NEW ULM - She may have finished fifth in Beijiing, but Ali Bernard came in first in The Journal's Top Ten Stories of 2008 list.
Her Olympic odyssey was selected as the top local news story of 2008 in a poll of Journal staffers.
Bernard, the daughter of Rocky and Sue Bernard of New Ulm, grew up wrestling all comers in the local Rolling Thunder youth wrestling program, and made a splash as the only girl on the New Ulm High School wrestling team. She has pursued opportunities in the sport of women's wrestling since high school. She has competed in and won national and world tournaments on the junior and senior levels, and accepted a scholarship to the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, to compete in its wrestling program.
Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan, in blue, wrestles against New Ulm’s Ali Bernard of the US for the bronze medal decider of 72kg women’s freestyle wrestling competition of the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing on Sunday, Aug. 17. Bernard’s Olympic experience was judged as the top local news story of 2008. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das )
In April, Bernard went into the U.S. National Olympic trials in Las Vegas, competing in the 158.5 pound class. She upset World bronze medalist Katie Downing to win a spot on the Olympic Team.
While a number of supporters, known as the Ali Cats, were able to travel to Beijing for her matches, many more back home stayed up on Saturday night, Aug. 16, to watch her wrestle on the Internet. They cheered as she pinned her first opponent in 42 seconds, and groaned as she lost in the quarterfinals. She wrestled back to win a spot in the Bronze Medal match, but lost to five-time world champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan.
Bernard has returned to the University of Regina for her final season and is continuing to work toward a return trip to the 2012 Olympics.
Following Bernard's Olympic journey in The Journal area's top ten stories are:
2. New Ulm hosts State Capital for a Day.
3. City contends with state funding cuts
4. New Ulm PUC proceeds with wind farm project
5. New Ulm Medical Center breaks ground on Surgical Center project
6. The Rev. John M. LeVoir is ordained as the fourth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of New Ulm.
7. District 88 explores the future of the New Ulm Middle School building.
8. Former Brown County Sheriff Tim Brennan dies of cancer.
9. The Marktplatz Mall property changes hands.
10. New Ulm Police Chief Erv Weinkauf announces his retirement.
Capital for a Day
Selected as one of eight regional Capitals for a Day through a statewide Internet vote, New Ulm had its day on May 15. Despite a relatively short planning period, the city came through with a day full of activities, starting with a New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club pancake breakfast attended by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to an evening Picnic in German Park attended by Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who was schooled in the finer points of firing cannons by the New Ulm Battery. Molnau also muscled a 35-pound, specially tagged catfish, dubbed "Big D", back into the Minnesota River for some lucky angler to catch.
State Funding Cuts
As the state's revenue projections followed the economy into a downspin, Gov. Tim Pawlenty took action in December to help fill a $400 million deficit in the current state budget. Part of the balancing act included the unallocation of Local Government Aid funds to cities over 1,000 in population. New Ulm's share is $383,862 in lost aid. The city is working on a plan to deal with that shortfall.
Wind Farm Project
As part of the city's long-range energy plan, the New Ulm PUC is pursuing the construction of three wind-powered electrical generating turbines. Utilities staff identified an area in nearby Nicollet County, and pursued negotiations with three landowners for sites to build the towers. The landowners signed leases with the PUC, granting easements to build towers on their land, but the decision is not popular with neighboring landowners, who contend the towers will have a deleterious impact on their lives and property values. The city is building a test tower to measure the winds at the site before continuing with the construction of the towers.
The New Ulm Medical Center conducted a successful capital campaign to raise $750,000 in local donations to help finance a $2.75 million remodeling and expansion program at the hospital, designed primarly to increase the size of the three operating rooms and provide more privacy for post-operative surgical patients.
Allina Hospitals & Clinics, In.c., the parent company of the New Ulm Medical Center, also announced a special project, "The Heart of New Ulm," which has the lofty goal of reducing the number of deaths due to heart attacks in town to zero in ten years.
A New Bishop
Following the appointment of New Ulm Bishop John C. Nienstedt as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the New Ulm Diocese operated with a special administrator, Msgr. Doug Grams, in charge. That changed in July, when Pope Benedict XVI selected a parish pastor in Stillwater, Fr. John M. LeVoir, to fill the New Ulm position.
Bishop LeVoir, who has a unique background after working as a licensed CPA before entering the seminary, said his appointment took him completely by surprise. He had anticipated finishing out his remaining years before retirement at the tow parishes he served in Stillwater.
Archbishop Nienstedt returned to New Ulm in September to ordain his successor as a bishop, and install him as the head of the New Ulm Diocese.
Middle School Situation
District 88 became the full owner of the New Ulm Middle School building and the property is sits on, after a condemnation proceeding and land swap with the City of New Ulm, which had owned the land. The question still remains - what to do with the building?
A district ad-hoc committee continues to examine the building's options, including the idea of turning it, or part of it, into some kind of arts center. Meanwhile, the District administration offices were moved to the building to allow the annex building to be used for classrooms.
Sheriff Brennan dies
Former Brown County Sheriff Tim Brennan retired in 2006, remarried and moved to Sleepy Eye. However, less than two years later, on May 23, 2008, he lost a battle with cancer that had been diagnosed after he left office.
Brennan was remembered as a dedicated and professional law officer.
"After a long, dedicated career he deserved a long, happy retirement," said Bob Christensen, his former chief deputy.
In August, Brennan's widow, Sharon Brennan, dedicated the home she owned in Mankato as the Timothy House, a residence for families of cancer patients receiving treatment at Immanuel-St. Joseph Hospital in Mankato.
After several years as owner of the Markplatz Mall, and a failed attempt to convert a portion of it into condominiiums, Robert Petroff sold the building to new owners. The southern third was sold to Randy Danielson, owner of George's Ballroom, in June. In October, the rest was sold to Marktplatz Retail & Development LLC, a division of Wilshire Financial of Los Angeles, Calif.
The new owners have expressed a desire to reposition the mall, and increase the traffic in the building by opening unleased portions to non-profits for various uses.
In September, New Ulm Police Chief Erv Weinkauf announced he would be retiring from the position as of Jan. 31, 2009. Weinkauf' law enforcement career stretches back 37 years, most of that with the New Ulm Police Department. He had served as a patrolman, a police sergeant, and police commander under Chief Howard Zins. When Zins retired, Weinkauf was a logical selection to replace him.
Weinkauf plans to continue teaching law enforcement at Minnesota State University in Mankato.