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Sartell Muskies Coach-Manager Randy Beckstrom signs baseballs for two boys right after the Muskies won the state championship at Maple Lake.

Beckstrom wants to grow up, but they won’t let him

by Dennis Dalman

Randy Beckstrom’s friends sometimes tease him about how someday, way in the future, he ought to be buried under centerfield in Champion Field in Sartell.

Good-natured Beckstrom always laughs.

“Well, yes, might as well get buried there,” he told the Sartell Newsleader, chuckling. “I’ve spent at least half of every summer for years at that field. It’s my home away from home. ”

Friends also tease him about how he doesn’t want to grow up. He’s played ball and been coach-manager of the Sartell Muskies for a long, long time. He joined the team right after graduating from Sartell High School in 1989 – nearly 25 years ago.

Once the “young pup” on the team, Beckstrom its now its distinguished elder.

“They should be happy to have a guy who can still run around the outfield,” a chuckling Beckstrom said, quickly admitting that, no, he’s not as fast as he used to be.

Beckstrom and the Sartell Muskies were honored Monday night at the Sartell City Council when Mayor Joe Perske proclaimed Sept. 25 as “Sartell Muskies Day.” Beckstrom attended the meeting, along with several of his Muskies players whom he introduced to the council after Perske read his official proclamation.

Part of the proclamation reads: “Amateur baseball has had a rich heritage throughout the State of Minnesota for over a century, and the Sartell Muskies have been part of that history since 1979.” The team, the mayor added, is the object of Sartell’s community pride, especially after it won the 2013 State Class C championship recently. After a phenomenal winning season, the Muskies defeated Belle Plaine, 10-0, to take the state title at Maple Lake’s Irish Stadium.

Beckstrom showed the dazzling championship trophy to the council. He thanked Sartell residents and the council for the “Muskies Day” honor, and council members thanked him for his hard work with the Muskies and for his many efforts to improve the facilities at Champion Field. The council chamber erupted into hearty applause.

“All the guys, including myself, appreciate this honor,” Beckstrom later told the Newsleader.

Beckstrom, a long-time Sartell native, has always loved three sports: football, basketball and baseball. His “first love” was basketball, which he played in high school and during his student years at St. John’s University, where he earned a degree in management. He was teased then, too, for being a “shrimp” on the team at “only” 5 feet 11 inches tall.

When he joined the Muskies after high school, Beckstrom played centerfield. Later, he pitched for the team. Twenty-five years ago, the average age of Muskies players was 27 or 28. Now, it’s more like 32, with lots of men ages 30 to 40. Just last week, the team sprang a surprise birthday party for player Shawn Schoen, who turned 40 years old. There is a core of long-time Muskies, about seven or eight of them, who have been with the team for six or more years.

In 1992, the Muskies won its first state championship. Last month, 21 years later, they won their second state title. People often ask Beckstrom which win was the most exciting.

“They were both great,” he said. “Winning was a thrill.”

But pausing a few seconds, he quickly added, “The most enjoyable thing, though, more than winning, was the bonding, of us just evolving into a team, building a kind of family. That’s been the best thing.”

Beckstrom is the son of Al and Helen Beckstrom, who are still alive and well, living in Waite Park.

“I grew up in Sartell, and I’ve seen this town grow from about 3,000 people at the time I graduated from high school to almost 16,000 people. It’s been fun to see Sartell grow.”

Beckstrom was raised on his grandparents land on the river road just north of Sartell. He has a sister, Lori, who is an artist in Colorado; and a brother, Jamie, who along with his wife, owns and operates a daycare center in Sartell.

For 18 years, Beckstrom worked in the carpet business. About a year ago, he changed jobs and is now an employee of Industrial Insite, which helps companies develop a wide variety of training programs.

He and his wife, Shanna, have three children: Brady, 14; Brooke, 11; and Lilly, 4.

Shanna works for Array Services in Sartell in its medical-services division.

The family has lived in a west Sartell neighborhood for 13 years, and Beckstrom said he cannot imagine living anywhere else.

“Our idea of a happy time is getting together with neighbors at home.”

They enjoy impromptu gatherings where jokes, pranks and mischievous merriment rule.

Will Beckstrom ever retire from his coach-manager job with the Muskies? Will he ever grow up?

Probably not. Every year, he asks his players if he should retire. He asks them if anyone else would like to take over his job.

“I really want to give someone else a chance,” he said.

But he gets no takers.

So, in the meantime, Beckstrom, like in an endless game of tag, is “it.” He can’t grow up; the Muskies won’t let him.

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Randy Beckstrom, during a game in 2005, winds up to toss a pitch.

