A year in review

GRHR File Photo

The Itasca County Courthouse was busy on Election Day Tuesday, Nov.3, 2020. Pictured is Tammy Newman (back) and voter Bailey Velisek, along with a sleepy young Brielle Latvala, who voted at the Itasca County Courthouse. Welisek is a first time voter. 

Stories that made headlines: October-December, 2020

October 4

Breaking ground on new GRFD fire hall

For 125 years, the Grand Rapids Fire Hall has been located just east of City Hall on NE Fifth Street. This week, city leaders joined the Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD) to break ground on a new site for the hall.

A lot directly north of the IRC Building in Grand Rapids and south of SE 11th Street between Pokegama Avenue and SE Second Avenue will be the location of the new Grand Rapids Fire Hall. The current fire hall will be sold to Itasca County for the purpose of expanding county jail facilities onto the existing courthouse building.


Oct. 7

Elementary schools move to hybrid

On Monday, Oct. 5, Independent School District 318 announced the decision to add grades 3-5 to the hybrid learning model due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Itasca County. This change provides additional space within the classrooms and common areas for physical distancing.


Oct. 11

Major League Fishing show filmed locally debuts on TV this weekend

The Major League Fishing (MLF) 2020 General Tire World Championship is set to premiere with a two-hour episode this Saturday, Oct. 10, at 7 a.m. EDT on Discovery. The event, shot over six days in late July in Grand Rapids, showcases 16 MLF pro anglers culminating the 2020 Cup season and competing for a top prize of $100,000.


Itasca County COVID cases double

According to current local data, Itasca County is at an uncontrolled level of COVID-19 spread, due largely to formal and informal gatherings that were unsafe.  As of Oct. 4, the county’s 14-day rate of COVID is 38.6 positive cases per 10,000 residents.  As of Thursday morning, Oct. 8, total positive cases among Itasca County residents stand at 506, double the Sept. 12 number, 66 percent higher than on Sept. 21, and 45 more diagnosed since Monday, Oct. 5.


Oct. 25

Collaboration between Itasca County, DNR creates safer crossing for people and fish

This summer, Itasca County, along with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), USDA, and other local agencies, replaced undersized culverts at the Clearwater Creek crossing that had been fish passage barriers in the past and had created safety hazards for pedestrians.


Oct. 28

Itasca County part of state pilot for new test

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has announced a pilot of the COVID-19 Test at Home saliva program. Beginning this week, Minnesotans in two dozen counties including Itasca County and some tribal nations will be able to order a saliva test online, to perform in the comfort of their own home. These tests are available in select service areas free of charge to any Minnesotan who believes they need to be tested. It will soon be available to all Minnesotans.


Nov. 4

Election Day 2020

Election Day 2020 is now in the past, but it remains likely we may not know the final results soon as absentee and early voting numbers have surged this year.

The good news is that states like Minnesota have allowed ballots to be counted already, meaning the wait could be a matter of days.

Of course, the presidential election between President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is at the forefront of many minds today, but Minnesota will also be deciding the fate of eight U.S. House seats and one of its U.S. Senate seats, along with control of the state House and Senate for the upcoming Legislature.

Locally, voters will decide between Republican incumbent Pete Stauber and Democratic challenger Quinn Nystrom in the Eighth Congressional District, and in the U.S. Senate race Democratic Sen. Tina Smith will defend her seat against former Republican Congressman Jason Lewis.


Nov. 8

2020 Election results

While a U.S. Presidential race remained undecided Friday, the 2020 General Election in Minnesota had clear winners. 

Justin Eichorn secured his seat in the Minnesota Senate with 56.5% of votes or 20,402 over his democratic challenger Rita Albrecht who received 35.44% of District 5 votes or 12,778.

For District 5B State Representative, Spencer Igo won over Joe Abeyta to replace retiring Sandy Layman. Igo received 60.75% of votes and Abeyta 39.13%.

The Congressional District 8 race was won by incumbent Pete Stauber (R) receiving 56.69% over his challenger Quinn Nystrom at 37.61%.

State presidential results had 52.43% for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for U.S. President and Vice President. Donald Trump and Michael Pence received 45.26% of the state’s votes.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota won reelection, defeating Republican former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis.

With Itasca County races, incumbent Terry Snyder secured his seat on the Itasca County Board with 69.54% of votes over his challenger Jeremy Bennett who received 29.88% of votes.

