The year 2018 will be remembered for the unusual, sometimes unbelievable events in the news.

Hurricanes. Floods. Volcanos. Wildfires. School shootings. Political turmoil. Scandals. Corruption. Charges and counter-charges.

Just about the time you thought, “It can’t get any crazier” — it did.

So while 12 months of headlines taken from The Pilot-Independent might seem ordinary by comparison, that’s probably a plus, maybe even comforting, given what’s been happening elsewhere.  



Longville professional snowmobile athlete Levi LaVallee will perform a backflip over the Nicollett Mall Feb. 3 as part of the run-up to Super Bowl LII Feb. 4. The jump covers nearly 100 feet, ramp to ramp. LaVallee holds the world record for a snowmobile distance jump.

WHA high school students are learning to curl at the Walker Area Community Center (WACC) Wednesday afternoons after school, with instruction by curler Jerry Demars.

Laporte teacher Amy Mastin was honored with the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom Foundation’s Outstanding Teacher Award. In 2015 Mastin had the idea to start a school garden, which she calls her “edible playground.”

WHA’s boys’ and girls’ basketball squads continue their winning ways. The boys team out-scored Browerville in overtime for a 61-55 win, while the Lady Wolves won their ninth straight, beating Verndale 65-47. A few days later, both teams swept Nevis; the boys, 59-50 and the girls.


The new Onigum Community Center means a brighter future for the community. The 18,200 SF facility includes  gym, kitchen, community room, meeting rooms and more. The Feb. 10 grand opening featured speeches, prayers and ceremonies, ribbon-cutting and a feast.

The body of an Akeley woman, missing for 12 days, was found Feb. 17 in the Chippewa National Forest. Kara Blevins, 27, was located by Cass County Sheriff’s personnel in a wooded area off a township road; she died of hypothermia/exposure.

 WHA basketball player Nate Armstrong reached  the 1,000 point milestone at the Feb. 15 game against Cass Lake. He is the second Wolf to reach the mark this season and the 13th in school history.

In its 39th year, the Eelpout Festival’s party on ice attracted huge crowds. The biggest eelpout was caught by Jesse Friedrich of Rice at 10.66 pounds. The Polar Pout Plunge brought in nearly $12,000 to support the Walker Area Community Center.


WHAN wrestler Kyle Schmidt finished third at the State Wrestling Meet, by winning four 220-pound matches, including two in overtime and the final one, four overtimes. Schmidt’s only loss was to  eventual champ Will Storich. Fellow wrestler Dillon McGee, who earned two previous medals at state, fell short of his goal of a third medal.

The death of an angler in a fish house on Leech Lake at Eelpout Fest was due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Samuel Schooley, 21, of Bemidji, was found the morning of Feb. 25 and was pronounced dead at the Park Rapids Hospital.

WHA faculty and staff attended an ALICE training workshop, a plan for how to respond to a violent critical incident like an active shooter. Training was done by the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. 3/21 1B

Jenny Cyr and Cheri Westphal received Lifestyle Leadership awards during the North Country Women’s Expo March 10 at Northern Lights Event Center.

WHA School District has been certified as a Level 1 High Reliability School (HRS). HRS lays out a framework for comprehensive school improvement, using current proven educational research and findings. WHA will now work toward Level 2 certification.


The Leech Lake Tribal Council and Cass County Board marked the historic Memorandum of Understanding between Cass and Leech Lake, signed in 2014 and laying out a framework for cooperation and communication. Tribal Chair Faron Jackson and Natural Resources Director Levi Brown presented a framed copy of the MOU April 3 to commissioners.

Citing declining interest and participation, the Laporte School board voted April 9 to eliminate the music program next year. However the decision fueled anger among students, parents and staff.

The WHA speech team returned from the state tournament with three medalists. Ellie Hansen and Emma Burpo took first in Duo, and Willow Damar took seventh in original oratory. Laporte Wildcat speaker Hannah Kahlstorf also took third at the Class A speech meet in the “Great Speeches” category.

Hackensack’s “Save the Pier” effort got a $25,000 boost from Conservation Fund 73. The project will replace the rotting sea wall that protects the peninsula of land leading to the fishing pier where summer kids’ fishing contests are held. About $20,000 was raised from fundraisers and donations; about $50,000 is needed for a 20-year fix.


For the second year, the Symposium on Sex Trafficking and Sexual Violence, held in Hackensack and Walker, drew large crowds who listened, discussed and learned about ways to prevent and stop sexual violence and abuse.

Bruno, Longville’s beloved brown “town dog,” has died at age 14, after being hit by a car. Bruno was known for his long-distance hikes down area roads, free spirit and laid-back manner. Owners Larry and Deb LaVallee buried Bruno on family property north of town.

The Laporte community’s voice has been heard. By a 7-0 vote, the school board rescinded its April decision to cut the music program and will work to re-establish and strengthen it.

The WHA boy’s baseball team headed into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, with an 11-2 win over Lake of The Woods. With a 9-4 record, they are seeded 3 against Cass Lake-Bena.

Several promising ideas for resolving the Walker Area Community Center’s financial crisis were presented at a public meeting May 22. Declining revenues and soaring utility costs have left the WACC with about $60 K in unpaid bills. The board of directors will report back to the community.


The WHA Playground Fund has received a $42,000 donation from US Bank and the Minnesota Vikings. WHA has now reached its $140,000 goal to purchase and install new playground equipment for elementary students.

