Community mourns 14-year-old girl; Operation Backpack returns for the thirtieth time; Dedication of new public statue for next week – | Candle Made Easy

Melanie Valencia

The Northfield community is mourning the loss of 14-year-old Melanie Valencia, who died Thursday as a result of a car colliding with her bicycle.

At approximately 5:51 p.m. Tuesday, Northfeld Police were dispatched to a report of a personal injury accident involving a car and a bicyclist on Jefferson Parkway at the intersection with Afton Street. The cyclist, later identified as Melanie, suffered serious injuries and was treated at the scene by first responders from the Northfield Area Fire and Rescue Service, the Northfield Police Department and the Northfield Ambulance.

She was flown to Hennepin County Medical Center and taken off life support two days later.

Melanie was known to many as an exceptional soccer player. One of her coaches called her a very talented player, but “her talent on the field paled in comparison to the person she was off the field. She was friendly, polite, respectful and encouraging.”

In a letter to Northfield School District families, Northfield High School principal Shane Baier said that Northfield High School’s support team is made available to anyone who would like to help process Melanie’s death and released some information about grief and children, to which a link will be posted on our website at

The driver of the car has not been identified. The first statement reporting the accident said he is an 18-year-old man from Northfield and was not injured. The statement also said he was cooperating with officials and soldiers investigating the crash.

A GoFundMe page was created to support Melanie’s family. It can be found under “The Family of Melanie Valencia Galicia” on the GoFundMe website.

Operation Backpack distribution date for next week

By Cait Kelley

Operation Backpack will be distributing backpacks full of school supplies to hundreds of Northfield students next week.

This is the 30th year of Operation Backpack at Northfield. The program is coordinated and funded by the Northfield United Methodist Church women’s group called The Campaign for Children. The Children’s Campaign works with the Community Action Center to enroll families in the program and coordinate ongoing logistics.

The program serves approximately 600 children in the Northfield School District each year.

Hillary Lamberty, community engagement coordinator at the CAC, said the program is particularly important this year due to inflation. Lamberty said: “I think everyone, in one way or another, is feeling the pressure that is on gas prices and food prices right now. And school supplies are no different.”

Operation Backpack offers students of all ages backpacks filled with quality school supplies. The program decides which materials to make available based on the lists compiled by the various Northfield schools.

For Lamberty, the quality of the materials and backpacks is an important aspect of the program. Not only is it a practical necessity for students to have strong backpacks to carry books, snow pants and tech, but students should be enthusiastic and proud of the quality of their belongings.
“And every parent wants their kids to have what they want to feel excited about…that’s it…successful school is so much more than just being good at homework.” It’s about feeling a part and feeling supported and connected. I think the love and generosity that went into Operation Backpack really makes this part.”

Registration for families closed yesterday, but if families are interested in registering, they should still register on the CAC website at or contact Hillary Lamberty at the CAC.

Distribution will take place on Wednesday 17th August when students will be able to choose which backpack full of supplies they would like to take home.

To volunteer or donate to Operation Backpack or other programs, visit the CAC website or contact Hillary Lamberty at

Jeff Johnson’s full conversation with Community Action Center’s Hillary Lamberty can be heard here

New public art honors Indigenous connections to the region

By Cait Kelley

Wanbli Mitakuye Oyasin

And the dedication of a new public statue in Northfield, designed by Indigenous artist John Sterner, will take place on August 19.

Sterner was commissioned in 2020 while the City of Northfield was writing its Land Acknowledgment Statement. He is a Marshall-based multimedia artist and teacher whose work connects him to his Lakota heritage in Sicangu (see-CHAHN-ghoo).

Sterner sculpts in bronze, iron and fabricated steel and creates graphics digitally and on paper. He is also a painter.

Sterner is known for several prominent public works of art in Marshall, including his work on the Mrs. Whitney statue, which at the time of its unveiling in 2013 was only the seventh statue in the state celebrating a woman.

The statue Sterner created for Northfield is called Wanbli Mitakuye Oyasin, which roughly translates to Eagle Relatives. Adler or Wanbli play an important role in Sterner’s art.

Sterner said on his website, “The eagle also represents my spiritual and sacred side and my connection to family.”

And “Mitakuye Oyasin” (mee-TAH-koo-yay o-yah-SEEN) is an important spiritual and cultural concept in Lakota meaning “all my relationships” or “we are all related”. It means that the world is completely interconnected and no living being or part of nature is separate from another.

Next to the statue is a plaque with Northfield’s Land Acknowledgment Statement, an official statement stating that Northfield is on land belonging to the Wahpekute and other Dakota tribes.

The statue’s dedication ceremony will be attended by Mayor Rhonda Pownell and members of the Arts and Culture Commission and the Human Rights Commission. The ceremony is also an opportunity for the public to hear from and meet the artist.

The statue is located at the intersection of Highway 3 and Third Street. The inauguration ceremony will take place on Friday, August 19th at 11:00 am.

Rich Larson is the news director of KYMN. Contact him at

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