2011: Wild, weird and often wonderful

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2011 - 2:20 PM

There has been no shortage of the heart-touching and the mind-boggling in 2011, and there's no question it was a whirlwind. Here, then, are some happenings that shouldn't have been missed.

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Author Neil Gaiman got into a word war with legislators over a $45,000 fee to speak to 500 people at Stillwater Junior High.

Photo: Craig Lassig, Associated Press

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More than most years, 2011 seemed like a blur. Was it really this year that Shinder's closed and Denny Hecker went to jail?

 Denny HeckerIt was a great year for craft beer and Missoni fans, and not so great for male pro athletes, former governors and 11-year-olds.

This was the year we became a "yee haw" state, at least in one pseudo-celebrity's view, set heat-index records, slogged through a state shutdown and debated whether to turn a munitions dump into a minor metropolitan area.

But we also welcomed Norwegian royalty and a new University of Minnesota president, set a "Give to the Max Day" record for donating to nonprofit organizations ($13.5 million) and opened sparkling museum additions and freeway interchanges.

There has been no shortage of the heart-touching and the mind-boggling, and there's no question it was a whirlwind. Here, then, are some 2011 happenings that shouldn't have been missed.

Welcome

• The king and queen of Norway, whose October visit was as exciting as one would expect.

Sweet corn ice cream• Sweet corn ice cream at the State Fair, three Minnesota favorites melded into one.

Ricky Rubio, whose poster soon will supplant Joe Mauer's on many fans' walls.

• An addition to the U's Weisman Art Museum, overdue but not overdone.

• Large outdoor concerts -- they reigned even when it poured (U2 at TCF Bank Stadium in July).

• The St. John's Bible and all of its 1,150 handwritten, gold-leafed pages, completed after 15 years with the help of St. John's Abbey and University in Collegeville.

Please go (or stay) away

 Jesse Ventura• Jesse Ventura, proclaiming he won't fly commercial airlines because of pat-downs from TSA workers that he alleged were excessive.

• Invasion of invasive species: emerald ash borers, Asian carp, Japanese beetles, zebra mussels.

• Block E, such a boondoggle that even Applebee's flopped; bring back Moby Dick's, which at least served a mean meatloaf.

Make up your mind already

Garrison Keillor announced his impending retirement for the umpteenth time.

• The proposed St. Croix Bridge changes places and structures, and is still not on track.

Are you still here?

• Occupy MN.

R.I.P.

 Harmon Killebrew• Twins great Harmon Killebrew. Ø

• Businessman Jeno Paulucci.

• Seven Minnesota servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• Hmong community leader Gen. Vang Pao.

• Radio personality Eleanor Mondale Poling. Ø

• Polka queen Ruth Adams.

M.I.A.

• Actor Josh Hartnett, who seems to have fallen off of Hollywood's radar.

What is the matter with people? (And why are 11-year-olds always involved?)

• Stacey Champion, 39, of Minneapolis tried to mail a puppy to her 11-year-old son in Atlanta. Postal workers noticed that the sealed package was moving and heard the puppy panting. (Champion had said a toy robot was in the box and might make some sounds.)

• Steven Cross, 60, of Lakeville, abandoned his 11-year-old son, Sebastian, leaving only two letters behind. He was arrested the next month in Cambria, Calif., and said he was "depressed."

• An 11-year-old boy in Ravenna Township got so tired of his mother and stepfather's pot-smoking that he forwarded photos of their stash to the Dakota County Drug Task Force, which raided the home and arrested Greg and Heidi Siebenaler, a Dakota County probation supervisor. Both face possession charges.

Not-so-Minnesota nice

• After learning that the Twin Cities regional library system used Legacy Fund money to pay author Neil Gaiman a $45,000 fee to speak to 500 people at Stillwater Junior High, state Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, called Gaiman a "pencil-necked little weasel." Gaiman eviscerated the Legislature in tweets to his 1.5 million Twitter followers.

 Original 7ven• The artist formerly and currently known as Prince refused to let his former backup band the Time use their original name. Rebuffed by the man who has had almost as many names as P. Diddy, the band now goes by "the Original 7ven."

• Faribault County farmer Craig Staloch "flipped out," in his attorney's words, and smashed thousands of federally protected American white pelican chicks and eggs because of the colony's damage to land he was renting.

• In a scene evoking a fiddling Nero, gamblers played on while the roof of Mystic Lake Casino burned. With officials urging gamers to leave their slot machines, Irene Weingartz of Mankato stayed put. "I had a $110 bonus on my machine," she said. "I said, 'I'm not moving until I cash out.'"

• Sarah May Casareto held back powerful pain medication from a patient headed to surgery for kidney stones, reportedly telling him to "man up here and take some of the pain." She was sentenced to probation. Also this year, former nurse Travis A. Bourbonnais pleaded guilty to stealing painkillers from patients at a Minneapolis assisted living center.

We're winners!

• The Minnesota Lynx are WNBA champs -- and the rare sports figures who actually are role models.

 Minnesota Brass• We march and play better than anyone else. Minnesota swept the Drum Corps Associates world championships in Rochester, N.Y., with the Minnesota Brass of St. Paul (pictured) and the Govenaires of St. Peter winning their respective divisions.

• Gov. Mark Dayton's boys, Andrew and Eric, joined forces to launch our Restaurant of the Year, the Bachelor Farmer.

• The Metrodome staged the best comeback. Love it or hate it, the stadium is reinflated, and the Vikings will play there again next season.

And we're losers

• Minnesota's male pro sports teams -- the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild -- all failed to make the playoffs.

º Ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty went from (seemingly) viable presidential candidate to being named "the least influential person alive" by GQ magazine.

• NBA player Kris Humphries lost -- no, not his wife, Kim Kardashian, such as she was -- but his self-respect.

Win some; lose some

• Climate change: Endless winter, then endless rain, midsummer steam bath, late-summer drought, splendiferous autumn and brown Christmas. That tiresome refrain, "Don't like the weather? Stick around 15 minutes and it'll change," finally rings true.

Photo by Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune• Crosstown interchange: It's smooth going on Hwy. 62, but southbound 35W, merging in particular, is a mixed bag.

Matchups

• He fought the law, and the law won: Denny Hecker was sentenced to 10 years in prison for scamming auto lenders and U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

• They fought the law, and they won: Craft beermakers now can sell beer on site.

Love and breakups

Diablo Cody still writes Minnesota into her movies, even though she lived here only briefly.

• Cowles Center director Frank Sonntag split after 10 months, claiming, "I don't feel the Minnesota culture is one I'm well-suited for."

• Kim Kardashian dissed "Yee Haw Minnesota" and then dumped native son Kris Humphries.

15 minutes

• Twin Cities astronomy Prof. Parke Kunkle became an international media magnet after confirming to the Star Tribune that the astrological calendar is out of whack.

• Someone spray-painted a bikini top and the word "Brrr!" over a depiction of Titian's "Venus Rising From the Sea" on a Long Lake billboard.

Bad ideas

• Don Shelby in fishnet stockings for Minneapolis performances of "Rocky Horror."

Michele Bachmann and a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair, captured in photos that went viral online.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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