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Leadership changes coming to RRCC

Rainy River Community College’s outgoing provost and incoming director of operations have an important thing in common: Community college is the root of their successes.

RRCC provost Roxanne Kelly will retire next month, after spending three years at the college. Taking her spot, but with a different title, is Brad Krasaway, who is ready to hit the ground running. Krasaway has been with RRCC since 2009 as the director of student services and development.

“I’m excited,” Krasaway said of the new position. “Dr. Kelly is still here for a few more weeks and it’s helping with the transition.”

The Journal sat down with Kelly and Krasaway individually to talk future plans both personally and professionally, and a common theme came out of each discussion: The value and importance of community college.

For Krasaway, after graduating high school, he was undecided what his next move was. He enrolled in Mesabi Range College and praised it for the role it played in his life.

“Mesabi saved me,” he said. “I made a list of goals in my life and career based on what I learned at Mesabi... I knew I wanted to give back to where I came from.”

Kelly grew emotional talking about community college. A credit mix-up and poor advice from an advisor resulted in a complete career change for her.

“On that day, I said I was going to do what I have to, to make sure no student would go through I what I did,” she said when the mistake was discovered. “After that, I got the degree I could get the fastest, which was a bachelor’s degree in English. (My professor) gave me opportunities to come into his class in community college and teach sections.”

Eventually, Kelly obtained a master’s degree in curriculum and then her doctorate in educational leadership. She has spent most of her career working in different community colleges across the country.

RRCC future

While each administrator is going through changes in their own lives, so is Rainy River Community College.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees earlier this year approved a motion of support toward merging the five Northeast Higher Education District colleges into one accredited college.

In addition to RRCC, NHED consists of Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range College and Vermilion Community College.

Krasaway is more than familiar with the idea of the merge. As a student at Mesabi Range in the 1990s, he served on the committee of an initiative called “True North,” as a student representative.

“It was the beginning of (the merger),” he said. “That was more than 20 years ago and here I am today... It’s cool that I’ve been part of this since the beginning.”

Kelly said it’s not going to be an easy transition, but praised RRCC for being good at change.

“It’s what is going to be best for everybody and it’s going to be very good for students,” she said.

Moving forward

There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and RRCC has already announced its plan to open its doors to students and staff in just less than a month. A lot of planning is underway to safely operate in-person instruction.

“The preparedness plan for when students come back is the first thing I tackled,” Krasaway said. “We’ll present that plan the first week of August to the faculty.”

Going into what’s guaranteed to be a year unlike any other, Krasaway said he’s ready to transition to the new position and pointed to the team he’s part of to continue RRCC’s success.

Kelly expressed how proud she was of the RRCC team, noting she’ll miss her role in it.

“When I first came here three years ago, the people needed attention,” she said. “They hadn’t a full-time leader for years... I wanted to make sure people know they’re appreciated in everything they do... I wanted to help build them up so they can lead from where they are. Together, we tackled a lot of initiatives.”

Krasaway has already expressed his desire to someday retire from RRCC, and that stability will likely serve as a strength in the days going forward.

“I know everybody’s personality and attitude. and I know we can do this together,” he said. “We’re anxious for the students and faculty to return and continue building on all the great things we’ve got going here.”

Kelly agreed.

“I hope people here feel empowered,” she said. “It takes time and it takes effort, but this group has done that.”

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Getting crazy

Borderland masked up Wednesday for the annual Crazy Daze event.

Wearing masks and searching for deals, Third Street was lined with early-morning shoppers for what businesses call one of the most successful retail days of the year.

International Falls Chamber of Commerce President Tricia Heibel said about 23 businesses signed up to participate in the 2020 event.

“This is a critical sales day,” she said. “Retail owners count on Crazy Daze like they do Black Friday.”

Prior to Wednesday, Heibel said she didn’t expect this year to be as busy as previous years without Canadian shoppers because of the border closure.

Still, she was hopeful to make the best of it.

“This is a way for the community to continue to support businesses that have struggled this year,” she said. “Business owners are the only ones who look forward to this day, shoppers do, too.”

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Falls airport receives $1 million grant

Thor Einarson

Falls International Airport will receive just more than $1 million under federal grant plan to improve safety at airports in 41 states.