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This picture, taken in 1992, is a group portrait of the Sartell Muskies, who won the state championship that year. Twenty-one years later, last month, they did it again. In the front row (from left to right) are Randy Beckstrom, bat girl Susie Pohlkamp, bat boy Tommy Wippler, bat boy Brooks Angell, bat boy Jeff Hille, bat boy Andy Thayer, Brad Smoley and Kevin Stucke; (back row) Karl Johnson, Dave Furcht, Greg Thayer, Jerry Pohlkamp, Dick Hinkemeyer, John Matchinsky, Mike Nistler, Scot Hille, Jamie Beckstrom, Dave Angell, Paul Wippler and Bruce Geiser.

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The Sartell Muskies, fresh from their 2013 Class C state championship, gather for a team photo. In the front row (left to right) are Dave Schlangen, draftee Asa Patterson, Luke Sweeter, Adam Schellinger, Travis Weaver, Andrew Deters, Jake Sweeter, Drew LaBeaux, Shawn Schoen and Rob Voshell; (back row) draftee Chad Schwegel, Jace Otto, Dan O’Connell, Adam Wenker, Cole Jenkins, Tim Burns, Brian Schellinger, Dave Deminsky, Tony Schmitz, draftee Alex Lotthammer, Booner Lewellyn and manager-coach Randy Beckstrom.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Joel Cherrico holds one of the thousands of small coffee mugs he has made in his nearly four years as a full-time, self-employed potter in St. Joseph.

Cherrico happy to reach goal as full-time potter

by Dennis Dalman

Years ago, when he enrolled in St. John’s University as a pre-med student, little did Joel Cherrico know at the time he would become totally hooked on pottery, drop his major to study art and become a full-time potter after graduation.

As a high school student in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Cherrico was introduced to pottery in art class and enjoyed it very much. In fact, he made 100 pots in his senior year. At this point, about six years later, Cherrico has created at least 10,000 pieces of pottery that include mugs, cups, plates, casserole dishes, vases and various clay sculptures.

Cherrico is a familiar face at area farmers’ markets, including the one in St. Joseph. He loves to meet people who come to the markets and sells his pottery less expensively, without the need for overhead costs, to his customers. He also likes demonstrating shaping pottery on his wheel at the markets, especially for children who seem to have an inborn affinity for the joys of clay.

On Sept. 14, Cherrico hosted an outdoor pottery show on the “Wooden Deck” in downtown St. Joseph. Even though it rained, driving most visitors into the sheltered warmth of Cherrico’s small storage-photography room, everyone had a good time socializing, munching on snacks, listening to music by local musician Dan Cofell and buying some of Cherrico’s highly functional pottery.

In his very small apartment off of St. Joseph’s Minnesota Street, Cherrico – despite the small space – manages to create an amazing, prolific output of pottery. His electric kiln, however, he must keep on a balcony outside of his third-floor apartment. Cherrico, in that apartment, spends many happy hours at his potter’s wheel, constantly honing his art, shaping clay with his hands, always experimenting and looking forward to the happy accidents (examples of serendipity) that so often happen in pottery, especially during the kiln process.

Cherrico mixes his own glazes, which include wood ashes he gets from a friend at the St. John’s Arboretum. He combines other ingredients that can include silica, crushed clay or limestone, cobalt blue, iron and copper red. Most of his finished products have white or gray backgrounds with glazed colors of blue or rust or burgundy-red over the lighter surfaces.

“Wood-ash glazes are a key component to my works,” he said.

Once he finishes shaping a piece on his potter’s wheel, he lets them air-dry for a day or two. He then adds appendages (such as coffee-mug handles) onto the pieces. Then he puts them in the very hot kiln where they dry slowly for two or three days. After cooling, the pieces are dipped in glaze and/or brushed with a glaze and fired again.

Cherrico gets his clay from a supplier in Minneapolis, sometimes up to 2,000 pounds at a time.

He will never forget the happy rush he felt the first time he visited the kiln at the College of St. Benedict. His high-school love of pottery came rushing back at full force at that moment. When he sat down at a potter’s wheel, he knew he would pursue the art for a long time. When he changed his major to art, Cherrico pondered becoming an art teacher, thinking it would help him support his true love – pottery. But more and more, he steeled up a determination to try to make a living as a full-time potter. To that effect, he took two classes in business management, learning information about how to make it in one’s own business.

“So far, I’ve been a full-time potter for three years and four months,” Cherrico said. “I love to wake up in the morning and go to work at the wheel.”

His artistic influences include famed potter Richard Bresnahan of SJU and two of Bresnahan’s apprentices with whom Cherrico learned from – instructors Sam Johnson and J.D. Jergenson. Another influence is pioneering American abstract-expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, whose action-drip paintings still inspire Cherrico’s penchant for the spontaneous glaze drips on the surface of so many of his works.

