2013: Year in review part 2


A lot happened in the Stillwater area in 2013. Some events held such historic significance that they will be remembered for many years to come. Although the memory of other events will fade more quickly, they still held meaning for residents this year and have shaped the community as it moves into the future.

The Gazette staff is pleased to present the final set of the year’s top stories. The first set appeared in the Jan. 1, 2014, edition of the Gazette and is available here. We have not attempted to rank these stories in order of importance but present them as a reflection on the past year as we bid farewell to 2013.

-Sobiech’s life, music inspire millions
-Stillwater will have a summer festival again
-Healthy living was a hot topic
-Downtown Stillwater projects progress
-8 alcohol check failures at once

Sobiech’s life, music inspire millions

Zach Sobiech’s song “Clouds” went viral shortly after he died in May 2013.

Zach Sobiech, who died of cancer May 20, continues to inspire millions with his message of love, hope and helping others. The 18-year-old dealt with osteosarcoma for three years before passing weeks before his graduation from Stillwater Area High School.

During the last months of his life, the 18-year-old Sobiech shared that message through the establishment of the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund and the release of his music, including the chart-topping song “Clouds.”

Sobiech’s music, infectious lyrics and simple tunes have imprinted on the minds and hearts of millions around the world. “Clouds” made his battle with Osteosarcoma public when it became a YouTube sensation and topped the iTunes chart shortly after his death.

“Our family has been blessed, not only by his amazing presence in our lives, but also by the love and support of our family and friends and by so many people in the community,” Sobiech’s family said in a statement. “In particular we’d like to thank those people who listened with their hearts and helped Zach bring his message and his music to the world.”

The ripple effect from his life seemed to keep spreading all year.

In Sobiech’s honor, his high school classmates made more than 300 art kits and wrote encouraging notes for Amplatz Children’s Cancer Hospital during the all-night party for graduates in June.

In August the Relay for Life event at Stillwater Area High School honored Sobiech.

His legacy continued inspiring and helping others in September when his family and girlfriend presented a $568,704 check to the University of Minnesota Medical Foundation to use for research into the prevention and cure of osteosarcom.

A “choir” of about 5,000 people gathered in the Mall of America in early December.

CNN recently named Sobiech to its list of five “extraordinary people” for 2013.

CNN had this to say about Sobiech:

“He used music to find peace and purpose during his suffering. Zach Sobiech may have lost his battle with cancer last May, but his music and his message of hope continue to make an impact in the world today.”

The magazine People also named him one of its “heroes among us.”

Laura Sobiech, Zach’s mother, plans to release an inspirational book about Zach, called “Fly a Little Higher,” on the anniversary of his death.

Stillwater will have a summer festival again

Fireworks explode at Lumberjack Days in 2011, the last year the festival took place. The Stillwater City Council has approved a new summer festival for 2014. (Gazette file photo)
Fireworks explode at Lumberjack Days in 2011, the last year the festival took place. The Stillwater City Council has approved a new summer festival for 2014. (Gazette file photo)

In 2014 the city of Stillwater will have a summer festival organized by a local group.

The Locals, a nonprofit, was selected from a group of heavy-hitting competitors that petitioned for the rights to bring the city’s festival back two years after it was discontinued due to financial issues and decreased public support under the previous organizer, Dave Eckberg. This summer, Stillwater Log Jam will replace the former Lumberjack Days.

Getting approval for Stillwater Log Jam was made possible by a strong grass roots effort with email campaigns and public support that packed city hall on the evening that Members of The Locals gave their presentation to Stillwater City Council Oct. 29. In a vote of 4-1 Nov. 7, The Locals group was selected as the one to carry the festival forward. Councilmember Doug Menikheim dissented citing financial concerns.

The group includes Cassie McLemore and Erin McQuay of Cuckoo Productions, Paul Creager of Square Lake Productions, Brad Glynn of Lift Bridge Brewery, and Shawn Smalley of Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque.

