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POET in Hanlontown brightens North Iowa with lighted tree

HANLONTOWN | For the past four years, POET has lit a tree in hopes of brightening the holidays of North Iowans.

And Rick Scholbrock, longtime Hanlontown mayor, said the company and its employees have “outdone themselves” this year.

“Each year that tree gets bigger and brighter,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

The tree, which can be seen about two miles west of Interstate 35 off Highway 9 near Hanlontown, features roughly 14,000 white LED lights that were strung by POET employees this fall.

Kelly Hansen, general manager of POET Biorefining — Hanlontown, said the company, which sits on 200 acres northwest of Hanlontown, decided to put lights on one of its trees near the highway about four years ago.

“We had no intention of taking credit for it,” he said. “We simply did it as a community service around the holidays.”

The display started on a smaller tree using about 3,000 lights and has more than quadrupled on a different “very large tree” nearby. The tree is so large that POET employees use a 120-foot boom lift to string lights on its branches, Hansen said.

“It takes quite an effort for us to do,” he said, noting it’s a company effort.

The tree is lit from sunset to sunrise from late November into January, and it is seen regularly by motorists traveling on Highway 9 to and from work.

Hansen, who commutes from Mason City to the POET plant, said the lighted tree can be seen from two miles in either direction, and oftentimes — especially this year — people can be seen taking photos of the tree each evening it’s lit.

“It’s a neat landmark,” he said.

Around the same time POET began lighting a tree on its property, the company began encouraging Hanlontown residents to light their yards by sponsoring an annual holiday lights contest.

The contest was historically judged by the local garden club, but this year, Scholbrock said the Sundown Committee would be determining the first-, second- and third-place winners.

“We’re a really small town,” he said. “There isn’t a whole lot of activity in town but it’s nice to have something to look forward to.”

Scholbrock said the contest has stirred Hanlontown residents’ interest in lighting their yards, and within the past four years, the number of people participating in the contest has grown.

But he isn’t one of them.

Scholbrock, who has been the mayor for more than 20 years, said he and his best friend Paul Brunsvold used to compete against each other with their Christmas light displays, but in 1998, Brunsvold, a popular mayor and city councilman, was struck and killed by a semi-trailer while working for the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“I just kind of lost all interest,” he said.

But with POET lighting its tree, Scholbrock said it has him considering to light his yard for the first time since Brunsvold died, especially since he has grandchildren.

“I hope we have a lot of participation (in the lights contest),” he said. “Maybe we’ll get enough participation you’ll be able to see us from outer space. We’ll be the Hanlontown Griswolds.”

Hansen said the lighted tree has prompted people to regularly write thank-you notes to POET referencing the “holiday spirit” or “excitement” it has spurred over the years.

“We all want to find ways to make a difference, and this has been one of the ways that we could make a difference in people’s holidays,” he said.

Scholbrock encouraged area residents who haven’t seen the tree, or have seen it in years’ past, to make the trip before the season ends.

“It’s pretty special,” he said.


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Forest City radio station, school district issue apology letters to Eagle Grove schools after racist remarks

Kusserow-Smidt

FOREST CITY | Eagle Grove Community School District received two apology letters — one from KIOW Radio and one from Forest City Community School District — after two radio employees made racist comments during a Forest City boys basketball game last week.

The apologies were directed toward the school district and basketball team.

The KIOW letter was sent Nov. 29 by station manager Karl Wooldridge and station owner Jim Coloff.

“For 40 years, it has been the policy of KIOW Radio to never make negative comments regarding the play or coaching of any high school player or team during a radio play-by-play broadcast,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, comments were made on Nov. 28 that did not meet those standards. In fact, comments made were not only negative, they were offensive and insensitive, and do not reflect, in any way, our business beliefs or employees as a whole.”

Letter from KIOW to Eagle Grove

Two radio announcers, longtime sports announcer Orin Harris and producer Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt, can be heard commenting Nov. 28 about multiple players on the Eagle Grove basketball team, seemingly mocking their Latino names.

"As Trump would say, go back where they came from," Harris said at the end of the video.