Cherrico is also a music buff, who was first-chair trumpet in high school and who now likes to play rock and blues guitar. While working at his wheel, he often listens to music, and one of his favorites, especially when he’s working quickly, is the band the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Currently, one of Cherrico’s major projects is to create 100 beer mugs for Brother Willie’s Pub at SJU – mugs students have the option of buying. Depending on how they sell, Cherrico is likely to make several hundred more in the coming months.

“I love the fact people are eating and drinking with my pottery,” he said. “My pottery is definitely made to be used.”

To see more of Cherrico’s pottery, go to the following website:

photo by Dennis Dalman
Joel Cherrico holds one of the thousands of small coffee mugs he has made in his nearly four years as a full-time, self-employed potter in St. Joseph.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Visitors to Joel Cherrico’s pottery open house Sept. 14 brave a dripping rain to check out Cherrico’s many examples of his stoneware pottery. He often uses a glaze containing – among other ingredients – wood ashes and cobalt blue for his stunning blue colors.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Lisa Rath of Bismarck, N.D. peruses pottery pieces by Joel Cherrico during his open house Sept. 14 in downtown St. Joseph. Rath, formerly of St. Cloud, attended the pottery show while visiting friends in the St. Joseph area.

photo by Dennis Dalman
A cup, a teapot and dinner plates are some of the many pottery items that were created by potter Joel Cherrico for frequent use. Cherrico enjoys combining aesthetic values with the day-to-day “practical” in his stoneware.





Braulick’s constant challenge: making meals nutritious but tasty

by Dennis Dalman

Families that eat together stay together.

That’s an old adage that Brenda Braulick believes. For years, Braulick has been promoting family togetherness centered around food issues: parents and children grocery-shopping together, gardening together, trying new foods together, cooking together, enjoying at least one daily meal together.

Braulick, food-services director for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, was recently elected to be president of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, whose parent organization is the National School Nutrition Association, with 52,000 members. There are 2,900 members in the Minnesota association. They include food preparers, cooks, servers, managers, cashiers and anybody else associated with the complex daily tasks of serving school lunches.

For the next three years, the association will hold its four-day state conferences each summer in St. Cloud. Members work on many food-related issues, such as food safety, sanitation, new regulations, special dietary needs, customer service and health-department requirements. Food service in a complex world is forever changing, like all other aspects of modern life. Change, in fact, has been a constant in Braulick’s job.

She has worked in Sartell schools’ food-service department since 1999, but she has been in the food-service business much longer – since 1987. Braulick is in charge of a staff of 52, who serve about 2,800 lunches every day in Sartell’s two elementary schools, its middle school and high school and its Early Education program in the District Services Building.

After being elected president of the state association, Braulick was quick to credit her staff for recognition that she receives.

“They work very hard,” she said. “Some do not know how much hard work goes into food preparation and service. There is a lot of lifting required, and it’s very hot work. It’s very physical work. Our staff is excellent.”

Braulick said her presidency will give her many opportunities.

“It’s exciting because I’ll have the opportunity to help make the organization even better,” she said. “And I’ll have an opportunity to promote education, especially about school nutrition and enhancing the public perception of the importance of nutrition.”

The foundation of school food service, Braulick said, is to help kids feel welcome, to encourage parents and grandparents to eat school lunches with children, to learn to cook and eat together and to constantly try new foods.

Braulick’s job is exceedingly complex, requiring her to juggle many factors that include food safety, nutritional knowledge, the search for high-quality products and careful attention to federal and state guidelines and mandates.

One of her constant challenges is to get students to try new foods. Variety, as Braulick well knows, is one of the key components to good nutrition. Throughout the years, Braulick and her staff have frequently added new foods and food combinations to the menu, always trying to decrease fats, sugar and salt without making foods bland or unexciting. Braulick has learned the value of patience. It takes time, she said, for some foods to “catch on” with children, some of whom can be finicky eaters. However, year by year, students are indeed starting to like foods – such as more “exotic” vegetables – they once thought they hated. Braulick is never happier when students start liking foods and their new likings become part of their families’ meals. She is keenly aware of the connection between school lunches and at-home family nutrition. In fact, that is her major goal: wise food choices and good nutrition as prime components of a lifelong – and generational – tradition.

The process of food education is never-ending, and sometimes it can be a struggle. Last year, for instance, schools had to start preparing meals using federal mandates and guidelines that limit the amount of calories allowed per meal. Some students thought the meals were not filling enough. Some dropped out of the food program. This year, Braulick noted, school-lunch participation is getting back to where it once was.

Also this year, new federal standards have been introduced for school breakfasts, similar to those put in place for lunches last year. So far, students seem not to have complained about the changes, Braulick noted.