The group beat out three competitors, including big production companies such as Filo productions — which organizes festivals internationally and events such as the NBA All-Star Game — and Mid-America Festivals, which organizes Renaissance Festivals across the country and the Trail of Terror at Valley Fair. A third presenter, Woody McBride, of Genius of Fun, events pitched an idea but then rescinded his pitch at the final decision-making meeting saying that he didn’t believe his proposed event was what the city was looking for.

Since the decision was made on Nov. 7, The Locals have worked with the city to finalize the details of their contract and continue talks with area businesses.

“The planning is going really well,” McLemore said before the holidays. “We’re still in negotiations with different organizations and volunteerism and sponsorship groups. We’re very excited. We’ve broken into small groups kind of like a divide-and-conquer model, and we’re really well organized. We’ll start revealing information going forward about what sort of acts we’re working on. We’re technically still in talks with the city making sure we’re all in agreement and that we’ve coordinated with police with runs, parades and the soapbox derby and all the safety things involved in that.”

Though the members of their group admit that they haven’t tackled regional scale events in the past, they have engaged a team of accountants from Abdo, Eick & Meyers, insurance managers, and a financial advisor to guide them in their undertaking and to ensure transparency.

The event will be far more than “the souped-up church picnic minus the potluck,” that Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki was expecting when he heard who was involved in their group .

Highlights of Log Jam, which would mark the 80th anniversary of a Stillwater Summer Festival, will include musical acts. Other ideas floated to the city council included lumberjack demonstrations, a Miss Stillwater pageant, a waterski show and dragon boat races, a historical boat tour with a partnership secured with Let’s Go Fishing Stillwater, tethered hot air balloon rides and historic-themed rooms in various businesses around the area. The weekend would also include some old favorites, like the historic baseball tournament and a fireworks display.

“To keep track of the progress people can follow us on our Keep Lumberjack Days Local page, and if people have questions they can ask us there,” McLemore said.

According to its Facebook page, The Locals group will host an event in January to harness volunteer support and show a rough schedule of Stillwater Log Jam. Lift Bridge Beer will host the evening 5-9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, to allow people to meet the five board members of the nonprofit. Those interested in volunteering or learning more are encouraged to attend. Live music will be provided by Thrift Store Sonata. Food, beer and root beer will also be available.

Healthy living was a hot topic

Charlee Leonard, 2, eats a sample of an easy-to-prepare healthy tuna salad during Valley Outreach's open house Oct. 30.
Charlee Leonard, 2, eats a sample of an easy-to-prepare healthy tuna salad during Valley Outreach’s open house Oct. 30.

From the beginning  to the end of 2013, eating right and living a healthy lifestyle were common themes in the Stillwater area.

In February, Lakeview Health moved its PowerUP program into St. Croix Valley schools with several high-energy kick-off events.

PowerUP began in the second half of 2012, but it gained steam in 2013. It partners with area businesses, schools and other organizations with the goal of inspiring community change that makes it easier for children and their families to eat well, be active and stay healthy.

One of PowerUP’s partners was  the Valley Outreach food shelf in Stillwater, which completed an extensive remodeling project in October.

In addition to creating more storage space (which will save the organization an estimated $20,000 annually), the project emphasized healthy foods. Installing freezers allowed the food shelf to carry frozen fruits and vegetables.

Valley Outreach also expanded its fresh produce  and whole-grain selection and arranged its shelves to make healthy foods more appealing. In addition, it began offering simple, healthy recipes families can make quickly.

Another health-related initiative was a study to assess how bike-friendly the Stillwater area is. The study was initiated by the Downtown Revitalization Committee (a subcommittee of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce).

The committee invited the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota to conduct the study and make recommendations about how to make the area more bike-friendly.

Although the committee is approaching the study primarily from a business standpoint, groups such as PowerUP and the city have taken an interest for a variety of reasons, some health-related. The study kicked off in October. Public presentations of the results are expected early in 2014.

