It's looking more and more like COVID-19 isn't a hoax. (That's a tongue-in-cheek statement.)There are those who kept telling us that, as well as some who said it would disappear on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day, intimating that it was simply a way to keep Donald Trump from being re-elected as president.

A couple weeks ago someone from the area, with a straight face, told me that there were more people dying of the flu than the virus, and that the coronavirus wasn't a big deal. I didn't have an answer that would have satisfied him so I kept my mouth shut. Now we find out there are only four people hospitalized in Minnesota with the flu. I suppose you could make the case that that number is also a hoax, some saying the last few months that the number of COVID deaths was being falsely reported so that it would appear the U.S. is dealing with a pandemic.

Here are some very recent facts on a day (Friday) when there were 101 COVID-related deaths yesterday in Minnesota, bringing the state's total to 3,476 for the year, and 5,704 new cases, bringing the total to 285,007 for the year. There have been more than 260,000 deaths in the United States and now there are people dying from COVID at the rate of more than one per minute in the U.S. There were 781 COVID hospitalizations on Nov. 1 in Minnesota, now there are 1,828, including 379 in ICUs.

Those figures are staggering and, unfortunately, central Minnesota — where we live — has become one of the worst areas in the state, specifically Mille Lacs, Sherburne, Benton and Stearns counties. There were 25 deaths in Stearns (the county in which the populous St. Cloud area is included) between March and Oct. 1. Now there are 89. It's been worse in Mille Lacs and Benton counties. Both of those counties had only 3 deaths in the first seven months of COVID and now Mille Lacs has 30 and Benton 38. In Sherburne County it took 225 days to total 2,000 cases, and then only 14 days to record 2,000 more.

How can anyone, being a Trump believer or not, actually believe it's a hoax? It's NOT a matter of the government taking away your rights when the use of masks is mandated or suggested. The government also mandated the use of seat belts, set speed limits, etc., etc.

I woke up Sunday morning and realized it had been 57 years since President Kennedy was assassinated. That doesn't seem possible. I was in the Army at Fort Riley, Kans., when it happened and was on the way home for a three-day pass. It was a horrible, horrible time for our country, made even worse for our family because we had lost a 48-year-old father and husband only two months before, thus we spent those three days reliving our personal tragedy as the country dealt with its tragedy.

I disembarked from a Greyhound bus in Kansas City, heading for the airport to connect with a flight to the Twin Cities, and there were people crying in the bus depot. There was a special edition of the Kansas City Star already on the streets, only an hour or so after Kennedy's death, and people were in shock. Nobody said a word on the plane as we headed for Minnesota. There were no cellphones, of course no way of really knowing what had happened, and we stepped off the plane to an eerily quiet Wold-Chamberlin terminal. Over the weekend we watched on television as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and we watched the funeral procession, one prominent writer penning the words later that a nation "was brought to its knees" as JFK's three-year-old son John saluted when the casket bearing his father's body left the church, a photographer snapping the picture many of us remember.

Anybody who was at least 10 years old in 1963, and likely even younger than that, remembers today the somber mood of that weekend. It's hard to believe 57 years have gone by

On a lighter note, can you believe that macaroni and cheese is the favorite side dish at Thanksgiving in some states? It's true. Here in Minnesota it's the main course for any number of families, or students consuming the quick versions of mac and cheese. But in Deleware, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina, it's the main side dish. Side dish? Hard to believe!

Meanwhile, in good old-fashioned Minnesota and nine other states, mashed potatoes (and, I suppose, turkey gravy) is the favorite. Our neighbors of Wisconsin, North Dakota and Illinois also fall into that category, as well as do — surprisingly — California and Nevada, and Washington, Montana and Colorado. Stuffing is the favorite out East and New Hampshire favors cranberry sauce.

