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Community Conversations

  • 1st, 3rd and 5th Thursday 7-8pm

On the first Thursday of every month from 7-8 p.m. WTIP hosts a live interactive conversation on an issue of community importance. Guests are invited into the studio and listeners are invited to call in or email with questions, comments, and concerns. This participatory program is designed to give everyone a voice in the discussion of public affairs issues that shape our community. To participate in the conversation call 218-387-1070 or email us at


What's On:
BJ Muus and Leonard Sobanja - January 2020. Photos by Rhonda Silence

Speaking with BJ Muus and Leonard Sobanja

BJ Muus and Leonard Sobanja—familiar names for many of us on the North Shore. Both men are full of wit and wisdom, yet are decidedly different.

BJ Muus is the longtime, but now-retired host of the community Christmas concert and host of WTIP’s Sounds of the Spirit program.

Leonard Sobanja was principal of School District 166 for years and later joined the school board. He has been a volunteer at the Cook County Historical Society and helped create WTIP’s Moments in Time feature. [32.27]

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence interviewed both of these men, to capture just a bit of their interesting life stories.


Deb Benedict (left) and Rita Plourde at WTIP on Oct. 17. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Looking back: Deb Benedict and Rita Plourde

Deb Benedict and Rita Plourde are widely recognized as two of the most influential and important community leaders in Cook County during the past two decades.

Benedict served as the executive director at WTIP from 2001 to June 2018. Under her direction, WTIP grew into a trusted provider of news, information and entertainment on the North Shore, with a nine person-staff, dozens of volunteers, over 1,200 members and many thousands of listeners.

Plourde retired this year from Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. She served as the administrator of the clinic for 38 years before announcing her retirement earlier this year. Plourde joined Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in 1981 and she was responsible for recruiting and retaining physicians and support staff to provide services at the local Clinic, as well as securing funding for health care operations and establishing and maintaining public health services in our community.

Benedict and Plourde were the featured guests of a WTIP community conversation Oct. 17. The audio from this program is shared below.


Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Conversations on Health and Wellbeing: Shaking up Minnesota's health care

In this installment of Conversations on Health and Wellbeing, host Kristin DeArruda Wharton learns more about innovations in health care and disruptive systems that have, and are changing the status quo of caring for individuals and families.

Kristin speaks with Elizabeth Chidothe, a nurse practitioner with Nice Healthcare, a healthcare innovated providing comprehensive primary care to employers for just $30 per employee per month. 

Kristin also speaks with Dr. Steve Calvin, perinatologist and founder of the Minnesota Birth Center, to learn about how licensed birth centers created a new option for families seeking birthing care that ultimately changed birthing care in hospitals as well.


From one home to eight, the Nordic Star neighborhood in Grand Marais has grown. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Community Conversation: The Nordic Star Neighborhood

There has been quite a bit of activity on Second Street in Grand Marais over the last year or so, as ground was broken, driveways were punched in and houses were installed in the Nordic Star development.
It’s been interesting to watch the progress and many of us in the community have wondered…who is going to live there? And then, later, who is living there?
Well, during this WTIP Community Conversation, we meet some of the people of this new neighborhood—Andre Robinson, Erin Petz, and Emily Kettleson.
We also hear from some of the people involved in bringing the Nordic Star housing development to fruition--Mary Somnis, executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority; One Roof Community Housing Development Coordinator Julie Petrusha; and One Roof Housing President Jeff Corey.
We’ll also visit with former EDA board member, Abby Tofte, one of the people who helped establish the EDA and One Roof Housing partnership.
Thanks to all our guests!

An estimated 25 million trees toppled during the 1999 Blowdown storm. Photo courtesy of Jim Cordes.

Looking back on the 1999 Blowdown storm

During the early-morning hours of July 4, 1999, a series of thunderstorms roared across northern Minnesota. In what would become forever known as “Blowdown Storm,” damaging and powerful winds would leave scars on the area some of which are still visible to this day.  According to estimates by the US Forest Service, an estimated 25 million trees were blown down during the storm.

In the summer of 2019, WTIP is looking back on the Blowdown storm through a series of commemorative features and interviews with those who experienced the legendary storm firsthand.

Included in this series was a special community conversation program that aired lived June 20. WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs hosted the program. He was joined in the studio by Janice Matichuk from the Cache Bay Ranger Station in Quetico Provincial Park and by retired meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Duluth, Mike Stewart.

