Dick Hagen

Regular readers of Land Minds recognize these monthly epistles call attention to an incredible variety of hyperbole — sometimes useful jargon; sometimes not so useful. Paul Malchow’s June column traveled into the judgment rulings of the United States Court of Appeal vacating the federal registration for three Dicamba herbicide products. Paul wrote, “The decision sent shock waves throughout the farming community.”

In an earlier Land Minds I wrote about Hector area farmer Charlie Melberg, now a hefty 65 years of age who decided to build a scale model Big Bud of the biggest farm tractor he’d ever seen at a farm show. I’m talking about Big Bud, the 650-horsepower behemouth built in Havre, Mont. It was at the Cornland USA event of 1976 hosted by Trojan Seed Company at Trojan’s Olivia facility. Melberg was 21, still a rookie in this exciting sport called farming. But he was fascinated by Big Bud. So last year, with copious help from selected friends and neighbors, he built a scale model of Big Bud for his 13-year-old grandson.

However, today’s Land Minds treats you to a preview of a most interesting, intriguing, intellectually stimulating, deliciously tasty and potentially all-encompassing auction I’ve witnessed. We’re talking about the two-day, on-line auction fund raiser for the St. Mary’s School in Bird Island, Minn.  Titled as “St. Mary’s School Timed Online Annual Fundraising Auction,” the listing appeared at 8 a.m. on June 22.  Bidding closed at 6:30 p.m., June 23. I keyed up my computer about 4:30 p.m. June 22.  The time frame read: “1 day, 2 hours remaining until bids close.”

The net result of this incredible auction for this remarkable school raised nearly $30,000 — almost the equal of last year’s total. It certainly is a worthy accomplishment considering Covid-19 fever is in high gear; corn and soybean prices sloshing at $3 and $8 levels; and a considerable number of people still unemployed or at part-time work schedules. 

Why these incredible results? Al Henslin, age 39 but already a veteran in the auctioneering world, functions as a behind-the-scenes coordinator for the St. Mary’s auction event. “It just continues to grow year after year,” Henslin said. “The support we get each year from this area and now increasingly from outside this area is phenomenal.  Many who one time attended St. Mary’s but have left this area years ago continue to support their childhood school.  I’ve talked with some who put these auctions together years back, like the Steffels and the O’Hallorans.  Yes, they really worried how it would go. They told me those first couple of years were ‘trial and error,’ but look now.”

“We’re traveling down a road that’s been well paved by past folks who’ve set the table for us. It’s been my pleasure to be assisting that past four or five years.”

Here are some stats: 152 accepted bidders; 18,266 catalogs used which tells us the on-line catalog was viewed 18,266 times; Jacobson Tiling, a big-time Bird Island area tiling firm, with a listing 2,700 feet of 4-inch tile, installed; a new J.D. E-130, Hydro Lawn Mower, 20 horsepower, 42-inch cut, donated by Henslin Auctions and ‘family friends’ brought $1,700 from a Fairfax-area buyer; a political ‘chess game’ featuring Democrats vs. Republicans went to an East Coast buyer in Virginia; and the ever-famous Turtle Cheese Cake once again reached the $1,000 purchase.

Said Henslin, “Yes, we would have loved doing the live auction in conjunction with this event, but with Covid-19 we just had to switch gears. But the spirit was prevalent from the start. The Saturday night prime rib dinner (June 20) was a take-out success. They served 225 meals. I much appreciate the togetherness that happens with this event. But even so, it was evident people wanted to get on board and support this on-line auction event wholeheartedly.  And they certainly did just that.”

Henslin commented about the fun of seeing $50 items go for $300. Sabrina Peterson, a first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s this year submitted a personalized “Guess Who” game which she makes for one of her students who comes to her house. It sold for $700. “That just shows the collaborative impact of St. Mary’s teachers and staff to make this auction a financial success,” Henslin stated. “Plus this bidding shows how strongly parents and other adults feel about the importance of St. Mary’s!”

Al didn’t have auction totals during my June 24 visit, but ventured into the $30s. Suffice to say for their first-ever totally on-line auction, folks were ready to fire up!

And note the good judgement in the auction agenda. Bid items began with a steak dinner for four prepared and served by Father George at his Lake Kronis lakeside cottage. And when enjoying his delicious grilling delicacies he’s likely offering comments about the great BOLD (Bird Island-Olivia-Lake Lillian District) school athletes in recent times. Yes, he’s a loved man who preaches wondrously on the powers of God. Yes, he’s also sideline cheerleader for all school functions too.

Item 2 was a quilt — “Hunting Around with Pattern,” 72”x 82” donated by Gathering Friends Quilt Shop in Bird Island and made by Kathy Ludowese.

Item 3 was a prime rib dinner for eight, donated by the Bremseth and Frank families.

