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Clear Lake principal diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

For a well-liked Clear Lake principal, it’s all about the kids — whether it’s three of his own or the hundreds of middle-schoolers he oversees.

Those kids, Steve Kwikkel says, are helping him get through pancreatic cancer treatments.

Aug. 21, 2017

Kwikkel, a Rock Rapids native who has been Clear Lake Middle School’s principal since 2013, was diagnosed in August.

He refers to that day — Aug. 21 — as his “rebirthday.”

“After I got the diagnosis that morning, the first thing that goes through my mind — I can’t say that expletive,” he said via phone Thursday. “I told the doctor, ‘That’s a kick in the balls; what do we do?’”

Chris Zoeller / CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

The total solar eclipse seen from southern Illinois on Aug. 21.

The eclipse was starting in Rochester as he, wife Jill and daughter Holly went to get lunch. After snapping pictures over their shoulders, Kwikkel said he stopped to think about what the eclipse meant — a period of darkening before light re-emerges.

“I told Holly it was my rebirthday,” he said. “It’s the day I am getting a clear understanding of who I am and what the future holds.”

He plans to have his first rebirthday party on Aug. 21, 2018.

Secretary urged him to see doctor

Kwikkel said he began intentionally losing weight in January to get high blood sugars under control. Although he'd lost 40 pounds, he was still experiencing health issues, including intense heartburn.  

Secretary Lisa Lacey told him it could be his gallbladder, and urged him to see a doctor.

“I credit her with getting this started,” he said. “I don’t think I would have gone (to the doctor) if I hadn’t talked to her.”


Steve Kwikkel with his dog, Bear. 

At Mayo Clinic, Kwikkel said his doctors don’t stage cancers, rather referring to them as operable or inoperable.

“The way it looks right now, they want to get the tumor shrunk enough to do surgery,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go yet.”

The tumor first measured around 4 centimeters, or about the size of a walnut. Most recently, it has either stabilized or begun to shrink, Kwikkel said.

Balancing school and rest

Kwikkel has been able to work periodically since his diagnosis, but has to limit his exposure to germs, as being ill can delay his chemotherapy treatments.

That means he might have to work from home some days, and has to spend more time resting.  

“When the kids do see me, it’s fun,” he said. “It’s pretty emotional when I get to see the kids.”

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Clear Lake Middle School Principal Steve Kwikkel discusses the benefits of the school's new makerspace, The Sandbox, in November 2015. 

Earlier this month, a seventh-grader approached him and asked if he’d be able to attend her volleyball game later that night. Kwikkel had to decline, because he wasn’t feeling well.

“Telling them ‘I can’t be there for you’ is the hardest thing,” he said.

In his absence, he said his teachers have carried the load, telling him, “You trained us well; we know what to do. We got this.”

Kwikkel has worked in middle-level education for more than three decades. He was honored with the Iowa Middle Level Principal of the Year award in 2011. 

'The three kids are what I hang on to'

Outside of school, Kwikkel loves to fish and hunt.

He has been able to fish a few times since August but had to miss his first waterfowl opener in nearly 20 years.


Steve Kwikkel with his son, Christian. 

“I had to make some big boy decisions, and it was tough,” he said. “I felt like I could have gone, but I didn’t want to risk getting sick. There will be another waterfowl opener for me.”

In the meantime, his son, Christian, fills him in on how the hunting season is going.

“The three kids are what I hang on to,” Kwikkel said.


Steve Kwikkel and his family -- wife Jill, son Christian and daughters Holly and Ally. 

He has two daughters, Holly and Ally. Holly manages a Riddles Jewelry in Rochester, while Ally is a nurse in the Cedar Falls area.

“How lucky am I to not only have a nurse in the family, but to have family in the two locations I need to be at (for doctors), it’s saved a ton in lodging,” Kwikkel said. “I’m very blessed there.”

Kwikkel said his wife, Jill, has been amazing.

“If it wasn’t for Jill, I don’t know how I would have gotten through some days,” he said. “She’s bearing quite a load. I’m grateful she is my life partner in this.”

Steve Kwikkel hunting with his dog, Bear. 

Kwikkel says he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. When he broke the news to his kids, he told them cancer was a “challenge God has put before me.”

“He has something I’m supposed to learn from this experience,” Kwikkel said. “I hope I’m alive to see it someday.”


Kwikkel said the slogan — which is printed on shirts the school and Clear Lake Campus Life partnered on to raise money for him and his family — dates back to February.

“We were going through rough times at school and feeling like we weren’t reaching kids,” he said.


The T-shirt being sold to benefit Kwikkel and his family. 

As he prayed on his way to school one morning, Kwikkel said he asked God to help him be great, so he could help his students.  

“I shared it with my teachers — even though we are battling through with kids, we can’t give up. We care about the kids, even if they push our buttons,” Kwikkel said.

“That’s how I get through (cancer),” he said. “I ask God to help me to be great for someone who needs it.”

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Environmental group: 19 hog confinements proposed near Prestage site in Eagle Grove

MASON CITY | Numerous applications for factory farm operations have been filed in counties surrounding the Prestage pork processing plant under construction in Wright County.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) has alerted its members to 19 applications submitted to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources by Iowa Select, the state's largest pork producer.

CCI was active in opposing the proposed Prestage plant in Mason City last year, and continues its opposition of the plant, which is now being built near Eagle Grove in Wright County. 

Iowa Select applications this year have come from Hamilton, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Humboldt, Franklin, Palo Alto and Bremer counties.

In addition to health concerns about the farm operations, CCI is also concerned about the environmental impact of the many CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that are part of the factory farm operations.

It estimated the 19 new farms would add more than 87,000 new hogs and generate an estimated 36.7 million gallons of manure each year, CCI said. 

"Enough is enough. Iowa Select is trying to slip these applications under the radar at the end of the year as counties and environmental groups across the state are calling for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms," said CCI member Rita Andersen in a news release.

CCI is asking the DNR to extend the permitting period for the 19 sites to give members and county supervisors at least 90 days to review the proposals.

In North Iowa, a Franklin County application came from the Hansell Finisher Farm, 5,000 head, decision due by Nov. 20; and Wright County, Ladd Finisher Farm, 5,000 head, decision due by Nov. 17; and Buchanan Finisher Farm, 5,000 head, decision also due by Nov. 17. 

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Crews use machinery to flatten the soil in preparation for construction of the Prestage hog processing plant in rural Eagle Grove.

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Mason City man arrested for wire theft, $10K damage to Holcim Cement Plant

MASON CITY | A Mason City man was arrested for allegedly stealing electrical wiring and causing $10,000 in damage to Holcim Cement Plant Thursday.

Craig Ruppelt, 57, was found to be carrying several large pieces of industrial electrical wiring in his arms around 8:13 p.m. Thursday, the Mason City Police Department said in a news release. Members of the department's Safe Neighborhoods Team had spotted him in the 1600 block of North Quincy Avenue. 

After further investigation, police determined the wiring was stolen in a burglary at the Holcim Cement Plant, 1840 N. Federal Ave.   

The amount of stolen property, combined with damage to the plant, is approximately $10,000, police said.

Ruppelt was also in possession of a marijuana pipe that "smelled strongly of burnt marijuana," according to court documents.  

Mason City Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division executed two search warrants at separate locations in Mason City. Further evidence was located and seized during execution of the warrants, police said.

Ruppelt was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, felony third-degree burglary and felony second-degree criminal mischief.

Police say the investigation is ongoing. A court date hasn't been set.