Nov. 11

Making way for new housing

Community members gathered Monday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future Aurora Heights development in Grand Rapids. The project began mid-October and is projected to be completed by December 2021. Aurora Heights will be built on the site of the former Riverview Elementary School on Fourth Street SE in Grand Rapids with a 38 unit three-story apartment building and 18 townhome style units in three separate buildings. 


Nov. 15

ISD 318 to start distance learning

This week, Independent School District 318 Superintendent Matt Grose announced that the school district would need to move to a temporary distance learning model beginning on Nov. 23 due to an increase in community COVID-19 cases.


Nov. 18

Upcoming motion picture features high school hockey on the Iron Range

A new motion picture that began production Friday on the Iron Range will attempt to describe the passion for hockey on the Range, and also blend in an emotional story line during a fictional run to an unlikely high school state championship.

The movie is named “Way of the Warriors” and it is an independent feature film that is centered around high school hockey on the Range. The film will showcase the unique culture, people and places of the “State of Hockey” in what John Montague – who wrote the script for the movie – said is in an authentic, positive manner.


Nov. 22

Community solar garden project coming to Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Public Utilities (GRPU) Commission voted unanimously at their Nov. 18 meeting to authorize Minnesota Power to sign a contract with US Solar, a nationally known solar developer, to build a solar garden and battery storage system in Grand Rapids. Minnesota Power will pass the solar power through to GRPU and its customers. This is the first solar-plus-storage system of its type to be built in northern Minnesota. The Itasca Clean Energy Team (ICET), a local citizens group promoting renewable energy, enthusiastically endorsed this action.


Fox faces fourth life sentence review

Convicted murderer Audie Fox – who killed Itasca County Deputy Sheriff Robert “Beefy” Lawson in a 1981 incident in Pengilly – is again up for a life sentence review and attempts are being made to make sure Fox never leaves his prison cell.

Bobby Lawson, the son of Beefy Lawson and a retired Itasca County jailer, said this is the fourth time Fox has had a life sentence review, with the others coming in 1995, 2005, and 2015. He said an advisory board comprised of the commissioner of corrections and others will evaluate the case. He added that there are two options: they either set up a further continuance or they would make arrangements for Fox’s release from prison.


Dec. 2

MDI plans to expand

Aided by recent grants from the Blandin Foundation, the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, the Otto Bremer Trust and Enbridge, MDI announced that it is purchasing a polypropylene extruder that will be located at its Grand Rapids facility and is projected to come online by the end of 2021. MDI is a nonprofit manufacturer with nearly half its employees made up of people with disabilities.


Dec. 16

County board approves abatement for Anderson Fabrics

Last week, the Itasca County Board of Commissioners approved the abatement of taxes for Anderson Fabrics which is considering expanding into a location in Bigfork where e2ip Technologies is currently operating. The CEO of e2ip Technologies announced in May that the Bigfork location would be closing and moving operations to their headquarters in Montreal, Canada. E2ip works primarily with the aviation industry and has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Dec. 20

Community pitches in to fill the boat

In an amazing show of support during an amazingly difficult year, Itasca County residents donated more than 2,000 toys and more than $4,000 in funds to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The effort was coordinated by Itasca County Sheriff’s Deputies Mike Partlow and Tom Williams. 


Dec. 23

COVID vaccines arrive in Itasca County

Dozens of Bigfork, Deer River and Grand Rapids health care professionals received the county’s first vaccine doses on Dec. 21, with plans for rolling out to the rest of the county as supplies are available. 

Cass Lake Hospital, which also serves Itasca residents, was the country’s first Indian health system facility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which it provided on Dec. 14 to Leech Lake Band elders and health care professionals. 


Dec. 27

Jean MacDonell named Interim President and CEO of Fairview Range

Jean MacDonell, President and CEO of Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital in Grand Rapids, MN has been named Interim President and CEO of Fairview Range in Hibbing, MN. Effective January 4, 2021, she will assume the dual leadership position in addition to her role at Grand Itasca. She has 22 years of experience in health care, 13 of which have been at Grand Itasca.

Patrick Sharp, President and CEO of Fairview Range since 2018, has resigned from the organization to begin a new chapter in Colorado with his family.

Area college become one system

Governed under Northeast Higher Education District (NHED), five independent colleges will soon merge into one accredited college while maintaining six unique campuses: Hibbing, Itasca (Grand Rapids), Mesabi Range (Virginia and Eveleth), Rainy River (International Falls) and Vermillion (Ely) Community Colleges. The one-college model will be finalized and operational by Fall 2022.



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