Brainerd Dispatch names Top 10 stories of 2019

Each year, the Brainerd Dispatch newsroom votes on its Top 10 local stories covered throughout the previous 12 months. From tragedies to controversies to new beginnings, 2019 brought many changes to the Brainerd lakes area.

Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

Honorable mentions

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Although initial plans were to reinstate the program, New Pathways announced it would not return to Brainerd in October. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Homeless families program leaves Brainerd

After a tumultuous year, the only organization providing shelter services for homeless families in the Brainerd area closed permanently.

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Sue Kern


School board president’s evolution comments prove controversial

Skeptical statements made by Brainerd School Board President Sue Kern about the theory of evolution and whether it should be taught in the district sparked a flurry of reaction and letters to the editor.

Quinn Nystrom speaks with members of the media at the end of the first #Insulin4All caravan May 4 to buy cheaper medical supplies in Fort Frances, Ontario. File photo courtesy of Quinn Nystrom

Nystrom champions diabetics amid insulin price hikes

Quinn Nystrom — who's been a diabetes advocate for over two decades — saw her profile skyrocket into national and even international proportions in 2019.

Walt Straka turns 100

Walt Straka, Brainerd’s last Bataan Death March survivor, did what he never expected — turned 100 years of age Oct. 24, 2019.


Crow Wing Food Co-op board member Jennifer Jacquot-Devries (right), next to co-op President Theresa Woodward, speaks at the podium after the co-op won the third and final Destination Downtown Business Challenge Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence annual dinner event at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Public vote determine final Destination Downtown Business Challenge winner

Crow Wing Food Co-op was the people’s choice for the final Destination Downtown Business Challenge, which offered $65,000 as the largest grand prize in the three years of the contest.

Top 10

James Hunter Top10
Former Crosby Mayor James Hunter made quite a few headlines in 2019. His last court case closed in April, clearing him of all criminal charges. Hunter's attorney in September filed a lawsuit alleging two former officials of the Crosby Police Department defamed Hunter by falsely accusing him of several crimes. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

No. 10 — Former Crosby mayor’s court case is closed, but lawsuit pending

During a two-year-long court battle, all the charges against Hunter — tried separately — were dismissed or he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. The case ended April 19, when the last of the two charges were dismissed.

Braving cold temperatures Monday, Feb. 25, Chelsea Welch drives her lawn tractor with a snowblower on a driveway near Wise Road. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


No. 9 — Record cold and snow dominate start and end of 2019

On Jan. 31, Brainerd reached a low of 43 degrees below zero, the lowest temperature since 1996. By the end of the year, Brainerd was setting a new record for rainfall on Dec. 28.

The new Cypress Drive stretches from the roundabout on Excelsior Road across Highway 210 toward College Road in Baxter. Drone photo by Jim Stafford / Brainerd Dispatch

No. 8 — High-profile road projects squeezed into shortened construction season

A long winter, coupled with inclement weather throughout the year, squeezed a logjam of projects into a shortened construction season that saw a significant face-lift for a bevy of lakes area roads.

Olive Garden, near the intersection of Highway 371 and Glory Road in Baxter, closed its doors at the end of March 2019 after more than six years of operation. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

No. 7 — New restaurants add to options, businesses find new starts

Arguably one of the biggest surprises came in March with the closing of Olive Garden in Baxter. Customers mobbed the restaurant in its last days of operation.


The last large precast concrete panel swings into place Wednesday, July 24, for the new Harrison Elementary School gymnasium. The work at the school, located on Oak Street in Brainerd, is part of the first wave of construction projects throughout the Brainerd School District. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

No. 6 — Brainerd Public Schools begin construction projects; Pillager, C-I pass referendums

Phase One of renovations are underway in the Brainerd School District, while officials with two other area districts are in the planning stages of their own voter-approved upgrades.

Michelle Mae went missing Oct. 3 and her body was discovered on rural property near Swatara nearly two weeks later. A 34-year-old Swatara man was charged with her murder. Submitted photo

No. 5 — Swatara man faces murder charges in Outing woman’s death

Officers found Michelle Mae's body buried under the soil in a crawl space at Joshua Karjala's residence. Karjala remains in custody and his next court hearing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15.

A dropoff site at the Crow Wing County Landfill gave hunters the opportunity to dispose of carcasses, the majority of which were incinerated in an attempt to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

No. 4 — Fears sparked after CWD discovered in a wild deer in Crow Wing County

A yearling doe, discovered by a cabin near Merrifield, was the first case of chronic wasting disease documented in the wild in central Minnesota.


Members of electric power co-op Crow Wing Power vote by holding up certified cards in lime green during the 82nd annual meeting in June. Accusations of impropriety against co-op officials came to a head during the meeting, with members voting to advise the board of directors to fire CEO Bruce Kraemer. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

No. 3 — Crow Wing Power officials face allegations, investigations of impropriety

Investigation reveals years of undisclosed payment agreements with officials at the electric power cooperative that serves 38,000 people in Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties.

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Jared Allen-Tristen McCormack

No. 2 — BHS teacher attacked in locker room; attacker sentenced to prison

The attacker waited inside the girls’ locker room for nearly an hour before the attack, during which he grabbed the teacher around the neck and face. She was able to break free and call the police.

A nurse and a pilot died and a crew member was injured after a medical helicopter crashed in June while on approach to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


No. 1 — North Memorial Air Care helicopter crashes, killing 2

The crash claimed the life of the pilot, Tim McDonald, 44, of Bloomington, and flight nurse Debra Schott, 58, of Lester Prairie, who both died at the scene. Pillager resident Josh Duda was the flight paramedic who suffered serious injuries in the crash.

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