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Courtney Fiorini / COURTNEY FIORINI, The Globe Gazette  

Henry Vierkant, 101, a retired farmer from Meservey, takes a combine out for a drive in a Clear Lake field in October 2016. 

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North Iowa farmer granted wish to ride in helicopter at age 102 has died (with photos, video)

CLEAR LAKE | A North Iowa farmer who checked a few items off his bucket list in his 100s -- flying in a helicopter at 102 and riding in a modern combine at 101 -- has died. 

Henry "Hank" Vierkant, 103, a resident of Apple Valley Assisted Living in Clear Lake, died Feb. 21. His funeral was Tuesday. 

Vierkant's obituary said he "never skipped an opportunity for new experiences, including the last few years, when he was able to ride in a John Deere combine, a helicopter and a Polaris Slingshot," a three-wheel roadster motorcycle. 

Courtney Fiorini / COURTNEY FIORINI, The Globe Gazette  

Henry Vierkant, 101, a retired farmer from Meservey, takes a combine out for a drive in a Clear Lake field in October 2016. 

In October 2016, Vierkant, then 101, received a belated 100th birthday present -- riding in the cab of a John Deere combine at Titan Pro's test plots in Clear Lake.

It had been at least 25 years since he had been in a combine, and Vierkant said technology had changed a great deal since then. 

At one point as the combine rolled through the corn, Vierkant saw on the computer screen that 800 bushels had been harvested. When Vierkant was a farmer, 80 bushels was a good amount for that time, a Titan Pro President/CEO Jeff Meints said. 

In July 2017, Vierkant said flying in a helicopter at age 102 was "one of the best times" of his life. 

During a hospital stay at Mercy Medical Center--North Iowa, he mentioned one of his bucket list wishes -- riding in a helicopter -- to Allie Maxwell, one of his nurses. 

Maxwell helped coordinate the 20-minute ride, which included a view of Clear Lake. 

He told the Globe Gazette he wasn't scared, but added, "I had a pretty good driver." 

Arian Schuessler / File photo 

Henry Vierkant sits on one of the benches he built in the garden at Apple Valley Assisted Living.

At age 100, Vierkant was still able to enjoy the outdoors. Although he relied on a walker, Vierkant would walk around the outside of Apple Valley, getting in 2 or 3 miles a day. 

That summer, he also hoed tomatoes in the garden outside his apartment window and built three wooden benches along a path through a circular flower garden. 

"You've got to be as ornery as I am, that keeps you going," he told the Globe Gazette of his longevity. 

During his life, Vierkant visited every state but Hawaii with his wife, Elizabeth. The two spent 65 years together. 

Arian Schuessler / File photo 

Henry Vierkant in front of one of the many quilts he has made. This one is displayed at Apple Valley Assisted Living in Clear Lake. Henry is pictured with his team of miniature horses and one of his tractors in the framed photos. 

In his 70s, his wife dared him to pick up quilting, something he watched his mother do growing up. Since then, Vierkant made about 100 quilts, including Coca-Cola, John Deere, necktie and crib blankets. 

"Every grandma that comes to show off a grandson or granddaughter gets one," Vierkant said in November 2014. 

Photos: Henry Vierkant

Court chief warns: Iowans losing access to justice system

DES MOINES — The Iowa judicial system no longer has the bandwidth to deliver the justice “to meet the demands that our citizens expect and deserve,” the state’s top court administrator warned lawmakers this week. 

“I think we can be doing a better job than we are today,” State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio told the legislative Judicial Systems Appropriations Subcommittee.

Nuccio’s comments come nearly two months after Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady warned lawmakers of “ominous signs” that insufficient resources for the Judicial Branch “tear at the very fabric of our operation and mission.”

The court system probably can weather Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed $1.6 million midyear budget cut without reducing court hours or clerk of court office services, Nuccio said. The courts have taken steps through the year in anticipation of a midyear cut.