Thor Einarson, Falls airport manager, called the award wonderful news for International Falls and the surrounding communities.

“The monies will be put to good use for the reconstruction of runway 13/31 that has reached its useful life, and new foam testing equipment for the fire truck,” Einarson said. “The new testing equipment is required by the FAA because the industry is switching over to a more eco-friendly fire fighting foam.”

Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber noted part of the funds come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, provided to assist in COVID-19 impacts.

“As our state continues to recover from the impacts of the COVID pandemic, I have been encouraged to see a steady stream of funding go to many local airports, which are critical to the success of their respective communities,” Stauber said in a statement. “These investments will not only help these airports weather the negative impacts of COVID-19, but they will improve safety and enhance services, helping to guarantee long term economic prosperity long after this pandemic is over.”

Another airport in the 8th District, Bemidji Regional Airport in Beltrami County, is set to receive $680,860 under the program, Stauber noted.

Einarson said Stauber’s efforts supporting aviation and the Falls International Airport have been invaluable.

“Without his tireless efforts supporting the airport, these projects would not have been possible,” he said. “Northern Minnesota is very fortunate to have Congressman Stauber continually looking out for their best interests.”

The award to International Falls is among more than $273 million in airport safety and infrastructure grants through the Federal Aviation Administration to 41 states and the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Puerto Rico.

The total includes just over $242 million from the Airport Improvement Program and $31 million in CARES Act grants to equal a 100 percent federal share.

“This $273 million federal investment in our nation’s airports will strengthen safety, improve travel, generate jobs, and benefit local communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

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KEDA: Apply soon for local small businesses, nonprofit COVID-19 relief grants

Koochiching County small businesses and nonprofit organizations may be able to apply online this week for grants, as a result of a local program funded by money received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

About $200,000 is expected to be made available in grants up to $10,000 for small businesses, and up to $5,000 for nonprofits, to cover costs incurred from March 1 through Dec. 1 as a result of the pandemic.

The program is being developed by Small Business Development Center Consultant JoAnn Smith, with Koochiching Economic Development Authority Director Paul Nevanen, and county staff.

Smith told the board at its meeting Monday the group is developing guidelines, a screening process and applications for the grants, for which applications may be available online as soon as this week.

Small businesses and nonprofits can apply for grants to help pay for COVID-19 preparedness work and ongoing costs not anticipated for regular business and caused by the pandemic, such as purchase of personal protective equipment, barriers for counters and other costs.

The money cannot be used to cover lost revenue, such as when businesses were closed, the board noted.

Smith said the grants could, however, pay for rent and utilities when the business was closed.

The program will be funded initially with 10 percent of the about $1.6 million received by the county. When the county’s COVID-19 expenses, which will also be covered by the CARES money, are determined, more money may be added to the program.

Representatives of cities in the county have also been asked to participate and help fund the program with a portion of the money each of the cities received via CARES. Ranier officials have allocated 10 percent of their about $44,000 to the program, Smith said. International Falls officials attending the KEDA Board meeting Monday indicated the city would likely participate as well.

A review committee made up of representatives of each participating government would consider applications and decide if the applicant has proposed spending the money on appropriate expenses and award the grants.

Smith said her office will not be involved in determining which applicants will receive the grants, but instead will assist applicants in filling out the form and helping to explain the kind of expenses that will qualify for grants.

The board and staff encouraged all businesses to — at the least — look at the application online, or talk to KEDA staff, to determine if they are eligible to apply for the funds.

Other business

Smith reported the second of three sites for child care in Koochiching County, via a community collaboration, is nearly ready for kids.

Jenessa Smith is meeting with licensing officials and is expected to be open Aug. 3 in Littlefork’s Koochiching Health Services building; a third site there is nearly ready to be marketed to a provider, JoAnn Smith said.

Nevanen reported that financing by a developer planning a hotel at the city’s entrance off Highway 53 has stumbled as a result of COVID-19 uncertainty. The developer hopes to finance the final piece and start construction late summer, early fall, he said.

The developers plan to seek county and city tax abatement as part of the project, and Nevanen said his office is assisting to put a proposal together.