The 22nd annual Heart of Daktoa winners have been selected. These plaques displayed at the entrance of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office in the Courthouse, top left, are in honor of the late Sheriff Dale Elsen who was named this year’s People’s Choice winner. Cathy Wegleinter of Lake City, cemter, is the Customer Service winner, and the Claremont Summer Rec Baseball Committee was named the Community Involvement winner. Committee members from left to right are Joe Gustafson, Jenn Gustafson, Jeremy Smith, Missi Smith, Amy Keough, and Mike Frey. Not pictured are Mindy and JJ Glines, Adrienne Fliehs, and Mark Hanse.
Marshall County Healthcare Center workers have been on the front lines for the Marshall County area in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sign in front of the healthcare center, “MCHC STRONG,” shows their determination to win that fight. In recognition of their efforts the MCHS employees are being honored as Heart of Dakota Community Heroes.
Wheatcrest Hills employees were pictured earlier this year giving a thank you to First Responders and Healthcare workers for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The employees are being honored as Heart of Dakota Community Heroes.
Heart Of Dakota Awards Given
Despite some changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, area residents have been recognized for the 22nd time as winners of the annual Heart of Dakota Awards.
The awards are sponsored by the Britton Area Foundation and Marshall County Publishing, publisher of the Marshall County Journal.
In the past a reception has been held in conjunction with the Britton Area Chamber of Commerce Fall Social to honor recipients, but that will not be held this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
This year’s honorees include the late Marshall County Sheriff Dale Elsen, People’s Choice; Kathy Wegleitner of Dollar General, Customer Service; and the Claremont Summer Rec Baseball Committee, Community Involvement.
Special recognition is also being given to the employees of the Marshall County Healthcare Center/Spruce Court and Wheatcrest Hills as “Community Heroes” in light of the special and unique challenges they continue to face as they serve the area during the ongoing pandemic.
Elsen was a “People’s Sheriff,” and he earned the respect of county residents during his 37 years as sheriff of Marshall County.
“I think he was most proud of his ability to relate to people, and that was pretty much everybody,” said his wife, Rhonda. “His philosophy was to treat people as he would like to be treated.”
A 1973 Hecla High School graduate, Elsen joined the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff at the age of 21. He was elected sheriff in 1982, won his last election in 2018 with almost 85 percent of the vote, and at the time of his death in May of this year was the longest current serving sheriff in the state.
Elsen’s knowledge of the county and its people was legendary.
“I think what I will remember most about Dale is his knowledge of the job, the area, and the people,” said long-time Highway Patrolman and current Marshall County Deputy Brian Bard, who worked with Elsen for 25 years. “Since his death, those of us who worked with him have often wished that he was here when we have a question because we know he would have known the answer.”
Elsen helped current Marshall County Deputy Mike Marquette get his start in law enforcement, and Marquette cited Elsen’s honesty as his most outstanding trait.
“Dale was one of the most honest people I ever worked with. And his strength was knowing the people and getting along with people. He earned their respect because he treated everyone else with respect, whether they were in jail or out on the street. Those who had problems with the law were treated as someone who had a bump in the road and Dale was going to see what he could do to help them get through it.
“He also looked out for the department first and foremost,” Marquette added. “The last thing Dale wanted was for anything to distract us from serving the public. And when it came to doing his job there were no ifs, ands, or buts. The job would get done no matter what it was.”
But Elsen’s long-time service to Marshall County was not the only reason for his nomination for the Heart of Dakota Award.
“I think everyone in Marshall County knows what Dale did for our county through his many years of service as our Sheriff,” wrote his nominator. “But I want to nominate him for how he handled adversity at the end of his life. It was an example for all of us.
“Dale had to deal with a politically-motivated action that was humiliating and, in effect, ended his career,” the letter continued. “He could have been hot-headed and filled with hate, but he chose to follow a different path. Taking a breath and a step back, he continued to serve his county with a calm and grace that will be remembered.
“Finally, in the midst of all of this, Dale had to face a final battle with cancer. He fought with the same quiet resolve. What a lesson and example for all of us. He will be remembered for a long time.”
Wegleitner of Lake City grew up providing customer service, and her dedication to her “guests” at Dollar General in Britton has not gone unnoticed.
“Kathy is an awesome manager of Dollar General and is always cheerful, friendly, organized, and helpful to everyone who comes into that business,” wrote her nominator. “Dollar General is a very clean, well-organized, wellstocked, and friendly place because of her hard work.”
Wegleitner went to high school and college in Rochester, MN, where she worked for her father, who spent his life in retail operating a women’s clothing store. She has been a resident of Lake City for 35 years and operated a grocery store with her husband, Dan, for nine years in Lake City until it was destroyed by a tornado in 1996. She then worked with her husband in his insurance business until she began her job at Dollar General when it opened in Britton five years ago. She currently manages five employees.
She refers to her customers as “guests” and treats them as such.
“I think it is very important to welcome every customer, and to listen to them,” stressed Wegleitner. “Everybody has a story.”
When she isn’t working, Wegleitner also gives back to her community. She has been an active member of the Hilltop Homemakers extension club of Lake City, has worked very hard on the fundraisers for Relay For Life for years, and has been the key member for campsite design and set-up at the Relay for years for the Hilltop Homemakers.
For Wegleitner, customer service is THE most important thing for any business.
“I just truly appreciate my customers every day. To me customer service is the most important thing about a business no matter what business you are operating. And I feel like many businesses here in Marshall County have great customer service. I think it’s very important how you treat other people.”
Wegleitner noted that in today’s COVID-19 environment operating a business has become even more challenging. But she emphasized the importance of always focusing on the positive.
