Bill has also suggested that I write several columns in advance. He recommended writing random thoughts, similar to what longtime Cook County News-Herald Editor Ade Toftey used to do in his Jots by Ade column.

And a disgruntled reader recently suggested that we do away with Unorganized Territory altogether. He said the column takes up a lot of “prime space” in the paper and said it should be used for more interesting topics. The reader suggested that my column space should be used to comment on “hard current events” in Cook County and closed by saying if I am not up to the challenge, I should consider finding someone who is.

My friend, Sporto, says the same thing, albeit in a kinder, gentler way. He has scolded me for writing too much about “warm fuzzy stuff.”

I take the comments to heart and there are times when I do tackle Cook County issues. However, as I’ve explained in the past Unorganized Territory is just that—an unorganized collection of thoughts, a bit like Jots by Ade. Sometimes I do comment on local politics and infrequently on national issues. I sometimes write about the history of Minnesota or the history of my family on the North Shore. Sometimes I talk about my grandkids or pets and sometimes—well, perhaps often—I write about the weather. There is no rhyme or reason to the column, which is why it is titled Unorganized Territory.

So apologies to the folks who feel I am wasting their time. But I am going to continue writing Unorganized Territory for as long as I can. I’ve been writing the column for 16 years now, without missing a single week. So there are weeks that are trivial, the rushed, finishing-up-on deadline weeks or the weeks that someone has suggested a silly idea for a column.

But I disagree that I don’t sometimes tackle tough topics. It’s just that when I do, I try not to just spout off my opinion. I feel it is more important to encourage people to learn more about an issue and to become involved. Because wherever you live, whether you’re in unorganized territory, in the city, up the Gunflint or far away in Minneapolis or Chicago, the people who show up and speak up are the ones who make a difference.

Regular readers have heard me say more than once, more than a dozen times, probably more than a hundred times, to pay attention and get involved with politics.

And that’s not a wasted commentary at all.


There never were two opinions alike in all the world, no more than two hours or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.

Michel de Montaigne

Remembering and celebrating

As I write this week’s Unorganized Territory, it appears that today will be another beautiful fall day. The leaves are turning with splashes of red and gold scattered amongst the green and the sky is a brilliant blue. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s festivities—it’s Radio Waves weekend.

I can’t imagine that there is anyone who lives in Cook County or who has visited the North Shore that doesn’t know what the Radio Waves Music Festival is. Just in case, I’ll explain that it is a three-day music festival jam-packed with talented musicians—most of them from the North Shore.

The Grand Marais Fire Department remembers 9-11 each year with a flag on its ladder truck in Harbor Park in downtown Grand Marais. The moving sight was captured by photographer David R. Johnson.

The Grand Marais Fire Department remembers 9-11 each year with a flag on its ladder truck in Harbor Park in downtown Grand Marais. The moving sight was captured by photographer David R. Johnson.

It’s an amazing weekend of music performed by people we know in an incredibly fun venue. The musicians perform in a giant tent set up at the foot of what in the winter is the sledding hill in the Grand Marais Recreation Park.

There are activities for the kids who attend—face painting and arts projects. But most of the kids seem to most enjoy rolling down the grassy sledding hill or racing around and up and down the Sweetheart’s Bluff trail.

There are food vendors too, again local folks, offering melt-inyour mouth pulled pork and specialty coffees and delectable desserts. Once you settle in at Radio Waves, you can easily stay all day. People do just that, bringing blankets and chairs and picnic baskets and spending a few hours or a few days.

I have friends who live just a few blocks away from the Rec. Park who bring their RV down to the Rec. Park campground so they don’t miss any of the music.

It’s a wonderful community event and a very fitting way to spend the weekend, which inevitably aligns with one of the saddest days in our nation’s history, September 11. This year Radio Waves actually kicks off on Friday afternoon on 9/11.

