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Pandemic prompts cancellation of Memorial Day services

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another beloved Borderland event.

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2948 last week announced the cancellation of the 2020 Memorial Day services in International Falls, Ericsburg, Kabetogama and Ray.

Harley Droba, VFW, said the decision wasn’t made lightly.

“Based off recommendations from the Department of Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars and the VFW District 8 to either do the ceremonies virtually or find a way to do it safely,” he said. “Large gatherings don’t make sense so we came to the very tough decision unanimously to cancel the Memorial Day services this year.”

The driving factor in the decision was not to put others at risk.

“We are moving around to four communities in one day,” Droba said. “If any of us were to have the virus, we could potentially spread it other communities.”

The decision came with some backlash on social media. Many comments suggested holding the ceremonies with social distancing guidelines, however, because there are people involved who are considered more vulnerable to the virus, canceling was the decision made for this year.

“All decisions being made right now because of COVID-19 aren’t normal,” Droba said. “This isn’t where anybody wants to be... None of us wanted to cancel these programs.”

Regardless of an organized program, fallen heroes and loved ones can still be honored.

After it was announced the services were canceled, community members asked how they could help out. Walt Buller, president of the Forest Hill Cemetery Board, said volunteers are always needed and should contact a cemetery board member to see how they can help.

“Any work a volunteer does must be coordinated by a board member,” Buller said, adding upkeep done to a personal family member’s headstone doesn’t need approval. “We always appreciate people who are willing to help out.

After seeing the post about the cancellation of Memorial Day services, Josh Koenig, a local veteran, said he took the opportunity to educate himself and get his family involved. He reached out to Terry Randolph, VFW commander-elect, and a cemetery board member about ways he could help out.

“My goal was to be able to do something to honor our fallen veterans,” Koenig said. “After talking to Terry and a board member, it really opened up my eyes... I had no idea there was a cemetery board or about the great volunteer opportunities available. It was a way to get my family involved and show some patriotism during these tough times.”

The Koenig family placed flags and did some landscaping work on Sunday’s sunny afternoon.

“It was a fun day,” he said. “We all really enjoyed it.”

In addition, Koenig said the experience sparked future ideas he would like to coordinate.

“I’m going to be working with Terry Randolph in the future to find more ways to get our community involved with the VFW, and also find more ways to get VFW members involved in the community,” he said. “We need a younger generation of veterans and military members to help get more involved and help keep the VFW going in the community.”

Droba encouraged community members to find ways to make the best of the current situation.

“There are so many things we can do in light of the pandemic,” he said. “We can put our energy into something positive and move forward... We need to be part of the solution.”

For more information, visit www.foresthillcemeteryifalls.com. To contact a board member, email foresthillcemeteryifalls@gmail.com.

Littlefork services

While COVID-19 also prompted the cancellation of Memorial Day services in Littlefork, a virtual ceremony is in the works.

The Rev. Andy Berry, Littlefork Lutheran Church, is compiling a series of three short videos: the color guard of the VFW Post 9641 at the cemetery with taps and the laying of the wreath, the auxiliary reading the names of local veterans who have died and then a prayer, Bible reading and short reflection followed by a blessing.

Berry said his plan is to have the video uploaded to the Littlefork Lutheran Church Facebook page by 11 a.m. on Memorial Day.

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Staying connected while apart

When a school bus came around the corner with a birthday banner, Emerald Keeney could hardly contain her excitement.

The bus led a parade of around 30 vehicles full of the 21-year-old’s family, friends and teachers, who brought gifts and smiles to the May 14 birthday girl.

While people are encouraged to socially distance themselves from others, they’re getting creative on ways to stay connected. Emerald’s teachers and her family organized last week’s parade to make sure Emerald felt special.

And by the looks of it, she did.

The event came with an onset of waves, smiles and tears from those involved. Emerald’s mother, Judy Keeney, said Emerald, who is a senior at Falls High School, has missed being in school.

“She loves school,” Keeney said. “And she really misses it.”

And it was clear school missed her.

“We love you, Emerald,” said her teacher Heidi Thompson,. “We wish we were all in school together.”

Another Borderland family came up with a way to send well wishes across international borders.

Across the river

Darby Grover of the Falls said her grandmother, Danis Nanie, lives in Emo, Ontario, and hasn’t seen family in the U.S. for two months.

