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Editorial: This year was brought tragedies, successes

The year of 2005 was certainly one to remember. It was a year of tragedy as well as success for west central Minnesota and Willmar.

This year the war in Iraq struck close to home as the region mourned the deaths of three National Guard soldiers in February. The three -- Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, 24, an Appleton native, 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, 25, of tracy, and Staff Sgt. David Day, 25, of Morris -- were killed by a roadside bomb on Feb. 21 in Baghdad. Sgt. Lhotka was credited with saving the life of a fellow soldier and had just helped evacuate another soldier when a bomb exploded killing the three soldiers. We thank these soldiers for their sacrifice and our prayers remain with their families.

The year ended as Company C of the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, returned home Dec. 5 after their tour of duty ended. The day started with a dedication of a granite monument in Morris in memory of the unit's fallen comrades and ended with the welcome home ceremony for the unit.

This year brought several significant successes to the region and Willmar.

The ethanol industry continued its growth within the region. Granite Falls Energy LLC started production in November, followed by Bushmills Ethanol Inc. in Atwater starting in December. The two were built by Fagen construction of Granite Falls, now a national leader in the ethanol plant industry. The two facilities join Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company of Benson and Minnesota Energy of Buffalo Lake already in production.

A major development in Willmar is the tentative sale of the majority of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus to Nova-Tech Engineering and Epitopix and a portion to Kandiyohi County. Once the sale is finalized, the private companies plan to turn the site into a technology campus called MinnWest Technology center. This has the potential to be a major factor in the future of the city.

The city of Willmar gained a major honor in June being named a 2005 All-America City by the National Civic League. The city received the honor for achieving results in cooperatively tackling challenges and solving community problems. Willmar's application featured the community's efforts in three areas: cultural competency, education and health care, and programs for youth. This award came through the efforts and hard work of many individuals in the community.

The region also saw another step in the four-lane development of state Highway 23 reach completion. The three-year, 11-mile project added two additional lanes to Hwy. 23 from U.S. 71 junction north of Willmar to several miles north of New London opened. The section, which opened in August, is a major step in the vital upgrade of Hwy. 23 from Willmar to I-94. Planning is in process now for the Paynesville Bypass, the next logical step in the project.

Meeker County stepped forward as a new leader in the smoke-free world. The county's smoking ban was implemented Oct. 1 in an effort to protect the health of employees and customers in bars and restaurants. While McLeod and Kandiyohi counties are considering similar efforts, other counties and the state failed to take similar action.

All of these topics were among the region's top stories selected by the West Central Tribune this week. You'll find more about them on page C1 today.