HOMETOWN HEROES: Akeley, Nevis police comfort residents during pandemic

Hubbard County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Oswald and Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen are working together to assist residents who are struggling with unemployment, loneliness and not being able to get the groceries and supplies they need.

Hubbard County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Oswald and Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen joined forces to make sure people in their communities had food and support during the pandemic. (Enterprise file photo)

Whether it’s a daily phone call to check up on a senior citizen or delivering a bag of groceries, Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen and Hubbard County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Oswald, who patrols the Nevis area, are assuring everyone they are not alone during the uncertainties of COVID-19.

Requests for help

At the March emergency Nevis City Council meeting, Oswald and City Administrator Dawn Veit came up with a list of names of people in the Nevis area who might need help.

“There are some local residents who are supposed to stay at home,” he said. “I work a lot of evenings and call to check in with them, see how they’re feeling and if they need anything. So far the biggest need has been for someone to pick up groceries and supplies.The shelves at Northwinds Grocery have been pretty well stocked, so if they need something I go grab it and drop it off at their doorstep.”

Oswald has been a presence in Nevis for the past seven years and developed friendships with many residents. He makes phone calls to check on the elderly who have no family in the area as well as residents who are feeling isolated and lonely.

“It just makes them feel better knowing there is someone they can call,” he said. “I’ll be there for whatever they need. Or if they just want to call and visit, I enjoy that, too. They are more anxious now with all of this going on and ask if there are any cases in the county. I also get two or three phone calls a day from residents calling in to check to make sure I’m ok.”


Patrolling the roads is less of an issue since traffic has been very light, which frees him up to offer more assistance in other ways.

“I worked Friday and Saturday night and the lack of traffic was very, very noticeable,” he said. “This time last year there would be many more in town, going to restaurants and coming back to their cabins.”

Requests for help for either Akeley or Nevis residents can be left on the Nevis City Hall voicemail (652-3866) and should include a contact number.

Staying positive

Oswald said many of the older people miss socializing. “The veterans used to gather every morning for coffee at the liquor store,” he said. “They’ve been doing that for years and now they can’t. Other groups used to meet in the morning for coffee at Bullwinkles or Northwinds. I keep track of all those guys, calling them periodically.”

Many of these older residents rely on landline phones to keep in touch because they do not have internet access or computers.

“I encourage them instead of thinking of the negatives to think of the positives. I reassure them we’re going to get through this, that it’s just a temporary deal.”

Nevis, like much of the county, has many seasonal residents. So far, Oswald said he hasn’t seen an influx of people coming back to their cabins. “Usually that would be in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Fishing opener is usually the kickoff of spring. Hopefully, people will be smart about it and listen to the restrictions we have and abide by them. It all depends on what is going on at that time.”

Nevis Mayor Jarod Senger said residents have told him how much they appreciate Oswald and Hansen’s help. “We’ve got to focus on our neighbors,” Senger said. “The things that they’re doing to support these people is not only the right thing to do, but inspirational to the rest of us. What they’re doing is helping eliminate the risk by helping people stay in their homes so they don’t expose themselves to the virus. In this day and age, we’re each other’s family. With the way those guys stepped up and are doing things they don’t have to do, they are doing what they can to save lives.”


New responsibilities

Hansen said family members have been stepping up to check on and help elderly relatives.

“I’ve been checking up on a couple of people who have been in and out of the hospital to make sure they are getting their needs and supplies,” he said. “Josh and I have been working closely together and collaborating. Each day, we meet and talk about the needs in our communities. We call it our communities. We work together to take on these new responsibilities. It has been a trying time for everybody, but thankfully, we’re in a remote area where things aren’t as stressful as they are in the metro area.”

He said the officers are especially watching out for residents without family nearby. “The ones that don’t have those connections,” he said. “We know who that is and want to make sure they have what they need. Families with children are having a tough time, especially those where parents are unemployed. We try to help find resources to meet their needs also.

No one will go hungry

“Josh and I agree there are not going to be families with children who go without food in either one of our communities,” Hansen said. “We have parents that are very concerned and worried and without a paycheck. We will help provide food assistance to them until things get back into operation in this country.”

Those wishing to donate can send checks to the non-profit organization Healing Hearts Network at P.O. Box 266, Nevis, MN, 56467 and write “emergency help” on the memo line. The money will be available for Oswald or Hansen to disburse to those in need in the Nevis and Akeley communities.

“We will get that money out as soon as possible,” he said. “I know there are people where this would mean the world to them. These are hard-working people who are now unemployed and down and out. This coronavirus has put a huge burden on people. With funds available, we could meet needs we see head on. We’re going to steer that money into people’s hands that need it now. The more that we help now, the more we’re going to save because the government help is going to take awhile and people need help now. It will relieve the stress like you wouldn’t believe.”

He said there are seniors in the community living on very meager incomes, sometimes with very little food in the house. “When we get some extra funds, we’re heading to those houses,” he said. “We’ll channel it right into the community.”

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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