All posts by sstetzer12

Ban battle: two lawsuits filed against Winona County for frac sand mining ban

“We love the beauty of this area, a lot of things about it,” Jim Gurley, a Winona County anti-frac sand mining activist, said. “I couldn’t sit back and let it be ruined.”

By Samantha Stetzer

In the bluffs that surround and cut through Winona County, some of the most useful silica sand can be found, according to Johanna Rupprecht, policy program organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.

The sand is at the center of an on-going conflict between mining companies looking to utilize the perfect form of the sand for hydraulic fracking and the activists trying to preserve it and keep it in the ground.

Miners target the driftless area, of which Winona County is part, for sand crystals ice glaciers left behind as they split around southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa during the Ice Age.

With a push from local activism and the Land Stewardship Project, a non-profit supporting agriculture and farmland, Winona County commissioners passed a frac sand mining ban on all county land after debate and action by community members for and against the mining by a vote of 3-2 in November 2016.

Two joggers run past an anti-frac sand mining sign from the Land Stewardship Project on East Lake Boulevard in Winona, Minnesota The Land Stewardship Project gave out more than 450 signs across Winona County while it was working on creating a countywide ban against frac sand mining. The ban has sparked two lawsuits against it since it was passed in November 2016.

The ordinance only protects county land, which means local governments in Winona County can still approve the mines on city or town land, according to anti-frac sand mining activist Jim Gurley. If commissioners of a city or town in Winona County agreed to install a frac sand mine, they can still annex county land with a “ball-and-string” annexation, where towns and cities annex a small strip of land out to a “ball” of land, the main point of annexation.

Gurley added Minnesota’s government system also gives local governments more say over county and state governments on what happens on its land.

Following the ban, two lawsuits have been filed against Winona County claiming infringement on the rights of people and business owners to own and use the land as owners see fit, much to the expectation of the project, Rupprecht said.

Two parties, Richard Dablestein, owner of land in Winona County, and the Southeastern Property Owners of Minnesota organization, filed a lawsuit in March 2017. The lawsuit claims the ban violates the Minnesota and U.S. Constitutions and inhibits their ability to work on valuable land.

According to Rupprecht, the attorney’s office representing the plaintiffs in the first case, Larkin Hoffman, is commonly pro-frac sand mining and sent a lawyer to speak against the ban when it was being discussed.

A second suit was filed nearly a month later on Tuesday, April 18, by Minnesota Sands and claims nearly the same infringement on rights as the first suit. Minnesota Sands was founded in 2012 by Richard Frick and the company claimed on its website to have 10 leases for mining sites.

According to Rupprecht, Frick and his company were in the mining movement years before the ban was put in motion.

All mines, Rupprecht said, are required to produce an environmental impact statement about the impacts of their business on the land. The statement can cost millions of dollars, and in February 2015 Minnesota Sands paid $130,450 to begin the statement.

Since then, the company had produced no money or intention of continuing the statement and was virtually unheard of until the ban was enacted, Rupprecht said.

The saga of frac sand mining in Winona County for Gurley began in 2011. According to Gurley, prior to him getting involved, local farmers were being approached by sand companies offering to take their sandy land from them, since it was harder to farm on the land.

Gurley said there were no necessary conversations happening around the community, and public knowledge of the companies reaching out to residents was slim.

After investigating and researching, Gurley said he and his wife, whose home was located near a proposed mine, decided to devote time to advocating against the mine. He and fellow activists created Citizens Against Silica Mining in response.

“We love the beauty of this area, a lot of things about it,” Gurley said. “I couldn’t sit back and let it be ruined.”

While Gurley and other activists continued to fight, members with the Land Stewardship Project were asking for a ban to be placed, Rupprecht said. Gurley said two years ago he stepped out of his lead role anti-frac sand mining activism because the Land Stewardship Project had become more involved.

A house on East Lake Boulevard in Winona, Minnesota features a protest against frac sand mining in the county. Residents across Winona still have the signs in their yard, despite a ban on the mining in November 2016 being approved by the county. Lawsuits have been filed for repealing the ban due to claims of unconstitutional limits the ban proposes.

The project worked closely with Chicago-based attorney Ed Walsh, from the advice of anti-frac sand mining activist Joe Morse, to draft a version of the ban to present to the county.

Walsh, who has experience representing municipalities, said he primarily offered advice to the project for how to go about making the most constitutionally friendly ban possible, but he said the best piece of advice he thinks he gave was not legal.

“It was advice of making sure they felt they had county board members that were understanding and perhaps and philosophically in agreement with the concept of a ban on frac sand mining,” Walsh said.

According to Walsh, he advised the planning commission and the county board. He also reviewed the final wording and process by Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman.

In Walsh’s legal opinion, the ban is constitutionally sound and the process that led to it was legal as well.

“I believe the ordinance will withstand the legal attacks in the court,” Walsh said.

Despite the recent court filings, Morse and Gurley said when the ban was enacted, they were thrilled to see their activism coming to a conclusion point.

Morse, who has been a self-proclaimed environmental activist for 30 years, said he does not believe cities and towns in Winona will allow more frac sand mines in their limits because of commitments made by the local governments and lack of space within city and town limits.

