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After Deadline: Ribbons and tears, or my Saturday in Stewartville

September 21, 2018

Not that some ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings aren’t reasonable excuses to celebrate a project coming together.

Recently in Winona, the developer of a new project on the block between Fourth and Fifth streets and Main and Johnson streets held a groundbreaking ceremony to pat themselves on the back for a new project that’ll bring 60 new apartments, 15,000 square feet of commercial space and a Montessori school.

In Winona, those are three big needs.

Everyone from Mayor Mark Peterson to Sister Judy Schaefer was there.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t refer to the good sister as a fat cat or bigwig. That lady (of God) probably knows how to wield a ruler, and my Catholic upbringing knows what that means.

I better watch my knuckles.

The Exception

But, as I learned Saturday, not every ribbon-cutting is for fat cats. Some are for a kid who’s been dealt a bad hand, his wheelchair-bound sisters and his little three-legged dog named Louis.

When I arrived at the Fischer house Saturday, I met A.J., a 10-year-old boy with a skin disease and a need for space to play. Fortunately, through an organization called Wishes & More out of the Twin Cities, the money and volunteers to make A.J.’s wish come true were found.

I also met Lanny Tippetts, who was busy fixing things, such as door handles in the house, panel doors for fuse boxes, loose power cords that needed anchoring and all sorts of things.

Tippetts talked about how he has spent time getting to know A.J. and the whole Fischer brood and what it means to him to be able to make a difference in A.J.’s life.

Take My Tears, Please!

As we talked, Tippetts told me about how he’s become something of a member of the family. He’s had dinner with the Fischers, helped fix little things beyond the clubhouse for A.J. and even helped A.J. provide some volunteer help as well.

The young man hammered a few nails on his clubhouse.

Through it all, as we chatted in the humid clubhouse — the air conditioner hadn’t made a dent in the humidity yet — I saw something damp run down Tippetts’ cheek. Was it sweat, I wondered, or ...

“It was a tear,” said A.J.’s mom, Barbara Fischer.

She wasn’t there, but she knows the man. All heart, worn on his sleeve.

Frankly, it was hard not to shed a tear or two myself. Yeah, I’m a big softie.

Eventually, we all gathered around as speeches were made (again, not great if it’s the fat cats, but totally cool about A.J.), a ribbon was cut, and cupcakes were eaten.

Helping Hands

In addition to Tippetts, locals who helped with “A.J.’s Command Center,” as his clubhouse was named, include Stewartville assistant football coach Jon Severson and his wife, Kim, some members of the Stewartville football team and others.

There are a lot of great organizations out there helping people who need that helping hand. In today’s newspaper, I wrote a brief story about a church in Wanamingo that’s planning to fix about 80 homes in or near Pine Island next summer.

Last year, I wrote about the Winona-Fillmore chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the work they did building a fence for a family in Altura. The volunteers were actually kids on a mission trip from the Chicago area. But it’s that idea of getting kids in the habit of helping others early in life so the practice becomes a ingrained in them.

Building Bridges

Not everyone helping kids and families is out there swinging a hammer.

In Saturday’s newspaper, I’ll have a story about a mentoring program in Red Wing where adults volunteer to make a difference in the lives of teens and tweens. Most of these kids just have a single parent in their lives. Turns out, kids do better with two or more adults in their lives showing how they care about that kid.

As it happens, one of the adult volunteer mentors is Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman. I interviewed Roger (I know him pretty well, so I call him Roger) and the boy he mentors, Cody Callstrom. When I was done, I asked them if we could step out in the hall and take a photo.

As with many posed photos, I knew what Roger was about to ask, and I eagerly awaited with my answer.

Pohlman: “Where do you want me to stand?”

Me: “I can’t believe I get to say this, but ... Up against the wall, Roger!”

I was so busy laughing when the chief of police turned and, spread eagle, grabbed the bricks, I forgot to actually take the photo.

Still, the kid and I were laughing, which shows getting the police chief as your mentor has got to be the coolest thing.

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