“Every day is a little bit different, but you just have to overcome the obstacles and move forward. In this time when guests come in it may be the only contact they have with other people for the day or even for the week, so it’s even more important that they receive a warm welcome and find an environment that is very clean and inviting.
“I have loved raising our family of three kids in the Britton and Lake City area,” Wegleitner concluded, “and my hope is that our visitors and guests find Britton a very welcoming community.”
Claremont Summer Rec Baseball Committee
The Claremont Summer Rec Baseball Committee is the recipient of this year’s Community Involvement award, but it’s really all about the “Honker Family.”
“Claremont and baseball kind of go hand-in-hand and it’s no one person but the whole family – through the generations – that makes our program work,” said committee member Jenn Gustafson. “We are beyond blessed to have such a wonderful group of players, families, and fans. This award is for ALL of our Honker Family.”
The story really began over a century ago in 1889. That was the year that Claremont first formed a baseball team. Ever since that time Honker baseball has been an integral part of the Claremont community.
The primary goal of the Summer Rec Baseball Committee is to carry on that tradition and pass it on to the next generation.
“Our mission is to provide a baseball opportunity for all youth free of charge,” stressed Gustafson. “The kids make it all worth it, and there is something magical about the sport of baseball.”
The Claremont baseball program is composed of six different teams – Legion, Junior Legion, Teeners, Midgets, Peewees and T-ball. The group also draws youth from surrounding communities that do not have enough players to field a team.
Through fundraisers and donations the committee puts together a budget of about $7,000-$12,000 annually, depending on if there is a big project in the works like field improvements. The Roy Pulfrey electronic Memorial Scoreboard has been a wonderful addition, and new outfield lighting is the next big project.
The committee, along with other community volunteers, does the hard work of maintaining the baseball diamond, coaching the teams, running the concession stand, and drawing up the game schedules.
“I’m 76 years old, and I remember my first baseball coach, Dick Schliebe at Claremont, and Robert “Bud” Pearson at Britton,” wrote the Community Involvement nominator. “The lessons learned from them before I was 14 years old are with me today.
“The people that have devoted their time on the Claremont Rec Baseball Program will be remembered forever by their young players. It is their hard work, kindness, and good sportsmanship that will leave a lasting impression on these young people.”
“Once a Honker, always a Honker, and it really is that tradition that we focus on,” concluded Gustafson. “It’s a long history and we’re happy to be a part of it. We are doing our best to maintain the tradition while we’re here with the goal that it continues well after us. We’re just holding the torch and trying to make sure it stays lit and keeps going.”
Community Heroes In this time of unprecedent
In this time of unprecedented challenges, there are a lot of people who have stepped up to make a difference for others. But our healthcare workers and assisted living/nursing home employees have been manning the front lines and are being recognized as special Heart of Dakota Community Heroes.
The Marshall County Healthcare Center employs 115 people, including Spruce Court, and Wheatcrest Hills employs about 50. All have made untold sacrifices at work and home to help keep people safe and healthy.
Marshall County Healthcare Center/Spruce Court Administrator Nick Fosness noted that employees are feeling a unique type of pressure during the pandemic – it never really goes away.
“It can be a scary place to be working because you have the potential of taking care of very sick people in the middle of a pandemic,” said Fosness. “And the pressure never leaves you. You work with COVIDrelated things all day and then go home and field more questions from friends and family. It’s never-ending.
“It’s been a rough six months, but our healthcare workers are heroes,” stressed Fosness. I’d take our team in Britton over and over again if I had a choice. They’ve been great, and there is pride behind those masks. We are proud of what we do and confident in the care that we give.”
Then there are the physical challenges. Twelve hour shifts wearing a mask and a plastic faceguard is not a desirable work condition. Add the fear of the unknown and the challenges are multiplied. The MCHC has also adapted, opening up a Well Clinic in a second location, the only facility in the state to do so. The result has been a way to continue preventative care off site, as well as handle COVID issues.
“We split the staff half and half, and that’s what teamwork is all about,” added Fosness. “We’re really proud of that, and the community is proud of that.”
Wheatcrest Hills Administrator Dru Fischgrabe was most proud of his employees dedication to making sure all nursing home residents remain as healthy as possible.
“I’m most proud of our employees that personally make the choices to go by the rules that keep residents as safe as possible,” said Fischgrabe. “It’s an individual choice, we can’t really mandate it, but when they go home they are equally aware of the importance of being careful around others, not attending large gatherings, or going to places where there would be a high probability of catching something or passing it around.”
Fischgrabe also points to the service attitude that employees exhibit at Wheatcrest Hills.
“Part of the reason people work is because they want to, and they are here for the residents more than any other reason. I can think of many other jobs they could do without some of the hassles and rules that have been applied during this time, and jobs where you can leave the job at the door and not worry about it until you come back in that door. I’m just really proud of how our employees have responded to this challenge.”
Spruce Court’s Assisted Living Supervisor Stacey Beck calls her employees “amazing.”
“They’ve given up a lot, and my words aren’t going to be good enough. They’ve also given our residents extra time and attention that they haven’t been able to get from their families while putting up with shields and facemasks. I can’t say enough how fabulous they’ve been and how supportive they’ve been of everything that we’re doing. I’m so proud of them, and I think our residents have handled it so well because the staff has been so amazing.”
Big Temp Swing Again Area residents experienced
Area residents experienced a big swing in temperatures again this week, going from a high of 85 degrees last week Tuesday to a low of 40 degrees on Monday.
The mercury climbed to just 57 degrees on both Sunday and Monday and forecasters are calling for similar temps the remainder of this week. A warming trend is expected again next week.
Doug Oelkers Records of Britton recorded just .07 of an inch of moisture for the week as the area continues to be dry.