A look back at 2014!

A look at stories that transcended beyond Pine City…


  • For a look back at ‘08, click here.
  • For a look back at ‘09, click here.
  • For a look back at ‘10, click here.
  • For a look back at ‘11, click here.
  • For a look back at ‘12, click here.
  • For a look back at ’13, click here.



A look back at 2013

A look at stories that transcended beyond Pine City…


  • White powder envelope scare.  A 45-year-old Pine City area man, Johnnie Long (not to be confused with blues singer “Jonny Lang”), faces 24 terrorism-related charges after allegedly sending white powder-laced letters to the local courthouse, forcing its evacuation in the midst of a high-profile court case.  The strange motive:  to get back at his ex-wife and her new man.  Long was no stranger to authorities in Pine County: According to the sheriff, he allegedly faked his own kidnapping prior, and, according to the charges, he also placed fake explosive devices around town.  His odd-duck behavior seemed to be headed toward something even more serious.  Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.
  • Horses, other animals seized from area farmer, twice.  A Pine City-area woman, Kathy Doenz, was discovered to have a long history of animal neglect, and within a month of each other, there two confiscations of animals in her care this past year.  Previously, in 2006, she was charged with 35 counts of animal neglect.   The Pine County Sheriff’s Dept. had to take many animals into their custody and find placement for them.
  • Pine City High School lock-down.  Just three days after a high-profile high school shooting in Arapahoe High School in Colorado, students in Pine City High School were locked in their building after a report of a student leaving home with a rifle, shotgun and ammunition.   Authorities caught the two students who were involved, off campus, and charged both with two counts of a theft of a firearm, and one of them with two counts of firearms on school property.   The firearms were located and confiscated from a locked vehicle on campus.  Although the investigation remains ongoing, it is possible the precautionary lockdown, where classes continued but students couldn’t leave the building without a parent or guardian, may have saved lives.  
  • Sheriff outspoken on nation’s gun laws.  Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole sent an open letter stating his position on the Second Amendment.  In the letter, Cole stated that the right to bear arms is “fundamental” and “part of life in country”.   Some viewed it as a rogue move and the sheriff who didn’t want to enforce President Obama’s gun proposals, but Sheriff Cole said he did so after receiving numerous phone calls from residents afraid they would lose their right to bear arms.  Sheriff Cole estimated 80 percent of residents in Pine County own a firearm, and stated that guns were not the problem, but suggested a deeper look at mental illness and violent video games takes place.


  • Dennis Roghair – One of the world’s most renowned chainsaw carvers passed on April 20, 2013, at the age 60.  He started chainsaw carving in 1974 and sold handmade carvings to pay for part of his college tuition.  After deciding that his career choice of wildlife management meant too much paperwork and not enough forest, he turned to woodcarving.  He would dazzle crowds with his roaring hobby.  He carved everything from miniature and life-sized birds and animals, to replicas Dan Patch and Smokey the Bear.  Whereas most carvers of the day were producing eagles and bears, Roghair challenged that stereotype.  Consider his 31-foot, 23-ton redwood carving of a voyageur holding a canoe paddle commissioned by the City of Pine City; or his giant mosquito ordered by a woman whose father moved to Arizona from Minnesota to escape the insects.  His works were showcased and for sale in his own store, Kettle River Carvings & Gift Shop in Hinckley.  He was featured in the book “Art of Chainsaw Carving” and his works are also on display elsewhere in Minnesota:  After Dutch elm disease started to claim many trees at the Minnesota Stat e Fair Grounds in the 1980s, the fair commissioned him to carve nearly 30 tree sculptures there.   Also, in St. Paul, there’s one of his carvings outside a bookstore, and another in the backyard of the Governor’s residence.  There’re several for the City of Plymouth, and some at the U of M.  He has traveled many places to do commissioned work or shows and his work has been purchased by individuals from around the world including countries such as Japan, Germany, France, and Denmark to name a few.  Roghair had earned honors as a 10-time world championship chainsaw carver. 


  • Homeless shelter turns away 200 in first year.  Granted, the shelter covers a multi-county area in East Central Minnesota, but did you read that headline?  The shelter turned away 200 homeless people, this according to co-founder Deacon Gene Biever.  Yikes!  It did serve 43 people in its first year of operations and there were a good number of success stories of those folks transitioning out of homelessness.
  • Pine City adds jobs, lots of them.  Since 2007, over 500 new jobs have been created in Pine City and there are now over 2,000 jobs in town.   Unemployment is down; spirits are up, considering the economy is making somewhat of a rebound.


  • Shane Bauer writes memoir of detainment.  Want to know more about the “Free the Hikers” movement, and about the son (of the Pine City mom) who was captured and imprisoned in Iran, simply for hiking?  This book, due out in March, is sure to be a good read, and a good seller.