Having the ban laid out in a court setting could be beneficial, Morse added, because it could either give the ban firm legal permission to continue or it will allow the county to re-visit the issue as soon as possible, if it is found unconstitutional. With elections and turnover on the county commission, Morse said the court decision could be crucial for the movement.

Regardless of the outcome, Rupprecht said she believes the ban sends a strong message to a currently stagnant frac sand mining industry.

“It’s disappointing that the industry would be that desperate,” Rupprecht said about the lawsuit. “You don’t have a right to destroy the land.”

Attempts to talk with Minnesota Sands, Dablestein, the Southeastern Property Owners of Minnesota and lawyers for the first lawsuit were never returned.

Re-cap the frac sand mining ban here.

From farm to city: rural artist, researcher opens community post in Winona

By Samantha Stetzer

“I was in the right place in the right time.”

Something about the Mississippi River has always drawn Matt Fluharty to it.

In the late winter of 2015, just as the river was roaring back to life after months of an icy stalemate, Fluharty was on his way back to his home in St. Louis, Missouri from a conference in Minneapolis. He said was tired, ready to be home and contemplated taking the interstate back.

“I called my wife Kelly, and she said, ‘No, you should really drive the river, again,’” Fluharty said. “’It’ll be so much better.’”

Matt Fluharty laughs as he talks about his relationship with his father and how it has grown due to Fluharty’s organization, Art of the Rural. The organization engages in promoting the rural arts, culture and policies through a digital platform and providing a space for the creation to happen. His father has always been interested in rural policy, Fluharty said, which the duo began to realize was similar to Fluharty’s interest in the rural arts and culture.

On his way down the river, Fluharty stopped at Blooming Grounds in downtown Winona for a cup of coffee. He continued to venture around the city, noticing stores like Yarnology, bars such as Ed’s No Name Bar and some empty storefronts. As a professor with a Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and as someone who studies modernism of rural America, Fluharty said he noticed the character of the town he stumbled upon.

“You could tell there were empty storefronts, but there was also this amazing vibrant economy happening downtown,” Fluharty said. “You see that in a lot of river towns, but there was something special about Winona, you could just tell. I think people sense it when they come downtown.”

Then the self-described river rat found his way to Winona’s Levee Park and the Mississippi River.

“I was just like, ‘Oh God.’ It was just like the best view of the river is here in Winona,” Fluharty said. “I mean every community along the river would kill to for that view and to be in between the bluffs, and then it really struck me.”

After the experience by the river, Fluharty said he texted his wife and his business partner, urging them to search for Winona online.

By April 2016, he and Kelly were moving their family to the river city for it become the new official headquarters of Art of the Rural, an organization founded by Fluharty. The organization focuses on connecting rural America to its arts, culture and policy, building off of the narratives already in place.

As a poet, designer and artist who has been published in art reviews, such as To Make a Public: Temporary Art Review 2011-2016, Fluharty said he began the organization in 2010 and has watched it transform to connect rural economic policy and its arts and culture.

The headquarters for Art of the Rural has officially opened as the Outpost on the eastern side of Third Street in Winona and will officially open with an exhibit featuring portraits of Winonans by Jon Swanson on May 5.

Back on the farm

It all started on a farm.

Fluharty is a fifth generation farmer in Ohio. During the 1980s, around the time Fluharty was in third grade, his parents lost their family farm to the farm crisis. Fluharty said moving away from the only kind of home he and his family had known for generations struck in him what he believes eventually led to Art of the Rural.

“I felt very connected to this place because those early formative childhood memories were of a farm that we no longer had, and for a long time that was source of personal pain,” Fluharty said. “But as I got older and became an artist and a writer some of those feelings began to be translated into a set of questions about what does it mean that I had that experience and that a lot of other people had that experience and that we don’t talk about it.” 

As Fluharty grew up, he said his family moved around the Midwest a lot, including Indiana and Missouri, but he eventually left home to study English and modernism in poetry and writing.

Fluharty said original ideas for the organization came to him when he was working on a project about the eastern side of St. Louis, Missouri while in graduate school. That side of the river did not have its own history, Fluharty said. It was scattered and mixed into different stories.

As he was finishing up his dissertation in late 2009, the passing of a grandmother he was close to prompted him to finally say out loud to someone how he was going to start Art of the Rural. He said was walking in the woods with his brother when he finally said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to start a blog.”

“After her funeral, I kind of had this moment of revelation,” Fluharty said. “…sometimes you just have to say something out loud to someone for you to feel responsible to that idea.”

Expanding beyond the blog

With the original blog up and running by January 2010, Fluharty said he kept the idea and concept a secret until April 2010, just to see if it was something he would actually continue.

When he finally started to spread the word, he said he found it had gained attention not only from audiences but also from people wanting to contribute to the writing and work Fluharty was doing.

The work started to include blogs about rural artwork, culture and histories of rural communities in the Midwest. Fluharty starting gaining more partners, such as Program Director Savannah Barrett and Kenyon Gradert with Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The organization also sponsored Next Generation, which supports a network of art possibilities and promotes engagement in younger people to the arts, according to Art of the Rural.

