Although I had great intentions to write up my entry about the top 10 news events in the Brainerd area for 2004 earlier this week, I didn’t get around to doing so as soon as I would have liked. I’ve been consumed in working on a major project that I hope will be all done by the time Christmas vacation ends on Tuesday. In any case, I’ll post more about this project later, and, since it involves the creation of a website, I’ll also post a link to it on my blog. All I’ll say for now is not to expect anything that fascinating; though the website I’m making involves a topic interesting to me, I suspect the majority will find my website rather unexciting.
Since the clock has not yet struck midnight on January 1, 2005, however, I’d like to get to my list of the top 10 news stories. I see the Brainerd Dispatch published its own list in Thursday’s newspaper. I will assure you right now that I did not look at the Dispatch’s list before putting my list together. I used my own thoughts and ideas to create my list of the top 10 news stories in the Brainerd area for 2004.
So, let’s get on with the list…
10. Unusually Cold August Damages Crops
The summer of 2004 could be called the summer that wasn’t, due to the usually cold weather that persisted throughout the months of June, July, and August. While it is true, there were some warm days – with highs in the mid-80s or even above 90 – the majority of the summer of 2004 featured temperatures greatly below average. In no month were the below normal temperatures more apparent than in August, which, behind July, is usually the second-warmest month of the year. August 2004 was different than most Augusts, however, in that it was the coldest August in Brainerd since the mid-1970s, and the coldest August ever in the state of Minnesota. This past August featured, for the first time in many Augusts, frost. The near-freezing temperatures toward the middle and end of the month caused many crops to suffer irreversible damage. Those crops not destroyed by frost, meanwhile, were stunted further in their growth, much to the disappointment of farmers, who had hoped the month of August would be a way to make up for the colder-than-normal temperatures of June and July that had caused so many crops to be vastly underdeveloped in the first place.
Coolness Kills Crops
9. Brainerd Dispatch Goes Morning
History was made on the morning of April 19, 2004, when the Brainerd Daily Dispatch underwent an enormous transformation. Chief among the changes at the Dispatch was the fact that instead of being published at 12 PM and available for delivery or purchase at 2 PM, the Dispatch would now be published in the wee hours of the morning – while the majority of Brainerd’s residents are in slumber – and obtainable for purchase or delivery just as most people in Brainerd are waking up to begin their day. Deciding to go morning was a great break from tradition – at no time in the city’s history had the Brainerd (Daily) Dispatch ever been a morning newspaper, even when there were 2 other daily newspapers competing with it. The Dispatch’s decision to publish on mornings certainly caused numerous people in the Dispatch’s coverage area, subscribers and non-subscribers alike, to talk. Besides going morning, however, the Dispatch also made a few other changes, including getting rid of the word Daily in the title, and completely altering the way the newspaper looks. In total, it appears the Dispatch’s changes have been embraced by the community; now that the newspaper has become a morning paper, there’s likely no going back.
Farewell to an Afternoon Paper
A Morning Perspective
Dispatch to Sport New Look Monday
Making a Switch
Last Afternoon Daily Press Run
8. Baxter Kmart Closes
After having survived two rounds of massive store closings, it appeared as if everything was going fine with the Baxter Kmart, or at least fine enough for the bigwigs at the Troy, Michigan-based company to decide to keep the store operating. All that changed on August 27, however, when the Baxter Kmart's fate was sealed not as a part of another round of store closures, but rather due to the Kmart Corporation’s decision not to renew the lease on the store that had anchored Brainerd/Baxter’s Westgate Mall for 25 years. The news that the Baxter Kmart would be shuttered was definitely surprising, particularly since Kmart was on the upswing since its dive into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2002. Approximately 60 to 75 employees at the Kmart in Baxter were affected by the closure of the store.