Of course, there are those favorites that are really different. In Indiana it's said to be deviled eggs. I have a sister living there and I'm going to check with her, as well as other relatives in that state. I saw one map that lumped Maine in with Iowa and Kansas for corn as the favorite, but another that says a side salad is the main side dish in Maine. A side salad? Really? Alaska, with lots of ex-Midwestern residents, has hash-brown casserole as its best side dish and there are a number of states where green bean casserole is the favorite.

Minnesota is number one in a number of categories in the U.S. (the 79.9 percent of eligible otters casting ballots in the Nov. 3 presidential election led the nation for the third straight such election, and our students are No. 1 in SAT scores)) and it looks as though Minnesota and nine other states are tied for the lead in Thanksgiving side dishes. Mashed potatoes — does that make us conservative or liberal?

"Was it an accident or was it murder?" was a headline in the Nov. 17, 2005, Union-Eagle for a story related to the 1957 death of Foley teenager Roger Vaillancourt near the Kitten Club about four miles north of Princeton. Some of you may have noticed a story in last Sunday's Star Tribune by Curt Brown about that incident. It was a big story here back in 2005 when they exhumed the body of Vaillancourt and found some injuries that were not consistent with being run over by a car, as was the official cause of death back then. Writer Brown, who does a feature each Sunday called Minesota HIstory, did a good job of research, even talking to Vaillancourt's sister who is 69 now but was only 5 then.

The whole thing started when a book titled "Raising Roger's Cross", written by Father Charles Kunkel, a Catholic priest, was published in 2005 and it was suggested in the book that the death may have been a homicide and that some law enforcement officers may have been involved in a cover-up. I got a copy of the book before it came out and knew it would be controversial. The ambulance driver that night (he passed away before the book was published) was from Princeton. And all but one of the law enforcement personnel there that October night in 1957 had died.

That person was Al Wilhelm, a well-known figure in Princeton who was a Mille Lacs County deputy then, Mille Lacs County sheriff later, and later Princeton's mayor. Wilhelm died in 2007, the year the Mille Lacs County attorney decided there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone in Vaillancourt's death. A few weeks before he passed away Wilhelm was weeping as he called me on the phone and said, "Luther, what should I do? I'm the only one left." I didn't know if Al meant he knew something that others didn't, or if he was just concerned about being the only survivor of those who were at the scene that night. He died before I could talk to him again.

I interviewed a Foley acquaintance (now also passed way) in late November of 2005 after the body had been exhumed and he gave me the name (Kunkel used pseudonyms in the book) of the person supposedly involved in the death of Vaillancourt. My Foley friend didn't know for sure what had happened, he told me, but heard the rumors. Kunkel had a two-hour interview with the person he wrote in the book had to do with Vaillancourt's death. That man denied he had anything to do with the death.

Three people mentioned in the book sued Kunkel. the Crosier order of which he was a member, and the publisher. The case was settled and, Brown reported in his story last Sunday that there was a "significant cash payment," and distribution of the book was discontinued by the publisher. Vaillancourt's mother Carol died in 2012 and Kunkel, who died in 2014, presided at her funeral.

The loss to Dallas last Sunday by the Vikings was horrible, the Cowboys losing 41-16 on Thanksgiving to a 3-7 Washington team. But it certainly wasn't the fault of quarterback Kirk Cousins who threw three touchdown passes and had a quarterback rating of 140.1 against the Cowboys. Even the guys that handled the KFAN call-in show after the game, who have often ripped Cousins, said that. The Minnesota defense simply couldn't stop Dallas in a late drive after Minnesota had taken a lead late in the fourth quarter. In the last four games (3-1 record) Cousins has completed 71 of 100 passes (71%), thrown for 9 touchdowns with only one interception, the one where star receiver Adam Thielen bobbled a pass that hit him in both hands and then the ball fell into the arms of a Chicago Bears defender. (As an aside, Vikings radio play-by-play man Paul Allen characterized that play as linebacker Ledarius Mack of the Bears ripping the ball from Thielen's arms. Allen is a "homer" as a broadcaster and that was a very inaccurate description. It should be noted, however, that many fans like broadcasters who are homers. I don't.)