This is the 8th annual Radio Waves, so the festival wasn’t impacted by that tragic day in 2001 when terrorists attacked America, crashing planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It’s been 14 years since the horrible day—a day that like today, started with leaves changing on the North Shore and brilliant blue skies here.

None of us will ever forget seeing the smoldering, then collapsing towers set against those brilliant New York skies. We will never forget that more than 3,000 people—nearly equal to the wintertime population of Cook County—were killed that day, including almost 400 police officers and firefighters.

We shouldn’t forget. But we also shouldn’t dwell on the fear, the anger, and the sadness. Because the very best way to honor those lost is to carry on. In the days, weeks, and months immediately following the attack, the country was united in its grief and caring response.

People traveled thousands of miles to help at Ground Zero. Blood donation centers were crammed with people wanting to donate. American flags were hung from highway overpasses and store windows and attached to car antennas.

When we remember 9/11, we should remember that as well. We’re a nation of diverse and opinionated citizens, divided by party lines and different cultures and lifestyles. But when it comes down to it, we are all Americans. And we all need to remember those who were lost that terrible day.

We need to carry on with our lives and do the good that those 3,000 souls may have done if they had had the chance. Volunteer at the Food Shelf or the Violence Prevention Center or with the ambulance or fire department. Help a child with reading at a local school. Give blood. Clean up litter. Deliver meals-on-wheels. Just be kinder to one another.

And celebrate the wonderful life that we have been blessed with. Hug your kids and parents. Take time for coffee with your friends. And head to Radio Waves and dance!


That infamous day was the most powerful reminder I have ever been given that you should
never take life for granted and should treat each day as if it’s your last.
Bernard B. Kerik

Fair protest was not successful

I don’t always agree with Governor Mark Dayton. However, I do agree with a comment he made about the protest of the Minnesota State Fair by the Black Lives Matter group. According to the Pioneer Press, before Saturday’s fair protest, the governor said that while Black Lives Matter had valid concerns, the protest of the “Great Minnesota Get Together” was “inappropriate.”

The governor’s comments prompted another protest, of the Governor’s Mansion, on September 1. According to the Pioneer Press about 40 protesters listened to Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turner as he declared, “He’s calling what is a constitutional right of ours, of every single citizen of this country to protest, he’s calling that inappropriate.”

If I had the chance to talk to Turner, I would tell him that I respectfully disagree. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a protest can’t be called inappropriate. None of the Black Lives Matter marchers were arrested; none were harmed. Their right to free speech was not stifled.

Even if I disagreed with their message—which I do not—I would defend their right to use their voices. Citizens have the right to peaceably assemble and protest injustice.

But that doesn’t mean that the timing and the place of the protest were appropriate to the governor—or to me.

I was at the State Fair that day. As I wrote last week, it has been decades since our family made the trek to the Cities for the frivolity. We were all really excited about it.

And then we read the news report that a Black Lives Matter protest was to be held on the very day that we were going.

Our plans were made; we weren’t going to change them because of a protest that was to take place outside of the Fair. We went anyway, hoping that the march would be peaceful and that it wouldn’t affect our entry to the Fair.

It didn’t. We were impacted very little by the protest, although my overly sensitive granddaughter was nervous about the television helicopters that hovered overhead for several hours.

And, we didn’t get to see the parade, which was disappointing. Daughter-in-law Sara knew about the parade through the fairgrounds and researched to find the best spot to see the high school marching bands, floats and animals. We worked our way through the crowds and picked a spot along the route and waited. And waited…and waited.

Two of my three granddaughters waiting for the parade that never came. The little red wagon was a lifesaver with all the walking at the Fair!

Two of my three granddaughters waiting for the parade that never came. We still had fun and the little red wagon was a lifesaver with all the walking at the Fair!

We began to wonder if we were in the wrong spot and a passerby heard us. She told us the parade had been cancelled because of the protest.

