Looking back on the past year – in 1996

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.

Harbor happenings

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)

Lucky ducks

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.

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Goodbye, Christie Building, 1980

March 12, 1980

Wrecking crews work Tuesday on tearing down the Christie Building, across from City Hall, to make way for the new seven-story state office building at Fourth Avenue West and Second Street. The new building, which will cost about $8.8 million, should be finished in 1982. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The photo above is looking from City Hall across Fourth Avenue West, with Second Street out of view to the left. The new building that was built on the site is known as the Government Services Center.

I found this link to a view of the site that pre-dates the Christie Building. I’ve just begun to explore that online archive, called Minnesota Reflections, but it looks like there are a lot of interesting old Duluth photos there.

Here is one more view of the demolition of the Christie Building from two weeks later – March 26, 1980:

The Christie Building in Duluth crumbles before the wrecker’s ball as seen through a fisheye camera lens. The lens gives the doomed building curves it never had in real life. Razing work continues day and night on the project, to make room for a planned state office building between Third and Fourth avenues West on the south side of West Second Street. (Bob King / Duluth Herald)

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Christmas photos

Here are a few Christmas-themed photos from years’ past that I found in the Attic. With holiday celebrations going on, there will be a limited number of new Attic posts from now until a few days into the new year. I wish all of you out there a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thanks for visiting the Attic, and we’ll see you all back here in 2009:

October 5, 1983: Santa Claus (alias Leonard Johnson of Duluth) greets 86-year-old Thomas Nay of the Arlington Home in Duluth with a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" in front of the Holiday Mall in downtown Duluth. Johnson had just finished an advertising photo shoot for the J.C. Penney Co. and decided to walk home in costume. As for Nay, his only comment was, "Kind of early, isn’t it?" (Bob King / News-Tribune)


December 17, 1989: Santa (Steve McLachlan of Duluth) sneaks a peek at the Vikings game during a break from listening to kids’ requests at a Christmas celebration at the Lakeside branch of the North Shore Bank of Commerce. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)


December 18, 1984: Santa Claus, also known as Mac McKercher, welcomes 1-year-old Cole Beckwell to the central post office in Superior, 805 Belknap St. McKercher, who works as a postal clerk, accepted children’s letters to Santa for two hours. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)


December 10, 1987: Rose Tarnowski (from left), Herb Sellin and Beverly Clark, all of Duluth, haggle over Christmas tree prices as Sellin’s stand at 2502 London Road.


December 4, 1984: Ken Mitchell chats with Margie Kuehn while he shops for a Christmas tree in Kuehn’s tree lot at 828 N. 14th Ave. E. in Duluth.

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Famous Chicken debuts, 1982

June 8, 1982

The Duluth Dukes’ mascot, Famous Chicken, clowns for Shawn Simonson, 6, of 5915 Haines Road, on Monday at Wade Stadium during the Dukes’ season opener. The Dukes, who topped Hermantown 13-3 in the game, are having a contest for fans to determine the mascot’s identity. (Bob King / News Tribune)


The Duluth Dukes’ "Famous Chicken" discusses ground rules with umpires Seth Taran (middle) and Tom Kero before making his debut as a mascot Monday night at Wade Stadium. The Duke won’t divulge his identity, leaving it up to fans to guess who he is. (Bob King / News Tribune)


I tried, but could not find the answer to the "Famous Chicken" riddle … does anyone remember who was in the chicken suit?

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Building Central High, 1971

January 24, 1971

The entrance of "new" Duluth Central High School, under construction in 1971, in a photo by the News-Tribune’s Earl Johnson. There is no other information with this photo.

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Oozeball, 1993

May 9, 1993

The team Broke College Kids, including (from left) Denise Wermersen, Megan Darling, John Barry, Lynnette Peterson and comrade-in-arms Pat Oltmanns, celebrate after a game of oozeball on the St. Scholastica campus Sunday. About $1,600 was raised for scholarships from the entry fees paid by 36 teams. (News-Tribune photo)

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Tony’s Koo-Ko’s Nest Cafe, 1989

January 20, 1989

Tony’s Koo-Ko’s Nest Cafe on Tower Avenue in Superior is open 24 hours a day. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)


By J.P. Furst, News-Tribune

Tower Avenue in Superior must have one of the great bar rushes in America. It has to. The density of nightspots on Tower Avenue seems comparable to Times Square, or Rush and Division Streets in Chicago.