Persistence paid off for brothers Matt and Jarvis Kaderlik who won the 10th Leech Lake Walleye tournament June 3. The Kaderliks’ total weight of fish was 33.89 pounds, for a payout of $15,200.

A Muslim relations  community forum at Salem Lutheran Church, Longville, drew a large crowd to hear two speakers from the Islamic Resource Group of Minneapolis explain their faith’s beliefs and dispel rumors and half-truths.

The WHA School District has taken the first steps toward creating a Level 4 special ed facility with the support of Sourcewell of Staples. The facility would serve students from Region 5 schools with special ed, mental health and other needs.

Moondance Country Fest got summer off to a jammin’ start June 21-23, with performers like Cole Swindell, Brett Young, Luke Combs, Casey Donahew, Gary Allan and Michael Ray.


The short- and long-term outlook for the Walker Area Community Center is brighter, thanks to more donations and plans for new and returning events, including The Leech Lake Rumble on Ice hockey tournament series that will benefit the WACC through a rebate program.

Hackensack’s “Save the Pier “ committee revised its request for Conservation Fund 73 funding from $25,000 to a maximum of $65,000. This will fund a sea wall leading to the fishing pier on Birch Lake with a 50, not 20-year life expectancy. The request was approved by the county board.

Heavy rains damaged the Soo Line Trail south of Remer, causing flooding and wash-outs in several areas. Dangerous spots are flagged and signed while repairs are being made.

“The best line-up in 10 years” brought record crowds to Moondance Jam 27. Kid Rock, Brett Michaels, Tesla, Kansas, Kid Rock and others performed, despite intermittent rain.


Chase on the Lake in Walker announced that it will manage all operations at Bluewater Lodge on Shingobee Bay. The new agreement allows the Chase to host larger conventions, events, weddings and family reunions at Bluewater’s 10,850 square foot Leech Lake Event Center.

The WHA Playground Committee has completed installation of new equipment for the elementary playground. The project cost $140,000, with the final $42,000 coming from US Bank in partnership with the Minnesota Vikings.

 Motorists on Hwy. 371 between Hackensack and Backus will encounter detours and delays during a culvert replacement and repaving project that begins after Labor Day and runs through late October. The official detour is 30 miles long and adds 23 miles to the trip.

Hackensack Chainsaw Sculptor Chris Kuehn won the first-ever Lake Superior Chainsaw Sculpture Championships Aug. 9-12 in Superior, Wis. Kuehn’s win came against an international field of carvers.


The 26th annual Ethnic Fest saw new performers and returning favorites as thousands packed the streets of Walker. The Heather and Thistle Bagpipes and Drums from Fargo were a huge hit, as were The Mactir Academy of Irish Dancers and the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers.

The Wolves went toe-to-toe with Mahnomen-Wabun, one of the best Class A football teams in the state, but finally fell 42-14.

Undeterred, they moved on and shut out their next opponent,  Red Lake 47-0.

The Cass County Board met at the new Remer Fire Hall, then toured the fire hall and Remer Area Ambulance Service/County Highway Garage next door. Working together, the Remer Fire Department, Ambulance and Highway Department saved about $500,000 by constructing buildings on the same campus and using the same floor plan.


Bev Jorland, former WHA School faculty member and speech coach and current Laporte School speech coach, received the Outstanding Individual in Theater and Communications Award at the annual Communications and Theater Association of Minnesota Convention in St. Cloud.

Walker native and Army veteran Allen Kennedy was one of 88 vets who took an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Kennedy, 90, served from 1947-50, including a tour in South Korea. He was accompanied by his son Lloyd. The trip includes stops at major war memorials, the Vietnam Wall, and Arlington National Cemetery.


Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2018, marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The Walker Legion hosted a dinner for vets. Three Korean War veterans, Pete “Tuck” Geving, Irwin Tooker and Glenn Bakeberg, were presented Ambassador for Peace Medals, awarded by the Republic of Korea.

An engineer’s inspection revealed that the Soo Line Trail Bridge over the Leech Lake River in Federal Dam wass damaged beyond repair by a Sept. 13 arson fire. Cass County commissioner discussed possibilities for replacement; funding sources are also  being investigated.

Mann Lake Ltd. of Hackensack, the largest supplier of beekeeping products in the US, announced a management buyout with  Grey Mountain Partners. Mann Lake has also acquired Kelley Beekeeping of Clarkson, Ky. The buyout and acquisition will not affect day to day operations at Mann Lake’s headquarters and manufacturing plant in Hackensack.

Walker Rehab Healthcare Center, formerly known as Woodrest-Golden Living, has decided to close due to a decline in average daily occupancy. The 23 residents will be relocated to other facilities.


Joy Matthews, 54, of Bena, was found stabbed to death in her home Nov. 28, and her adult son is in custody. Thomas Matthews, 34, was arrested the night before at the Big Winnie Bar after attacking and assaulting patrons.

After a recount, Democrat challenger John Persell prevailed over Republican incumbent Matt Bliss in the Dist. 5A State House race. Persell’s margin of victory was 11 votes.

Leech Lake walleye regs allow more chances for harvest starting in the spring. The new reg removes the 20-26 inch protected slot and replaces it with a four-fish limit, only one ofwhich can be over 20 inches.



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