It was at Next Generation where John Davis, executive director of the Lanesboro Arts Center in Lanesboro, Minn., said he met Fluharty.

“Matt is an amazing individual,” Davis said. “I think he is thoughtful, articulate, always interested in learning about rural and arts and community, seeking out new ways to help communities.”

For the last four years, Davis said he has seen the significance of Art of the Rural, primarily on its impact with younger generations.

Swanson, curator at the Minnesota Marine Art Musem in Winona, said he also believes in the power of young engagement. Swanson first met Fluharty when

Fluharty was contemplating moving to the area and setting up the Outpost.

Swanson said he has often seen college students leave Winona after graduation because of the need for a larger city feel. With festivals Mid West Music Fest and Boats and Bluegrass, Swanson said he believes the addition of Outpost to the Winona scene will only be a more attractive feature to young graduates looking for a place to call home.

“I’d like to be able to retain some people that want to live here and have a better quality of life,” Swanson said. “Just trying to build a better community to live in.”

Curator of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Jon Swanson, shoots portraits of Winonans for his photography show, Winona Characters Portrait Photography, which will open on May 5 at the Outpost in Winona. Outpost is a collaborative space headquarters for Art of the Rural, founded by Matt Fluharty. (Contributed by Jon Swanson)

As Art of the Rural began to support more rural arts and works, it also became more engaged with larger organizations, such as M12 Studios, motivated by the same goal of promoting the rural arts, Fluharty said.

According to Richard Saxton, director of M12 Studios, working with Fluharty has enhanced his creativity and work.

“I think we’re kind of a sounding board for each other,” Saxton said. “What I do as an artist directing M12, and what he does with the Art of the Rural, there are some crossovers there. We’re friends as well as colleagues.”

M12 Studios, according to Fluharty, enters into a community and builds off its culture, creating statues and exhibitions within small rural communities. Art of the Rural, meanwhile, has more of a digital platform and outreach, Fluharty said. M12 Studios will utilize the Outpost in Winona as a space for most of its exhibitions, Fluharty added.

“I think it’s actually a really nice synergy, because between the two, we’re really talking and engaging with folks across a pretty wide series of disciplines and sectors,” Fluharty said.

Building personal connections

Art of the Rural began because of a farm, but it was in the city of St. Louis, Missouri where Fluharty said he started to understand its need.

Fluharty said he did have doubts about his ability to promote the meaning to this organization, as he remembered thinking about one day when he was dropping off his son Will at day care in St. Louis, Missouri.

He had a busy day of phone calls and meetings about rural culture scheduled for that day, and as he was dropping off Will, he began to realize he was raising his son outside of what he taught and studied.

“I had this moment of realization where I thought ‘Will isn’t rural.’ Like I’m talking about rural America and rural culture, and here I am taking my son to day care in St. Louis,” Fluharty said. “And for about 30 seconds that like kind of shook me on some level.”

The realization, according to Fluharty, eventually only encouraged him to keep pursuing what he was teaching and to understand the significance of the fluidity among rural and urban communities.

There has also been another father-son relationship in Fluharty’s life that has been impacted by his studies, Fluharty said.

Fluharty said his organization has brought him and his father together, which was something Fluharty said he would not have seen as possible when he was younger.

According to Fluharty, his father had always wanted to create a cultural center about the history of northern Appalachian culture and was always interested in rural economy and policy.

Meanwhile, as Fluharty grew up, Fluharty became more engaged in rural arts and culture. In the pair’s conversations together as Fluharty began Art of the Rural, he said they realized their goals were more common than different.

“You can do all the arts and culture you want, but if the economic development isn’t happening and if it’s not inclusive and we’re not welcoming young people, we’re still going to fail,” Fluharty said. “So it’s those three things coming together, and that I think to some degree was just the subject of just a lot of conversations we had as I got older and Art of the Rural began to grow a bit.”

Now, Fluharty’s organization has begun to work closer with economic policy and laws as a way to build and share the culture in small towns.

Fluharty’s father has since gone back to farming with Fluharty’s brother on the farm he took over from their grandparents, Fluharty’s father’s parents.

Back to the river that started it all

Fluharty said he envisions Outpost as a space designed after a building in Des Moines, Iowa. This building is an old fire station turned community center that on any given night can host events from open mic night to wrestling in the same building. Eventually the groups meet in the common area for food and drinks, intermingling among their interests and hobbies, he said.

“Maybe they’re sharing a snack or they’re having a drink together, and they’re building a really different kind of set of relationships there that you can’t make that happen,” Fluharty said.

Outpost has already hosted events, but it will officially open on from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 5 as it hosts Winona Characters Portrait Photography project by Swanson. The project includes 147 portraits of random people in Winona, with an age range of three months to 80 years old.

The project, Swanson said, is perfect for the Outpost.

“It directly aligns with their core values and their missions,” Swanson said., “bringing art to an audience in smaller more rural communities.”

One of Jon Swanson’s portraits that will hang at the Winona Characters Portrait Photography exhibit at Outpost in Winona starting May 5. Outpost is a collaborative space headquarters for Art of the Rural, founded by Matt Fluharty. (Contributed by Jon Swanson)

As for his ongoing project with Art of the Rural in Winona, Fluharty said they will be examining towns along the Mississippi River understand how the arts, cultures and economies are all interwoven together.