Item 4 featured a brisket and rib prepared meal for six served at John O’Neil’s home.  Notice how this auction committee skillfully positioned tasty food experience items up front? Yes, great wisdom in their cunning strategy.

Item 5 was an aviation experience.  Yes, the winning bidder actually gets to handle the controls as Justin and Carin Martinson pilot their plane with two passengers on board to Granite Falls and the incredible Fagan WW II Museum.

Item 6 was an agricultural opportunity valued by any land owner:  2,500 feet of four-inch drainage tile installed by S.J. Jacobs and Sons, Bird Island.

Item 7 returned bidders back into the food world — but preparing, not eating. An EggNighter Electric Fire Starter, ash tool and grilling tool donated by St. Mary’s kids (plus some parents and teachers).

Item 8 was a home-crafted, handmade coffee table donated by Tom and Sheila Jacobs.

Item 9 featured more food: an unprepared rib roast weighing 600 pounds!  It was appropriately donated by the Rib Committee of this audacious school fund raising adventure.

And there was much more, including four Minnesota Vikings pre-season game tickets (next year if the virus cancels this year; one jar of fabulous pickles donated by “Pickle Queen” Kathryn Knight;  even five hours of babysitting by ‘super pro’ with kids, Sawyer Erickson of rural Bird Island.

Yes, I bid $120 for Vikings preseason game tickets. Yes, I was $120 too low! But IF the Vikings do have a season, cozy comfort of our Olivia house with a couple cold brewskis works too. What do you expect from a genuine Norwegian senior citizen? Don’t bother to answer.

But there you have it … the nuts and bolts and briskets of a bunch of great people showing tremendous regard for their school.  Summed up Henslin, “This auction is always a special joy simply because people are caring about the education of young kids. And the reputation of St. Mary’s tells the story.”

Commented Todd Frank, who with his wife Karen were co-chairs of this year’s event with the Bremseth family, “We’re grateful for the support under these crazy circumstances in our daily lives. I think it’s more and more important that religious education is part of the learning for younger people these days.”

So what happens for this incredible school and of 131 students last year and a projected 142 total this year (and that doesn’t include anticipated students for the new pre-kindergarten program)?

And how many non-Catholic students attend St. Mary’s? Last year there were 26; two years ago it was 16 and the number keeps increasing. Tuition this year is $2,950, payable month-by-month or total lump sum payment at the start of the school year. “We have tuition assistance to help,” said St. Mary’s Principal Tracey Sigurdson. “We are fortunate to have stake-holders contributing ongoing dollars for these special helps.”

And the reach keeps extending. Students come from Willmar, Sacred Heart, Hector and Buffalo Lake — and this fall, Franklin students also.

So why is St. Mary’s, which started as a special school for Catholic kids back in the 1960s, seeing increasing student counts? Sigurdson commented the church school at Morgan has closed. “Plus, as more area parents become aware of what St. Mary’s offers to young children, they start thinking St. Mary’s could be a better choice for their kids too.”  St. Mary’s now offers instruction Pre-K through 8th grade after adopting the Bird Island Play Island package which was already Pre-K education.

The school day begins at 8:10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Nine classrooms make up the St. Mary’s school facility; plus a music room and the gym. Curriculum includes reading, math (both beginning and advanced), language, art, writing, social/government classes, science, phy-ed, plus (as you would expect) daily religious education teaching.

With total student numbers approaching 160 and maybe more, where do they get noon lunch? “We just go next door to our church basement where we have our own team cooks, Jean Athman and Heather Brady, preparing tasty and healthy menus each day,” said Sigurdson. “Yes, for the younger kids, even a mid-morning snack break.” 

Sigurdson didn’t know what percent of St. Mary’s students eventually go on to college but she did speculate, “Based on the high number of St. Mary graduates I see on academic honor rolls, homecoming courts and Student Councils of surrounding public high schools, I feel that speaks volumes of whom they have become after leaving our school. I believe the college enrollment numbers would be good for our students.”

Father George, the long-time priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, is a frequent visitor at the school’s luncheon session. “To get his ego stroked and perhaps boost his own feelings,” laughed school employees Tracey and Grace. “Father George loves kids and our kids love him. It’s just a great experience each and every day. If Father George isn’t having a good day our students simply rejuvenate his spirits.”

Yes, Father George is the animated spirit for many within his own flock — and for any and all kids. He’s a dependable cheerleader at any school events — especially baseball, basketball and football games. “We hope he never quits,” admitted Sigurdson. “He’s a kid at heart and we want that heart to keep spreading cheer and blessings for all of us: kids, we teachers and staff at St. Mary’s School, his own congregation and especially this entire community. Everyone needs the support and love of everyone else these days.  So let’s keep Father George our number-one cheerleader forever!”