Customer at Delia's

During the grand opening last week, visitors were treated to complimentary chips, salsa and guacamole.

2020 was a year for the books.

It was hard to escape news about COVID-19 as the virus seemed to leave a ripple effect that impacted just about every aspect of daily life. 

These were the top-10 most-read stories by Jordan Independent readers in 2020. It may come as no surprise that stories about the pandemic received the most clicks, especially early on when health officials hypothesized when the virus would peak in Scott County. 

Of course, there were some lighter stories sprinkled in, too, including the opening of a new Mexican restaurant in Jordan, which occurred shortly before the pandemic hit. 

Explore the stories that defined Jordan — for better or for worse — this year: 

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store may be known for their lighthearted take on business, but it approached its May 8 opening very seriously in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owner Robert Wagner had staff come in a week ahead of the season opener so they can iron out any kinks in the store’s new safety routines and protocols.

“We can stock, do the cleanup and do some practice runs on how the whole thing is going to work — we’re going to basically dedicate the better part of a week to practice how this is going to be executed,” Wagner said.

Minnesota's Largest Candy Store prepares for May 8 opening

About five team members were dedicated solely to cleaning and sanitizing activities during store hours.

The candy store got the green light to open about six weeks ago, after Wagner met with Gov. Tim Walz’s staff to give an overview of the businesses roots and ongoing operations in agriculture.

Jason Robert Betlach, a 32-year-old Jordan man, was sentenced in Scott County District Court in April to 20 years in prison. He pleaded guilty in February to murdering his 18-month old foster child on Aug. 26, 2018.

Jordan man sentenced to 20 years prison for murdering foster child

Betlach's sentence is the maximum penalty allowed for his second-degree murder charge — with an upward departure from sentencing guidelines. Judge Rex Stacey said during the sentencing he wished Betlach had withdrawn his guilty plea so that he could have sentenced him to life imprisonment.

"You're barely human, sir," Stacey said.

Betlach was arrested in November 2018 after the autopsy of the child indicated the cause of death was extensive brain damage due to "blunt force head and neck injury."

An employee of Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store was fired in July after a series of vulgar messages were sent to an individual from the store’s Facebook account. 

“We got hacked,” the store’s Facebook page initially said, shortly before the page was temporarily deactivated. “We apologize to the (person) that was attacked and treated unfairly.”

After speaking with individuals who had access to the account, owner Robert Wagner said one employee suggested their cellphone had been hacked. But after further investigation, Wagner decided to fire the employee.

Minnesota's Largest Candy Store fires employee after vulgar messages go viral

“After getting feedback from people that have a greater knowledge of how Facebook and cellphones work, they indicated that maybe this particular individual had actually done it,” Wagner said.

The private messages, first shared on Facebook, show the store’s account sending a Facebook user a vulgar message. The account and the user then argue over the Black Lives Matter movement. Wagner said the former employee denies having sent the messages.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has progressed in heavily populated areas across the nation, but Scott County had yet to see the pandemic spike in early April. According to Minnesota Department of Health forecasts, the disease was expected to peak locally sometime over the following six to eight weeks.

“We’re going to be in this for a while yet,” Scott County Emergency Management and Communications Director Scott Haas said in an update to the county Board of Commissioners on April 7.

Authorities say Scott County COVID-19 peak could be 6-8 weeks away

“We have to understand that this is going to be a long-term event,” Haas said. “We have to understand that the actions we take now to socially distance ourselves, to protect ourselves and our loved ones, is critical to keep this disease at bay and delay the impact on our communities.”

With the spike being an estimated two months out, Haas said it could take local communities three to four months to finish recovering from the outbreak.

Scott County officials declared a state of emergency in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution allows the county government to speed up their response to the virus by reducing some of the procedural steps around public work, purchasing supplies and eventually seeking expense reimbursement from state and federal sources.

Updated: 'This is a scary thing': Scott County closes most buildings

It also allows employees to go in the hole on sick leave, waive the use of paid time off and pay staff working additional hours. The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.