Constant innovation is the name of the game in school food service. Braulick has been on the cutting edge of innovation and program development, constantly “tweaking” lunches and service. The latest innovation is the “Rainbow Veggie Bar” in schools. Seven to eight brightly colored vegetables are available each day from dark green to bright red. The kinds of vegetables are rotated daily and can include spinach, romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, bell peppers of all colors, diced sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, radishes, corn and “exotic” choices such as jicama. Students can eat as many vegetables as they want.

“We’re having good luck with the Rainbow Veggie Bar in the elementary schools,” Braulick said. “We’re having pretty good luck with it in the middle school. In the high school, students aren’t quite as excited about it.”

However, as Braulick has learned: patience, patience.

Other programs that Braulick has introduced, developed or adapted to Sartell schools are the following:

Farm to School

The “Farm-to-School” program makes available to students food produced on area farms – items such as corn, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, bell peppers and tomatoes. Currently, the food program is purchasing produce from Baker’s Acres in Avon.

Food recycling

The food-waste recycling program makes it possible to use thrown-out food to feed pigs at a hog operation at Berthold Farms in St. Francis, Anoka County. The food is picked up at the school and hauled to the farm. One good sign, Braulick said, is the amount of thrown-out food has not increased.

Chef in School

A Chef-in-School program invites local chefs into the schools to give advice and hands-on know-how for recipe development, culinary skills and other ways to brighten lunches. The chef from last year moved from the area, but Braulick said she will soon try to start the program again with a new chef or chefs.


Each year, a number of interns from Iowa State University are rotated at Sartell schools, where they give dietary tips and work and learn with the cooking staff.

From Scratch

This year, Braulick and her staff have started a “From Scratch” program. They are trying to make more meal entrees using fresh ingredients. For example, fresh chicken breasts are either dry-rubbed with herbs or marinated before baking to make them tasty, with less sodium. It’s another one of Braulick’s efforts to make foods delicious and nutritious.


Born and raised in Montevideo, Braulick worked as a nursing-home aide, then did at-home daycare before deciding to study food-service management at Alexandria Technical College, starting in 1980. It was there she met her husband-to-be, Michael, who is vice president of St. Cloud Industrial Products.

The Braulicks, who live in St. Augusta, have two children – Justin Braulick, an attorney with the Dan Eller law firm in Waite Park; and Jessica Braulick, a registered nurse in the Twin Cities. The Braulicks have three grandchildren – well, actually four, Braulick is quick to add. Their names are Ava, Jackson, Selah and Gabriel.

“Gabriel is in heaven,” Braulick said. Sadly, he died of a kidney disease before reaching the age of 2.

Brenda Braulick

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Blake Thoennes (left) and his assistant, Dustin Pede, work on a computer board in Thoennes' shop, Computer Repair Unlimited, in St. Joseph. Thoennes said he feels so fortunate that his passionate hobby is also his full-time job.

Self-confessed ‘nerd’ loves computer trouble-shooting

by Dennis Dalman

With a smile and a chuckle, Blake Thoennes describes himself as a nerd.

“I don’t have a pocket protector,” he said. “But I’ve wrecked a lot of shirts from ink pens.”

Thoennes, 26, thrives on his “nerdiness.” It’s what made him a computer expert and what brought about his successful business, Computer Repair Unlimited, located at 24 Birch St. W. near downtown St. Joseph.

Besides his computer savvy, intense dedication and very hard work has defined the course of his life. Born in Alexandria, Thoennes’s family moved to Sartell when he was 10. He went to Sartell Middle School and graduated from Sartell High School and St. Cloud Technical College at the same time during the same month. He managed to earn his two-year computer networking technical degree while taking a full load of high-school courses. As if school work weren’t enough, Thoennes had a series of jobs at food-service places during and after his school years. He worked at McDonald’s, Subway, Mongo’s Grill and more. In the meantime, he was fixing and fine-tuning computers for family, friends and neighbors.

Thoennes also attended St. Cloud State University, where he earned a computer-business degree in 2010, specializing in design and implementation, as well as documentation.

One day, four years ago, he decided to quit his food-service “day job” and open his own business, the one in St. Joseph. He’s never looked back and never regretted it. That’s because computers are his passionate hobby, his life’s blood, and going to work is like going to a place to have even more fun. He and his one assistant, Dustin Pede, have an astonishing number of customers – 1,500 of them. They live in places all the way from the Twin Cities to Alexandria. Eight percent of them are at-home customers (about 900 homes), and the rest are business clients (about 200 of them).

Thoennes and Pede are experts at what they offer: computer networking, all forms of computer-related business services, servers, data recovery, wireless networking, mobile devices, tune-ups, virus removal and virtually any other problems having to do with computers. Their most common service is tune-ups and virus removals, mainly for at-home customers and students.

Computer viruses are a modern curse, according to Thoennes. He has seen several women burst into tears because they lost stored photos of their loved ones due to some devious cyber virus.

