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The year of the Panther PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 December 2013 13:58

Top 10 stories of 2013

Wagner again shatters state records as Panthers take title


THANKS TO CARLIE, WE WERE THE CHAMPIONS — As NRHEG fans celebrate in the background, Carlie Wagner goes in for a layup after stealing the ball late during the Panthers’ state championship victory over Braham last March. Wagner and the Panthers were chosen the top story of the year by the Star Eagle for the second year in a row. (Star Eagle photo by Chris Schlaak)


Contributing Writer

Last year was one filled with big changes for our small communities of New Richland, Hartland, Ellendale and Geneva: a state championship, new administration at the school, a new area priest, and national attention for some of our own hometown heroes. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10 of the most important events, but the number one slot should be more than obvious.

Once again, Carlie Wagner and the Lady Panthers basketball team steal the spotlight, bringing home NRHEG’s first state championship. Coming off a 32-1 season and a third-place finish, the Panthers made their second visit to state in a row, their third appearance ever (the first being in 2004). Despite the loss of key player Jade Schultz four minutes into the semifinal game, the girls fought their way to victory, defeating Pelican Rapids, Minneapolis Washburn and finally undefeated Braham in what has been called one of the most exciting championship games in state tournament history.

If that’s not enough, Wagner, then a junior who is now signed with the Minnesota Gophers, set five new state records: most points in a tournament, 129; most points in a game, 50; most field goals, 48; most field goals attempted in a tournament, 110; most field goals attempted in a game, 43; and tied the mark for most field goals made in a game with 21.

When asked about their victory, Carlie kept it short and sweet. “It’s unreal, it really is,” she said. “Everything that’s happened is like a dream.”

“I don’t know what to say about Carlie,” said head coach John Schultz. “She put us on her shoulders and refused to let us lose. I’m so proud of these girls. The effort they gave all season was just outstanding. This crew deserves this.”

Of course, behind every good team is a loyal fan base, and NRHEG fans did not fail to support the girls to the end. Seven charter buses and five school buses provided transportation to the game, and the team was welcomed home with a packed gym complete with standing ovations, a fire truck ride, and Mark Domeier as emcee.

History was made last year, bringing our school statewide and even national attention with the state championship, including an article in Yahoo! Sports. And it looks like the girls won’t disappoint this season, either. They’re currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA.

It just goes to show that with hard work and dedication, you really can make your dreams come true.

No. 2 – Paul Cyr retires

Along with the celebration was a bittersweet departure as NRHEG said goodbye to principal, head wrestling coach and former teacher Paul Cyr. After 27 years, Cyr decided it was time to pass the torch, welcoming retirement with open arms and planning on doing what he hasn’t really been able to, but has more than earned, for many years – relax.

Hired in 1986, Cyr didn’t originally plan to stick with us for as long as he did. In 1990, he began classes to obtain his administrator’s license and interviewed at a couple other schools, but wasn’t hired. Now, he calls it a blessing in disguise, and anyone that interacted with him - either as a student, wrestler, teacher or otherwise - would likely agree.

In 1993, he became principal at Ellendale, and from 2004-2009 he returned to the classroom to teach algebra. A former student of Cyr’s can honestly say he was probably the best math teacher I had. Many of my classmates and I would visit his office whenever he had free time and he would sit down with us and explain it so we would understand. And of course, class with Mr. Cyr was always humorous.

If impacting countless students as their teacher and principal wasn’t enough, Cyr is proud to say he is only NRHEG’s second head wrestling coach in 52 years. His wrestling legacy will forever live on at the school . Teams he coached won 11 Gopher Conference championships, he coached 80 individuals to 38 state tournament medals, and he was featured as 2013 Wrestling USA Magazine Minninnesota Person of the Year.

Paul Cyr will be remembered for so many things at NRHEG. Former students of his can recall his fond words during his “plethora of announcements,” really getting a laugh when he mentioned “bald-faced liars” or “oh my stars!”

