Firefighters Humbled by 9/11 Memorial Climb

BISMARCK – Gypsy Fouts used a simple phrase to describe how she felt after climbing 19 flights of stairs at the state Capitol building six times Friday morning.

“It was humbling,” she said. “We were tired.”

Fouts and six of her fellow Dickinson firefighters made up the department’s team for the North Dakota 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, a fundraiser for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Continue reading “Firefighters Humbled by 9/11 Memorial Climb”

Quality-of-life factors determine if people choose to live in Dickinson

James Kramer told a group of Dickinson city leaders Tuesday that “individual factors” such as recreation, tourism, arts and culture are becoming the main influences in where people choose to live their lives.

The city’s Parks and Recreation director said he sees it almost daily when business leaders and Dickinson State University recruiters bring potential employees and students, respectively, to the West River Community Center in an effort to convince them to work, learn and live in Dickinson.

“In olden days, people moved to a place where there are job opportunities,” he said. “Nowadays, people may have two or three different employment opportunities, and they’re going to go look at those and base their decision on different individual factors. Does that community have what I’m looking for to live?”

Kramer’s comments kicked off the Quality of Life luncheon hosted by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce at Lady J’s.

The luncheon featured short presentations on areas the influence Dickinson’s well-being by Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; Jim Kelly, interim CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, and Ty Orton, executive director of the DSU Heritage Foundation.

Kramer said the parks department is turning its focus to improving long-neglected areas of its portfolio, such as the city’s trail system as well as possible improvements around the Patterson Lake Recreation Area.

He said trails are “an area where we’re lacking.”

“We definitely need to take a look at our trail system and expand it,” Kramer said. “We have begun working with the city to create a master plan and create some new opportunities in that area. We look forward to doing that in the future.”

He said opportunities exist for expansion of recreational opportunities near Patterson Lake, and pointed to the two-mile Crooked Crane Trail project that will be completed this summer as an example of that.

Like Kramer, Kelly also gave a taste of quality-of-life improvements that could be in Dickinson’s future.

Kelly spoke about the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library project on DSU’s campus and showed renderings of what the library would look like when completed. The project is likely to begin construction on the DSU rodeo grounds near the corner of State Avenue and Fairway Street this summer.

The first project, a replica of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch cabin made out of cottonwood trees found in the Badlands, could begin construction this summer after the final Roughrider Days Rodeo held in June.

The library — which renderings showed would be a large, sweeping structure complete with an all-glass great hall — would be years in the making and Kelly said would require “significant site preparation” as plans require vast landscaping improvements to the 26-acre site.

“As you go by the site now, it’s sort of flat as a pancake and as flat as the top or your table,” he said. “That’ll change significantly as we get into the building of the facility.”

If the library comes to fruition as planned, Thiel said Dickinson has more than enough hotels to give visitors a place to stay. She said the city has 1,773 rooms available at 21 lodging properties — a 135 percent increase from 2004.

However, the city’s hotel occupancy rate dropped 32.5 percent from 2014 to 2015 because of the decrease in the area’s oil activity. With that in mind, Thiel said the CVB’s advertising push in print, online and social media has been to promote Dickinson’s hotel availability.

“We really try to educate people in the state about that,” she said.

Orton, who closed the speeches by talking about the progress the new Heritage Foundation is making, said part of maintaining Dickinson’s quality of life is for the university to find and retain students who want to stay in the city after they graduate.

“We have students there right now that have stayed through some very hard times,” Orton said. “They stayed because of their true love of DSU and this city. They chose to stay in Dickinson because of their love for the community, because of the quality of life. Those are the people we need to make sure they can stay around, they can continue to build this community 20, 30, 40 years from now.”

Nutrition specialists at St. Joseph’s happy changes that came with with new hospitals

More was expected of CHI St. Joseph’s Health when it moved into its new state-of-the-art, $100 million facility in December 2014.

The food served to patients and visitors was no exception to that, registered dietician Darcy Stafford said.

