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Group names Lakota 'City of the Year'

LAKOTA, N.D. -- Earlier this year, about 10 Lakota High School students challenged residents living in the Lakota Good Samaritan Society home to some Wii bowling, baseball and other activities on the Nintendo gaming console.

Ed Pawlikowski
Lakota, N.D., mayor Ed Pawlikowski credits the citizens of the Nelson County community of 750 for hard work to keep Lakota a striving, thriving, prosperous community on the prairie. The community was named the ND City of the Year for 2010. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

LAKOTA, N.D. -- Earlier this year, about 10 Lakota High School students challenged residents living in the Lakota Good Samaritan Society home to some Wii bowling, baseball and other activities on the Nintendo gaming console.

"It was fun and good to see all the elderly come out and get happy," said Julia Crisman, a high school senior and president of the Lakota Youth Council. "They were having a good time. They were laughing and whistling."

That was just the start of a year full of community projects and interactions between young and old in this Nelson County community of 780 that recently was named City of the Year by the North Dakota League of Cities.

Youth council and local 4-H club members also built and planted three raised garden beds along a walkway outside the Good Samaritan home.

They planted flowers and vegetables, such as tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli. The ruffled petunias still provide some garden color in October.


"Our residents like to work outside and garden. It's a wonderful activity," said Deb Schueller, activities assistant. "Next year, we're thinking about maybe growing different varieties of tomatoes and have a tomato-tasting event for the residents. The residents love to see the youths come out. Just having them together is a great mix."

The Lakota Youth Council was organized last year, according to Mayor Ed Pawlikowski.

The council has five members, plus an alternate, including one student from each grade. Lakota School has about 100 students in Grades 7-12.

Representatives are elected annually -- on Election Day. They're required to attend at least three Lakota City Council meetings annually. And they serve as observers or youth advisors on the Lakota Library and law enforcement committees, park board and commercial club.

Fourteen students ran for the council, and voter turnout was about 35 percent of the student body last year.

Lakota has involved in a serious community building exercise since 2008, when it was enrolled in the Northwest Area Foundation Horizons Program. Some 145 area residents attended an Action Forum to offer and exchange ideas.

The youth council -- patterned after other groups in Florida and North Dakota -- was a just one of several local programs that helped the community win the state award. Here are some of the others:

- Community garden. Planted by local 4-Hers, the harvest is shared with the Good Samaritan and with residents of Prairie Rose assisted living complex.


- Renaissance zone. A 25-block area of town has been enrolled in the North Dakota Renaissance Zone Program, which provides tax incentives to property owners for such improvements.

- Lakota Citizen Corps Council and Community Emergency Response Team. Next month, local volunteers will start training to assist the Lakota Fire Department, Lakota Ambulance Service and Nelson County Sheriff's Department.

"When they need help, for something like a search and rescue call, they're ready to respond and they're already trained," Pawlikowski said.

- Movie night. Lakota does not have a theater. So, the community organizes movie nights at the Lakota Good Sam and in the Lakota Park.

- Free classes. The Lakota Horizons Committee is working with Lake Region State College, Devils Lake, to provide free computer classes. It also is provides other seminars and training classes.

- Lakota Turkey Barbecue. The annual event is held in the summer. This past summer, the Youth Council organized children's games. Community promoters are hoping to host a remote control air show during the 2011 event.

- Prescription drop-off. The city, local pharmacist and sheriff's department have established a prescription drop-off and disposal site at the sheriff's office in the courthouse.

- Library addition. The A.M. Tofthagen Library and Museum, built in 1926-27, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic building is bursting at the seams and is experiencing some structural problems.


"The basement's crumbling," said the mayor.

So, locals are now are looking for grant money to build an addition, or a separate but connected building to house the library.

Pawlikowski, a Massachusetts native who retired from the U.S. Air Force, is confident they'll find a way to preserve the treasure.

"It's the citizens who make this community work and the citizens who work hard to keep Lakota a striving, thriving and prosperous community on the prairie," he said. "And we've got a good group of youths who will keep it that way."

Crisman, the high school senior, said her goal this year is to engage more youths in the community.

"You get active with the town, and you get more people active, and try to get them to stay out of trouble," she said. "You're helping the community, and it's fun."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .


Deb Schueller
Deb Schueller, activities director at the Good Samaritan tends to a planter that residents of the Lakota Good Samaritan Home, the youth council and local 4-H club members built and planted this past summer . photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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