Several people also phoned in during the show to share their stories and memories from the Blowdown storm.

Audio from the program is available below.


Private investigator and author Sam Brower. Submitted photo

Polygamists in our midst—A WTIP Community Conversation

WTIP has been following the story about Seth Jeffs, a religious leader with a history of legal trouble in the western United States and deep family connections to the polygamous sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeffs has purchased 40 acres of property along Pike Lake Road in Cook County and plans to build a large structure on the land. 

In response to Jeffs' Cook County land purchase, a group of community members have organized a town-hall style meeting scheduled for Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m. The event includes the panelists Tonia Tewell, the founder and director of Holding Out HELP, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with those inside and outside Utah’s fundamentalist and polygamous communities, and private investigator Sam Brower, known for his work in exposing the crimes of the FLDS church and Jeffs family.

As part of WTIP’s ongoing coverage, Joe Friedrichs spoke with Tewell and Brower about their knowledge of the FLDS community, Seth Jeffs and the upcoming town hall meeting in Grand Marais. You can hear both of these interviews in this special community conversation.

Please note: WTIP is not affiliated with Saturday's town hall meeting.

For more information on Seth Jeffs, click on the links below:

A March 2019 update on the FLDS compound in South Dakota.

Seth Jeffs arrested at South Dakota compound in 2016. 

A 2019 report from KARE11 about Jeffs and his arrival in Minnesota. 



WTIP file photo

Family Connections: A WTIP Community Conversation

In October 2017, WTIP aired a special hour-long program focused on people connecting with family members from their past.

The program featured two Cook County residents who were in the process of connecting with family members from their early childhood, or in one case with relatives they’d never met.

This month’s first Thursday community conversation with Joe Friedrichs is a follow up to that show from 2017 about reconnecting with family members and what the process can entail both emotionally and how it can be done in the modern era.

Cook County resident Heidi Doo-Kirk shares her story about a sister who was taken from the home as a young child. We also hear from Cook County resident Stan Tull who was adopted and his efforts to trace his biological roots.


Some trout lakes in Minnesota are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

Community conversations: climate change impacts on North Shore fisheries

During the fall and winter of 2018-19, WTIP reported on a variety of topics related to climate change and its impact on fish, and fishing here in the North Shore area.
On Thursday, Jan. 17, WTIP’s Joe Freidrichs led a discussion about what climate change means from a variety of perspectives, including what is meant by “climate change” and when and if these changes will impact anglers and fish along the North Shore and other parts of northeastern Minnesota.

Joining Friedrichs for this discussion about climate change and what this means in Minnesota and specific to the North Shore were:

--Finland Area Fisheries Supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Dean Paron.

--Grand Marais Area Fisheries Supervisor for the DNR, Steve Persons.

--Tom Beery from Minnesota Sea Grant.

The show aired live at WTIP Jan. 17.


Vacation rentals are common on the North Shore. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

A lack of long-term rentals in Cook County - A Community Conversation

It can be a challenge to find a long-term rental option to house residents of Grand Marais and Cook County. It’s an issue that impacts local families and individuals, employers and people who would like to call this beautiful part of the North Shore their home.

There are many reasons why this challenge exists in Cook County, and during this Community Conversations program that aired lived June 7, WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs speaks with a panel of local residents, an elected official and property owners in Cook County about various issues on the local level regarding a lack of long-term rentals.  
Included on the panel were:

• Cook County Assessor Todd Smith

• Cook County Commissioner and a member of the county’s Vacation Rental Committee, Heidi Doo-Kirk

• Sophie Wyatt, who is a new resident of Cook County and, along with her husband Kyle, recently went through the process of trying to find a long-term rental in the community

• Steve Surbaugh from Cascade Vacation Rentals, a property management company in Cook County that specializes in short-term, or vacation rentals



Six months later: Diversity in Cook County Schools

In September 2017, during a meeting of the School District 166 school board, the topic of racism in the local school system was brought forward. A number of public comments were shared during the meeting regarding the issue, and the board discussed the topic as well.

In the six months that have followed, the topic of racism in the community as a whole has been brought to the forefront for a variety of public discussions and conferences at the local school district.
Join host Rhonda Silence for a look back at where we were and about what's ahead.  We will hear from school officials, local elected officials, civil rights activists, and controversial writer Katherine Kersten as we discuss the topic of racism and the work the local school district has done since last September to address this topic.