  • 13 people file for school board.  In possibly one of the most contested school board races in the State, and for sure in Pine City School District No. 578’s history, 13 candidates sought four offices.  Three incumbents were re-elected and one new member, Dr. Candice Ames, came aboard. The hot-button topic of this election was not test scores, equipment or facility needs.  No, it was an electronic, programmable-message sign of all things.
  • For a look back at ’08, click here.
  • For a look back at ’09, click here.
  • For a look back at ’10, click here.
  • For a look back at ’11, click here.
  • For a look back at ’12, click here.

GPS 45:93 looks back, plans its future

With the belief that strategic planning for regional economic development is critical, members of GPS 45:93 set out to do just that on Sept. 23 around a large table in the Isanti County Courthouse in Cambridge, Minn. 

GPS 45:93 is a regional coalition working to promote dialogue and collaboration among the region’s public and private agencies in an effort to foster economic development.  Its location, four counties in east central Minnesota (Pine, Isanti, Chisago and Kanabec) places it within two hours of over 80-percent of the state’s population.

The organization’s need to plan was fueled by some regional factors that have come to be, including a higher-than-the-state-average unemployment and poverty rates, and lower-than-the-state-average diversity and educational attainment rates, as well as regional dependence on state aid, decreasing property values, and lack of venture and other sources of capital, among others.

The strategic planning process outlined those perceived weaknesses as well as the regions’ strengths and competitive advantages:  growth, quality of life, available—and affordable—land and workforce, natural amenities, existing regional collaboration, a history of successes, and a strong manufacturing base, among others.

The Initiative Foundation’s Dan Frank and Sandy Voigt were on-hand to facilitate the meeting.  Frank is the program manager for community development and Voigt is the business development specialist at the foundation.

They suggested that the group look beyond the region’s characteristics and look internally, into the organization of GPS 45:39, now in existence in its twelfth year, though first as Northern Technology Initiative.  The organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats became apparent and were discussed.

“Though we have a credible history, what does GPS 45:93 mean outside of the organization?” asked Sam Griffith, city administrator of Sandstone, Minn.  “There exists a lack of awareness.  What does our name say about us?”

Some of the goals that came out of the session included focusing more on economic development and marketing, and less on workforce development and organizational development. 

“Workforce development is being done elsewhere, in other agencies,” said Sara Trieber, current president of GPS 45:93 and a staffer for the Corporate Commission of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.  “And, we’ve already established our organization.  It’s no longer in development stage,” she added.

Now, GPS 45:93 can turn its energies to economic gardening, economic strategy and the like.  It has already completed business retention and expansion visits in its respective communities, as well as a network of ‘go-to’ people in each community.

Now that the group has a new name and identity, and all that goes along with that—a logo, tagline, Web site, etc.—it can create and implement a marketing plan. 

“We’ve come a long ways in a relatively short time,” said member Dr. Robert Musgrove, president of Pine Technical College, adding, “And, we realize we have a bright future if we are all working together.  We are of the philosophy that if one wins, all win.”

The tagline for GPS 45:93 is, “Your point of opportunity”.  Its precise coordinates, 45-degrees North (latitude) and 93-degrees West (longitude), when extended to their full six digits, lead to a point on the map near where four partner counties—Pine, Isanti, Chisago and Kanabec—touch.  Abbreviated, it leads to a simpler URL for its website, http://www.gps4593.com.  There, one can find useful links, testimonials, and information on the members of the consortium.

Operation Community Connect Returns to Pine County

How do you prepare for the winter?  For many people, the process is fairly simple.  Pull out the sweaters, scarves and hats from storage. Make sure that the snow-blower and shovels are ready to go.  However, for those individuals who are homeless, low-income or “living on little” the process is very different.  Often times for these individuals, preparing for winter involves spending beyond their budget or going without the necessary items. 

To assist Pine County residents prepare for the approaching cold weather, Pine City Horizons has organized Operation Community Connect (OCC). This is the second year in a row that the event will be held in Pine City. The goal of OCC is to connect low-income, homeless, and at-risk households to local resources and services. OCC provides an opportunity for a “one-stop shop” by helping individuals access all the resources and services that they need in one location.

The theme of this year’s OCC is to provide warmth. The services provided at the event reflect this goal at a variety of levels.  A free soup and sandwich lunch will be offered to each individual who attends.  Sweaters, jacket, blankets, mittens and other warm clothing will be given away. Lastly, a wide variety of county organizations will be on hand.  Public, private and non-profit agencies will be present covering topics such as housing, nutrition assistance, financial assistance, medical, mental health info, veteran services, and education and employment opportunities.

