2020 is hindsight for this Bugle Year in Review

Compiled by Scott Carlson

In just a few days, 2020 will be history. In hindsight, it’s been a year chock full of dramatic and significant news, both on the local as well as national level.

First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on our nation and local community, upending daily life and taxing our health care facilities, families and businesses.

Then there’s been major social unrest and a re-examination of how we relate to one another in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in late May.

And that’s just the tip of the news iceberg in 2020. So, as you look back on 2020, what will you remember? Below, the Bugle reprises some of the local highlights captured on our news pages:

January

Alison Schaub became the new executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation in 2020.

SAP Community Foundation names new director

The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation has named Alison Schaub, a veteran of more than 20 years in the nonprofit world, as its new executive director.

Schaub succeeds the retiring Jon Schumacher, a 20-year veteran of the post, and started her new job Jan. 6.

New head coach building family for basketball program

Donnell Gibson’s life’s mission is to inspire and motivate the next generation. As the new boys’ basketball varsity coach at Como Park High School, he has a new program to help guide kids along a positive path.

Gibson has been a behavior intervention specialist and an assistant coach for Cougar boys’ basketball at Como since 2014. Known as “Mr. D” or “Coach D” around Como, Gibson’s work extends beyond the school walls: In 2015, he established The Gibson Foundation with the vision of creating spaces and opportunities that positively impact youth.

February

For the first time in its 80-year history, Langford Park hockey has an all-girls team. Photo by Clayton Howatt.

Langford Park girls, “Let’s play hockey!”

For the first time in its 80-year history, Langford Park hockey has an official all-girls team.

On Jan. 13, 13 Langford Park (LP) girls, ages 8 to 12, took to the ice for their first game in their inaugural season.

The dream of an all-girls hockey team has been long in the making. Coach Clayton Howatt and program coordinator, Scott Hamilton, have been working for years to organize the team. Eighty years ago, all LP hockey teams were solely for boys. Today, all of LP’s teams are co-ed.

Groups exploring family homeless shelter in Bandana Square

Interfaith Action and Ramsey County are exploring the feasibility of opening a homeless shelter and day center for families inside the Minnesota Cameroon Community Center in Bandana Square.

“There are no solid plans, but it’s an exciting opportunity with lots of possibilities,” Sara Liegl, director of Interfaith Action’s Project Home, told the District 10 Como Community Council’s Land Use Committee on Jan. 6. The groups are working out renovation and code requirements, costs, construction and operational funding, staffing and logistical needs, she said, adding that late summer is the earliest that a shelter could open.

The Cameroon Community owns about 57,000 square feet of space in the northwest corner of Bandana Square in St. Paul’s Energy Park district. The space used to be a medical clinic. It still has more than 70 exam rooms with sinks, plus public bathrooms and other public space.

The preliminary thinking is the former exam rooms could be converted into flexible, dormitory-style rooms, providing private space for 40 to 60 families of different sizes, and perhaps older women, Liegl says.

Como’s ash trees dodge the buzz saw in 2020

For the first time in years, the city’s Forestry Department does not plan to cut down any boulevard ash trees in District 10 in 2020.

Since foresters took down the first ash on California Avenue in 2009, the city has removed more than 800 ash trees from public property in Como as part of its ongoing fight against the invasive emerald ash borer. According to the city’s inventory, there are about 365 boulevard ash trees left in District 10. About 120 of them are being treated with the insecticide TREE-age (Emamectin benzoate).

March

Lady Elegant Tea Room closing

“A spot of tea, old chap?”

For the past 16 years, including the last six years under its current owners, the Lady Elegant Tea Room & Gift Shoppe in St. Anthony Park’s Milton Square has served up tea and scones in the high British tradition.

But now Lady Elegant’s tea service officially was scheduled to end Feb. 29. “After six wonderful years, Lady Elegant will be moving on to a different business in March,” according to a notice on the shop’s website. “We are very grateful to all our customers who came to enjoy our scones and tea.”

April

Navigating the coronavirus crisis

From churches, schools and families to restaurants, shops, businesses and community organizations; the COVID-19 virus is disrupting a vast array of daily activities.