"Well, some would say that, yeah," Kusserow-Smidt responds. "Some days I feel like that too."

The comments did not air on KIOW but were available on The Cube, an online streaming service used by Forest City to supplement live video coverage of events.

In the apology letter issued by KIOW, Wooldridge and Coloff state that Kusserow-Smidt had been fired, while Harris would complete "diversity and sensitivity training" and be suspended. That changed Monday as word of the incident spread — Harris was also fired.

Forest City Schools identified Kusserow-Smidt as a district employee and stated that she has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Superintendent Darwin Lehmann, in the school district's apology letter, said measures will be taken to prevent anything of this nature happening in future broadcasts.

Letter from Forest City to Eagle Grove

“Although the comments were not made by Forest City Community School personnel, we do not condone nor support the comments and we are sorry for any issues that may have been caused to your student's, school or the community of Eagle Grove,” the letter said.

Eagle Grove Schools Superintendent Jess Toliver told the Globe Gazette Monday that Forest City did nothing wrong in this incident.


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Jaszewski, Symonds elected to Mason City Council

MASON CITY | John Jaszewski, a veteran political warhorse, and Will Symonds, a political newcomer, were elected to the City Council Tuesday.

Jaszewski, who previously served three terms on the council, defeated Matt Marquardt for the Fourth Ward seat.

Symonds beat Troy Levenhagen, a current Park Board member, in the Second Ward. 

Complete but unofficial totals showed Jaszewski with 367 votes, 57.2 percent, to Marquardt's 275, 42.8 percent, in the Fourth Ward.

In the Second Ward, Symonds had 385 votes, 66.4 percent, to Levenhagen's 195, 33.6 percent.

"I tried to run a really positive campaign and I think people responded to that," said Jaszewski, 69, a retired videographer who won his first election to the council in 1993.

"Matt worked hard in his campaign, and you have to give him credit for that," he said.

Symonds said he thinks door-knocking was a key to his successful campaign. "I didn't have a large budget to work with so I concentrated on door-knocking. That gave me the opportunity to talk to a lot of people face to face. I knocked on 600 doors," he said.

Symonds, 28, who works in the IT Department at First Citizens Bank, said a common theme of citizens he talked to is that they want to know more about what's going on in government. He said he thinks that's part of the aftermath of the Prestage controversy of last year. 

The election culminates a year of transition in city government in which five of the six City Council members have been elected.

In addition to the two elected Tuesday night, at-large Councilman Paul Adams was elected in a December 2016 runoff; Joshua Masson was elected in a September special election; and Tom Thoma ran unopposed in November. The other council member, First Ward Councilman John Lee was first elected in 2011.

A new mayor will also take office in January — but not new to the job. Bill Schickel was elected three times as mayor between 1989 and 2001 and has most recently served on the City Council. He was once again elected mayor on Nov. 7.

In addition, the mayor and new council will be searching for a new city administrator to succeed Brent Trout, who left in October to become city manager in Topeka, Kansas.


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Cheer Fund donations: Tuesday, Dec. 5

Today’s total: $1,970

To-date total: $24,364

To reach goal: $100,636

A friend, $125

Elroy and Allie Schulz, in memory of family members, $50

Keith and Fran Olson, $200

James and Nancy Fingalsen, $25

Tom and Eleanor Madden, $25

Anne, Buster, Smitty and Merle, $200

In memory of our precious puppy Treasure, $50

In loving memory of my parents Frances and Robert Lemon, $50

Larry and Cathy Degen, in memory of our parents and our grandson Jack, $20

Marlene Freudenberg and family, in loving memory of Jack Freudenberg and all our loved ones, $25

Brad and Cathy Isaak family, $700

Wayne Rietema, in memory of grandchildren Andrew and Ashley McGeary, $100

Clarence and Mary Ann Wellik, for our family, $100

Anonymous, $50

Richard Schinnow, $50

Monsignor Dougherty Assembly 4th Degree-Knights of Columbus, $100

Ray and Teresa Rottinghaus, $100