The effects of OCC can be felt well beyond this single day event. Previous OCCs have been used by researchers to strengthen their homelessness data for Pine County and Greater Minnesota. For example, the Wilder Foundation has used OCC and other drop-in service events as an opportunity to improve their homeless counts. Their findings have been used to increase funding and further address the issue of homelessness in Greater Minnesota.

This year, Pine County OCC will take place on October 13th from 12pm-6pm at the Lighthouse PCEFC in Pine City. Additionally, Arrowhead transport will be operating county-wide the day of the event. For further questions, to donate, or get involved please contact Lauren Ellmers at (320)629-2575ext 115 or by e-mail at lellmers@pinecitygov.com

Job Seeker? A Weekly Networking Group For You

Michele Kirby is an employment specialist with Central MN Jobs & Training Services (CMJTS) who works with those who are unemployed and seeking career changes or job assistance.   Kirby is starting a job seekers networking group that will meet at the Pine City Library every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. beginning June 2. 

“I work with the dislocated worker programs serving both Pine and Chisago County,” she explained.  “Anyone is invited to attend the networking meetings.”

According to Kirby, the group will focus on area resources for job seekers, assist with job seeking skills and provide emotional support.  

Anyone with questions or who would like to present can contact Kirby at mkirby@cmjts.org or by calling (320) 629-4555. 

Kirby specifically works as a counselor for the dislocated worker program which serves people who are laid off and receiving un-employment with possible enrollment for training and/or job seeking assistance. 

CMJTS is a non-profit agency that serves 11 counties throughout Central MN (including Pine County) with dislocated worker program, youth programs and a senior services program.  CMJTS is a partner of the Workforce Center system for the state of Minnesota.

People moving in, neighboring counties vacating

The real estate disaster in certain rural parts of the country is causing modern-day ghost towns to pop up.  While Pine County was one of the fastest-growth counties in Minnesota over the last decade (Rank: 18 of of 87), two counties adjacent to Pine County, Aitkin County and Burnett County, Wis., are suffering from depopulation and almost half of their housing stock–over 15,000 homes–sitting empty. 

While in good times, these areas were well on their way to becoming tourist havens (offering unique events such as the World Famous Aitkin Fish House Parade), much of the traffic has disappeared as the recession and gas prices have caused people to sell or desert vacation homes and delay trips for leisure.  Now, without the tourists around, these areas particularly desolate.  With Burnett County, Wis., and Aitkin County losing tax their bases, the future looks grim and budget cuts loom.

Where are people moving to?

On the bright side, Forbe’s reports that Pine County is seeing an influx of people, mostly coming from the Twin Cities area though some who once lived in Pine County are moving further out.

Pine County saw a net influx of new residents from Isanti, Mille Lacs, Anoka, Hennepin, Washington, Ramsey and Dakota Counties.  It lost residents to two northwestern Wisconsin counties as well as Chisago, Kanabec, Stearns, Carlton and St. Louis Counties.

City continues to grow, but is the number too low?

At last night’s Council meeting, City Planner Nathan Johnson called to question the city’s official population number that was released as a part of the Census 2010 data:  3,123. 

He didn’t see how the little change was possible given that number is just 80 more people than 10 years ago (when the population was 3,043), despite Pine City having over 100 new residential units than it had a decade ago.   Simple math, at 2.39 people per household would put roughly 250 people more in the City, not 80.  In addition, State Demographer Tom Gillespy’s office pegged Pine City’s estimated population in 2009 at 3,296 and its 2010 projection at 3,487, numbers Johnson felt were more in line with reality.

Johnson suggested the Council consider filing a “Count Question Resolution” as soon as the process allows it (June 1).  At least one other Minnesota city, Alexandria, also is preparing to file one, as was reported in MinnPost.  Following the 2000 Census, potential count problems were identified for 1,180 out of 39,000 jurisdictions — less than three percent of all governmental jurisdictions across the nation.  The final 2000 corrections resulted in a net gain in population of about 2,700 people. 

As the Star Tribune recently reported, a decade ago after Census 2000, a small town in Wyoming quadroupled in size after challenging the U.S. Census Bureau (going from one to four residents).  While Pine City will definitely not quadrouple, or even hit the next tier of Minnesota city sizes (5,000), Johnson felt that showing steady growth was key to demonstrating the vibrancy of the community to potential developers.

“We want to be on the ‘radar’ for companies looking for the right demographic mix to support their business,” he said.

As for the other, smaller Pine County communities, they seem to be doing just fine, population-wise.  Hinckley grew by 39.4 percent, from 1,291 in 2000 to 1,800 in 2010.  Rock Creek experienced a similar spurt; it’s population increased 31.3 percent, from 1,119 in 2000 to 1,628 in 2010.  Sandstone also grew by leaps and bounds; it’s 2010 population was 2,849 — 83.9 percent more than the 1,548 count in 2000.  Minnesota’s overall population increased 7.8 percent to just over 5.3 million.

