December 29, 1996
The end of the year brings a slew of "looking back" articles and compilations in newspapers. I thought I’d keep with that trend, but instead pull a retrospective article from a few years back – 1996, to be exact.
The top Northland stories of 1996, as picked by the News Tribune, included the Paul Antonich murder; record snow in Duluth and state-record cold (-60) in Tower; the opening of the Northwest Airlines maintenance base in Duluth; financial scandal in the UMD athletic department; and approval of an expansion at the Miller Hill Mall.
Then there was this compilation, that looked at some of the year’s other big local stories:
Politicians, policies, petitions
Voters unseated just a handful of incumbents in the 1996 general election. Becky Lourey defeated Sen. Florian Chmielewski. And St. Louis County commissioners Will Mattson and Martin Lepak lost. Peg Sweeney replaces Lepak. Dennis Fink replaces Mattson.
St. Louis County commissioners began contemplating the future of Chris Jensen and Nopeming nursing homes. The county-owned homes are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Without major changes, the losses could grow to $2 million a year under managed care.
With a successful petition drive, the taxpayer group FIGHT for Minnesota hindered a St. Louis County plan to renovate two Iron Range courthouses. The renovations include lockups in Hibbing and Virginia.
Virginia’s city leadership was unstable. City Administrator/Engineer Nick Dragisich left under a separation agreement. City Clerk/Finance Director Susan Lemieux was fired after allegedly making harassing phone calls to Mayor Carolyn Gentilini. Fire Chief Ed Clark, who said during the year that he’d rather go into a burning building than a City Council meeting, retired.
Jobs, buildings, schools
Two men died when the Main Bar in Superior caught fire. It was the Twin Ports’ first bar to cater to gays and lesbians, and it was ground-zero for AIDS awareness efforts and other activism.
The area’s health-care industry saw consolidation and improvements. St. Luke’s Hospital and Regional Trauma Center in Duluth bought clinics and renovated its trauma center. St. Mary’s Medical Center and the Duluth Clinic tied themselves together financially. And Itasca Medical Center in Grand Rapids was sold to the Partners, an alliance of Allina Health System of Minneapolis and the Duluth Clinic and Benedictine Health System of Duluth.
Iron Range taconite plants expected 1996 to be one of the best production years ever, but heavy snow and record cold reduced overall production by roughly 2.3 million tons. Still, the seven taconite plants turned out about 45.9 million tons of taconite pellets — the highest level since 1979.
Colorado developer Sam Brown missed a deadline to pull together a financing package so he could build an outlet mall near Duluth’s Bayfront Park. The on-again, off-again project went into a deep slumber after the missed deadline.
Hibbing firefighters change air tanks while battling a blaze in the addition at Hibbing High School on Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera / News-Tribune)
Hibbing High School’s 1,200 students received an extra-long Christmas vacation after a fire blamed on a welder’s torch damaged a school addition. Classes resume Jan. 6. Students will make up time by losing some vacation days, having longer class days and extending classes into June.
Law of the land
Two young area residents died in separate cases of apparent domestic violence. In early May, Theodora "Teddi" Briddell-Dimitri, 13, of Superior was fatally shot by father, Bill Dimitri, 70, who shot himself to death after phoning a confession to police. In December, 14-month-old Brandon McArthur Jr. of Cloquet died from beating injuries. His mother’s boyfriend, former Red Wing resident Brandon Will Campbell, 16, was arrested. In early 1997 a grand jury will consider charging Campbell with first-degree murder.
Dora Maria Silva, 40, of 725 E. Fifth St., was found dead in her East Hillside home June 23. The cause of death hasn’t been released, but Duluth police are investigating it as a homicide. Search warrants filed in the case suggest detectives are scrutinizing the story Silva’s boyfriend told them.
Brad Alan Voorhees, 32, of Saginaw is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Carolyn Joy Seitz Voorhees, 25, Aug. 6 while she worked caring for two disabled people in a Lincoln Park (West End) home. Voorhees is jailed awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Bayfield County Deputy Richard Parquette, 58, was shot to death in an ambush slaying Sept. 10 in Cable, Wis. After shooting the deputy, Ronald T. Fischer, 36, fatally shot himself in the head with the same gun as he sat in a chair.
Two University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey players accused of raping a student in her campus apartment in 1995 were vindicated in 1996. Aaron Novak was acquitted by a jury Feb. 28. Charges against Sergei Petrov were dropped five weeks later.
Richard Lee Rubin, 18, pleaded guilty to robbing First Bank Duluth, 130 W. Superior St., twice within two months. He was sentenced in December to 51 months in prison and five years of supervised release.
Jean Hackensmith, 40, a former church trustee with a gambling problem, was sentenced to six months in jail as part of her probation for embezzling almost $50,000 from a Superior church. Her husband, Ron, pleaded guilty to being party to the crime and is to be sentenced Jan. 17.
Planes, trains, automobiles, tunnels
In March, Cirrus Design Corp. officials mourned the loss of Robert F. Overmyer, a former space shuttle commander and test pilot for the Duluth company who died testing an experimental aircraft. In September, Cirrus announced it would add up to 100 employees and break ground on a new $4 million manufacturing facility.