Cousins had a quarterback rating of 140.1 in the loss last Sunday, the second time in the last three games he has been over 140 (141.7 vs. Detroit). His average rating the last four games is 130 while two other quarterbacks you may have heard of — Aaron Rodgers at 121, and Tom Brady at 83 — have been lower than Cousins in their last four games. It's too bad the Minnesota defense has struggled so badly. The Vikings could be at least 6-4, or maybe 7-3, and be right in the playoff hunt. Remember last week I speculated that the Vikings would probably disappoint in one of the next three games against teams that had records of 2-7, 3-7 and 1-8? Unfortunately, that guess was right.

A few day brighteners

In this pandemic year, and with a messed-up reaction to the election by the loser in the presidential race, we can use a few laughs. These sayings may rightly be considered corny but maybe you can find a laugh for one or two of them.

• I was going to wear my camouflage shirt today but I couldn't find it. • When I ask for directions, please don't use words like "east." • If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you. • Money is the root of all wealth. • Sometimes I wake up grumpy, other times I let him/her sleep. • If tomatoes are technically a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?

PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES

Dec. 2, 1965 — Princeton lost 64-62 to Foley in the basketball season opener as Dave Duncan scored 10 points and Art Skarohlid and Gary Rosen had 8 apiece.

Nov. 25 1970 —The Rum River Golf Club, with a new antenna that could pick up a Duluth TV station, was to be open on Sunday for the Vikings-Bears game. (Viking games were blacked out in that era unless there was a sellout. Guests were allowed . . . Bob Hedenstrom had 17 points in a 48-44 double overtime win over Sauk Rapids. Mike Barg scored 19 in a 57-56 win over Spring Lake Park.

Nov. 26, 1975 — Laurie Peterson scored 23 points in a girls basketball 40-21 win over Foley . . . Stu Remus had 22 points in a 66-50 win over Foley . . . Jim Peterson had a first on the trampoline as Princeton lost to Osseo in the gymnastics opener.

Nov. 27, 1980 — Princeton upset St Francis in boys basketball, 48-43, as Keven Kiloran had 13 points, Brad Nelson 11 points and 7 rebounds, and Les Nelson 11 points and 12 rebounds . . . David Barthel and Dave Rittenour won individual titles at the Milaca Wrestling Invitational..

Nov. 28, 1985 — Brenda Blomberg and Lisa Mueller were named all-conference in volleyball . . . Seniors Chris Brown and Ed Pfeifer were named to the St. Cloud Daily Times all-area football team for large schools.

Nov. 29, 1990 — The girls basketball team lost 61-46 to St. Cloud Tech as Corrine Lundell had 12 points, Wendy Jackson 9, and Tanya Dorr and Rachel Brown 7 apiece.

Nov. 30 1995 —The boys basketball team led Champlin Park 31-26 at halftime but lost 67-61. Chad Olson scored 21 points and Jesse James had 20 . . . Chris Opskar scored two goals in a 4-3 hockey loss to St. Cloud Tech and Eric Hanson had the other goal.

Nov. 23 2000 — Freshman Lisa Pearson placed eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke at the state Class A swim meet after a ninth in the same event the previous year. She also competed in the 200-yard individual medley.

Dec. 1, 2005 — A rule change in high school basketball meant two 18-minute halves instead of four 8-minute quarters.

Dec. 2, 2010 — Julia Osowski scored the first goal on the new second sheet of ice at the Princeton Arena as Princeton beat Cooper 8-1. Osowski and Ellie McElhone each had three goals and Ally McAlpine had a goal and four assists.

Nov. 26, 2015 — .The boys hockey team beat North St. Paul 4-2 at home as Tyler McAlpine, George Rhode, Derek Abrahamson and Sam Schroeder scored goals.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the area for the past 53 years.)

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