Here are the top 10 news stories of 2021, selected by Shakopee Valley News staff. Subjects range from the pandemic to a community tragedy to city developments to the school referendum.
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1. Another year of COVID
Shakopee faced another year of the pandemic in 2021. As of Dec. 21, Scott County reported 8,727 COVID-19 cases in Shakopee for the year.
The Shakopee Public Schools district updated its pandemic response multiple times with help from its Pandemic Response Advisory Team. Responding to the pandemic became a priority for the school board this year — especially regarding masking policy decisions in schools.
Vaccines also became more readily available. Scott County police and fire personnel as well as Shakopee school staff and child-care workers started receiving access to the vaccine in January.
As eligibility for the vaccine opened up over time, more people in Scott County received the vaccine. As of Dec. 26, 70.1% of eligible Scott County residents received at least one vaccine dose, and 65.7% have received a complete vaccine series.
2. Voters pass Shakopee Public Schools levy
The Shakopee Public Schools operating levy questions passed in a Nov. 2 special election, with 66.4% voting in favor of Question 1, generating $7,537,951 in annual operating revenue; and 62.7% voting in favor of Question 2, generating an additional $3,481,655 for the district.
The results came a year after Shakopee’s 2020 referendum failed and led to an additional $5.4 million in district budget cuts prior to the 2021-22 school year.
“With the additional support the community has now provided to the school district, it’s going to give us the ability to draw more people into our district and have them feel confident in the education students are receiving,” Shakopee School Board Chair Kristi Peterson said after the election.
3. America Thayer remembered
America Thayer, 55, died July 28 at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Spencer Street in Shakopee.
Thayer’s friends and coworkers described the Shakopee woman as kind, soft-spoken and someone with a good sense of humor.
In September, a Scott County grand jury charged Alexis Saborit, 42, with first-degree murder with intent in the death of Thayer. He also faces a charge of second-degree murder with intent.
According to court documents, Saborit told police that Thayer had threatened to break up with him, to which he then allegedly killed her with a knife. He is accused of beheading Thayer and throwing her body out of a vehicle in front of onlookers.
4. City continues work on parks projects
The city worked on multiple projects for Shakopee’s Parks, Trails and Recreation Master Plan this year.
The new Memorial Park Bridge opened in September after completion of the five-year project. The bridge is regularly used year-round by pedestrians, runners, bikers and snowmobilers. The project addressed structural concerns and potential damages to native land.
In October, the city began taking community feedback regarding plans to replace the “Castle Park” wooden playground in Huber Park. The city is accepting input through spring 2022, with construction of a new playground is scheduled for 2023.
Community organizations in Shakopee and Scott County also came together this year to form the Scott County Cultural Consortium and begin work on the Shakopee Riverfront Cultural Trail, a project looking to recognize the cultural, historical and ecological significance of the existing 2.5-mile section of the Minnesota Valley State trail.
5. Purple Heart finds its way home
Albert A. Van Bergen lost a leg to a German sniper in the battle for the Argonne Forest in World War I, one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the war. For his service, he was awarded the prestigious Purple Heart medal.
The medal was missing from the Van Bergen family for decades, stolen in 1972.
Around 18 years ago, sanitation worker and Vietnam War veteran Wayne Ingebritson discovered the medal in a Waseca County landfill. Ingebritson spent years trying to find its owner before getting in touch with Purple Hearts Reunited, an organization that helped him connect with the family and return the medal.
In July, the heart was returned to Van Bergen’s grandson, Bob Van Bergen of Shakopee.
6. CAP Agency moves to new facility
The CAP Agency moved its administrative office and food shelf to 738 First Ave. E., Shakopee, from its previous location on Canterbury Road.
The new building provides nearly double the space of the previous building and doubles the agency’s food shelf space.
The CAP Agency’s food shelf now includes a large walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler. These expansions and upgrades allow the agency to take in more frozen and fresh food to provide to the community.
7. New businesses open
Shakopee saw multiple new businesses open in town this year.
Cherne Industries moved its headquarters and manufacturing operations from Edina to a facility at Vierling Drive and Johnson Memorial Drive in Shakopee. The facility opened in March and fully completed its move in summer.
The DECO apartment building opened in August. This location on Holmes Street in downtown Shakopee was the previous site of the city hall.
Restaurants, stores and gyms also opened in Shakopee this year. These include a new Dollar General opening on Fourth Avenue in June, a Chipotle opening on Vierling Drive in June, a Texas Roadhouse opening on Old Carriage Court in November and a Planet Fitness opening on 17th Avenue in December.
8. St. Gertrude’s becomes state’s first alternative care site
Benedictine St. Gertrude’s in Shakopee became Minnesota’s first alternative care site in November, seeking to alleviate hospital capacity concerns and staff shortages caused by COVID-19.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Nov. 2 that St. Gertrude’s, a senior living community, would be accepting up to 30 patients from local hospitals who no longer need hospital-level care, but cannot yet return home.
So far, the facility has been working with, and receiving patient referrals from, the M Health System, Allina Health System, HealthPartners, Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial Health Hospital, according to Diamond.
9. Lawsuit filed against Shakopee Public Schools
Shakopee resident Tara McNeally filed a lawsuit in December in U.S. District Court against HomeTown Bank and Shakopee Public Schools, as well as various officials and employees.
In the Dec. 5 suit, asking for a jury trial, McNeally argues that her First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, alleging that she was terminated by her employer for criticizing the school district and officials.
McNeally is a Shakopee resident who was previously an employee of HomeTown Bank, working at its Vierling Drive and high school branches.
McNeally was placed on unpaid leave for two weeks beginning in late September, and her employment with HomeTown Bank was terminated on Oct. 12, according to the lawsuit.
Earlier, the school district had issued a press release stating: “At no point did anyone from the district request that the bank suspend its employee. Nor did anyone from the district ask the bank to take any disciplinary action. Any actions taken by the bank are independent of the partner’s relationship with the district.”
10. Charges refiled against former Ren Fest manager
Sexual assault charges against a former Renaissance Festival manager were refiled Oct. 15 in Scott County District Court, after having been dropped for more than a year.
Carr L. Hagerman, 63, was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection to allegations that in September 2017 he sexually assaulted a photographer who was working for the festival.
Court documents state that Hagerman allegedly beat and sexually assaulted the accuser in the upstairs of “Bad Manor,” one of the buildings located on Renaissance Festival grounds.
The charges were initially dropped in October 2020 as COVID-19 travel restrictions and family health concerns made the accuser unable to travel to Minnesota and testify.