North Shore Scenic Railroad nearly got derailed when revenues failed to cover costs. The Lake Superior Museum of Transportation, housed in the Depot, took over operations for 1996 and 1997.
U.S. 53 in Wisconsin got some needed work, and new passing lanes were added to U.S. 2 between Ashland and Superior. Superior’s Tower Avenue was widened, and the Blatnik Bridge connecting the Twin Ports was illuminated with decorative lights.
A $2.3 million skywalk and tunnel project was completed, linking the Radisson Hotel Duluth with the rest of downtown. The tunnel underneath Fifth Avenue West features a waterfall, displays from Duluth’s sister cities, and an opportunity to spy on the KDLH-TV studios.
History buffs brought back Duluth’s old diaphone foghorn. It kept some residents awake, however. A compromise had the foghorn sounding between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Duluth officials learned that the famed Aerial Lift Bridge needs every moving part fixed or replaced. Cost: $3 million. If the fixes aren’t made, the bridge may jam someday.
Backers of the USS Des Moines admitted they were far short of the money they needed to bring the World War II warship to Duluth. A group of Superior residents was unable to fund plans to bring back a cargo ship of a similar vintage, the Pembina, but it was saved from the scrapyard. A Seattle businessman bought the Pembina; it’ll be used by a missionary group.
What’s in a name?
By summer, all geographical features in Minnesota had to eradicate the word "squaw" from their names. St. Louis County changed Squaw Creek to Bois Forte Creek, Squaw Narrows to Voyageur Narrows, Lone Squaw Island to Nokomis Island, Squaw Island to Iquay Island, and Old Squaw Lake to Nightingale Lake.
West End business leaders pushed to rename their district and surrounding neighborhoods Lincoln Park. While it caught on with many, others still were bristling at the new moniker.
If you build it, will they come?
Lake Superior Center supporters don’t have all the money they need yet, but they’re moving ahead with plans to build Duluth’s most expensive tourist attraction. Workers could break ground in the spring on the aquarium, which is slated to feature creatures from the greatest of the Great Lakes.
Fairlawn Mansion and Museum in Superior got a huge boost as the Jeffris Foundation approved a $647,000 matching grant to cover half of a $1.3 million ongoing renovation project. The city and county have agreed to help and a private fund-raising drive is under way.
Glensheen Mansion in Duluth closed for the winter while its owners struggled to figure out
how to erase a $190,000 deficit and get the tourist attraction running in the black.
The Bronko Nagurski Museum wing of the Koochiching County Historical Museum in International Falls closed, just three years after it opened, when the county’s historical society failed to raise enough money to keep it going.
After 23 years, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame couldn’t draw enough visitors to its real-world site in Eveleth to break even. So late this year it tapped into the Internet in a bid to draw visitors — and paying members — to its cybersite. If the plan doesn’t raise enough greenbacks, the museum probably won’t be around to celebrate its silver anniversary in 1998.
The former Sacred Heart Cathedral, once the jewel in the crown of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, celebrated its centennial — and a new life — as the Sacred Heart Music Center. The church closed in 1985, but has hung on as a nonprofit concert center.
Stephanie Kjonaas, 19, describes how lightning struck the roof above her bedroom, traveled through her mattress and blasted a hole in her blanket before exiting her bed and grounding itself out in a wall outlet during a July 1996 thunderstorm. (Bob King / News Tribune)
A bolt of lightning spawned by a July evening thunderstorm blasted into Stephanie Kjonaas’ bedroom and traveled through the mattress and box spring she was sleeping on before leaping into an electrical socket. Kjonaas, 19, was shaken but not seriously hurt.
From May to July, thousands of people walked by or parked next to two unlocked vehicles — with keys in them — in the DECC parking lot. A 1992 Chevrolet Blazer and a 1992 Pontiac Grand Am were left behind after a Minnesota Power shareholders meeting where an auto auction was held. The vehicles finally were driven away — but not by thieves.
Three Cloquet residents — John and Cecilia Leon and Timothy Carle — got stranded overnight in late January while snowmobiling in Voyageurs National Park during some of the winter’s coldest weather. A private pilot saw them the next day and radioed for help. The U.S. Park Service sent ranger pilot Scott Evans, who made three trips in his small plane to rescue the group.
Owners of Hunt’s Economart in Ashland closed early because of a January snowstorm. Hours later, the roof collapsed right above one of the areas where the night crew would have been stocking shelves.
What were they thinking?
Officials at Fairlawn Mansion and Museum found themselves in a Halloween nightmare when a woman came dressed in blackface to a holiday costume party. Questions turned from the woman’s sense of taste to the museum’s when officials gave her first prize. The incident sparked anger in the community and prompted the Duluth NAACP to consider calling for the resignation of Fairlawn Director Rachael Martin. The Douglas County Historical Society issued an apology, but stood by Martin’s overall job performance.
The April Fools’ edition of the weekly UMD student newspaper contained a spoof section with jokes mocking gays, women and minorities. Minority organizations protested by gathering up the papers and keeping them out of circulation for a day.
A group of Lake Superior ice fishermen who ignored warnings about unsafe conditions found themselves stranded one Saturday last February when their fishing spots floated away from the Duluth shoreline just northeast of Lester River. Thanks to rescuers, the only injuries were several cases of wounded pride.