There are about 30 bars and clubs on and around Tower, and a lot of their customers are looking for eggs, hash browns and definitely coffee – plenty of coffee – at closing time.

There are two distinctive choices near the epicenter of this parade of bars: Louis’ Cafe at 1602 Tower Ave. and Tony’s Koo-Ko’s Nest Cafe at 818 Tower.

Louis’ is Superior’s 24-hour landmark, of course, and is always a good choice. The $2.89 steak-and-eggs special can’t be beat, and it’s got a Greek menu for the more international palate. The giant mural of the Acropolis can look especially impressive at 3 a.m., after a tour of Superior’s nightspots.

For a change of pace, there’s the lesser-known Tony’s Koo-Ko’s (pronounced coo-coo’s) Nest Cafe, right in the middle of the action on Tower. It’s next to the Trio Bar, across from the Union Junction Bar, and within walking distance of just about every other watering hole between the harbor and Belknap Avenue.

Just across the tracks is a massage parlor, and nearby is the Solid Rock ministry, where a sign in the window reads, "Ye That Love the Lord Hate Evil (Ps. 97:10)."

It’s a unique part of town, and the Koo-Ko’s Nest plays an important role in the Tower Avenue scene. It’s a quiet, unpretentious cafe, dimly lit and frequented by people from all walks of life.

William Berg of Duluth worked his way through a "small" Tony’s Omelette on a recent evening at the cafe. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)


Formerly Grandpa’s Cafe, the Koo-Ko’s Nest has been open 24 hours since last October. That’s when the current owners took over, closed for a month to clean it and reopened as the Koo-Ko’s Nest. They didn’t, however, change the line on the sign that promises the "world famous omelettes."

As it turns out, the Koo-Ko’s Nest deserves to make the boast. The Tony’s Omelette is spectacularly fat with just about every foodstuff in the kitchen, including ham, sausage and bacon. The small omelette, which is the size of a deflated football, costs $3.75 and you can rest assured that you’ll have leftovers to take home. The large version, at $5.25, must be absolutely humongous.

"We’re thinking of changing the menu from ‘small’ to ‘large’ omelettes to ‘big’ and ‘bigger,’ " said Marvin Gordon, 30, a partner in the cafe with Leonard "Tony" Sofia and Frank Dinea. He said the Nest has done pretty well since it opened the night before Halloween last year, and the late-night bar rush is a big contributor to the bottom line.

The bars close in Superior at 2 a.m. on weeknights, 2:30 a.m. on weekends. "There might be four or five people in here at 2 o’clock and suddenly the place’ll be full," said Gordon. There’s a crowd in the Nest until 4 or 4:30, he said. Then it’s quiet until people come for breakfast at about 6 a.m.

The average bar-rush customers hang around for a while, he said. "They’ll order the coffee first and sit around chewing the fat for a while. Then they’ll order something, take their time eating it and let it settle. Maybe they’re sobering up, in some cases."

Gordon’s girlfriend, Tammy Pinkowsky, is a late-night waitress.

"The people are pretty good," she said. "We’ve only had one incident since we opened."

Another waitress, Thalia Beckwell, said that some people fall asleep in the cafe late at night, but "we just let them sleep. They’re not bothering anybody and it’s not like we need the tables."

Jeff Love, a cook, waiter and dishwasher at Tony’s Koo-Ko’s Nest Cafe in Superior, cooks one of the "world famous omelettes." (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)


The late-shift cook on duty last weekend, Dennis Howes, is a large guy with a large tattoo on his right arm. He also works as a bouncer at LaBelle’s nightclub down the street. But he can be delicate – you’ve never seen an omelette built with more care and attention than when Howes builds it. He folds the egg over onto the mound of filling like an artist, holding it in place until it stays.

