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Hettinger mayor supporting town with help of "advisory staff"

HETTINGER--A posse of 20 men saunter into Prairie Rose Floral twice a day for their morning and afternoon coffee. They play a numbers game to determine who is buying the round and then leisurely discuss a whole spectrum of topics. Hettinger Mayor...

Richard Wyman, right, meets with his team of "advisers" for coffee in Hettinger on Tuesday afternoon. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
Richard Wyman, right, meets with his team of "advisers" for coffee in Hettinger on Tuesday afternoon. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

HETTINGER-A posse of 20 men saunter into Prairie Rose Floral twice a day for their morning and afternoon coffee.

They play a numbers game to determine who is buying the round and then leisurely discuss a whole spectrum of topics.

Hettinger Mayor Richard Wyman refers to this gaggle of men as his advisory staff.

The group has been meeting at the shop for years, even seeing the business change hands a time or two, said Allen McIntyre, a Hettinger resident and member of the unofficial group.

"We've all been a part of this coffee group for quite a few years, and it just developed over a period of time," he said. "But there's quite a variety of folks there from some that are retired, like myself, others that are still running a business and working. While there's a (difference) of opinions, we all do get along pretty well."

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He noted that no topic is off the table during their discussions, and no one is safe from the fond criticism of others-especially the mayor.

"If somebody notices something, out of that 16 to 20 people, or somebody notices something that should be done a little differently, over a cup of coffee with the other 18 laughing their butts off, I find out about it," Wyman said laughing. "... It'll be politely, but if they can embarrass you, they will."

Though Wyman joined the gathering before running for mayor, they now serve as a useful tool for him in his current role. For example, at one point the city was struggling with four of its railroad crossings in town due to the increasing length of trains passing through.

His advisory staff had several ideas of how to help.

"It was really the people that I have coffee with who got me names of people to contact," he said. "They got me telephone numbers, that kind of thing that we could work with. ... And by and large it's improved."

He also recently bounced a more controversial idea off his friends-potentially bringing a medical marijuana dispensary to Hettinger. Much to his surprise, the usually more conservative group did not have any adamant objections to the idea, Wyman said.

Wyman explained his rationale in supporting medical marijuana-though he is a staunch opponent to its recreational use-citing the pain relief he hopes the drug would bring. He has had six major operations due to cancer, in addition to procedures for his heart and gallbladder.

"I can't wait for it to happen because I live in pain," he said. "... When I can rub the oil on and get rid of the pain, I'll be the happiest person you ever saw."

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Wyman was first elected in 2014, but in 2015 he was afflicted with Guillain-Barré syndrome-a rare disease causing the immune system to attack the nervous system resulting paralysis. He was hospitalized at the Veterans Affairs facility in Minneapolis-because of his service in Vietnam. There he was treated and began physical therapy.

Originally, the doctors told him that, given his prognosis, he would probably have to spend six to 12 weeks in physical therapy. But after the first few sessions, the specialists noted his progress, given his previous treatments, and informed him that it would cut off a few months of his recovery. They told him that if he continued to work hard, he could return home even sooner.

Six and a half weeks later, Wyman returned to Hettinger. His doctors told him he was the hardest working patient they had ever seen.

"I missed going to church, that type of thing... I wanted to be back as soon as I could. ... I think they were lying to me, but it sure made me feel good," he said. "... I had not started to walk yet when the VA sent me home. They said, 'We've done as much as we can. You may as well go home, keep working as hard as you have been.' Within a week of being home, I was walking - wasn't supposed to be."

He used a rolling walker when he first returned home. One day he realized he had left something on the bed behind him, so without looking he turned and walked over to grab it. He then realized he had walked on his own for the first time in months.

He began walking short distances from a few steps to pick something up to moving from one room to another-but only when his wife went to work. He tackled the stairs next, though he also was not supposed to attempt climbing without supervision. He still relies heavily on handrails when taking the steps, he said.

Wyman still limps a bit and has not fully recovered in his right leg.

"The toe, the big toe doesn't work properly, and it sure wrecks heck with the polka when you can't-or a waltz," he said laughing.

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In his absence from the city government, his fellow council members refused his resignation after he got so sick, choosing instead to table the request. But because he submitted his resignation, he had to run in the off-year election, he said.

But his family, friends and the Hettinger community were there to support him, said his daughter Heather Ebert, who works as the business manager for Hettinger Public Schools.

"When he was ill he had to resign his position not knowing where he was going to end up in the next few years," she said. "When he started coming out of his illness, the community, and I included, rallied to petition for him to re-run for mayor, and he got in. That was a pretty proud moment for him because, not only being sick, he was able to fulfill his duty as a mayor - which he didn't really want to resign because he's not a quitter."

He has served in his role ever since.

"When I showed up for my first council meeting, it was as though I never even left-other than the fact that they did a better job without me, I think," Wyman said.

McIntyre said that Wyman's church and the community raised money for him while he was in the hospital. The coffee group was there as well to offer support.

"We're happy that Richard is recovering," McIntyre said. "He's had, not only a lot of assistance, but a lot of prayers by the community-that speaks well of the community, and obviously it must speak well for Richard."

But Wyman realizes the challenges he and the other council members now face in helping the city. Overall, the community of Hettinger has remained pretty stagnant, he said. The older generation used to own many of the local businesses, but some have since closed if their children did not take over or no one bought them. The real estate market has also seen a slowdown, and there are now more empty homes. The town needs a stir to get people moving back, he said.

The city should focus on its agriculture sector more, he added, noting how tough Hettinger farmers have been despite the challenging economy.

"The ag part has held its own," he said.

He also touted the city's hospital, noting it as a world-class rural medical facility. The community even banded together to buy a $3 million MRI machine, something Wyman is proud of.

"Come and see us, and you'll find the friendliest community," he said. "If somebody is a little bit down on their luck, the city gets behind people, they really do. And I'm a prime example of that. They ran a benefit while I was in Minneapolis, and I know there is one going on right now. I think we've got the kind of people that just wait for the opportunity to help people."

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