“This is going to have a significant impact and this is going to be a long-term event,” said Scott Haas, the county’s director of emergency management. “This is a scary thing.”

It had only been one week since state officials started asking Minnesotans to stay at home when this article was written, but cabin fever had already started setting in. 

Near the end of March, the Jordan Police Department had responded in to at least two domestic disturbances stemming from arguments over COVID-19 in the week prior, one of which resulted in a fifth-degree domestic assault charge.

“We made one domestic assault on a couple that was fighting about the COVID-19 virus,” Jordan Police Chief Brett Empey said at the time. “I think they were fighting about the seriousness of it, potentially ... Anytime people are home-quarantined you see more domestic incidents.”

Jordan police respond to COVID-19 'disturbances'

The good news is that, overall, calls for service had slowed.

“When people are hunkered down and not around others, less issues tend to arise,” Empey said. “There’s less people out and about, less people shopping, less people on the road. Certain things slow down, but sometimes when people are cooped up, disputes within the home rise.”

Many kids dream about playing professional baseball. For Jordan's T.J. Oakes, the dream became reality.

Oakes, a 2009 Jordan High School graduate, starred for the Hubmen before moving onto the University of Minnesota from 2010 to 2012.

After three strong seasons pitching for the Gophers and his dad Todd (who was the Gophers pitching coach), Oakes was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 11th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Entry Draft. (The Minnesota Twins drafted Oakes in 2011 in the 41st round but he returned to the Gophers.)

He hung up his baseball career to care for his sick father. Now, T.J. Oakes honors his legacy every day

He turned professional on June 9, 2012 when he signed a contract with the Rockies. 

Soon after turning pro, the Oakes family learned Todd had leukemia.

"There were many pros and cons to the whole experience," Oakes said. "My situation was a little unique in the fact that I got a call that my dad was diagnosed with leukemia less than a week into my professional career. It's safe to say my mind wasn't always on baseball in my first year as a pro."

8. Belle Plaine stylist leaves behind a legacy

Beloved Belle Plaine resident Paula Olsen passed away almost a year ago, but her legacy is strongly preserved at the Hair Loft — the downtown Belle Plaine salon she established in 2016 — thanks to the hard work and dedication of her former employees.

“Paula was a close friend of mine and not having her here every day is really hard, but between the community, our clients and the other stylists here there is so much love,” said Ashley Buck, current owner of the salon. “People still want to come to the Hair Loft, there is still a piece of her here. We still talk about her a lot, just because she was such a big part of the salon and our lives.”

Buck was one of three stylists Olsen brought to the Hair Loft in 2016, when the salon they previously worked at across the street closed. Olsen balanced her time between the Hair Loft and another salon in Prior Lake. One of the things that helped establish the salon in town was Olsen’s friendly demeanor.

9. With fate of high school wrestling pending, some organizations get creative

It had been a tough summer on the mat for wrestlers of all ages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nick Lyden, president of Minnesota/USA Wrestling said watching many events and opportunities get canceled since mid-March has been a “gut-wrenching experience,” adding sports like wrestling provide numerous mental and physical benefits to kids and teenagers.

“I’m personally worried by the opportunities lost and those we may lose in the future,” he said.

10. Mexican restaurant opens in downtown Jordan this week

A local family brought a little heat to Jordan last winter, as Delia's All-in-One open's their first restaurant downtown in February. 

The family-owned and operated business opened for regular hours on Valentine's Day. Visitors were given complimentary chips, guacamole, salsa and agua fresca at the grand opening. 

"I'm so excited to open the doors for all these people," owner Delia Tinoco said. "I know Jordan needs tacos. This is a dream — I'm very excited."

Many Jordanites have grown familiar with the Mexican fare at local festivals and community events, but this week marks the first time patrons can sit and eat at a brick-and-mortar restaurant or pick up take-out for a quick meal back home.

Digital content coordinator

Rachel Minske is a regional editor and digital content coordinator at Southwest News Media. She's passionate about in-depth reporting and digital audiences. She's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and enjoys exploring Minnesota.