The Koo-Ko’s Nest isn’t going to be mistaken for a chain restaurant. It’s doesn’t have a lot of potted plants, bus boys or customized matchbooks.

But when you’ve closed down Tower and it’s 2:30 in the morning, it’s nice to have Tony’s right there waiting. The coffee’s hot and the lights aren’t too bright. Just don’t let the door slam behind you.

And don’t annoy the regulars.


I’m not sure how long the cafe stayed in business, but the the current phone book lists Superior Tattoo Studio as the occupant of 818 Tower Ave.

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Sound, Inc., 1971

August 19, 1971

The Attic contains lots of publicity photos for national music acts that have come to the Northland through the years. I generally don’t use them, because they are generic shots from who-knows-where, instead of photos from this area. Some of those "big-time" national acts from the 1980s, 1970s and before are pretty obscure.

I found this band photo while rooting around in the files and at first thought it was one of those generic shots. But then I noticed the lake – apparently Lake Superior – and saw handwriting scrawled on the back that indicated it probably was a local photo:

The only information with the photo is that it is of Sound, Inc.; that was taken June 19, 1971; and the phrase: "Join Arena Party. Range."

That’s all I’ve got. Can anyone share more about Sound, Inc.?

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A short break…

It’s been a busy few weeks, and this big snowstorm on the way isn’t going to help matters. I’m going to need a week or so to get some new entries ready, so I’ll see you all back here in a few days. (Although, if I get snowed in at the office on Sunday, I may have plenty of time to dig up some new entries!)

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Eddie Williams, 1970

November 15, 1970

Eddie Williams (left) and Warren Johnson of "Eddie Williams and his Western All-Stars." (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


A number of months ago, a reader requested I look for something about Eddie Williams. Well, it took me a while, but I found the photo above, and the articles below:

March 23, 1984


By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune

Eddie Williams is back.

He’s the country western singer whose baritone serenaded early morning listeners to radio station KDAL-AM 610 for 33 years.

He quit the station three years ago. Apart from the occasional wedding or anniversary party, he hasn’t sung much in public since.

He’ll perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Orpheum Cafe, headlining a program that includes several old-time musical acts of the area. It’s all being recorded for broadcast as part of the "Northland Hoedown" radio program on KUMD-FM 103.3, UMD’s radio station.

Williams was a fixture at KDAL from 1948 to 1981. he played and sang four or five country western songs per show. He took requests, gave birth announcements and chatted about the weather.

Especially the weather. If he had a trademark, it was his daily comment about the temperature "on the back 40." He lives on 40 acres near Hawthorne, Wis.

"I guess I’m down in a low spot," he said, but it’s always 10 degrees colder or hotter (than in Duluth). It goes over 100 in the summer and down to 50 below in the winter. People used to kid me about it, but it’s true. They never could find the place. I guess that wasn’t a bad thing."

Did he ever miss a show?

"Made it darn near all the time. Plowed (snow) at three in the morning to get out."

These days, he avoids nightclubs: "Too damn smoky and I don’t like the abuse you take sometimes, you know." Besides, he wouldn’t want to have to learn the popular stuff that’s called country music today: "It’s too mixed up with everything else. It’s not distinctive. I like a nice old melody that tells a little story." But he still likes to play.

Tuesday night’s roster is almost a who’s who of local ethnic music acts. Besides Williams, the bill includes concertina player Joe Czerniak, accordion player Bob Palmquist, singers and fiddlers The LaPlant Family, Finnish folk song singer Niilo Oja, fiddler Leonard Finseth and Scandinavian music specialists the Elisabet Rennan Group. Tickets are $4 at the door.


Edwin "Eddie" Williams died on Jan. 21, 2003 at age 85; he and his wife, Ruby, had recently celebrated their 67th anniversary. The obituary that ran in the News Tribune also included this information:

Eddie was well-known as a radio and television pioneer, having performed for several years on KDAL TV’s Western Rangers and for 33 years on KDAL radio where he hosted his own program six days a week.

Eddie also performed for many years with several local dance bands, including Uncle Harry’s Western Playboys. Eddie retired from Marine Iron and Shipbuilding where he worked as a draftsman.

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