In November, Washington County accepted a $100,000 planning grant from the state to get back into the Statewide Health Improvement Program, known as SHIP.

The county had been involved in the program from 2009-2011, but the state cut back on funding temporarily. During its 2013 session, the Legislature increased the funding, to make the program available to all counties that completed the appropriate steps. Washington County took advantage of the opportunity.

Downtown Stillwater projects progress

It seemed that anywhere you went this summer construction ruled the day, and that was doubly true in downtown Stillwater.

The city saw several improvements this year, including the long-awaited completion of the Lowell Park levee project.

In the summer of 2013 the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $722,000 contract to the St. Paul-based Povolny Group to begin construction of the Lowell Park levee project. The project had been discussed for about 20 years with the Army Corps of Engineers saying in summer 2012 that the project would begin in the fall, then delaying it again. The corps came back in August 2012, after the city council had discussed moving ahead on its own, and said it had the money in hand to move forward.

Stillwater Community Development Director Bill Turnblad said the levee project, which will provide 100-year flood protection, was completed in November, except for some minor details that can be finished quickly in the spring.

Other projects the city took on this year included resurfacing parking lots, the installation of an amphitheater and some work on the Brown’s Creek Trail, which begins near the old Zephyr train depot on the north side of Main Street. The completion of the pedestrian plaza was also a highlight.

All the improvements that took place during the past summer are part of the Downtown Chapter of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Turnblad said the city is looking into adding a superstructure to the amphitheater in the northern part of Lowell Park that can be removed when it’s not in use.

“We’re still working on the Brown’s Creek Trail, and it should be finished by fall 2014,” Turnblad said. “The construction of the bridge on Manning will start this spring. By the time the new bridge (St. Croix Crossing) opens, we’re hoping to have it all tied in.”

Next summer, Turnblad said, MnDOT will construct a portion of the loop trail, which will eventually cross the Stillwater Lift Bridge and connect to the Brown’s Creek Trail and other local trail systems in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It will end behind the Freight House. Construction of the first part of the trail is scheduled to happen a little earlier than expected.

Turnblad said the next step when it comes to the trail will be installing support structures for the trail, water stations and other amenities that can be added to the trail head parking lots. The city is also working on plans to reuse the shoddy mill and the warehouse that were moved in 2012.

Projects coming up include the completion of the parking lots, and connecting the trail north of Mulberry to the Brown’s Creek Trail. By the end of summer 2014, Turnblad hopes, the trail will be complete up to Myrtle Street.

8 alcohol check failures at once

Eight local establishments were cited for alcohol compliance violations by the Stillwater Police Department the weekend of Aug. 10-11.

The operation was one of the routine compliance checks run by the department each year.

The establishments that failed the compliance checks were Grand Pizza, Chilkoot Cafe, Osaka Express, Oak Glen Golf Course, Lowell Inn, Mara Mi, Stillwater American Legion Post No. 48 and the Stillwater Country Club.

The high failure rate is atypical, according to Sgt. Jeff Stender. He noted that past compliance checks have included only two alcohol compliance failures, and none of those cited this time has a recent history of alcohol compliance violations.

“I was surprised and I can’t say why the compliance checks failed,” Stender said. “I don’t know the root cause, but I just know that servers in these eight establishments weren’t doing their jobs.”

Penalties for establishments that fail compliance checks can be two-pronged. Stender said the server can be charged with a gross misdemeanor and fined up to $3,000 and two years in jail. But he said that rarely happens.

“The liquor license holder is the responsible party and technically they could be charged criminally, but here (in Stillwater) we have civil penalties in the form of a fine,” Stender said.

After four violations within three years, an establishment could lose its liquor license.

Stender said the violations cited in August were the first offenses in the past three years for each establishment.

“Servers going forward should take their responsibility seriously and check IDs,” he said.

Compiled by Avery Cropp and Jonathan Young