Landing in Winona as Art of the Rural continues this project and its outreac, Fluharty said, was just fate.

“I was in the right place in the right time.”

Winona liquor stores, congress people welcome new Minnesota Sunday sale law

By Samantha Stetzer

“Stores in Winona will be somewhat disappointed in Sunday sales,” Wisconsin Liquor storeowner Dave Pirkl said. “Careful what you wish for over there.”

There’s no resting on Sundays for the employees of Wine House, a liquor store nestled partially up the bluffs along Bluff Siding, Wisconsin, since 1951.

Sundays are their busiest day of the week, according to seven-year owner Dave Pirkl. The main pull for its Sunday sales stemmed from a law in Minnesota barring alcohol sales on Sunday, Pirkl said.

That is about to change.

Wine House liquor storeowner Dave Pirkl helps a distributor and early customer on Wednesday morning. A new law in Minnesota allowing their liquor store owners to sell on Sundays is something Pirkl said he is a bit nervous for as a Wisconsin liquor storeowner, but he is not too concerned due to the benefits he still has by selling in Wisconsin.

With an 88-39 vote in the Minnesota House of Representatives, a 38-28 vote in the Senate and a signature by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota liquor stores will now be able to sell their product on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The law goes into effect on July 1, with liquor stores opening their doors on a Sunday for the first time the following day.

Minnesota Rep. Gene Pelowski, who serves Winona County, said he supported the bill largely because of the competition across the border in Wisconsin and the public support it was gaining.

“It certainly does have an impact,” Pelowski said, adding there was not much debate within the house about ridding the state of its more than 150-year-old law barring the Sunday sales.

Minnesota Senator Jeremy Miller, who also represents Winona, helped co-author the new law because of the same public support.

“They feel it’s ridiculous that stores don’t have the option to be open on Sundays,” Miller said. “This was the strongest grassroots effort by the people that I’ve seen on any issue during my time in the Senate.”

Since entering the senate in 2011, Miller worked on flipping the law to allow Sunday liquor sales because he said he believes publically and politically Sunday should be viewed as the same as every other day of the week.

Miller he did not get the exact bill he said he originally wanted.

The original bill did not have any time restrictions on the Sunday sales. Working with religious leaders and compromising with other members of the Minnesota legislature, the bill was able to pass with the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. time limit, according to Miller.

“To me it really comes down to, the people wanted to be able to buy their beer, wine and liquor on Sundays in Minnesota,” Miller said. “They should have the option.”

Darin Egeland, storeowner of Warehouse Liquor in Winona, said the new option for consumers is an opportunity for business owners to have another day for revenue.

Egeland said he will open on Sundays because he said stores on border towns in Minnesota “almost have to” to cash in on the money that could stay in Minnesota.


“I would say we’d lost money across the border,” Egeland said.

Stacks of beer line the aisles of Warehouse Liquor in Winona. Owner Darin Egeland, who wished to not be pictured, said he is looking forward to having another day to make a profit with the passing of a new Minnesota liquor law allowing stores to sell alcohol on Sundays.

Egeland said he is not sure he can get his employees to agree to work another day during the week, and opening on a day he has designated as a day off is not something he is excited about.

Still, he added the possibility of increased revenue is hopeful for him and his little store at the intersection of Market and Third streets in Winona.

As for his competition across the border, Egeland said he believes the Wine House will struggle with the new change.

“He’ll probably be crying,” Egeland said about Pirkl. “For him it’s going to be a kick in the ass.”

While he supported opening his store on Sunday, Egeland is most worried about the possibilities of the legislature lifting restrictions on grocery stores and gas stations selling alcohol in Minnesota. Currently, Minnesota statutes state liquor establishments must be used to sell primarily alcohol, according to state statute 340A.412

Other stores can get around this law by having their own liquor store building next to their establishment or selling malt liquor with an alcohol content of 3.2 or less, according to state statute 340A.403.

If the law changes to allow establishments like convenience stores, grocery stories and drugstores to sell liquor inside the store—such as what is currently allowed in Wisconsin, according to Chapter 125 of the Wisconsin Statutes—Egeland said he fears it will put him and his local competitors out of business.

His distributor, Chris Schafer from Schott Distributing in Rochester,

Minnesota, said their company is also against cutting the restriction on convenience and grocery stores because of the added work without proper compensation it would cause.

According to Schafer, the company would not necessarily gain massive amounts of money or accounts, but rather, they would have to increase the flow of alcohol across the areas they distribute to, causing a mass overhaul in the company dynamic.

“It’s going to kill us,” Schafer said.

Schafer said he supported the Sunday sales bill in Minnesota.

Despite  fears by local owners and distributors, Pelowksi and Miller said they do not foresee more changes to the Minnesota laws in the near future.

“I think this is the biggest change you’re going to see for a long time,” Pelowski said.

Miller added, “I don’t think the appetite is there in the Senate to do more than what we already did. Allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays was a big step forward for the legislature, and I don’t anticipate any further progress.”

Pirkl, who has only owned a store in a state where grocery stores can sell booze and Sunday sales are not restricted, admitted the initial change to the Minnesota law may impact his business negatively.  He added he cannot know until a year after the law is in effect what that change will be.