Kmart to Close
Kmart Started Bix Box Retail Boom
7. Northways Die in Plane Crash
Deadly plane crashes, both on a large and small scale, are rare events. So, it’s no surprise that the news that two people from the Brainerd Lakes Area died suddenly in a freak plane crash on October 26 in a heavily-wooded area of central Wisconsin took the community by such shock. Even more shocking, however, was the fact that Nor-Son-co-founder Ed Northway – who had been piloting his small Cessna 210 on the way home from Washington D.C. – and his wife, Jann, were the crash’s victims. Two days after the crash – when the names of the two people who died in the crash were publicly released – the Brainerd Dispatch published a poignant article describing the lives of the two people who were lost; check the links below to read this article.
Couple From Area Killed in Wisconsin Plane Crash
Northways Plane Crash Victims
To His Children, Ed Northway 'Our Rock'
Jann Northway was a 'Special Person'
Obituary: Ed and Jann Northway
6. Final Day of School at Washington Middle School
December 17 marked not only the beginning of Christmas vacation for students of the Brainerd School District, but the end of an era for the city of Brainerd as well. Friday December 17, 2004 was the final day that school was held at Washington Middle School. The 75-year-old building, built in 1929 to house the Brainerd Senior High School will now never be used as a school again. Cast aside as a school as part of the $60 million bond referendum passed in 2002 to provide for construction of a new middle school to house 5-8 grades in Baxter, the historic icon of a building in Brainerd will now serve wholly as offices of Independent School District 181, and, as such, as a shell of its former self. A “goodbye” ceremony honoring the legacy of Washington school and its interconnectedness to the city of Brainerd was held in early December, two weeks before students left Washington forever.
School to Close, Memories Live On
Remembering Old School
Closing Ceremony Really Takes the Cake
Forestview Ready for Students
5. Area Soldiers Deployed
The reality of United States’ involvement in foreign affairs came to light locally when two groups of military personnel were deployed on missions overseas. The first group, made up largely of soldiers from Brainerd and Wadena, was called up for duty in October. The 152 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, Company A left for training in Fort Dix, N.J, after which time they departed the United States to go to Kuwait. The second group of soldiers, the 434th Main Support Battalion, Company A, from Camp Ripley was deployed in late November as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A majority of the 153 soldiers in this group reside in Brainerd, Little Falls, or Pierz. A fence lined with 152 yellow ribbons – each one containing a name of a soldier from the 1st Battalion, 194th Armor – can be found near Motley along MN Highway 210. Though simple in its design, the fence with the ribbons provides a stirring tribute to those local residents currently active overseas.
Tearful Departure Scene Repeated in Wadena
Motorcycles Give Escort to Troops
Ribbons in a Row
Another Area Unit to be Deployed to Iraq
4. Suspect in Erika Dalquist Disappearance Captured
After the remains of Erika Dalquist were found on a property east of Brainerd in May, it became immediately clear that William Gene Myears, the man Brainerd police had long suspected as being the one who killed Dalquist, had to be found. Although Myears had confessed to being the one who kidnapped and later killed Erika Dalquist, police were unable to detain him because of a lack of evidence, namely the body of Dalquist. After Dalquist’s remains were found, however, Brainerd police quickly issued an All Points Bulletin to help find Myears. Long gone from Minnesota, Myears had last been confirmed as being in North Carolina; however, by the time Dalquist’s remains were found, police had no idea where precisely Myears was. Even though the FBI was granted authority to find Myears and arrest him wherever he may be, it took 4 weeks after the remains of Dalquist were found to find Myears. After seeing him featured on Fox TV’s America’s Most Wanted, a women in Birmingham, Michigan – a suburb of Detroit – called local police to report seeing a man fitting Myears’ description working at a carnival in Birmingham. Sure enough, when police approached this man, they realized they had found Myears. Though Myears has not yet been formally charged in the death of Erika Dalquist, his arrest definitely brought an enormous sense of closure to the city of Brainerd.