The pandemic is causing havoc for local businesses, especially neighborhood restaurants. Gov. Walz’s March 16 executive order temporarily closed restaurants, bars and other dine-in establishments to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. This forced many of our local restaurants to close—either partially or completely—lay off employees and consider creative options to continue as take-out and delivery businesses. Those restaurants included Colossal Café, the Finnish Bistro, Mim’s Café, Karta Thai and Nico’s Tacos.

Meanwhile, close to home, families suddenly found themselves together—in this historically chaotic moment—with a lot of quality time. Schools, churches, museums and gyms are closed. Many employers encouraged employees to work from home.

Amelia Corl, mother of two young sons and strategy officer at GHR Foundation, found her son’s preschool closed, as well as her and her husband’s offices. She and her husband made offices for themselves in their basement.

Corl said, “It feels important to take one day at a time since everything is unfolding so quickly.”

May

Janet Haugan (middle), co-owner of boreal, chats with a customer while Peggy Merrill, other store co-owner, looks on. Photo by Maja Beckstrom.

COVID-19 crisis impact: Festival cancellation, business slowdowns

For the past 50 years, the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival has been a signature event in early June, drawing hundreds of spectators to the neighborhood to see dozens of artists and vendors in a fundraiser that also benefits the local community library.

But in mid-April, organizers canceled the 2020 event, blaming uncertainty over whether Minnesota’s state’s “shelter-in-place” restrictions aimed at thwarting the spread of the COVID-19 virus still would be in effect on June 6, the planned date for the festival.

“As more familiar annual events are canceled this year and potentially next year, the community will continue to feel the loss as a free fall from life as we knew it,” said Alison Schaub, executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation.

Local businesses are also suffering in the wake of the state’s shutdown.

“Unfortunately, during this crisis, Milton Square is not able to schedule for any events in the upcoming months,” said Heather O’Malley, owner of Milton Square, which is in the heart of St. Anthony Park’s retail district along Como Avenue. “All of our tenants have been hit extremely hard. Many are closed and don’t have an option of opening up in the near future.”

Meanwhile, area restaurants have been hard hit by the shutdown order, but most neighborhood eateries were still offering takeout, including Colossal Cafe. During the first week after the shutdown, owner Elizabeth Tinucci experimented with offering pre-orders for chicken pot pies.

“We thought we’d sell 100,” Tinucci said. “And we sold something like 400. This neighborhood has given us nothing but immense support.”

Home schooling takes on a virtual, new meaning

In a dramatic turn of events, St Paul Public School communities went straight from cancelled school days due to the teachers’ strike to state mandated school closures in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.

As families abide by Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, students are doing school via “distance learning” while their parents and guardians suddenly find themselves home, too. “None of us have really processed any of these changes yet,” St. Anthony Park Elementary Principal Karen Duke said in the first days of the new schooling arrangement.

Shar Too wins Athena, Downtown Lions Club honors

Shar Too was born and raised in the Tham Hin Refugee Camp in Thailand before moving halfway around the world to St. Paul when she was 6 years old.

Twelve years later, Shar Too is a shining star at Como Park High School who is being honored for her soccer, badminton and academic achievements and is preparing to be a first-generation college student.

Shar Too won Como’s Athena Award and was also chosen one of just six female finalists for the St. Paul Downtown Lions Club 2020 Athlete of the Year.

June

4th in the Park pivots for this year’s holiday

For the first time in memory, the St. Anthony Park 4th in the Park Committee is canceling the annual July 4th parade and related in-person activities, citing the need for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year would have been the 73rd year of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood’s 4th in the Park event,” said Colleen Healy, a 4th in the Park Committee member. However, the volunteer organizers decided that due to the coronavirus pandemic, “it was time to pivot and plan an alternative, safer way for the community to celebrate the Fourth of July.”

In place of the live parade, the committee held a virtual parade.

Pastor Glenn Berg-Moberg retiring from SAP Lutheran Church

After nearly 19 years as the senior pastor of St. Anthony Park Lutheran, Glenn Berg-Moberg will be retiring as man of the cloth on June 14.

“It has been a privilege to serve the congregation and neighborhood,” Berg-Moberg told the Bugle. He started at SAP Lutheran a month before 9-11 in 2001 and retired in the middle of America’s COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to serving SAP Lutheran, he was a youth pastor for 15 years at churches in Wisconsin.