In the fall of 2009, the first year the high school and middle school were combined and all elementary was in Ellendale, Cyr took on responsibility of principal for both. The job included great, tiresome tasks, leaving him looking forward to retirement.

NRHEG won’t be the same without Cyr, but its future still looks bright.

Following in his footsteps is new principal David Bunn, a 1992 NRHEG graduate.

“This certainly is a dream of mine to serve and give back what was given to me,” said Bunn about his new position at the school. His wife, Jennifer, is also a NRHEG graduate (class of 1991). They have family that live in town, and even more in the area. Their twins, daughter Peyton and son Parker, are eight, and they have a 2-year-old daughter, Sofia, whom they adopted from Columbia.

Bunn was principal at Prescott, Wis., for four years. He also taught at Park of Cottage Grove for eight years, where he was the head wrestling coach for five years and assistant principal for three. During his school days at NRHEG, Cyr was his wrestling coach.

“I feel very honored. Paul Cyr had a lot of influence on my life. A lot of my drive and determination comes from wrestling – his influence,” said Bunn.

As for the future of the school, Bunn says he plans to “enhance what is in place” at NRHEG, as far as preparing kids for college or careers and giving them the skills they need to be successful.

No. 3 – Goodwin hired

Along with a new principal comes a new superintendent, Dr. Dennis Goodwin, taking the place of former superintendent Kevin Wellen. Goodwin, 55, has an extensive history in education and business. Formerly superintendent in Platte, South Dakota, Goodwin also taught for 10 years in Prescott, Wisc. before obtaining his doctorate in education – his fifth degree.

Goodwin, a widower, is now married to Lisa, a widow. They had three kids each when they wed, and Goodwin described himself as a strict parent. He’s a church and family man with good values, which suits the community perfectly.

Goodwin encourages people to, “Just believe in yourself. Believe you can do whatever you want,” and says he will do his very best for the NRHEG school district, especially the kids.

No. 4 – Senator Franken

NRHEG welcomed U.S. Senator Al Franken on November 11th as the keynote speaker for the annual Veteran’s Day program at the high school. More than 700 people packed the gym for the appearance, and the school was honored to welcome Franken to our small town.

“It makes me so proud to come from a state where so many men and women have made the courageous and selfless decision to serve our country,” Franken said during his speech. Spectators commented that he smiled and joked around, but was serious when talking about veterans.

“I will keep working to improve veterans’ access to health care in rural areas and to make sure VA is getting benefits our vets have earned into their hands with no delay, and I will continue to encourage employers in Minnesota and around the country to hire veterans,” Franken continued.

He surprised everyone in presenting Bunn with a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. for NRHEG schools in honor of Minnesota veterans and those who served in the armed forces.

Georgia Dinneen, teacher at NRHEG, said she’d been asking for a visit from Franken for four years, and she was proud of how respectful the students were. She emphasized what an honor it was to have him at our school.

No. 5 – Gus’s Station

Gus’s Station was more than just a building between the Ellendale school and baseball field. It was once alive with activity, providing candy to the students of the Ellendale-Geneva High School during their lunchtime, gas to the drivers, excellent customer service that can’t be found today, and memories for all.

The “Save Gus’s Station” project was put into motion by the Ellendale Area Historical Society. Thanks to the donations and efforts of many, the building was relocated to the Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna and renovated to its former glory. It was then turned over to the Steele County History Center, which will maintain it along with the rest of the buildings in the Village of Yesteryear.

Former students of Ellendale-Geneva High School wrote to the EAHS, fondly recalling their own memories of Gus’s Station. Said stories can be found in an earlier edition – they bring Gus’s Station to life, so to speak, as they describe their experiences at the beloved building. All the help and effort put into the project is much appreciated.

No. 6 – Silva replaces Swami

The area welcomed a new priest this year, saying goodbye to “Father Swami.” Father Raul Silva, 38, was born in Lima, Peru. He moved to the United States with his family when he was 18.