We didn’t know why, but watching the news that evening we learned that the Black Lives Matter marchers had broken into two groups, one chanting at the main gate and another heading to another entrance. St. Paul police and fair security officers had closed the main gate, stopping the protestors from entering to disrupt the fair. When the second group approached the unlocked gate, police headed to that gate to close it as well.

There was a bit of a tussle as the police locked the gate, some protestors attempted to force their way in. But the gate was closed and it didn’t appear that anyone was injured.

However, it did prevent anyone who wanted to leave the fair at that exit from leaving and it blocked those who paid to enter the fair from entering at that gate for several hours.

And, because that gate was used as part of the parade route and police felt they could not guarantee the safety of the thousands of people at the fair if the gate was opened, the parade was cancelled.

That is why I agree with Governor Dayton. It was inappropriate to disrupt families who wanted to enjoy the fair. It was unfair to block band members who had practiced all year for that day at the parade. It was unnecessary to frighten children with shouting and chanting at a traditionally family fun event.

Especially after reading reports that the Fair organizers reached out to Black Lives Matter. According to MPR, State Fair general manager Jerry Hammer offered the group a booth at the Fair to share its information and concerns. Protestors could have taken the fair up on the offer and could have spent a full week talking to the hundreds of thousands of people that attended the fair. Marchers may have been surprised that many inside the Fair gates share some of the same concerns.

If the goal was to simply get 15 minutes of fame on television, the Black Lives Matter protest was successful. If the goal was to initiate civil dialog about the need for ethnic diversity at the Fair, it was not.

And yes, Governor, I agree. It was inappropriate.


A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Nippersinkers at the State Fair

MinnesotaStateFairLogoA few weeks ago, daughter-in-law Sara mentioned that she and Gideon and their girls planned to go to the Twin Cities to go to the Minnesota Zoo and the Minnesota State Fair.

How fun, I thought, quietly wishing that I could go too. I know I’m a bit crazy, especially for wanting to go to the “Great Minnesota Get Together.” All the people, the smells, the gooey and greasy foods, the traffic, the heat… But I love it.

Or at least I did the one time I attended the state fair. It was years and years ago, when my oldest son was just three years old. I went with a family group, with my aunt Nelda, cousin Sue, her children Roger and Rebecca, my sister Rhodelle, little Benjamin and our dear friend Inga, who recently passed away.

It was a wonderful trip. We also went to Valley Fair amusement park, but I remember the fair the best, with the people, the fun carnival games, and the cool chairlift that gave us a bird’s eye view over the fairgrounds.

We saw the country group Alabama in the bandstand. It was a fabulous concert. To this day when I hear Play me some mountain music…or If you’re gonna play in Texas…. I’m transported back to that energetic and entertaining concert.

Even the massive downpour that hit as we were leaving the concert didn’t detract from the fun. It rained so hard it was like we were standing in a shower. We started to run to the parking area, but after a few yards we realized running was futile. Our vehicles were many blocks away, there was no way we wouldn’t be drenched when we got there. So instead we slowed down and danced in the rain.

Inga, always a kook, started singing. At that time there was a silly MccDonald’s commercial about some kids at Camp Nippersinkers that got rained out and the kind counselor that took them to Mickey-D’s to dry out. Inga started singing the jingle at the top of her lungs, “We are Nippersinkers. We’re in luck. If it rains all week, just pretend you’re a duck!”

Wewereall shivering uncontrollably— but giggling hysterically— by the time we reached our cars. The rest of the weekend was fun too, but that day was the best. It is a wonderful memory and it is precious now that Inga is gone.

I haven’t been back to the fair. In part because we are just too busy, but also because Chuck is normally a crowd-hater. He doesn’t like large groups of people. He can’t stand waiting in line. And he doesn’t like heat. So I haven’t ever asked if he wanted to go to the fair. He does a lot of things for me, but I thought that would be pushing the envelope of his patience.