“It’s infuriating,” he said. “They (virus creators) are hurting innocent people. I feel so bad for those people.

The culprits, he said, are mostly Russians and Chinese who steal data from computers worldwide.They then sell the data to marketers and others and make money while those who buy the data use it for damaging purposes. Mostly, they don’t want ordinary household computer data, but when putting out their viruses they cast a “wide net” that includes at-home computers, too, he explained.

Thoennes has spent so much time studying and tracking down viruses and how they work, he and Pede know instantly what to do when they come across one in some hapless victim’s computer.

“It takes me at most an hour or two to get rid of them,” he said.

Computer gaming is one of Thoennes’s hobbies. It combines fun, detective work and learning. He loves to go to Las Vegas – not to gamble at casinos – but to participate in the annual Consumer Electronics Show where he learns the latest in cutting-edge technologies – his stock-in-trade.

“I do play some video poker there, but that’s because I understand the odds,” he said. “I’d never play games like black jack or roulette. They’re losers.”

Thoennes is constantly giving preventive tips to not just customers but to anyone who will listen.

“My major tip of the day,” he said, “has to do with computers overheating when people do not keep them free of dust. That’s the number-one failure of laptops. It affects many desktop computers, too.”

Apple computers, Thoennes said, are notorious for breakdowns caused by overheating.

“They have just a tiny fan in them,” he explained. “Keep them clean and they’ll last twice as long.”

The best way to clean computers is to use canned air to blow the dust out of areas where it could clog and “suffocate” cooling fans.

Major tip number-two is to use an external hard drive to backup computer data. Many people, Thoennes noted, use “flash drives” (sometimes called “thumb drives”) to store data. The devices are tiny and very inexpensive, but they are also unreliable, he added, because factors such as heat or magnetic exposure can completely erase anything that is on them. An external hard drive, available at any electronics-computer store, is available from anywhere from about $60 to $100 or so – more expensive than thumb drives and larger (about the size of a large cell phone) but worth it, Thoennes said.

Thoennes’s tip number-three is an anti-virus program dubbed “AVAST,” which can be downloaded free on the Internet. There is a version that costs money, but the free one, Thoennes said, is perfectly good. It is, he added, the very best anti-virus program and protects against all viruses. To download “AVAST,” go to and follow instructions.

Thoennes said he and his assistant are more than willing to give free information to people on the telephone. Call 320-492-2814.

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Blake Thoennes (left) and his assistant, Dustin Pede, work on a computer board in Thoennes’ shop, Computer Repair Unlimited, in St. Joseph. Thoennes said he feels so fortunate that his passionate hobby is also his full-time job.



Post office promotes breast-cancer stamps

by Dennis Dalman

Sartell postal workers are confident city residents will step up to the plate again and hit a home run for the fight against breast cancer.

Each year, October is the month the U.S. Postal Service and all of its branch offices, including the one in Sartell, promote sales of its “Breast Cancer” stamps. Sales of those stamps have raised almost $80 million for breast-cancer research since the stamps debuted in 1998. More than 950 million of the stamps have been sold to postal customers.

The Sartell Post Office has won multiple honors because of its records for sales.

“Sartell customers have traditionally been huge supporters of this cause,” said Terry Niehaus, Sartell postmaster.

Niehaus noted the post office was honored for top breast-cancer stamp sales in 2000, 2001 and 2011. It was quite the feat, considering Sartell was in competition with 171 other offices in its postal region, including those in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato and many other places.

Last year, the Sartell post office placed second, with customers having purchased $4,200-worth of breast-cancer stamps. But even though Sartell was in second place, the 2012 sales were still a 136-percent increase from the year before, when sales totaled $1,800, Niehaus noted. The Richfield office took top honors last year.

The money raised by the stamp sales is split between the National Institute of Health (75 percent of the funds) and the National Department of Defense’s Medical Research Program (25 percent). Each stamp costs 55 cents, nine cents more than a normal first-class stamp. A sheet of 20 of the stamps sells for $11, whereas a sheet of typical stamps costs $9.20. From each sheet of breast-cancer stamps, $1.80 of the price is donated to the cause.

“We are very grateful for the total support Sartell people show toward this worthy cause and are very aware it’s their generosity that sets them apart,” Niehaus said.

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First issued in 1998, the Breast Cancer stamp features the phrases, “Fund the Fight” and “Find a Cure” and an illustration of a mythical “goddess of the hunt.” As of October 2012, the stamp has raised over $76.3 million for breast cancer research. By law, 70 percent of the net amount raised is given to the National Institutes of Health and 30 percent is given to the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense. These self-adhesive stamps are being issued in sheets of 20.

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Ashley Jonas enjoys a dressage, or English riding, event on her horse, "Gem." The horse was a former racing horse from Hollywood, Calf.