While Wisconsin laws allow grocery stores and convenience stores in Wisconsin to sell alcohol of all kinds, Pirkl said he does not have to compete much against the bigger box stores since there is a minimum mark-up law in Wisconsin.

This law, under the Wisconsin Unfair Sales Act, essentially restricts the large retail stores from selling at a cheaper price than what smaller businesses can. As a small business, this means Pirkl can compete with larger chains that can sell alcohol in Wisconsin, such as Kwik Trip or Festival Foods.

For the last seven years, Sundays have always been a bonus day for the Wine House, Pirkl said, but even with the new Minnesota law, he said he is confident his “loyal customers,” legal ability to sell Wisconsin beers and wines, such New Glarus beers and Elmaro wines, and Wisconsin’s lack of restrictions on his open hours on Sunday are what will keep his Sunday sales up.

He added his location along the Wisconsin border will also benefit him, since community members in small towns along the river do not have many options to buy alcohol.

Pirkl said he does not have much confidence for his added border competition.

“Stores in Winona will be somewhat disappointed in Sunday sales,” Pirkl said. “Careful what you wish for over there.”

Fighting together: Winona couple treats cancer diagnoses together

“He paid the ultimate price,” Wind said. “He saved my life.”

By Samantha Stetzer

Kelly Wind was sitting in the imaging lab area of Winona Health in late 2014, when she was told there was early cancer forming in her breast.

Her husband of almost 25 years, Kenny Wind, had been diagnosed with stage four-lung cancer months earlier. His prognosis was bleak, Kelly said, but he was fighting, despite the low chances for survival.

She said his diagnosis had inspired her to get a routine mammogram. That mammogram led a radiologist to find something suspicious on her scans. After tests and ultrasounds, she officially had a cancer diagnosis.

With her disease identified, Kelly said the fear and weight of the word cancer was setting in, but a voice cut through her doubt.

“Hey, you are not going to die from this, do you hear me,” a nurse named Heather said, Kelly recalled.

Thus began a year and a half relationship between Kelly and her cancer care team at Winona Health.

Kelly Wind plays with her dog, Asher, and cat, Mittens, in her home in Winona. Kelly was diagnosed with early breast cancer in winter 2014, after her husband’s diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer.

Between Winona Health in Winona, Minnesota, and Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Kelly said she and her husband could choose the types of cancer treatments they preferred, and depending on their choices, they met with a series of providers and caregivers who helped the disease.


The Commission on Cancer accredits both of these hospitals as cancer centers, according to each of the organizations. Gundersen Health System is also accredited by the American College of Radiology.

Kelly said she believes the care she received at Winona Health was just right for her. She made relationships, partnerships and friendships with everyone who cared for her. She said she felt the staff was personable.

“My journey was just amazing,” Kelly said.

She created bonds with the receptionist, the nurses and her surgeons, as she went through a double mastectomy, meaning both of her breast tissues were removed. Later, eventually replaced them with new breasts, making the recovery process from cancer last a year and a half.

A double mastectomy was just one option Kelly said she had. According to Sandy Gruzynski, Winona Health’s patient navigator, while Winona Health cannot offer chemotherapy or radiation treatments right now, their partnerships with the Mayo Clinic Network, headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota, and Gundersen can help patients find the treatment that best fits how they wish to fight the disease.

When the word cancer is spoken as a diagnosis to a patient, Gruzynski is the first person a provider calls. Kelly said she remembers working with Gruzynski to find the best treatment for her disease, describing her as a “warrior” patients.


Gruzynski said she lists options for patients, such as treatments or goals for finishing out the rest of their illness is terminal.

For patients with breast cancer such as Kelly, there are many treatments options because the disease has been heavily researched, Gruzynski said.

Within treatments, such as chemotherapy, Gundersen Health System Medical Oncologist Dr. Kurt Oettel said there can be different aspects to each therapy, which each patient has to consider when choosing a plan for treatment.

“Chemotherapy is like saying ‘I drive a car’,” Oettel said. Simply stating this fact about a vehicle does not give the full story as to what kind of car a person drives, much like how having a patient choosing a chemotherapy track is not uniform for all cancer patients.

Chemotherapy is one example of the progress and research done about cancer treatments that has made cancer research a rapidly growing field, Oettel said.

At conferences, presentations frequently highlight new techniques and treatments for patients, Oettel added, highlighting how this changes the field of cancer dramatically over short periods of time.

“It’s a fast-changing field,” Oettel said. “What’s presented at that meeting… the standard of care just changed over night.”

Oettel said he has had patients whose treatment plans changed within two months, due to advancements in care.

“Now patients live much longer,” Oettel said.

When Kelly was given her options to fight the cancer, she said she was given multiple options, including a lumpectomy, where just the cancerous mass in the breast is removed. There was also chemotherapy, where the disease could be attacked without surgery.

Kelly said she feared the cancer could appear again, and she said she was ready to say goodbye to her breasts, especially if it meant she would have a better chance of surviving.

She told the care team at Winona Health she was “done with them.”

“Take it. I’m done,” Kelly recalled saying with a laugh.

