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Local pastor, mother of children enrolled at Mason City Schools asks district to drop 'Mohawk' name

MASON CITY | A local pastor wants the Mason City School Board to drop the "Mohawk" name from the district's athletic teams and other school-related communications, unless the Mohawk Nation Native American Community approves its use.

Le Anne Clausen de Montes, who is also part of the parent-teacher organization at Hoover Elementary, wrote a letter to the Mason City School District's Board of Education this past Saturday. She has multiple children of Native American descent who attend school in the district. 

Clausen de Montes

The letter asks that unless the national branch of the Mohawk Nation — based in Akwesasne, New York — gives the district permission to use the term "Mohawk," the term should be discontinued in district athletic apparel, school communications and the official team mascot should change.

"It is true that Mason City Community School District has used the Mohawk as a mascot for many years, and there may be Mason City citizens or alumni who feel strongly about retaining the name for the sake of 'tradition,'" des Montes wrote. "However, our world is changing, and as an institution centered on education and broadening human knowledge, we must recognize that long-held traditions sometimes must come to an end for the greater community benefit."

A former Mason City Mohawks logo. The district's most recent logo uses its initials, MC, in red and white lettering. 

According to, a database that tracks high school sports' nicknames throughout the country, just over 10 percent of all Iowa high schools carry a nickname that reference the Native American heritage. Five schools in Iowa carry the "Mohawk" nickname, according to the database.

de Montes said via email Tuesday she has been working on the issue for years, and said efforts to change the name started in the early 1990s.

Mason City Schools' current logo. 

Mason City Schools Superintendent Dave Versteeg said he first read des Montes' letter to School Board members Monday, and that any action on it must come from them first.

He declined to comment further on the letter, but encouraged des Montes and anyone else to attend public School Board meetings and voice their opinions about any district-related matters.

de Montes said Versteeg sent her a "very nice letter" about the issue, and also explained how to approach board members moving forward. She also commended Mason City councilman and high school history teacher John Lee for talking with the Mohawk tribal council and educating his players about the history of the term.

"I've let them (board members) know I would be happy to be in further conversation with them as they would find useful to their deliberation process," she said.

Mason City School Board President Lorrie Lala also said she first read the letter Monday, and noted the issue had not yet been discussed as a board. She declined to provide any further comment until those conversations occur.

The board is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19, in the Administration Center boardroom, 1515 S. Pennsylvania Ave. 

de Montes emphasized that she is open to further discussion, and that the listed suggestions are not demands, but simply ideas to consider moving forward.

"I know this will be an emotional issue for many," she said, later adding: "I don't think anyone involved in the decisions over the years about our name and mascot ever intended disrespect ... I hope that we can have, as a community, a process of thoughtful, civil conversation and come to a solution that is well understood and fully honors the tribal council's wishes."

Mason City "Mohawk" letter

'We've been blessed:' Thompson couple who work as Waldorf professors celebrate 45 years together

FOREST CITY | Flowers, chocolates and a song or rhyme.

Those have been staples in Larry Hill’s grandiose Valentine’s Day gestures for his wife, Becky, for years.

“He’s very good at that kind of stuff,” Becky said.

Last year, Larry stopped by Becky’s Waldorf classroom with a tune and treats. A couple years ago, he visited her office, got down on one knee, and with flowers and candy in hand started singing The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

“He’s the more outgoing person, and I’m more, ‘Don’t do this,’ and he does it,” she said. “But I’ve gotten used to it through the years.”

And there’s been plenty.

High school sweethearts, parents of four, grandparents to eight grandsons and professors at Waldorf University, the couple, who lives in Thompson, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in August.

“To me, it feels like 10 years. For her, it’s probably felt like 80,” Larry said making them both laugh.

Although the two grew up on farms 2.5 miles apart in rural Winnebago County, Larry attended school in Forest City, and Becky went to Lake Mills.

Their paths crossed for the first time at a 4-H teen dance at the county fair when they were in junior high.

“In those days, the county fair was the summer event,” Larry said.

Then, when Becky was in ninth grade, and Larry was in eighth grade, she asked him to attend a Sadie Hawkins dance. But it wouldn’t be until two years later that they started “going together for good.”

In 1971, Becky graduated from Lake Mills and went to Waldorf, which was a junior college at the time, until Larry graduated and followed her.

On March 31, 1973, Larry proposed to Becky, and on Aug. 18, they were married.

“I had the summer to make my wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses,” Becky said.

That fall, the couple moved to Mankato, Minnesota, where they attended Mankato State University for their bachelor’s degrees in education.

After graduating from college, Becky became a dispatcher for the Blue Earth Sheriff’s Office and the Mankato Police Department. She was there until Larry finished school, and they both moved to Baxter, Iowa. 

In Baxter, Larry taught and coached “every sport every season” to earn extra money and make ends meet, while the couple started their family with the arrival of their oldest daughter, Carrie, in 1976.

Becky was a stay-at-home mother, who operated an in-home day care, when the couple’s twins, Christopher and Jennifer, were born in 1979. Their youngest daughter, Stephanie, came in 1982.

In 1981, the Hills moved to Thompson, where they still reside today.

While raising their children, the couple served in various capacities within the community, including 4-H, city council, church and ambulance service.

“We tried to make sure our children appreciated what goes on in the community and the value of service,” Larry said.