Student spotlight: Jonas enjoys working with, rescuing horses

by Cori Hilsgen

Ashley Jonas enjoys riding her two horses and hopes to become an equine veterinarian like her mentor Dr. Nicole Eller-Medina.

Jonas and Eller-Medina sometimes show their horses at the same place, the “Rocking R Farm” by Foley. Eller-Medina is Jonas’s horses’ veterinarian and is involved with the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation.

Jonas is interested in trying a Trainer’s Challenge. This program allows a person to retrain one of the rescued horses and compete for a prize at the end of the summer. She would also like to acquire one or two foster horses.

Jonas is a resident of St. Joseph and is a senior at Holdingford High School. She is the 18-year-old daughter of Janet Jonas. She has two sisters, Holly, 30, and  Sarah, 21; and one brother Troy, 23. Another sister, Jessica, is deceased.

Jonas has been riding since she was five. She received riding lessons for her birthday. Her mother says they are the present that never ended.

Jonas got her first horse, a paint horse, “Oreo,” in 2008 from her mother for her 13th birthday. Janet bought the horse from the owner of “Fieldstone Farms” in St. Joseph. Oreo was 9 years old when she purchased her and  is now 14 years old.

Jonas got her second horse, an off-the-track-Thoroughbred bay, “Gem,” last year. Gem’s previous owner moved to Texas and needed to sell her. Gem is 15 years old. She was originally from the racing tracks by Hollywood, Calf. Her full name is “Jean’s Lucky One.” Gem raced in 52 races and was retired at Canterbury Downs in Shakopee with a shoulder injury when she was 6 years old.

Gem’s first owner trained her in stadium jumping.  She can clear 4-foot-high jumps. Jonas is now training her to do dressage or English riding.

Jonas especially enjoys three-day dressage event riding, stadium jumping and cross-country. Currently she boards her horses, but she and her mother hope to buy 10 acres of property in the near future. Jonas’s horses are currently boarded, but she helps create their grain bags for “Up Front Horses” to feed them. Both horses have special dietary needs. Oreo needs something to control her weight and Gem needs something to keep her weight on.

Jonas works part-time at Mills Fleet Farm in the farm department.

Fun Facts about Jonas :

Favorite subject: Science

“Because it’s interesting,” Jonas said.

Favorite leisure activity:

Spending time with her horses and hanging out with her friends.

Favorite movie: “John Tucker Must Die”

“It’s hilarious,” Jonas said.

Favorite music: Eminem

Because he was an underdog and became successful even through all the ups and downs.

Favorite restaurant: Texas Roadhouse

Favorite food: Taco pizza with my friend Gen while watching “Vampire Diaries”

Favorite thing she likes to help other people do:

Jonas says she enjoys helping her horse friends get ready at horse shows. She said she also likes volunteering at horse shows.

Favorite quote:

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” from a Kelly Clarkson song.

The thing she likes best about St. Joseph:

“It’s a small town and everyone knows you,” she said.

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Ashley Jonas enjoys jumping with her horse “Oreo.” Jonas received the horse as a gift for her 13th birthday.

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Ashley Jonas enjoys a dressage, or English riding, event on her horse, “Gem.” The horse was a former racing horse from Hollywood, Calf.

Get ready, get set, go for ObamaCare

by Dennis Dalman

Tuesday, Oct. 1 was the big day for the most major health-care reform program in nearly a half century – the federal Affordable Care Act, also dubbed “ObamaCare.”

On that day, the marketplace exchanges started in Minnesota and elsewhere across the nation. Those without health insurance now have a chance to do online comparison shopping for a health-care insurance policy best suited to their needs. In central Minnesota, five private insurance companies offer, in total, about 140 policy plans that range from basic to more comprehensive.

Once people choose and sign up for insurance policies, they will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

People will have from Oct. 1 to March 31 to sign up for some form of health insurance without being penalized for not having any.

The ACA requires all Americans to have an insurance plan by next year. Those who don’t (except for some hardship or religious exemptions) will be fined, and the fines will increase from $5 the first year to several hundred dollars in subsequent years. Fines would be levied through the Internal Revenue Service, which could deduct fine amounts from tax refunds.

Those who already have insurance can keep exactly what they have.

The rationale underlying the ACA is that more people with health insurance will widen the insurance pool, translating into lower premium costs for all and a downward push on medical costs, largely through the benefits of preventive care and healthier lifestyles.

Starting Oct. 1, small employers (those with 50 or fewer employees) will also be able to shop on the online market exchange, which in Minnesota is known as MNsure. Larger employers, those with more than 50 employees, can start choosing group insurance polices through ACA starting in 2017.

