At first glance, it would seem hard to do a retrospective of the past year without one certain item completely dominating the conversation. After all, for three-quarters of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic dominated headlines of national, regional, and local news agencies arguably like no other topic within the last century.

Events getting canceled or postponed indefinitely, businesses getting shut down, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, mandatory masking and other disease-mitigating mandates, education inventing and instituting new teaching methods within a moment’s notice, updated positive test results and death tolls becoming as commonplace on newscasts as weather reports. All of this overtaking our worlds in such a blur and with such abundance, it’s hard to remember anything else that was newsworthy that didn’t in some way connect with COVID.

In perusing the weekly headlines of the past year, however, there was no shortage of “other” stories that took place either before or during COVID. And while many of them did have a minor backstory related to the pandemic, all of them would have happened even if we had never heard of COVID-19. Below are brief summaries of those stories.

 Two Kwik Trips are better than one

The City of North Branch celebrated the grand opening of not one, but two Kwik Trip convenience stores in early January and February. First to open was the west store, located across Highway 95 from the County Market shopping center. The second store, located at the corner of Highway 95 and Grand Avenue, followed a month later. The two stores celebrated their grand openings on the same day.

Microbrewery opens in isanti

Taking advantage of the popularity of microbrewery beers, Brett and Warren Thunstrom opened Thunder Brothers Brewery in Isanti.

North Branch One Act state bound

For only the second time in school history, the North Branch One Act performance earned a trip to the state competition after their section 7AA first place finish. The troupe’s performance was from the “Alice in Wonderland” series titled “Through the Looking Glass.”

Isanti City Council fixes ordinance oversight

In February, the Isanti City Council received numerous questions and accusations following an ordinance change regarding peddlers licensing that caused confusion over how the change affected non-profit fundraising within city limits.

While verbally the council stated non-profits such as the Girl Scouts and other youth organizations would be exempt from having to apply for a peddler’s license, the actual ordinance language omitted this, forcing the council to revise the ordinance a second time to match their initial intentions.

Local Farmstead featured in Christmas movie

The Erickson Farmstead near Isanti became the primary set for a Hallmark Christmas movie in February. The film, titled “The Christmas Listing, was broadcast on the Lifetime Channel on Nov. 30.

Section championship streak reaches eleven

The Bluejacket gymnastics team won the Section 7AA gymnastics meet for the 11th-straight time on Valentine’s Day, topping runner-up Anoka by three-tenths of a point. The Jackets would go on to finish sixth at state. This would also mark the school’s 30th overall section gymnastics championship.

Bluejacket basketball completes first-ever double-double

For the first time in school history, both the Bluejacket girls and boys basketball teams claimed section championships in the same season. On March 5, the girls captured their second-ever section championship with a thrilling 59-50 win over Forest Lake. A week later, the boys would win their second-straight section championship with an equally thrilling 81-73 win over Duluth East.

The wins would turn out to be somewhat bitter-sweet as the girls wound up losing both their state tournament games, while the boys weren’t even able to play as the pandemic forced the cancellation of the boys state tournament.

North Branch Schools hires new superintendent

Following Deb Henton’s announcement she was resigning from her position as North Branch Area Schools Superintendent earlier in the year, the North Branch School Board conducted multiple virtual interviews en route to naming Sara Paul as the district’s new superintendent. Paul’s first day on the job would be July 1.

Nelson named state ‘Triple A’ winner

Cambridge-Isanti High School senior AnnaGrace Nelson was named the state Class AA girls “Triple A” (Academics, Arts and Athletics) award winner. Nelson is the third state “Triple A” winner from CIHS.

Division within North Branch council

After going two years with a very cohesive city council, old wounds once again opened up regarding North Branch Water & Light, creating animosity between council members and bogging down multiple council meetings with dissension and accusations being made against virtually the entire council, along with staff members.

The end result of this division was the resignation of council member Brian Voss in late September, who was replaced by Patrick Meacham via council appointment in November.

New library completed

Construction on the new Cambridge library, which is occupying the same building as the former GracePointe Crossings Gables East senior living center, was completed in early June, with a ribbon cutting ceremony taking place in early July. Unfortunately because of the pandemic, use of the facility has continued to be limited to via limited reservations.

Veterans Memorial Park finished

After many, many years of planning and fundraising, the Cambridge Veterans Memorial Park, located at the corner of Birch Street and 2nd Ave SW, became a reality during an emotional ceremony on Oct. 9.

Little change following elections

Despite a record number of votes cast via both early, absentee and election day, all but one incumbent regained their position locally. Additionally, the Cambridge-Isanti School District’s operating levy referendum was soundly defeated.

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