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Top 10 Brainerd Dispatch stories of 2021

The Top 10 stories in the lakes area cover a wide variety of milestone events. Here are the top stories of 2021.

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Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

The Top 10 stories in the lakes area cover a wide variety of milestone events from an ongoing pandemic to water woes and the tragedy of lives taken too soon.

Top stories of the last year also celebrate investments in the future, contributions of lifelong area residents, a city’s birth and efforts to save an iconic piece of the city from demolition.

Here are the top stories of 2021.

No. 10 — Brainerd's historic water tower seems here to stay

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Lightning illuminates the sky beyond the historic Brainerd water tower Friday, July 17, 2020, as a line of strong thunderstorms moved across the state. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

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Brainerd’s historic water tower was on the Top 10 list in 2018 for being in jeopardy of being demolished, and is back this year for the efforts that are going into preserving it. READ MORE > READ MORE

No. 9 — Warming shelter finds its place in Brainerd

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A warming shelter on South Seventh Street in Brainerd opened its doors for the first time Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

After several years of stops and starts, a community effort involving numerous partners and funds from private donors and grants finally resulted in a warm place for homeless adults to sleep at night in Brainerd. READ MORE > Top 2021 Stories - No. 9: Warming shelter finds its place in Brainerd

No. 8 —Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts, CTC Center open

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The grand opening of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts in May 2021. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Excited speakers, grand music and a euphoric atmosphere celebrated the May 26 grand opening of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts in Brainerd.

And about 14 miles west, the CTC Center celebrated its grand opening with a special invite-only event Oct. 12 and the first paid public events the following weekend. READ MORE > Top 2021 Stories - No. 8: Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts, CTC Center open

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The CTC Center -- the new auditorium at Pillager Public Schools -- is nearing completion and is the last construction piece of the district's 2019 referendum. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

No. 7 — Homicide ends lives of 2 local women

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Jeanine Greyblood, left, and Bethany Bernatsky were two lakes area women who died by homicide in 2021. Contributed

Two area women suffered violent deaths in 2021, one at the hands of her husband and the other believed to be the victim of mistaken identity. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 7: Homicide ends lives of 2 local women

No. 6 — Help wanted

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Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

Perhaps the most common sign on display in 2021 — in windows, on flags and dynamic signs — came with two words: Now hiring. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 6: Help wanted

No. 5 — Brainerd celebrates its sesquicentennial

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Tour group Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, during a Downtown Brainerd History Walk which was part of Brainerd's sesquicentennial celebration week. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd turned 150 years old in 2021, and the city celebrated.

A week’s worth of events included a mayoral proclamation, history walks, ping pong races, historical trivia, discounted shopping days, various parties around the city, the Jaycees’ annual StreetFest, a flapjack festival and — perhaps most notable of all — a time capsule. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 5: Brainerd celebrates its sesquicentennial

No. 4 — Drought changes typical summer landscape

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Brainerd Riverfront Committee member Holly Holm carries a bag of trash Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, during the river cleanup night. Picking up trash has been easier since the river level has been low because of the drought conditions this summer. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

A year like few others, 2021 also brought unusual and rare weather experiences from a summer drought to a winter thunderstorm.

Dry conditions going into spring continued throughout the summer and combined with record heat for a lasting drought and extended fire danger well into the year. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 4: Drought changes typical summer landscape

No. 3 —Walt Straka, Stewart C. Mills Jr. die

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Walt Straka (left) and Stewart B. Mills Jr., both Brainerd institutions, died in 2021.

It’s perhaps only fitting — albeit sad for many in the Brainerd lakes area who came to know and respect him — that the 101-year-old veteran Walt Straka died on Independence Day.

Another icon also left us in 2021: Stewart C. Mills Jr., the co-founder and owner of Mills Fleet Farm and the Mills Automotive Group, died about two months later on Sept. 24 at the age of 93. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 3: Walt Straka, Stewart C. Mills Jr. die

No. 2 — Brainerd School Board, admins deal with variety of issues

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Members of the public display signs at the Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, advocating against mask mandates. Signs referred to the number of people who signed a petition asking board members not to put a mask mandate in place and had phrases like "Let kids breathe" and "We the people are the people." Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

For members of the Brainerd School Board, 2021 was anything but smooth.

Heated public forums, difficult decisions, decreased enrollment, the chair’s resignation and a new appointee all factored into an eventful year for the board. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 2: Brainerd School Board, admins deal with variety of issues

No. 1 — 2nd year of pandemic offers roller coaster ride

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Dr. Greg Davis works in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Hope was in the air as 2021 got its start — but it wouldn’t end that way. READ MORE> Top 2021 Stories - No. 1: 2nd year of pandemic offers roller coaster ride

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