About one in five Minnesotans do not have health insurance or have plans that are very inadequate. Up to an estimated 1.2 million Americans are eligible for the ACA.

Get ready

The first step toward seeking coverage under the ACA is to determine one’s eligiblity for tax credits, which are federal subsidies to help people who need help paying premiums.

The whole idea behind the Affordable Care Act is the word “affordable,” making it possible, through subsidies, for everyone to have care that costs a set portion of annual income. For most people of very low incomes in Minnesota, there are two programs they are already enrolled in or are eligible for: MinnesotaCare or Medicaid. Those people will stay on those programs as long as their annual incomes remain within the low limits.

Affordability, under terms of the ACA, is paying no more than 9.5 percent of annual income for an insurance policy.

For the rest of the uninsured, calculating annual incomes is very important. On the market-exchange website (, there will be a “calculator” function available on which people can enter their income information and which will instantly calculate eligibility for a federal subsidy and how much. People can also determine subsidy eligibility through an insurance broker.

Murray Herstein, who lives in the Twin Cities, is one of many brokers throughout the state connected to a hotline help number to assist seekers of insurance through the ACA. Specially certified and trained as a MNsure agent, Herstein and a newly hired assistant expect hundreds if not thousands of calls in the coming three months.

In an interview with the Newsleader, Herstein emphasized how important it is for people to find out if they are eligible and for how much. That information, he said, is vital so when shopping on the MNsure marketplace website, people will be able to balance what they have to spend with the type of insurance policy they decide to choose.

The MNsure site will also inform seekers about “navigators” and “assistors,” a network of specially trained helpers throughout the state, many of them employees of clinics, hospitals and organizations. They, too, will be able to help someone determine subsidy eligibility.

Herstein noted eligibility for subsidized premiums can be up to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. An individual who makes $46,000 annually or less in gross adjusted income is eligible for a federal subsidy. The less that person makes under that amount, the more the subsidy. A family of four that brings in $94,000 or less in annual income is also eligible. Under the ACA, each member of a family can, if they choose, pick a different plan, Herstein noted.

To get an idea if you are subsidy eligible, the gross adjusted income is located on tax forms (Line 4 on 1040EZ form, Line 21 on 1040A form and Line 37 on 1040 form).

Get set

Another important step before you begin shopping on the MNsure exchange is to examine your health, habits and lifestyle. Such factors will help you know which level of health insurance best fits your needs.

Prospective health-care shoppers should make a list of health factors, asking themselves the following questions:

• Do I live a sedentary lifestyle or an active lifestyle or somewhere in between? If someone is too sedentary, there could be lurking health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and more. If a person is very active, such as an athlete or an adventurer-daredevil, the person might be prone to serious injuries.

• Do I drink to excess? Do I smoke cigarettes or abuse drugs? All are risk factors.

• What is my family background? Which relatives suffered or died because of certain medical conditions? Are those factors perhaps hereditary?

• When was my last medical check-up? What were the results? It’s a good idea to get a new medical check-up before shopping for a policy. That way, you will have an idea of your overall general health and if medical issues need some attention.

After an honest assessment of risk factors, those who have a more healthy lifestyle might want to choose a less costly insurance plan. Those with high-risk factors or a history of medical issues probably need a more comprehensive plan.

There are four levels of health policies to choose from, rated from least expensive to most expensive: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. A bronze policy will cover 60 percent of medical costs, a silver 70 percent, a gold 80 percent and a platinum 90 percent. The ACT, however, mandates all plans and all levels must offer certain “essential benefits” that include preventive care, maternity care, prescription drugs, lab tests and more. In addition, the ACT requires the insurance plans to accept people with pre-existing medical conditions and prevents companies from placing lifetime cost limits on medical care. Companies, under the ACT law, must put caps on out-of-pocket costs, must let children stay on their adults’ policies until they are 26 and requires 80-85 percent of every dollar paid in premiums be spent solely on delivering medical care or improving health care – otherwise refunds will be mandated.

The ACT also requires the products on marketplace exchanges to be written in layman’s language so shoppers can compare the plans side by side – apples to apples, so to speak. It must be plain to each shopper exactly what each plan does (and does not) offer.

Because of ACT mandates, even the least expensive insurance plans on the online marketplace were designed to offer good value for the premiums paid, according to MNsure advocates.


On the marketplace, there are nine regions in the state for which plans are offered. Central Minnesota is in Region 8 of the state’s nine geographical regions. Shoppers should be sure they are perusing plans within their region because costs vary region to region.

The private insurance companies for Region 8 are Blue Cross Blue Shield, HealthPartners, Medica, PreferredOne and UCare. Each offers dozens of varying plans, a total of about 140.

Premiums (not counting subsidies) range from as low as $91/month for an individual bronze policy to as high as $634/month or more for a family of four on a platinum policy.

