William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009.
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COTTAGE GROVE — It's a long way to the top for those who aspire to country music superstardom. But for Hailey James, maybe not. In a little over a year, the Cottage Grove singer/songwriter has gone from playing local talent shows to the regional finals of a national PBS talent search that could send her to Los Angeles, and into the showbiz orbit of agents and music producers.
HASTINGS — A family of five escaped a fire that destroyed their home early Monday morning, Sept. 17 in Hastings. There were no reported injuries to civilians or firefighters. Shortly after 4 a.m., the Hastings Fire Department responded to a report of a structure fire at 7774 South St. Croix Trail Lane S. The blaze, which started in the garage, is under investigation, Hastings Fire Chief Mike Schutt said. "When we arrived the garage was fully involved and the fire had spread to the kitchen and attic," Schutt said. "It's a total loss."
When the call came in for an active structure fire, Jeremy Bourasa responded as any dedicated St. Paul Park firefighter would. He joined first responders from Cottage Grove, Newport and Woodbury to contain an ugly inferno that all but destroyed a home at Hidden Valley Terrace in Cottage Grove.
WOODBURY — To aspire, you gotta perspire. No one has to tell that to the teen singer-dancers of Aspire Music Academy, as they leap and twirl in a warm rehearsal studio at Merrill Community Arts Center. Their group, Adrenaline, is one of several age-specific show choirs at the Academy.
If pub crawls aren't your thing, you could have gone on a lemonade crawl Aug. 25 in Cottage Grove. Ten lemonade stands sprang up throughout Cottage Grove, the first city in Minnesota to host a youth education and empowerment program called Lemonade Day. Each year, youngsters around the country are encouraged to learn financial fundamentals by opening their own lemonade stand. Each child who registers receives an Entrepreneur Workbook that addresses such topics as branding, creating a budget, controlling inventory and serving customers.
COTTAGE GROVE — Cullen Kiely, 9, couldn't figure out why everybody in Metropolitan Stadium was screaming their heads off and carrying on like their pants were on fire. All he knew was that his big sister had dragged him to see a group called the Beatles. It was Aug. 21, 1965. It would turn out to be the band's one and only concert in Minnesota. "I didn't think much of it at the time," Kiely said. "We knew they were big, but who knew their legacy 50 years later would be so enormous?"
NEWPORT — It was so hot Sunday at Pioneer Memorial Park in Newport that some savvy operator probably could have sold shade for 10 dollars a foot. But the city's annual Pioneer Day proved a roaring success, with its grassy oasis of striped tents, food booths, inflatables and bushels of sweet corn.
WOODBURY — Crime pays. Particularly when your names are Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. In "Chicago," the two deliriously conniving murderesses scheme, vamp and dance their way from death row to fame and celebrity. The musical is set in 1926, when the windy city was awash in bootleg booze, political graft and the spilled blood of mob hits. Created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, it killed 'em when it premiered on Broadway in 1975. A 2002 film version won six Academy Awards.
Their annual picnic featured hot dogs, burgers, pony rides, a bouncy house and a police vehicle fair, courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff's Department. But the main attraction was the venue — the nearly complete masjid (mosque) that will serve as the home of the Islamic Society of Woodbury-East Metro. It's the result of five years of planning and fundraising by the society, who have outgrown their worship space on Commerce Drive in Woodbury.