For nursing homes, the daunting challenge of taking on COVID-19

On a February visit to St. Anthony Park Home, Terrie Zarembinski trimmed her mother’s hair. It was a ritual that 76-year-old Kathy DeBace enjoyed, even through the haze of Alzheimer’s disease.

“That was the last time I saw her in person,” Zarembinkski said.

When COVID-19 arrived in Minnesota, nursing homes closed their doors to visitors in hopes of keeping the virus from infecting vulnerable older residents. The near impossibility of that task is now apparent as local long-term care facilities are grappling to keep a lid on coronavirus infections among residents and staff.

“It’s hard to stop the wind and that’s what I feel like we’re trying to do,” said John Barker, administrator of the St. Anthony Park Home. In early May, his first employee tested positive for the virus. The first 11 residents he tested, including Zarembinski’s mother, were negative for the virus. Then a resident tested positive.

“I’m absolutely terrified that I could be in a situation like the facilities that have had 20 or 30 deaths,” Barker said.

July

Changes afoot following George Floyd murder

After George Floyd was killed, Samantha Huett-Shvetzoff watched protesters spill into the streets. She saw the pain and the passion and wanted to be a force for positive change.

“It all sparked this fire inside of me,” Huett-Shvetzoff, a St. Anthony Park business owner, said. “It’s a fire I didn’t know I had honestly.”

Huett-Shvetzoff, who opened Healing Elements on Como Avenue in 2016, realized her yoga studio gave her a platform from which to speak about racial injustice.

Huett-Shvetzoff started by organizing a food drive and raised $1,800 for organizations working in neighborhoods hit by arson fires.

Saint Anthony Park and immediately adjacent neighborhoods in St. Paul weren’t at the center of protests and didn’t see businesses burn in late May. But residents, organizations and business owners have seen racial inequality in new ways and many have grappled with how to turn their dismay into action.

Combs a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year

From the time he was a youngster, DeWayne Combs knew he would become a teacher.

Starting as a camp counselor at age 14, Combs has continually worked with kids, most of those years in coaching and as a physical education teacher.

Now, 29 years into his career with the St. Paul Public Schools, Combs is one of 10 finalists for 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He was selected from a group of 36 semifinalists.

August

Morris takes the helm at Como Park High School

A leadership change has occurred at Como Park High School.

With a wealth of educational experience, Kirk Morris has been selected as the new principal for Como Park High School. He succeeds Stacy Theien-Collins, who resigned as Como’s principal to accept the principal’s post at Richfield High School.

After earning a bachelor of science degree in mathematics at Mississippi Valley State University, Morris was an elementary school teacher in St. Paul and began coaching football, basketball and baseball.

Morris went back to teach and coach in Mississippi for a few years before returning to St. Paul in 2000. Since then, he has served students as a classroom teacher, coach, an administrative intern at Ramsey and Murray Middle Schools, an assistant principal at Highland Middle and Murray and as principal of Benjamin E. Mayes IB World School since 2014.

Uncertain times for brewpubs, restaurants

Jill Pavlak, co-owner of the Urban Growler Brewing Company in south St. Anthony Park, was looking forward to a record year back in January.

Then COVID-19 hit. Now, she has a message for her neighbors. “If you want the places in your neighborhood to survive, show them the love,” she said. “Right now, every single beer sale matters.”

September

Pastor Victoria Wilgocki leads virtual worship in the sanctuary at St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ. Photo by Maja Beckstrom.

Churches find new ways to meet spiritual needs during pandemic

When a beloved member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church died in the spring, parishioners couldn’t safely visit the widow with food and comfort in this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, they created a new ritual: They placed a vase outside her door and in the following days, stopped by to leave a stone, shell or scripture verse.

COVID-19 has forced congregations to find new ways for everything—from the logistics of virtual worship to social times and pastoral care. It’s likely those changes will be in place for a while. When houses of worship shut their doors in March, many assumed that the need to physically distance would last a few weeks, perhaps months. Now several neighborhood congregations say they do not anticipate gathering indoors for worship until 2021.

“Until all generations from young to old can gather safely it will be hard to imagine reopening our building in person again,” said the Rev. Jill Rode at Saint Anthony Park Lutheran Church.

Lauderdale shifts fire service to St. Paul

The city of Lauderdale has negotiated a fire services agreement with the St. Paul Fire Department and has, as of July 30, stopped routing calls from within its municipality to Falcon Heights.