Not only did the hospital put its new cafeteria front and center in the building off Fairway Street in west Dickinson, Stafford said its staff created an entirely new patient menu — which allows them to order what they want instead of eating whatever the cafeteria is serving that day — and changed its system to better track patients’ nutritional habits and make better recommendations for patients.

“Much like when you when go into a restaurant, you’d open our menu and order what you’d like to eat — which is probably one of the best things I can say happened in our department,” Stafford said.

Some patients may have limitations on sodium, dairy or carbohydrates, Stafford said, and the hospital’s staff can better track that and tailor meals to their needs now.

“We have an operator in our diet office who really monitors that,” Stafford said. “Since everything is computerized, as they order, it will add up.”


Better for patients

Lona Gordon, the hospital’s director of dietary services, said everyone received the same meal at the old St. Joseph’s cafeteria.

Patients appreciate the ability to choose now, she said, even if everything on the menu is a healthy choice.

“Patients can accept it so much better when it’s explained to them,” Gordon said. “(The dieticians) are great at furthering and helping the patient understand why they can’t or what it does to them. These guys are like scientists.”

She said the cafeteria recently received the highest rating of all Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in a recent survey. The health system has more than 100 hospitals and in 19 states.

“That was for the patients and total meal experience, from food servers to food options, to the timeliness of getting their meal,” Gordon said.

Stafford said an operator in the kitchen either calls a patient’s room — when the patient is able to answer for themselves — or goes and visits them before each meal to ask what they’d like to order off of the hospital menu. The operator has the ability to tell the patient which items are restricted and steer them to choices that will be healthier.

“It’s a very nice personal touch, because the operator gets to talk to the patient,” Stafford said.

Being able to monitor what patients put into their bodies is good from a dietary standpoint, Stafford said, and patients enjoy being able to have a choice.

“When they get the choice, it’s so much better,” Stafford said. “It maybe makes it not feel so institutional. That’s a real benefit for us. As we go along, we’ll get to make more changes to the menu, too, and we’re really seeing what people like and what they don’t like. That’ll be upcoming here in the near future.”


Bigger, better and brighter

Cook Shaun Rattin likes to chat with people.

His job at Lefty’s grill and cafeteria inside CHI St. Joseph’s Health give him the chance to do that much more than the old hospital’s dining area ever did.

“It’s better, it’s brighter, it’s bigger,” sadi Rattin. “People can come in and see us.”

Lefty’s — affectionately named in honor of state Rep. Mike Lefor, the hospital’s former chairman of the board — serves a healthy menu daily for St. Joseph’s staff, clinic patients, hospital visitors and the occasional customer who stops by just because they like what it offers.

Stacy Stice, a dietary aide, said customers enjoy that Lefty’s has grill food without fried food.

“Customers love it,” she said. “They like it healthier, the healthier options that we give them.”

Lefty’s offers a daily salad bar, a yogurt bar during breakfast, ala carte snack options from its cooler, such as yogurts and cheeses, and always serves a lunch special.

“It’s not your average cafeteria food,” Rattin said. “It’s way better. It’s fresher.”

Gordon said Lefty’s has received a 92 percent customer satisfaction rating in a survey.

“We were proud of that,” she said.

Stafford said every item at Lefty’s is also labeled to include calories and ingredients, which she said helps customers make informed choices and avoid items they may be allergic or intolerant to, such as nuts, gluten or lactose.

“People are becoming more aware of their food, and wanting to know what the ingredients are in there,” she said.

Rattin said when they made the move to the new hospital, the kitchen lost its deep fryer — a decision he was totally against at the time. Now he sees how people enjoy the fresher food, and what he calls “reasonable prices.”

On top of getting rid of the fryer, Stafford said, the new menu made the staff become short-order cooks instead of assembly-line cooks.

“When we did move over, it was all new recipes for our cooks to learn,” Stafford said. “That was a huge challenge. We went from what they were used to to a totally new environment. … They all embraced it. Moving into a new facility was hands down just a big booster for us.”

