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Ryan Bakken, Forum Communications Co., Published May 02 2011

Store to reopen after tragedy

MENTOR, Minn. – For Kathy Michaels, the Mentor Convenience Store carries the worst and best memories of her husband.

On June 17, 2010, Wes Michaels was killed on his 58th birthday by a tornado that flattened their business. For the four years before the tragedy, however, he cherished the gas station/store like he cherished their home on Maple Lake, two miles down the road.

“Wes had a good time here,” Kathy said, standing on the concrete slab that’s a sign of rebuilding. “He loved having coffee and visiting with the customers.

“Because he liked it here so much and because he had plans to expand, we think he’d want us to rebuild,” she said.

Not everyone in the family agrees with the decision to rebuild.

Heidi Michaels, the youngest of their three daughters, was working in the store when the tornado struck. Her father sprawled over the top of her and a female customer when the tornado hit the store. He died while shielding them.

Heidi declined an interview request but submitted a written statement: “These past 10 months have been extremely difficult. At this time, my sister Kari and I do not plan to be part of the rebuilding process or visit the C-Store anytime soon. There are too many memories, and it would be too hard to be a part of it.

“We are focusing spending time with family and friends, who have become even more important to us now.”

Her mother understands the reluctance. “We’ll never get her back here,” Kathy said. “It was real traumatic for her.”

Kathy, a full-time nurse in Crookston, will work part time at the store. She has passed ownership and management onto her daughter and son-in-law, Amy and Chris Motteberg.

“It’s been an emotional journey for the family,” Chris Motteberg said.

Fills need in Mentor

Renamed the Mentor C-Store, it’s scheduled to open sometime in the first half of June, according to the Mottebergs, who live in Fertile.

The new building will have twice the square footage as the former one, with more grab-and-go food available. Even with its smaller footprint, it was a busy place on summer weekends. Maple, Union, Sarah and Cable lakes are nearby, and Mentor sits about an hour from Grand Forks and Bemidji. On weekends, vehicles awaiting gas at the four pumps often were backed up to the U.S. Highway 2 approach.

Mentor residents also are pleased to see the construction. The closest gas pumps are eight miles away in Erskine. The town’s one cafe closes at mid-afternoon. And the Dairy Queen next door is closed during the colder months.

“The town is very excited to get this back,” said Harlan Kirkeide, owner of Harlan’s Boats R-Us, a neighbor of the C-Store. “It’s good for everyone, and it brings in traffic.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to my routine of every morning going over for coffee and a newspaper,” he said.

Ryan Bakken writes for the Grand Forks Herald