Silva says he felt a calling to be a priest at a very young age, but wasn’t able to answer that calling until later in life. He attended the World Youth Day in Loreto, Italy, where he met with Pope John Paul II. After a year, he entered the Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary.

“God gave me the grace to… leave it all up to him,” Silva said.

He was ordained as a priest in 2006, speaks three languages – Spanish, English, and Italian – and has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in Systematic Theology from Seton Hall University in Newark.

Silva’s masses include: St. Aidan in Ellendale on Saturdays at 8 p.m., All Saints Catholic Church in New Richland on Sundays at 8:30 a.m., St. Mary’s in Geneva on Sundays at 10:30 a.m., and the Care Center in New Richland on Fridays at 9 a.m.

With help from Father Wellington Munoz, also a former student of Seton Hall, Father Silva is thankful for all of his blessings, saying, “I am happy with the life the Lord is giving me.”

No. 7 – NR Library

Most New Richland area residents are familiar with the old Public Library. Earlier this year, the building went up for sale, and the library relocated two buildings over. The new building, which had its grand opening on November 18th, is gorgeous – a perfect environment to enjoy a good book or do some studying. The grand opening featured author Rachael Hanel and was open to the public. The old library building remains for sale; offers for purchase have thus far been declined.

No. 8 – Zoe’s Rainbow Dash

The inaugural Zoe’s Rainbow Dash was held in memory of the departed Zoe McDonough and her grandmother, Sue McDonough, who passed in a boat accident on July 5, 2012. Held in Chatanooga, the 5k run brought in about 1,700 people and raised around $30,000 for various charities, including the New Richland Area Food Shelf.

Although the weather forecast for the day was less than promising, with 100% chance of rain, it miraculously didn’t rain during the event. The “color run” went on as planned, thanks to Brett McDonough, Zoe’s father, his sister Jenny, Mike McDonough, Sue’s husband, the corporations and sponsors they partnered with, the committee that organized the event, and everyone who showed their support. The event was a huge success.

McDonough commented, “It did everything we hoped it would. Honestly, it wasn’t a sad day. It was a celebration.”

No. 9 – Lockdowns

NRHEG saw two lockdowns two days in a row this fall. The first was a result of a felon who escaped custody during a traffic stop and ran through cornfields toward New Richland. He made it into town and stole a Honda Pilot, remaining unfound for two weeks, despite an extensive search that included a helicopter. The vehicle was found in Madison, Minnesota, and it was reported that the vehicle had been lived in for the duration of its absence.

The second lockdown was in response to a threatening message written on the girls’ bathroom wall. After several hours of hard lockdown, school was able to be dismissed on time. The New Richland Police Department responded, and with administration they checked the school’s surveillance system and conducted interviews with staff and students. Locker searches by staff followed, as well as a search of public access areas and a visual search of student vehicles outside the building by police. The school was cleared, and the police department monitored dismissal of the students.

The owner of the stolen vehicle perhaps said it best, “Whoever thought that would happen in New Richland?”

No. 10 – Teacher retirements

NRHEG Schools said goodbye to many faculty members this year. Along with the retirement of Cyr, other retirements included Cathy Stringfield, teacher of 42 years; Julie Economy, teacher of 33 years; Jeff Reese, physical education teacher of 28 years; Deb Gaines, teacher of 36 years; and Rebecca Mueller, teacher of 35 years. They will all be greatly missed at the district as they continue this next chapter of their lives.

There were so many memorable events that took place this year. Honorable mentions for 2013 include: Rain, rain and more rain making for a less-than-desirable year for area farmers, NRHEG FFA electing all females officers for the first time, Pastor Carrie McElfresh leaving her church, the record snowfall in May, the passing of Markus Misgen and Gary Nordlie, T.J. Schiltz going to state in cross country three years in a row, and columnists and prominent members of the community Al Batt and Mark Domeier publishing books.

But we’ll forever remember it as The Year of the Panther.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 13:14

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