After more than a year in the new hospital and its kitchen, Stafford said most things run like clockwork.

“It’s much more relaxed and they’re getting the system down,” she said. “I think they’re understanding, too, that as a hospital, you need to be one of the leaders as far as healthier choices. They’re excellent people in our cafeteria. They like people so they visit well, and they bring customers in.”

Soaring to New Heights: F-M Acro Team Providing Halftime Fun Since ’70s

As the background music paces their steps, Maggie Orseth and Amanda Kankelfritz shake off nerves and one after the other, run full speed down the basketball court toward a nine-foot-high human pyramid.

The packed Shanley High School gymnasium braces for a big finale.

“Is she going to make it? She has to make it,” Orseth said, imagining what the crowd must be thinking.

The two girls bounce off a mini-trampoline and soar gracefully over the pyramid, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

“In a way, it (the crowd) makes us go higher,” said Kankelfritz, a senior at Fargo South. “It gives us more energy.”

As the crowd offers a standing ovation, Kankelfritz, Orseth and the rest of the Fargo-Moorhead Acro Team smile and wave back enthusiastically.

Since the 1970s, the Acro Team has become one of the top halftime entertainment groups in the country, performing in small high school gyms and large professional sports arenas.

What separates the Acro Team from other acts?

While others merely fill a gap between two halves, the Acro Team prides itself in keeping fans in their seats throughout the performance with one objective.

“Our goal is to bring people to their feet,” assistant coach Mike Ceyner said. “Always leave them wanting more.”

For more than 36 years, that’s what Jim Simle’s innovation has done.

The former high school basketball coach started the Acro Team as an opportunity for girls, including his daughter Stacey, to have another extra curricular activity.

“At the time, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for girls,” said Stacey Simle-Askew, now the team’s head coach.

At first, both the performances and the teams were small. But as the team’s reputation grew, so did invitations to perform.

The team regularly performs at the North Dakota boys basketball state tournament and has been to the Minnesota Gophers basketball games at Williams Arena since 1975.

This year, the Acro Team will perform in eight major sports arenas and showcase its talent for local fans at high school and college basketball games.

Although it receives money to perform at professional and collegiate games, and has several area corporate sponsors, the Acro Team won’t accept any money or donations from the fans at any small town it visits.

Simle sees the event as more of a way to bring the team’s talents somewhere it would rarely ever go.

“If they have more people in the stands, we’ve helped them,” said the 66-year-old Acro Team director.

After all, the team didn’t get its start performing for the Milwaukee Bucks or Wisconsin Badgers – whose arena’s the team will visit in January.

“We had some humble beginnings,” Simle said. “If you forget where you come from, you’ve lost it.”

It would be hard for Simle and the team to forget their roots. They’re surrounded by the team’s history on a daily basis.

Tucked away in the American Gold Gymnastics building in south Fargo is a spiral staircase leading to an office with more than 30 years of Acro Team history on its walls.

Nearly every girl – and one boy – lucky enough to be selected to the Acro Team’s top squad is immortalized by photographs on the walls.

The photos show how the Acro Team became the nationally known entertainment group it is today.

Of the hundreds of photos, there are four with Michael Jordan, another with Julius Erving after his final regularseason game, and several others with music and movie stars and politicians.

“You get to see things kids my age never see and go places you wouldn’t get to go,” said West Fargo senior Jenessa Olson.

That outlook has kept the Acro Team fresh over the years.

Even though many Acro Team members remain through their senior year of high school, for every one who leaves there are several junior members vying for the spot.

Assembling the team and choosing new members requires countless hours of scouting and decision making by the coaches. Much of it begins the day a child joins the Fargo-Moorhead gymnastics program. From there, a few are asked if they’d like to be a part of the team. Today, there are five Acro Teams for different age groups.

“Right now it’s so full, with each team it’s difficult to add people,” Simle said.