However, he couldn’t make the same promise if the cuts in the final four months of the budget year are deeper or continue into the next fiscal year.

“If you go beyond that $1.6 million, we start to get a little more serious,” Nuccio said. “If you carry forward that $1.6 million into fiscal 2019, we have issues again. It all depends on the numbers.”

The number he shared with legislators showed the Judicial Branch, which has 1,807 positions authorized in 99 counties, has 134 open positions. Twelve judge positions are open. The length of time those positions remain vacant has increased from an average of six months to a year.

If the 2019 budget is not fully funded, Nuccio said, the Judicial Branch has little resources but to cut field staff.

He explained that 96 percent of the Judicial Branch’s fiscal 2018 budget goes for personnel costs. And 92 percent of the personnel are at the trial court level, he said.

The judiciary budget is 2.5 percent of the state’s $7.2 billion general fund budget.

Nuccio is not alone in his concern.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said the courts are one of the top budget concerns for his Republican caucus.

“As Republicans,” he said, “we represent a lot of rural Iowa, and we know those courthouses will be the first affected if there are more cuts.”

The impact of judicial openings already is being felt, according to Nuccio and representatives of the Iowa State Bar Association who were present for the presentation. Civil trials, they said, regularly are being delayed for up to a year because other cases — criminal matters, domestic abuse and mental health commitments — are higher priorities for the courts.

Overall, the number of cases being filed has decreased from more than 1 million filings in 2009 to nearly 769,000 in 2017, Nuccio said.

However, Jim Carney, who represents the bar association, said the domestic abuse cases have increased by about 1,000 in the past 10 years and mental health commitments are up from 8,000 to 12,500. Often, he added, those are pro se cases, that is, the parties appear without legal representation. As a result, they take much more time.

Nuccio asked the committee to support his $6.75 million budget request for the coming year and $4.4 million for new positions that a workload formula identify as needed.

He pointed out the courts collected $146 million in revenue in 2017, with $116 million going to the state. When that is subtracted from the Judicial Branch’s $175 million operating budget, Nuccio said that less than 1 cent of every state tax dollar is spent on the courts.

Worthan doubted the Legislature will fully fund the Judicial Branch budget request.

“We can’t cure all their ills, but we’re very interested in maintaining services,” he said.

Ashley Miller / Submitted photo 

Henry Vierkant, 102, had a bucket list wish fulfilled in July 2017. Mercy Air Med took him for a 20-minute helicopter ride around North Iowa. 

COLLEEN HARRISON, Albert Lea Tribune 

Polly Schiltz attends CrossFit four times a week after she finishes teaching at Northwood-Kensett. She has continued CrossFit throughout her chemotherapy treatments in Rochester as she fights breast cancer. 

Teen who threatened to bring weapon to Mason City school will undergo juvenile evaluation

MASON CITY | A teenager who threatened to bring a weapon and use it against other students and staff at Mason City High School last week made his first appearance in court Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mason City police defended their limited release of details about the case, even as other Iowa law enforcement agencies outlined in more detail similar threats in their communities.

The student, who has dark brown hair and was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, didn't speak during his appearance. He appeared calm throughout the hearing.

During the hearing, Assistant Cerro Gordo County Attorney Nichole Benes and public defender Parker Thirnbeck discussed when a juvenile evaluation should be performed.

The judge ordered the student would remain in juvenile detention until an evaluation is performed, which would be "as timely as possible." Then, another detention hearing would occur.

Thirnbeck argued during the hearing that any considerable delay in such evaluation would be "burdensome" to him and the student involved, along with his family. He declined comment after the hearing.

Benes said she had no objection to Juvenile Court Services looking at completing the evaluation as soon as possible. 

According to Iowa law, court records relating to people under the age of 18 are confidential, unless a teen is charged in adult court or charged with a forcible felony, such as murder.

Police haven’t said how old the teen is or what he has been charged with. Neither was mentioned during the court hearing. 


Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley said his department is bound by state law regarding the confidentiality of juvenile court records.