Before shopping, people should learn certain health-care terms, especially the following two:

Deductible: This is the amount you are required to pay for medical services before the insurance company kicks in with its payments. Generally, the lower the deductible, the higher the premium you will pay and vice versa.

Co-payment: A usually fixed amount you pay for a covered health-care service. That amount varies plan-to-plan, but a typical one is $15.

For other insurance-policy terms, refer to the “Glossary’ on the marketplace website.

Co-insurance: Once you’ve met your deductible amount, the co-insurance is the amount you would pay after the insurance company pays its share. For a silver plan, for example, the company would pay about 70 percent, and you would pay about 30 percent of the cost of medical procedures.

As you peruse and compare health plan to health plan, take notes on the ones that most appeal to you. Later, revisit them while considering the factors you have determined: eligibility or not for subsidies; your general health, habits and lifestyle; and what you can afford (with or without subsidies). People who have a favorite doctor or clinic should call that doctor or clinic to find out if they will accept insurance from the plan you favor choosing.

It is highly recommended people spend time reading the background information on the MNsure site before beginning to shop for a plan.

On the MNsure site, there will be instructions as to how and where to sign up for a plan. On the marketplace website, there will also be, under “Help,” numbers to call and places to contact for assistance. Some valuable websites for background information are – besides MNsure –, the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Health Care Programs and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Contact center

One of the best ways to receive help in choosing insurance is to call the MNsure Contact Center, located in St. Paul. Its toll-free number is 1-855-3MNSURE (1-855-366-7873).

There will also be local help in the greater St. Cloud area from specially trained people known as “assistors” and “navigators” shortly before Oct. 1. More information about that will be published later, as it becomes available.

There are currently 27 staff members at the contact center, according to its media-relations coordinator, Jenni Bowring-McDonough. More staff will be added, as needed. Some, she said, have been working around the clock taking calls and answering questions.

The contact center can help people determine their eligibility for subsidies and can assist people who don’t have access to computers. Its staff can also refer callers to person-to-person assistance near their homes.

The contact center will be open from 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays. Those hours may be extended should the need arise.

Waving red flags save man from being conned

by Dennis Dalman

Fortunately, red flags of warning popped up in Douglas Gravelle’s head when he received a certain phone call one afternoon recently.

The Sartell man was notified by a male voice on the phone that a virus was attacking his computer system. The man then told Gravelle to start up his computer and go to a certain website, enter requested information, and the caller’s company would rid Gravelle’s computer of the dangerous virus.

Red flags immediately began to wave. For one thing, the man who called could barely speak English. For another, Gravelle remembered how his own son and daughter-in-law were scammed via a sale made on computer a year ago. They were sent a check that was written in an amount of $2,800 over the amount for the item they sold. The person told them to send the amount of the accidental overpayment back. The Gravelles did so and were totally conned out of their money. That incident put Douglas Gravelle in a mode of utter skepticism when it comes to computer dealings.

After the man called, Gravelle called the Computer Renaissance Co. in St. Cloud. A service agent there told him, “Do NOT comply with that request.” It’s a scam, and they will take every bit of information Gravelle gives them and rip him off.

“I do my banking on the computer,” Gravelle said. “And I only send emails or get them from close friends. But because I do banking on it, I was leery right away.”

The man called Gravelle back and asked him again to go to the “help” website.

“Forget it!” he told the man and hung up the phone.

Wanting to warn others of the scam, Gravelle then emailed the Sartell Newsleader, requesting the newspaper do a story about it.

“And just the other day, I received an email saying I won some lottery in Canada,” he said. “I deleted it without opening it.”

Gravelle said his innate skepticism was molded by the fact he’s been around the world a time or two. He served in the U.S. Army for 21 years, including 20 months in Vietnam as a helicopter door gunner, as well as three tours in Germany and stateside in Washington and Virginia. Later, before retiring recently, he was employed as a guard at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility. Such widely based experiences in so many places can teach one to be leery of offers that seem to0 good to be true, Gravelle noted.

“I made up my mind never to be scammed,” he said. “I check with people before I do anything. And the best thing to do is always initiate any business with people you know and trust. Never give out personal information on the phone or on the computer when someone requests it. That’s the best advice I can give. Always double-check everything. And don’t open email messages unless you know for sure where they’re coming from. And if you do open one, and it says to click on a link within it, don’t!”

Gravelle said he is not the “computer savvy” type. After letting his grandchildren play games on his computer, he discovered their downloaded games had caused havoc with the system. He had to take the computer to Computer Renaissance, who fixed the problem and cleaned up the computer for about $100. He now considers Computer Renaissance his trouble-shooting informational lifeline.

Gravelle recommends to people that any time they suspect a computer scam, they should call a reputable computer business and chances are the employees will know right away what to do and not to do.