Dalquist Suspect Captured
Myears Won't Fight Extradition
Myears Back in Brainerd
Myears Appears in Court Here
3. Dru Sjodin’s Body Found
When 22-year-old University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin suddenly disappeared after going to work at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota on November 22, 2003, many people suspected the worse: Sjodin had been a helpless victim of foul play. Nothing could be proved, however, because nobody could seem to find Sjodin, alive or dead. April 17, 2004 was a life-changing day, however, for those who either knew Sjodin or were captivated by the story of her disappearance. Saturday, April 17 was the day Sjodin’s remains were found in a small ravine off of a county road near Crookston, Minnesota. Blame was immediately placed on a man named Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr., who, as a registered level 3 sex offender living in Crookston at the time of Sjodin’s disappearance, had already been a top suspect in the case. Even though Sjodin’s disappearance took place in Grand Forks, North Dakota, she is forever connected with the Brainerd Lakes Area. Sjodin grew up in Pequot Lakes, having graduated from Pequot Lakes High School before going on to college in Grand Forks. The impact Sjodin’s death had on the Brainerd Lakes Area was revealed on April 24, when more than 1,500 people attended Dru’s funeral at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa.
Discovery of Dru's body brings both pain and relief to Pequot Lakes
Atopsy Reveals Dru was Murdered
Friends, Family Gather for Dru's Wake
A Loving Farewell for Dru
Dru Comes Home
2. Missota Sells Paper Mill/ Wausau Paper Buys
When Potlatch announced plans to cease operations of the sprawling Brainerd paper mill in April 2002, a great void seemed to open in the Brainerd Lakes Area. The paper mill had been a source of numerous good, high-paying manufacturing jobs in the Brainerd area, and after Potlatch decided to get out of the paper business in Brainerd, it appeared that Brainerd would never again have a manufacturing employer in the vein of Potlatch ever again. Hope changed, however, in February 2003 when Missota Paper Company bought the Brainerd mill and decided to open it back up, albeit on a much smaller scale than under Potlatch’s reign. After extensive losses, though, attributed to an overall slump in the paper industry, Missota decided to put the Brainerd mill on an extended shutdown on November 1, 2003. By February of 2004, Missota had had enough; it decided to put the Brainerd mill up for sale. It took until October 1 before a company finally bound the mill; this company turned out to be Wausau Paper, based in Mosinee, Wisconsin. Wausau Paper revved up the machinery to produce paper on December 3, and, for the first time in more than a year, the Brainerd mill was once again producing paper. Residents of Brainerd are optimistic that the Wausau Paper Mill will be successful; Wausau Paper is seen as a reputable, high-quality company that will try its hardest to make the mill thrive.
Missota Trying to Sell Mill
Brainerd Mill has New Owner
Wausau Paper Buys Missota
Wausau Paper Completes Paper Mill Purchase
Mill's Paper Machine to Start Rolling
Mill is Back in Operation
1. Erika Dalquist’s Body Found
May 15, 2004 was a day that many thought would never come, but to people who knew Erika Dalquist, the day had long been hoped for. On the afternoon of May 17, a man stumbled upon what hundreds of people had been searching for, for nearly 18 months: the body of Erika Dalquist. Ever since the 21-year-old Pillager women disappeared on October 30, 2002, foul play had been suspected. William Gene Myears was the police’s prime suspect in the Dalquist’s disappearance; he had admitted to being with Dalquist the night she disappeared from the Tropical Nights in downtown Brainerd as well as killing her and getting rid of her body. Myears told police, however, that he did not remember where he put Dalquist’s body, leaving police in a quandary. It took the eyes of Terry Cleys and the nose of a bloodhound named Calamity Jane to find Dalquist’s skeletal remains, which, as luck would have it, were in a wooded area owned by Norman and Arleen Myears, grandparents of William Gene Myears. Although the hard reality that Dalquist was killed and will never be coming back is heartbreaking, the discovery of her remains and the eventual capture of the man who undoubtedly was responsible for her death provides a conclusion to the Erika Dalquist story.
Dalquist's Body Found
'A Bittersweet Day'
Erika, Dru Forever Linked
Man Finds Erika While Looking for Dog
Pillager residents relieved
She's Coming Home Now
Search for Erika Over, Search for Justice Begins
But Where is Myears?