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DHS commissioner will be asked to rescind Nokay Lake group home opening

David Seelen (center left), Shirley Seelen (center right) and other Crow Wing Co

A Minnesota Department of Human Services official who originally described a group home scheduled to open soon in Nokay Lake Township as a “done deal” said Tuesday he would ask Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to rescind the decision.

Roger A. Deneen, director of Minnesota State Operated Community Services, said that had he known there was a day care near the group home site at 20124 Pickeral Lake Road he would have moved on to a different site.

“At this point, that’s her call,” he said, referring to the Department of Human Services commissioner.

After the meeting Deneen said he would ask Jesson to consider putting a stop to the group home opening, which had been scheduled to take place in a few weeks. Asked by opponents of the home what advice he would give them to stop the group home, Deneen advised them to communicate with the commissioner through phone calls and letters. The email listed for Jesson in the Minnesota Legislative Manual is

About 40 residents, mostly residents of Nokay Lake Township, attended the informational meeting at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse and protested plans to open the home.

Kathy Stevens, a Nokay Lake Township supervisor who runs a nearby day care, said the state was taking away the area residents’ quality of life.

“You’re ruining my life,” she said. “This is ... I can’t even say how dumb it is.”

The group home for disabled adults with mental and/or physical disabilities who are in need of assisted care is the result of a directive from the Legislature in response to the closing of the former state hospital in Brainerd. Deneen said three staff members would be on site during the day and two at night.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, said he wrote a letter to Jesson asking her to reconsider opening the group home.

Crow Wing County Commissioner Phil Trusty also objected to the group home. He represents District 1, which includes Nokay Lake Township.

“I don’t believe that the setting is the correct one,” he said.

Monty Jensen, a District 1 county commissioner candidate, described the location as “very inappropriate” and accused the state of “shoving this down their throats.”

Luke Simonett, a social services supervisor for Crow Wing County Community Services, said he wished that more information on the group home would have come out earlier.

Deneen said the state is not required to make any notification for a group home of this type. He also said the residents of this group home would not be as “challenging” as the residents of other group homes.

Trusty said he did not know the state group home was a “done deal.” He said there was an opportunity to stop the home and urged county residents to “quit nit-picking about whether the county knew” about the group home.

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said it was a stretch to maintain the county dropped the ball since the group home was a state-run facility, which was not subject to county zoning. He said the county could possibly have done a better job with community notification of the issue.

Also attending the meeting, although not addressing the crowd, were Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County, and Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860