Kelly said her treatment choice was easy: it gave her the best chance to live. Her mastectomy was the only way she said she could ensure she could be there for her four kids and five grandchildren, especially with her husband’s failing health.

She was not going to let them lose another parent in such a short amount of time, Kelly said.

Her kids had just accepted the fact their father was going to die, Kelly added, but her eldest daughter was struggling with the possibility that her mom could die too. As tears welled in her daughter’s eyes, Kelly recalled how she took the advice of the nurse in imaging at Winona Health.

“I told her I was going to beat this, Kelly said.

While Kelly was fighting at Winona Health, her husband was being treated in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at Gundersen Health System with weekly treatments. Kelly said she had to continue her work at Riverstar Inc., where she unloads boxes, even if it meant missing some of his appointments, so she could pay the bills.

At Gundersen, Kelly said Kenny’s experience was more rigid, adding she saw how he was more of a number than a person.

That form of treatment was just right for Kenny, Kelly said. He appreciated the atmosphere, she added, especially in a place where providers have to care for a large variety of cancers and people.

“They weed out so many people… an entire floor of chemo,” Kelly said. “It was more comfortable for him.”

According to Oettel, the reason Kenny and Kelly might have felt like his treatment was differed from Winona Health’s is because Gundersen Health System is comprised of a large network of cancer providers all working to provide care to one patient through many options available at the hospital, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Oettel explained how, unlike the process of treating a condition like heart disease, where one specialist is needed, the process a patient goes through when they are diagnosed with cancer involves several specialists helping each patient with certain steps in their cancer treatment process. Oettel said he is typically the doctor patients see after they have surgery to decide what steps are next, but there are other doctors and providers, such as the surgeons or radiologists, who have already been providing care to patients.

Since Gundersen has the capability to treat cancer through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Oettel said there are many caregivers and providers available to patients.

He added insurance availability is one of the main reasons patients make the decisions they do regarding the care they receive. Depending on their insurance, a patient can be limited with their choices for treatment and where they choose to be treated, Oettel explained.

At Winona Health, Gruzynski said she helps guide patients through their insurance process. She often helps decipher jargon within patients’ policies to help them decide which course of action to take and where to take it.

“Right now, it’s really an insurance-driven world,” Oettel said, adding doctors and caregivers should effectively explain to a patient the options at a facility based around a patient’s insurance.

With the constantly changing future of provider care, Oettel said he does not necessarily believe in the “holy grail cure” for all cancers but can foresee a time when cancer becomes a chronic illness like HIV or diabetes.

He added being able to utilize new treatments and options for patients to get into remission can be a great feeling for someone like him who spends his career trying to heal everyone he sees.

“That’s very rewarding to say ‘you no longer need to see me,’” Oettel said.

In spite of advancements in treatments and technologies, Oettel said he has to anticipate he will not cure 50 percent of his patients. He added working with dying patients can be a worthwhile part of his job.

A photo of Kelly Wind and her husband Kenny Wind dancing on their wedding night is held by Kelly. Kenny died from stage-four lung cancer in 2015. A few months after Kenny’s diagnosis, Kelly was diagnosed with early breast cancer. The couple fought their cancer together at separate medical institutions.

For Kenny, remission never came. He died in the spring of 2015, just before he and his wife would celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, according Kelly. In the summer of 2016, Kelly said she was officially done fighting her cancer.

After one and a half years of and with a drug prescription to help reduce her risk of getting the disease again, Kelly said there is now 98 percent chance her cancer will never come back. She said she uses her husband’s story and how it motivated her to get a check up as a constant reminder to her friends and family, often reminding the women in her life to get mammograms.

Looking back at where she was that winter day in 2014, Kelly said she credits her husband for making sure their children still have a parent today.

“He paid the ultimate price,” Wind said. “He saved my life.”

Creating discussions: Winona County promotes substance abuse prevention

by Samantha Stetzer

Jenna McMillan believes her life would have been different if someone would have just talked to her.

McMillan grew up in Winona, Minnesota, with what she called “a good family.” Her mother was a nurse, her father was involved in real estate and she had a stepfather who was an attorney.

She graduated from high school and eventually attended Winona State University where she made the dean’s list and graduated with a degree in marketing, playing to her business strengths.

When McMillan was 14 years old, she started drinking and doing drugs. When she was 15, she ran away and was arrested. She was sent to a halfway house where she spent the summer between junior high and high school.

The next year she said she found some better friends in school, but continued to abuse substances. When she graduated high school, she was introduced to methamphetamine, and throughout college became a casual dealer—an unfortunate use for that business-oriented mind, McMillan said.

Soon, she was more than a casual dealer. She became addicted to the lifestyle that fueled her drug addiction until her home was raided and she was arrested at 28 years old for selling meth.

If convicted, McMillan could have faced up to seven years in prison.

Instead, she was given the opportunity to face her addiction, work in the community and only had to go to jail for a year. She has been sober now for seven years and works with chemical dependency in the Minnesota Teen and Adult Challenge program, engaging with teens about substance abuse and the issues it can cause.

McMillan said if people had talked to her about drug use before she started becoming a heavy user or even took her first sip of alcohol, most of her life would be different. Discussing addiction when she was growing up was a hush-hush topic.