Lauderdale was already receiving ambulance and emergency medical services from St. Paul.

At Lauderdale’s June 23 City Council meeting, Mayor Mary Gaasch reviewed concerns that there had been no response to several calls and said that the explanation had been that a volunteer fire department could not be expected to answer all calls.

October

New garden ordinance planned for Falcon Heights

Falcon Heights is taking another crack at setting rules for home gardens after a series of council actions last spring left many residents frustrated with a temporary ban in place on all new or expanded gardens.

One yield from the garden discussion is a Change.org petition with 10,000 signatures by September asking to add vegetables to gardens and to grant a variance to allow a front yard, communal vegetable garden proposed online by a resident.

Developer seeking TIF financing for Luther Seminary development project

The real estate and construction firm that wants to redevelop a 15.5-acre site at the lower campus of Luther Seminary is seeking tax-increment financing from the city of St. Paul for the project.

Representatives of Master Properties Minnesota announced their intentions at a September meeting of the District 12 Community Council Land Use Committee, saying they need $10 million to $11 million in redevelopment TIF funds in order to finance road and other infrastructure improvements.

“This (financing assistance) is necessary to preserve the Breck Woods,” Max Heitzmann, a partner at Master Properties, said in referring to the 10-acre forest tract on the Seminary property that residential neighbors have heavily lobbied to save.

November

Rental apartments eyed for Sholom Home site

A new owner plans to convert the former Sholom Home senior care center into 150 rental apartments. But the project will require a substantial parking variance in order to work, a representative of Midway Community Group Redevelopment told District 10’s Land Use Committee in October. The company, headed by Minneapolis developer Jeffrey Laux, is buying the former nursing home property at 1554 Midway Parkway through foreclosure.

Then there was a ‘metal grinding on metal’ sound

At 3 a.m. one day this past spring, Lou Smith awoke to the sound of “metal grinding on metal.” He looked out a house window, didn’t see anything and went back to sleep.

Later that morning, when the St. Anthony Park man went to start his Prius, he heard an awful scraping sound from underneath the hood of his car. Smith took his car to Park Service to find out what was wrong: Someone had stolen his car’s catalytic converter.

After sustaining that theft, Smith got the catalytic converter replaced. A few months later, thieves struck again, this time in mid-September.

After that second catalytic converter theft, Smith had Park Service in St. Anthony Park, install a metal shield on the undercarriage of his car to deter further thievery.

These days, Park Service has been fixing plenty of cars with stolen catalytic converters.

St. Paul Police Department officials report there has been an ongoing rash of catalytic converter thefts because of their relatively high amount of precious metals, including copper and aluminum.

Mount Olive Lutheran’s centennial celebration

Look for plenty of festivities in the coming months at Mount Olive Evangelical Lutheran, 1460 W. Almond Ave. Known as “the church with the State Fair parking,” Mount Olive will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Officially incorporated on May 1, 1921, the church’s first building was located at Gordon and Scudder Streets and began with 14 founding members, today the church has about 100 members.

December

No SAP Arts Festival in 2021

The organizers of the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival have cancelled the 2021 arts festival due to continuing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The nonprofit stated, “Based on what we know about COVID-19 today and the time it takes to plan the arts festival, we are not able to host the event in June 2021.” This second consecutive annual cancellation will hurt the St. Anthony Park Library, which receives fundraising support from the Arts Festival.

Changing up the holiday season

Santa Claus won’t be coming to town.

At least not on Saturday, Dec. 5 when Kris Kringle had been scheduled to appear from 4 to 5 p.m. at Milton Square in St. Anthony Park’s downtown shopping district.

This year, a raging resurgence of COVID-19 infection cases in Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz’s four-week shutdown order on large-scale activities has put the kibosh on many regularly-scheduled activities.

“There is a ton of stuff that would normally go on (for the holiday season) and none of that is happening this year,” said Heather O’Malley, owner of Milton Square and the proprietor of one of its shops. Activities that have been scrubbed include private dinner parties at Nico’s Taco Bar, book signings at Winding Trail Books and a spaghetti dinner with Santa sponsored by the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Center.

This report includes material from editor Scott Carlson and freelancers Maja Beckstrom, Sarah CR Clark, Eric Erickson and Anne Holzman.

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