The meticulous process has paid off. Each squad has the opportunity to bring its own flavor and skill. The 2005-06 Acro Team is no different.

Orseth and her twin sister, Mary, have been involved in gymnastics since they were in the sixth grade, the gymnastics equivalent of jumping into high school football as a senior.

“I’ve done track,” said Maggie Orseth, a Fargo South senior. “You can’t compare it. It’s so much more time consuming. We do so much more.”

Kankelfritz started the gymnastics process when she was 3. By the time she was 6, she was on an Acro Team.

Mallory Griggs, a freshman at Minnesota State Moorhead, has been with the team for seven years. Simle-Askew was the only other member to stay with the team into college.

Griggs said although she loves the team, her commitment to classes and the team had to be weighed.

“You just get swamped,” she said. “This kind of gets you away from it all.”

Griggs is leaning toward this being her last year with the Acro Team, even though she knows she might regret stepping away.

“It’s just a big part of my life,” she said.

Every metro high school is represented on the Acro Team, but there is one who makes devotes the majority of her after-school time to the team.

Katie Jensen drives an hour from her home in Chaffee, N.D., to practice.

“In the winter it’s longer,” said the Central Cass High School freshman.

Jensen said the opportunity to be a part of the Acro Team is second-to-none, even if it interferes with friendships, school and social lives.

“It’s hard sometimes,” she said. “I want to go do something with my friends, but I have to go here instead.”

Despite logging more miles than any other team or activity group in North Dakota will this year, the team manages to keep up with school work.

“We’ve never had to hold a kid (out of a performance) for grades,” Simle-Askew said.

As a reward for the hard work, the team gets to perform on some of the biggest stages in professional sport.

Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks – and some of the National Basketball Association’s rowdies, most vocal fans – is an every-other-year stop for the Acro Team.

When the team finished its last performance there – they’ve entertained at the Garden five times – the reputedly harsh New York fans showed a side no one on the Acro Team expected.

“We had people telling us we were better than the game,” Maggie Orseth said. “They were so warm and receptive.”

It’s not a bad place to spot and meet celebrities, either.

Team members said catching a glimpse of movie star Brad Pitt in the audience at the Garden and meeting country music star Toby Keith at a University of Oklahoma men’s basketball game are among the high points of traveling with the team.

Keeping some of the most famous entertainers in the world in their seats at halftime takes time, hard work and a great routine.

Although it often leaves fans breathless, the choreography has its limits.

The Acro Team performs with two 72-foot springfloor runways, five crash pads and five mini-trampolines. The runways and trampolines were specifically designed by Ceyner, who also works as an electrical engineer.

“There’s only so many ways you can put the equipment,” Ceyner said.

Each year, new handstands, backflips and jumps are worked into the routine.

“I still get the chills up my spine when I see them perform,” said Sharon Jackson, mother of 14-yearold Acro Team member Lexi Jackson, a West Fargo freshman.

The team also has taken advantage of technological advances to improve its choreography and coaching.

If a team member feels one of her moves isn’t up to par, she can check out the replay on a digital video recorder that runs during practice.

When Ceyner joined the team as a coach in 1979, music for performances was played on records. Now, Ceyner uses an MP3 disc jockey system on a laptop computer.

“In the last two years, the technology existed where we can plug a computer into an arena,” Ceyner said.

As the team matures technologically, coaches have taken steps to ensure they mature socially. An etiquette exercise takes place at nearly every practice.

It’s all in an effort to live up to the team’s title as official goodwill ambassadors for North Dakota, a title given to the team by Gov. Allen Olson in 1981.

“You’re trying to build a good athlete,” Simle said. “But moreso, you’re trying to build a good person.”

As the team gathered for a post-performance meeting in Shanley’s practice gym, three young members of the Acro Lites team – none taller than the waist of anyone in the room – practiced summersaults off to the side, laughing and critiquing each other.

It brought a smile to Simle.

“The thing that has never changed are the kids,” Simle said. “They lead you.”