Now 42 years old, McMillan said she has seen the positives of initiatives that promote prevention in Winona County. Even though she said she would like to see more prevention efforts, she believes those standing up against addiction have been fighting for a worthwhile cause.

Responding to the need together 

Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman said she does not believe in reinventing the wheel. She believes in using the whole wheel.

Since being elected as the county’s first female county attorney, Sonneman has made it a mission to implement what she calls “smart justice.”

“I’m not a lock-em-up kind of prosecutor,” Sonneman said. “There’s no reason to lock somebody up that has a mental illness or who has a drug problem that is not committing crimes of such a serious nature that they can’t be helped.”

According to Sonneman, a big part of prevention is targeting children in the area who are the most susceptible to mental health and substance abuse based on the adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as a parent using drugs or a history of abuse in their home. According to Sonneman, the more ACEs a child has, the more likely they are to use drugs and alcohol.

A 2016 Minnesota Student Health Survey of a fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grade students in Winona County, found that as the number of ACEs a child experiences grows, so does their likelihood to use substances, with a slight dip between one ACE and two ACEs before continuing to rise again.

According to the survey, in Winona County 36 percent of children have experienced at least one ACE in their lifetime.

Furthermore, the study found alcohol was the drug of choice for approximately three out of 10 Winona County students within the 30 days before the survey. The average of alcohol use in Winona County was reported to be almost six percent higher than the state average. Usage numbers for tobacco and marijuana were both one to two percent higher in Winona than the state average.

Through the Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a group of justice experts in the Winona area who review and advocate for justice reform and policy, and her office, Sonneman said she tries to partner with area coalitions and organizations to provide what she views as fair justice for both sides of the legal system. By working together, she said she believes a wider net of prevention and justice reform can be cast in Winona County.

“Because we can do it on a collaborative basis, why reinvent the wheel? Or duplicate efforts,” Sonneman said. “So we’re planting seeds with the prevention early on.”

For Sonneman, the work begins at the local schools.

Sonneman said her office and the county court system host Law Day for local sixth grade students in Winona County, making them active participants as judge, jury, attorney and prosecutor for a pretend case involving a certain theme, such as theft or prescription drug use. The students follow the criminal justice system from beginning to end, in what Sonneman called a “scared straight but better” system.

The County Attorney’s Office also works with Winona State University for its partners in prevention program, which aims to educate college students about substance abuse on college campuses, according to Sonneman.

A large part of prevention, Sonneman said, is working to help treat mental illness and to prevent or help those who might self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

The county was recently awarded a grant to help treat mental illness at the jails more efficiently, which can significantly help halt the “rotating door” of previously convicted criminals in the justice system, Sonneman said.

When an addict is receiving the help they need for their co-occuring addiction and mental illness, Sonneman said the county could prevent future issues and crimes from happening.

The idea has caught on at the local schools, according Mark Anderson, principal at Winona Senior High School. Sonneman and Anderson are both board members at Winona County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, a drug and alcohol prevention and treatment coalition under the Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

According to Anderson, at the high school level, most of the prevention against drugs and alcohol is not an outright campaign against abusing the substances. Instead, it is done through screening for mental health issues.

Through the screenings, Anderson said school professionals can determine which students need help and how parents and those students can seek resources to help the student find constructive ways of monitoring and managing their mental illness for academic and personal success.

From Anderson’s perspective, he said he believes the school should help a student with their mental health diagnosis and proactive ways to manage it in order to help the student engage more in their educate and creating a more productive life for themselves.

Anderson said the school district requires students to take health classes in seventh, eighth and 11th grades that cover topics like alcohol and drug abuse, but mental health is discussed starting as early as fifth grade.

Grade school students in the district used to participate in Drug Abuse Resistance Education, hosted by the Winona County Sheriff’s Department, according to Winona County ASAP Program Coordinator Phillip Huerta. Since the program has proven to be less effective than hoped, most school districts in the area have dropped the program. Lewiston-Altura Public School District is the only district in Winona County to still host the program.

While the focus of prevention at the high school level in Winona lately has been on mental health and what Sonneman and Anderson agree can be the root of addiction, students are also exposed to the consequences of substance abuse through programs like a mock crash.

Partnering with Winona County ASAP, the mock crash uses student actors to play the part of you people who drink and drive and eventually kill a friend due to substance abuse.

Both Winona County ASAP and the high school are working to bring the programming back to the high school this spring, in time for prom, according to Anderson. They hope they can add a personal story of loss to the crash program to really impact students.

Forced to be an advocate

For the city of Lewiston, Minnesota, it took a young man to lose his life for prevention to become an important focus for its residents, according to Winona County ASAP Program Coordinator Phillip Huerta.

Jonathan Mraz was a high school student in Lewiston who had hopes of someday becoming a teacher or a nurse, according to his mom, Dede Mraz. He was friends with most people, realizing when his classmates needed a friend.

His life was cut short by a train when he was stumbling home drunk and high after a night of uncharacteristic partying, his mother said—a party where another parent encouraged and supplied the alcohol for the students.

