The year 2019 presented itself with some highs and some lows for the area throughout the year. From successes on the playing field to tragedy on the streets, here are the top two stories from each month.

January

Grad publishes first novel

North Branch 2012 graduate Kallie Grote publishes her first book, a young-adult novel titled “Defect.” The book is meant to be the first of a series of three books written by Grote.

Search for new finance director begins

With the upcoming retirement of North Branch Finance Director Richard Hill, the council approved utilizing Springsted to help conduct a search for Hill’s replacement. The result of the search was the hiring of Joseph Starks to the position.

February

Council appoints McPherson

With the election of current council member Jim Swenson as the new North Branch mayor during the 2018 elections, a vacancy on the council was created. After a month-long application process, Joel McPherson was chosen to fill Swenson’s vacant seat. McPherson was chosen from a total of four applicants for the position.

Pilot lands plane on I-35

Social and the regular media was all abuzz after an experimental aircraft, piloted by Mike Robbins, was forced to make an emergency landing on an off-ramp of I-35 near Stacy. Video of the smooth landing was captured by a 

passing car and went viral. After brief repairs at Kwik Trip, law enforcement closed off part of Stacy Trail to allow Robbins to take off again.

March

Hockey team claims historic championship

The North Branch boys hockey team made history, capturing the school’s first-ever section championship in the sport and sending them to the much-coveted state tournament. There, despite taking a lopsided loss in the first round from eventual state champion St. Cloud Cathedral, the team became media darlings as the story of them not having a home arena was retold over and over again.

Shopko to close its doors

After avoiding an initial round of store closings in January, it was announced that the retail business would be declaring bankruptcy and closing all of the remaining stores, including North Branch’s, following a liquidation process. The large building would remain vacant until November, when KM Liquidator would move in and change the name to “Cartfull.”

April

Dangerous Uber situation avoided

After hearing recent stories of incidents involving people mistakenly getting in cars they thought were their Uber rides, North Branch resident Caitlin Netzer tells of her own near-miss, where she and her friend avoided making the same tragic mistake by following suggestions for confirming a person’s driver.

Remodeled stage makes its first appearance

After being “homeless” for nearly a year, the North Branch Theatre Department christened their remodeled stage and auditorium with a production of the “Addams Family Musical.”

May

New pharmacy to open

After losing its only pharmacy in the city after Shopko closed, North Branch was excited to celebrate the “groundbreaking” of a new pharmacy. During County Market’s 10th anniversary celebration, it was revealed that NuCara will soon occupy an expanded space within the store. The pharmacy, who hired several pharmacy staff who used to work at Shopko, officially opened in September.

School board discontinues busing charter students

Citing a perceived lack of cooperation, the North Branch School Board approved discontinuing to offer transportation services to students who attend the year-old Phoenix Academy Charter School. In response, Phoenix staff and a few parents made repeated requests for the board to reconsider; however, those pleas were denied, forcing students to find alternative methods to get to school for at least the 2019-2020 school year.

June

North Branch at odds with county over radios

The North Branch city council rejected an interim contract with Chisago County for the usage of the county’s ARMER service for emergency personnel. This rejection instigated threats from both sides that brought the two entities to the brink of legal action.

Bauer soars at state

Viking sophomore Paige Bauer qualified for the state track and field meet in pole vault by making a personal-best height of 11 feet, 1 inch at the section meet held in Chisago Lakes. A week later, she again bested her own record, clearing 11 feet, 6 inches at state en route to a seventh-place finish.

July

Ecumen honors veterans

Ecumen, the North Branch senior living center, unveiled a “Wall of Honor” at their location. The display features photos of all of the veterans who currently reside there, along with emblems of the various military branches, plus a woodcraft flag.

Multiple fatal crashes

The month of July was especially deadly around North Branch, with two fatal chain-reaction crashes occurring just 24 hours and less than a mile apart from each other along Highway 95 on the west end of town. In addition, North Branch firefighter Tony Rollins lost his life in a single-car crash.

August

North Branch Ambassador named Aquatennial queen

Former North Branch Midsummer Ambassador Elise Toussaint was named the 2020 Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes during a coronation ceremony held in conjunction with the annual Aquatennial.

Kwik Trip breaks ground

After many, many months of speculation and inaccurate reports made on social media, the popular convenience store broke ground for not one, but two new stores in North Branch. The stores are scheduled to officially open in January and February 2020.

September

NB schools test above average

The North Branch School District reported the results of the Minnesota Department of Education’s MCA III 2018-2019 testing. North Branch’s results were above the state average in both reading and math proficiency.

Road construction delayed

After receiving higher-than-anticipated bids, the North Branch city council voted to reject all bids for the 399th Avenue project. The city will ask for new bids for the project to be completed in the spring of 2020, which should lead to lower amounts.

October

Longtime officer retires

North Branch police officer Ron Rollins signed off for the final time, officially retiring after 38 years in law enforcement, with 15 of those years with North Branch.

Theatre students present a ‘whodunnit’

Showing their versatility, including having two male students playing the part of old ladies, the North Branch Theatre Department put on the comedic play “Bull in a China Shop” as their fall production.

November

Viking volleyball takes second

For the third year in a row, the North Branch volleyball team advanced all the way to the Class AA state championship match, where they wound up taking second after falling in a thrilling, five-set match to Marshall.

City unveils new look

Following the advice of the Minnesota Design Team, the city of North Branch unveiled a new official logo for the city. The logo was the culmination of several months of brainstorming and voting among volunteers from the community.

December

Radio controversy comes to an end

After several months of negotiations that started back in June, the city of North Branch and Chisago County finally come to an agreement on a new ARMER radio user contract.

City delays changes to water and light commission

Just as one contentious issue was laid to rest, another one crept up as the council was divided on how to go about making changes to the appointment process for Water and Light Commission members. Ultimately, it was decided to wait until it was known if the commission would be allowed to expand from three members to five before the council would enact any other changes to the commission.

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