So when Sara talked about their trip, I just thought, how fun, and went on about my business. However, a few days later Sara was at our house again and she mentioned it and Chuck asked if we could invite ourselves to go along.

I was in shock. I had to look around to see if there was a ventriloquist throwing his voice, pretending to be Chuck. I resisted the impulse to feel his forehead, to see if he was feverish. Instead I pointed out that the fair is crazy with people, that traffic is crazy in the Cities and that it will be hot down there. I asked him if he was serious.

To my delight, he said yes! So we are heading to the state fair—not only the normally crazy and chaotic fair, but opening weekend of the fair, no less. Hopefully it won’t rain. But if it does, we’ll just have to make the most of it. Wish us luck!


Money is spent and forgotten, while unforgettable memories live on.

Justine Kerfoot (Woman of the Boundary Waters

Trail Center advice

I love Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail for many reasons. The big metal malt cups, the Fungi sandwich, the world’s smallest ice cream sundae, and the new artery-clogging but delectable, deep-fried bacon. I also like the tasty Camp Chow samples on the counter and the funky T-shirts and clothing items offered for sale.

But I think what I like best about Trail Center is the attitude of the place. Everyone is welcome. The décor says it all, from framed Royal Canadian Mounted Police posters to pink-glitter slippers; from campaign posters of many different county elections to the big bumper-sticker covered log chairs, it is clear the opinions of the owner are all over the board.

Sarah Hamilton and her “crew” welcome everyone, local or visitor; cross country skier or snowmobiler; hiker or ATVer; paddler or pontooner. As long as you are accepting of others, you will find yourself at home at Trail Center.

Chuck and I visited Trail Center recently with our wonderful Indiana and Minneapolis relatives. We were shocked by a line of people waiting to enter the dining room. We’re spoiled. Most of the time the restaurant signs says “Seat Yourself.”

But we didn’t mind. There are a lot of interesting things to look at on the little store shelves and of course Camp Chow samples to try. We weren’t in a hurry, we were just riding around on the Trail to give our relatives the Cook County experience.

We were seated within a few minutes and ordered shakes and malts.

My wonderful sister-in-law and me picking out our malts at Trail Center.

My wonderful sister-in-law and me picking out our malts at Trail Center.

The Trail Center staff was friendly and helpful as always, but they did look a bit frazzled. As we were waiting, I reread the note on the back of the Trail Center table top drink menu.

The note offers “a little food for thought while you wait for yours.” It goes on to remind visitors that Trail Center is a small restaurant in a small community that serves as few as 40 people per day during the off season (November through April). Amazingly—and the reason we had to wait—those numbers can reach 500 during the summer months.

The note continues, “We are sorry you have to wait, but expanding our restaurant to service these few months would put us out of business.”

Finally, in Trail Center style, the note finishes by saying, “We are very glad you are here and hope you can relax and enjoy us. We enjoy you.”

I think the Trail Center notice should be painted on a billboard and set up at the county line. Although Trail Center is the only business I know that verbalizes this frustration, there are many others who feel the same.

The entire county has the same problem. Most of our stores, gas stations and restaurants have a solid core staff year round. In the shoulder seasons, those of us who live here year round are able to waltz in just about any place at any time and receive almost instant and attentive service.

But then the opening of fishing comes and slowly and steadily, traffic increases and lines get longer at the checkout counters. Our quiet little community gets overrun with vacationers and by the 4th of July, the pace in our local businesses is frantic.

Most of the time we don’t mind. If visitors are happy—as they should be on vacation—and treat the service community kindly, it can be fun trying to keep up with it all. Servers dance between tables and joke with customers. Gift shop owners get shoppers through the line with utmost speed, smiling and chatting. As long as people are patient and cheerful, it all works.

That is why it would be nice to have the Trail Center note printed far and wide. As summer winds down, we could all use the reminder— relax and enjoy!

I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.

Robert Michaels MD


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 292 other followers