The community of Lewiston rallied around the Mraz family and Jonathan’s story,

Huerta said. For three to five years after his death, Jonathan was a reminder of the problems that can stem from using drugs or alcohol, and his mother still makes sure people do not forget it by speaking about her experience, Huerta said.

Huerta and Anderson both said they hope Dede Mraz will help the coalition with their mock crash this spring, to help bring a face to the tragedy of teen drinking.

“They’ll see tears. They’ll see the pain that the mother still carries to this day about it,” Anderson said. “And they’ll hear how emotional it is and how devastating it is for somebody to lose somebody because of something like that.”

The Lewiston community felt satisified with their efforts, Huerta said, since there were no tragedies due to substance abuse happening since Jonathan’s death. According to Huerta, the community’s prevention efforts tapered off after a couple years following Jonathan’s death, but Dede Mraz is still active in reminding students and their families to not support drinking and the use of drugs through the “Parents who Host, Lose the Most” campaign.

According to Huerta, students helped the coalition with this campaign by bombarding liquor stores and their bottles with stickers for the parents who host campaign, in what Huerta calls “sticker shock.” The students “shocked” the community with about 1,400 stickers, Huerta said.

It was a small gesture, Huerta said, but it was one he said that could change minds and impact the community through support.

“There are so many good ideas that are brought to the table, but our teams right now, even with a handful to a dozen people, it’s hard to do so much,” Huerta said.

Fighting with little funding

Huerta has seen a little money go a long way.

As program coordinator of Winona County ASAP, Huerta said even with only roughly $100,000 for all the prevention efforts the coalition is hoping to fund, it cannot provide all the programs the coalition would hope to bring to the community.

Huerta said he has believed in the strength of the people in the community to get the job done since the coalition became the forefront of drug prevention efforts in Winona County.

For the last two years, the coalition has been funded by a federal grant. The first year the coalition was awarded $117,000, but as the years on their five-year grant pass, the money they receive every year decreases. The last year of funding will be just over $102,000.

In 2016, the coalition was given just over $104,000 for their prevention efforts. According to civic and volunteer chair on the Winona County ASAP board of directors Beth Moe, the coalition cannot spend that money on providing the programming, but rather it has to be used to pull everything together, such as fliers or food for the event.

“The things we do don’t cost a lot, but they do cost something,” Moe said.

Moe said she fears what will happen to their funding now that a new presidential administration has taken over at the federal level.

With the funding they have now, Huerta said prevention can still reach a high number of students to be beneficial.

“Something that I want to remember throughout this whole process is that we did a lot with little money before,” Huerta said. “It’s doesn’t take a lot to do a lot, especially when you have people in the community that really care and want to send a good positive message.”

The main focus for that positive message within the coalition was initially on targeting alcohol and prescription pill usage by students in middle and high school.

Since alcohol has been heavily studied, Huerta said, prevention efforts against its use are the most accessible and effective.

The coalition is now shifting its focus to marijuana, specifically focusing on the Garvin Heights location, which has been identified by students as a hotspot for the drug, Huerta said.

“For marijuana, we need to understand it a little better in Winona because it’s a new topic for a lot of communities,” Hureta said. “We need to learn what does marijuana look like more specifically in our area and how can we address it, because, again, there’s also not a lot of evidence-based strategies out there.”

The coalition also had support from local and county governments in terms of creating policies to keep synthetic drugs like “turbo” off the streets in a more effective manor, Huerta said, part of the work Sonneman did after being first elected.

Better, but still a ways to go

For addicts like McMillan and Max Ruff, sharing their story is part of giving back to the community they were arrested for taking so much from, according to Ruff.

For Ruff, his addiction story begins at 12 years old when he first began taking Adderall and drinking alcohol. It ended on Sept. 27, 2014, when he was found passed out in a puddle of water in the woods near Kellogg, Minnesota, borderline hypothermia setting in and some meth in his cheek after a high speed chase that began in Winona.

Through the Winona County Drug Court, a program that uses intensive methods of treatment for addicts to help them obtain educational and workforce goals, and Narcotics Anonymous, Ruff is now 29 months sober and shares his story whenever he can.

Ruff talks to the community through meetings, forums and at appearances at local schools, using a lesson he has learned while in Narcotics Anonymous.

“You can only keep what you have by giving it away,” Ruff said.

While at a recent speaking event at the Winona Area Learning Center, Ruff said he had a student in tears while they were discussing the impacts of racism on this student. Ruff said he reminded the student to not give the racism power, because when he gave power to his addiction, he lost.

McMillan said she opens up a dialogue with local teenagers she sees at the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and said she volunteers for Winona County ASAP’s board of directors.

McMillan said she would like to see more happen involving recovering addicts and connecting them to students who are on the boarder of isolation and substance abuse. She said she believes if someone had taken the time to talk about it with her, she might not have experienced what she did.

Both recovering addicts said they believe conversations about substance abuse should never stop, no matter what kinds of prevention efforts are used. With the stigma surrounding abuse starting to fade, McMillan said she believes more people feel comfortable opening up for help before large issues occur.

As long as prevention staves off the raid of a 28-year-old meth dealer’s house or prevents hypothermia for a 116-pound man over some meth in his cheek, both recovering addicts agree the solution is beneficial.