“I believe obeying the law is an adequate explanation about why media, parents, and taxpayers can’t know more,” Brinkley said via email Tuesday. “The law is very clear and that is our position.”

Iowa law enforcement agencies are interpreting the juvenile law differently — some release information that doesn’t identify a juvenile, while others will release nothing. The law went into effect in 2016.

While Mason City police said they cannot share details such as the student’s age, the nature of the threat, the type of weapon specified and whether the weapon was shown to other students, various agencies throughout Iowa have shared similar information in other school threats in February.

The Fort Dodge Police Department released information late Tuesday night, the day of the incident, detailing a 15-year-old male faces felony terrorism charges for threatening a school shooting via social media.

Police also noted a search warrant conducted in relation to the case did not yield a gun.

Citing state law, Mason City police said they could not say whether they executed a search warrant or what was found.

Riceville Schools in Howard County canceled classes last Thursday due to a shooting threat. A female is accused of messaging a person online asking him to "shoot up Riceville School," according to law enforcement. Neither party has been identified, and the FBI is investigating the incident.

Still, Riceville Schools and Howard County Sheriff’s Department released a narrative detailing the threat after the FBI became involved.

Several other school districts and law enforcement agencies have released the nature of a threat:

  • Feb. 19 -- Southeast Warren Community School District responded to a shooting threat it received via social media.
  • Feb. 16 -- Anamosa High School staff received information on a possible bomb in the school. Students were evacuated. No bomb was found.
  • Feb. 14 -- Martensdale-St. Marys Community School District received a bomb threat and students were evacuated. No bomb was found.
  • Feb. 14 – A student was charged with felony threat of terrorism after writing a note that threatened Le Mars High School. Le Mars Police Chief Kevin Vande Vegte told a TV station a student had threatened a shooting at the school. 

Brinkley said that threats and incidents like these happening all over the country right now.  

“We (MCPD) work from a mindset that prepares us for when something like this happens in our community, not if it will happen,” Brinkley said. “I hope that most people in our community recognize that and are taking their own proactive steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

Brinkley said the department has to react to what is in front of them when something like this happens.  

“I think that our approach has been reasonable and well thought-out in each of these cases,” Brinley said.  “I also understand that no matter what decisions we make, there will be people who agree and people who disagree.”

Police faced some adversity – but also praise – in how they handled a social media post that referenced a gun and warned against attending a pep rally Monday at the high school.

Brinkley attended the pep rally, as well as several uniformed and plainclothes police officers who patrolled the gym and surrounding area.

Police released a redacted screenshot of the threat on Tuesday.  

“We also hope that this helps to provide some context for students, parents, and the community about these kinds of incidents," Brinkley said in a news release.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Dave Versteeg, Mason City's incoming superintendent, speaks to the Globe Gazette's editorial board in May 2017 in Mason City. 

Mason City Superintendent Dave Versteeg addressed parent, student and community fears in the wake of two recent school threats.

“There is no special thing we can tell parents about the possibility of threats in their school by an outsider or a student of the school, Versteeg said via email Thursday. “We encourage parents and students to talk with their building principal about the specifics of why they may feel unsafe and what that building can do to assure them they are safe.”

Versteeg said the district believed the threat on Friday was serious enough to warrant “calling the police,” though it is unclear exactly how police were contacted.

“As to how real the threat was, I would have to defer to MCPD to answer that as they investigated the details,” Versteeg said.

“There are multiple people in different organizations and agencies involved in assessing a threat and reacting to a threat,” Versteeg said. “I think this approach acts as a system of checks and balances in reacting appropriately to a threat and should give parents and the community confidence all organizations and agencies are not over or under reacting.”

Police became involved in the matter when administrators informed the school resource officer about 4 p.m. Friday. Information was released about 24 hours later. 

The police investigation remains active.

“We believed the threat in this case was real enough to refer the matter to Juvenile Court Services,” Brinkley said.