Becky taught K-12 special education in Buffalo Center for four years before taking a position at Waldorf as the director of the learning disabilities program in 1991. She later became the college’s Academic Achievement Center director and Academic Support Program director. She’s now an associate professor of education and department chair.

Larry taught high school social studies and coached football and basketball before becoming the elementary principal in Lakota, the middle school principal in Thompson and the North Iowa Community School superintendent. He was superintendent from 1995 to 2010 and was recognized as Iowa Superintendent of the Year.

“I enjoy teaching so much that I wanted to go back and finish my career with what I started doing,” he said.

Larry teaches online and residential business, education and master’s degree courses at Waldorf as an adjunct professor.

“The two of us had such a good experience here at Waldorf with the professors we had and the relationships we built, we want to give that back to the next generation,” he said.

The key to a long, happy marriage?

The Hills said it’s the ability to have fun together through life’s ups and downs, cherishing the moment and helping each other.

“It’s not about keeping scores, it’s about blessing one another,” Becky said.

“And complementing the other’s shortfalls,” Larry added.

The Hills consider themselves fortunate.

“We’ve been blessed both in our relationship with our kids and the opportunities we’ve had to work,” he said.

Ashley Stewart / ASHLEY STEWART, The Globe Gazette 

Becky and Larry Hill, professors at Waldorf University in Forest City, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this year. The couple met through 4-H in middle school. 

Update: No one hurt after excavator breaks through ice on Clear Lake

CLEAR LAKE | No one was hurt after an excavator fell through the ice on the south side of Clear Lake Monday afternoon. 

The Cat machine, owned by Yohn Co. of Clear Lake, broke through the ice near the access by South Shore Inn, 1603 S. Shore Dr.

The company's excavation crew was helping a customer who was building a sea wall when the machine fell in around 4 p.m., Yohn Co. Safety Director and Vice President Laura Yohn said. 

"Our company factors in accidents like this that might happen when working under these conditions," Yohn told the Globe Gazette in a Facebook message Monday evening.

Yohn Co. has measures in place to keep its workers safe in accidents like this, Yohn said, and was confident the workers involved "took all proper safety precautions." No injuries were reported. 

This is the first time the company has had a piece of equipment fall through the ice, according to Yohn. 

"We're trying to work fast to get the piece of equipment out," Yohn said Monday night. "However, it may not be removed until tomorrow due to cold and hazardous conditions."

The wind chill was hovering around minus 7 in Clear Lake Monday evening, but Yohn said a crew from Tony's Tire Service was able to safely remove the excavator from the lake around 9 p.m. 

This is the third machine or vehicle to fall through the ice on Clear Lake this month.

A truck fell through at Bayside Feb. 4, and a specialized crew from Spirit Lake pulled a Lexus SUV from the southwestern side of the lake Feb. 6. No injuries were reported in either incident. 

Clausen de Montes

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mason City High School

Jim Cross / Submitted photo 

Leslie and Suzi Thurnau of Osage have been married for 70 years. 

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Documents: Former Clear Lake elementary custodian recorded female co-workers in staff bathroom for 'sexual gratification'


CLEAR LAKE | Police say a former Clear Creek Elementary custodian allegedly videotaped four female co-workers in a faculty bathroom while working at the school.

David Joe Bemis, 46, of Mason City, was charged with four counts of misdemeanor invasion of privacy and booked into the Cerro Gordo County Jail Monday evening.

He has since been released on bond and is scheduled to appear in Cerro Gordo County District Court Feb. 26. Four no-contact orders have been issued. 

Bemis is accused of placing a hidden USB video camera in a unisex staff bathroom at Clear Creek Elementary School, 901 S. 14th St., between May 1 and May 31, 2013, according to police, court documents and school officials.  

The camera was used to capture video and audio of four adult women "in a state of partial nudity with the intent of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of the defendant," court documents said. 

Charging documents prepared by the Clear Lake Police Department said the "victim(s) had no knowledge of the camera, or the existence of any recording, and had not consented to be recorded."

The footage showed four school employees who have been notified, police said, but they and school officials said there was no evidence any children had been recorded.

Clear Lake Police Chief Pete Roth said the investigation, which was prompted by "a party outside of the school district" who contacted school officials, turned up four videos. 

He did not specify how the videos were discovered, but said via email Tuesday investigators do not believe there are any more recordings. 

Bemis is the only person believed to allegedly be involved, according to Roth. The recordings were located on a USB storage device and laptop owned by Bemis, court documents said. Investigators recovered the items at his home in the 1200 block of South Carolina Avenue. 

Bemis worked in Clear Lake schools for 19 years, Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee said via email Tuesday. The School Board approved his resignation in January. 

“We became aware of the information from a party outside the school and we placed him (Bemis) on administrative leave immediately while we investigated,” Gee said. “We got the Clear Lake police involved and they had a search warrant available the next day and confiscated all the video and computer equipment.”

Gee said that the school district and police are confident that there were no students filmed, that the video was not released publicly and that police have confiscated all the video that was recorded. 

“We are also confident that this was four to five years ago and it was an isolated incident that happened a couple times, because of the police investigation and through forensic examination of all the video and computer equipment,” Gee said. “The Clear Lake police department did a great job of expediting the investigation.”

Gee, who was hired in 2016, was not superintendent when the incident allegedly occurred.