Pine County was again among the fastest-growing counties in the state, (rank: 18 out of 87), whereas the population dropped in 37 counties across the state.  As for Pine City, the county seat, staff will continue to research the issue and see if there is a case to make to the Census Bureau for challenging the count this summer.

Transit: You now have a choice

Now a common sight along Pine City’s Main Street: An Arrowhead Transit bus. The company began its services transporting senior citizens in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota in 1974 and today offers rides to anyone who desires so. Ever expanding its service area–even into Pine County–it is now one of the largest rural transit providers in the country.

It’s been said that no matter where you live, when choices other than the private car are available for getting around, people will use them.  Pine Citians and others living outside the Twin Cities metro area are no exception thanks to expanding transit options.  

Minnesota 2020’s recent report on the state of Greater Minnesota transit found ridership from 2003 to 2009 grew by over 20 percent, and it’s projected to continue to grow.  Rising gas prices and the affordability of the system could be among the reasons why ridership numbers are rising.

Thought transit was an urban issue?  Consider this:  In 2008, 11.2 million rides were taken on Greater Minnesota transit, a 7.8 percent yearly increase, surpassing the Twin Cities.  In fact, more than 60 transit agencies across Greater Minnesota provide rides to tens of thousands of individuals each day. 

Arrowhead Transit, which serves seven northeastern counties covering 16,000 square miles, recently began offering Dial-a-Ride in Pine County–one of just a small handful of counties in the state with no transit at all.  In February, Arrowhead was averaging 16.9 passengers per day in Pine City, the county seat.   The transit company began transporting senior citizens in 1974 and is now one of the largest rural transit providers in the country.

Pine Citians now have a chance to seize a vitally important opportunity, by riding the bus.  Having transit in Pine County is a boon to the economy.   According to a Winona Daily News article,  “a government-sponsored study pegged transit’s average economic impact per rural county in America at more than $1 million per year, with a benefit-cost ratio of more than three-to-one in improved access to employment and education, increased tourism and tourism-related jobs and reduced living costs in remote areas.”

What kinds of transit is offered to Pine Citians?  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Arrowhead Transit offering door-to-door service for travel to work, school, medical appointments and other destinations.

Get on board to keep this exemplary system running and growing in Pine City and in Pine County!  For a pamphlet outlining services available in Pine City, click here.

More choices to come?

While bus transit is one alternative to getting around, other options are being discussed, for example, the the Rush Line (commuter rail) and the Northern Lights Express (high-speed passenger rail).  And, partially funded through a federal appropriation and a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant, is the Twin Cities-to-Twin Ports trail linkage, which will eventually connect the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports.  With the multitude of new transit modes in place, one won’t have to rely solely on the automobile.

Homelessness data released, prevalent in Pine

A homeless person standing outside of Pine Technical College, taken in the fall of 2010

When the “A Place For You” meeting began last night, Monday, Mar. 7, at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Deacon Gene Biever talked about a woman who came to the church earlier in the day who is homeless in Pine City, along with her two children. 

I thought to myself, “How sad”, because these are the actual faces to the numbers we hear about, the men, women and children of our community.  In addition, I also knew of another person who faces homelessness in a couple of weeks if he cannot find a place to live.   Personally, I’ve come to know nine (9) homeless Pine Citians in the last year.  Our community, unfortunately, is not immune to it.

On January 26, a Pine County Point-In-Time Count was taken.  It was a 12 degree F. night, hardly the conditions one would want to be in without a warm, secure place to rest.  On that night, there were 38 unsheltered persons counted within the County.  In addition, 54 (although, we can assume that more do) people were staying with family and friends to avoid being homeless.  

Some of the characteristics of the homeless are that they are veterans, victims of domestic abuse, chronic substance abusers, GLBT, mentally ill, unaccompanied youth and felons.   There was nearly every example of it in our county. 

Promising was that, at the meetings, progress is being made.  “A Place For You” may help alleviate this condition in our community.  At last night’s meeting, there was a discussion about whether to serve as an emergency or transitional shelter, and whether to serve singles or families.  Pros and cons of possible locations were discussed, including the former county detention center and the former Allina Clinic. 

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Mar. 28 at 5 p.m.   For more inforamtion, contact Pine City council member Mary Kay Sloan, who co-chairs along with Deacon Biever, at mkjsloan@gmail.com.

Pine County wants your input

Pine County would like to survey its residents to see what kind of cell phone and internet coverage is carried in their area.  They are looking at trying to help get better coverage to those areas that have no or limited coverage.  Please click here to obtain a PDF of the survey.  Thank you.