“Before all this, she was coming over to visit at least two or three times a week,” Grover said. “It’s been rough... She created a Facebook account so she could talk to me and other family members.”

When Nanie came to Fort Frances for a doctor’s appointment, Grover and others made signs for Nanie, who stood along the river with binoculars.

“She was pretty happy,” Grover said. “We don’t know what will happen in the future or when we’ll get to see her in person, we hope to do this again.”

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Border closure extended; CBSA: Know if you can go

The border between the United States and Canada will continue restrictions to travel until June 21, media reported Tuesday.

Last week, the Canada Border Services Agency reminded all travelers that the travel restrictions announced in March are still in place at all of Canada’s international border crossings.

The government of Canada introduced the border measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, including the restriction of all non-essential travel into Canada.

On May 14, CBSA reported all travel of an optional or discretionary nature, including tourism, recreation and entertainment, is covered by these measures across all ports of entry in all modes of transportation – land, marine, air and rail.

With the travel restrictions still in place, foreign nationals, including United States citizens, will not be allowed to enter Canada if they attempt to come for any of the following examples of discretionary (non-essential) travel:

  • opening or checking on a cottage or seasonal home;
  • boating across the border;
  • fishing or hunting;
  • attending a party or celebration;
  • visiting family, friends, partners or a girlfriend, boyfriend or fiancé(e);
  • driving in transit for the purpose of taking a shortcut through Canada to get to a U.S. destination faster;
  • picking up a pet; and,
  • sightseeing.

The CBSA is also reminding boaters that crossing the border for recreation or tourism purposes is currently prohibited. Boaters should visit the CBSA website for more information.

All travelers entering Canada, including foreign national boaters who drop anchor in Canadian waters, must report to the CBSA. Failing to report is a serious offence, subject to potential penalty, seizure action, loss of trusted traveller program membership, and prosecution under the Customs Act or Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Quick Facts

  • As of March 21 at 12:01 a.m. EDT, there is a temporary restriction on all non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. border. This restriction has been extended until May 21, 2020, and can be prolonged as necessary for public health reasons.
  • Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Registered Indians under the Indian Act continue to enter Canada by right, and are subject to COVID-19 entry screening measures.
  • The CBSA has temporarily suspended service at certain small vessel reporting sites, small airports of entry, and ferry terminals. If your travel is essential, review the list of ports of entry remaining open before leaving home.
  • All persons entering Canada – no matter their country of origin or mode of entry - MUST isolate themselves for 14 days if they have symptoms of or confirmed COVID-19 or quarantine themselves for 14 days if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Travellers returning to Canada can reduce their wait times and limit contact at the border by downloading the ArriveCAN App. The App was created to support the Government of Canada’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • For the latest on cross-border programs and services, travellers can call the CBSA’s Border Information Service at 1-800-461-9999.

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COVID-19: Local rumors and facts

Rumors about local people testing positive for COVID-19 and how those people are being treated are circulating in the community.

To set the record straight, The Journal reached out to Rainy Lake Medical Center, the city of International Falls about the rumors. More from Koochiching County officials and the Packaging Corporation of American’s paper mill will be published next week.


Robb Pastor, CEO of Rainy Lake Medical Center, said employees who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 at Rainy Lake Medical Center are getting the full support of RLMC.

“The staff are now in quarantine receiving care and treatment as necessary for their recovery,” he told The Journal Monday.

In addition, he said RLMC has notified all employees and are following guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as RLMC’s internal procedures.

“We recognize that COVID-19 has been in our community and have gone to great lengths to implement recommended precautionary measures since the pandemic started,” Pastor said. “In early April, we added universal masking for all employees in patient care areas to further reduce any risk. We will continue to follow our standard operating procedure for exposed employees.”

Pastor said the health and safety of RLMC employees and the community continues to be its No. 1 priority.

“The ongoing precautions we are taking every day will ensure that it continues to be safe to come to the hospital and/or clinic for care,” he said.

International Falls

International Falls City Administrator Ken Anderson told The Journal the city has no employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The administration’s preparedness plan, approved by the council earlier, notes: Workers have been informed of and encouraged to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Workers are expected to stay home if sick and if an employee falls sick at work, they are asked to inform their direct supervisor, and go home. Compliance with all recommended precautions are encouraged and expected at all times for employee safety.