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Minneapolis police investigating fatal shooting in Whittier neighborhood

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Minneapolis police were investigating a shooting Saturday that killed a man in his 20s in the Whittier neighborhood, the second homicide reported Saturday in the city.

Police responded to a report of a shooting in the 2700 block of Blaisdell Avenue in south Minneapolis at about 2 p.m. Witnesses said a person fired at a group of people standing outside before fleeing.

The victim, who wasn’t identified Saturday, was taken to HCMC in downtown Minneapolis where he died from gunshot wounds.

Another man in his 20s died after a shooting in north Minneapolis earlier Saturday. The city has had more than 20 homicides so far this year, according to the city’s database.

No one had been arrested in the south Minneapolis homicide as of Saturday evening. Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.



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Vaudevillians played musical chairs, personally and professionally, in 1930s Winona

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The reviews were aglow but the finances pure woe for two Indiana sisters and their husbands who performed as a vaudeville troupe, crisscrossing the Midwest from Michigan to Kansas in 1911.

“The Musical Reeses are doing a novelty musical act that for cleverness beats anything,” the Wichita Beacon trumpeted, calling their performance “little short of marvelous.”

Blindfolded Babette (Betty) Reese, 21, plinked a xylophone and her 17-year-old sister Freda Christensen sang and played saxophone, while husbands Orville Reese and Walter Christensen added some sax and baritone vocals.

But the cost of train fare, food and lodging nearly eclipsed their entertainment income. So the sisters and their husbands gave up the road for Winona and purchased a furniture store there in 1918, a few blocks from the Mississippi River.

More than a century later, retired Winona music teacher Ruth Anfinson Bures has written an intriguing account of their lives, filled with surprising twists after their teenage marriages morphed far from the norms of 1930s Minnesota. In her book, “Musical Chairs: A True, Forgotten Tale of Love, Music, and Furniture,” Bures unspools a story of real-life musical chairs playing out in Depression-era Winona.

Orville Reese toiled tirelessly directing the Winona Municipal Band from 1920 until his death in 1940, developing youth programs and lobbying for tax funding all while running his furniture store. His wife, Betty, gave piano and sax lessons in a sunny upstairs office. She was nearly 14 years younger than Orville, but had married him the day after her 18th birthday in hopes of teaming up for vaudeville fame.

Those dreams fizzled. As Orville poured more time into the Winona band, Betty grew closer and closer to Freda’s husband Walter. Freda and Walter had met backstage and married quickly so his baritone could join the act. But by the late 1920s, Freda was falling for George Graham, a Winona wrestler, ski jumper, insurance salesman and her personal tennis coach — leaving Walter open to Betty’s advances.

In 1931, when Betty was 41 and Freda was 37, they took a train to Reno, Nev., where residency rules made it possible to get a divorce after six weeks. By year’s end, their divorces secured, Betty had married Walter and Freda had married George. The next summer, Orville married his furniture store’s bookkeeper, Erna Klaviter.

And through it all, they played, conducted and instructed music in Winona.

“There was always a lot of love and cohesiveness with them all,” said Sue Thurman, 72, Betty and Walter’s granddaughter. “We heard the stories, but not until they passed did we realize with some shock that my grandfather had been first married to my Aunt Freda for 20 years.”

Thurman shared scrapbooks, photos and family heirlooms with Bures, who mined the mementos for her book before donating them to the Winona County Historical Society for a display on the municipal band.

The second weddings all took place in Crown Point, Ind., where the Methodist minister was a family friend from South Bend, the city where they had launched their vaudeville careers.

“They knew there would be finger-pointing and tongues tsk-tsking when they returned to Winona,” Bures said. “But they kept their chins up and went about their lives.”

Bures, 78, has played clarinet for 35 years in the Winona Municipal Band, Orville’s old outfit. When the band turned 100 in 2015, Bures joined other band members in researching the band’s history. As she delved into the Reese years and began untangling the threads in the family’s web, she realized there was a more complex story to weave.

“But I also wanted to tell the story of how difficult it is to find musical success even if you’re very, very talented like Babette, Freda, Orville and Walter all were,” she said.

While the names and facts in her book are real, Bures created dialogue for her characters — speculating on their feelings and motivations in what comes across as believable.

Some of her research took her to Shumski’s Flooring, housed in a quaint storefront at 173 E. 3rd Av. in downtown Winona. That’s where the Reese Furniture Co. operated until the late 1960s, and where Betty gave music lessons upstairs.

Bures tracked down Thurman, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., and whose mother Gloria was one of two siblings Betty and Walter adopted in 1933. She fondly recalls her grandparents, who died in the mid-1960s when Thurman was a teenager. According to Thurman, Betty “taught classical music but also had a photo of Elvis on her piano and loved the Beatles, who had just come to America the year she died in 1964.”

Bures contacted some of Betty’s former piano students, “who loved her and found her wonderful and kind,” she said. “She was so devoted to her students, while Orville seemed more motivated for his own glory.”

They’re all complex characters whose interwoven lives have been dusted off, with respect and some wonder — and worthy of a summer read.

“Musical Chairs” is available on Amazon and at the Winona County Historical Society.

Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear every other Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at mnhistory@startribune.com. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.



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An earthquake brought her to Minnesota, where she’s built a life teaching Haitian dance

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Djenane Saint Juste knows the rhythms of her homeland run deep. The Haitian-born artist moved to the United States in 2009 and founded Afoutayi, a local nonprofit that uses Haitian and Afro-Caribbean music and dance to educate people about her native culture.

“There were many other groups who were doing Haitian celebrations, but most of those people were not Haitian,” Saint Juste said. “It was beautiful what they were doing, but some information was missing, because none of them had been born or lived in Haiti.”

Saint Juste trained in ballet, hip hop, jazz and ballroom at her mother Florencia Pierre’s dance company in Haiti and honed her skills under Pierre Dulaine at Dancing Classrooms in New York. After winning a car in a beauty pageant contest, she moved to California with her son, fleeing targeted robberies in Haiti. But once there, she encountered significant challenges adapting to a new language and culture and the high cost of living.

She planned to return to Haiti after a few years, but the country’s earthquake in 2010 altered her plans.

“We had to start from rock bottom when we moved to the U.S., working all kinds of jobs and being treated differently,” she said. “The arts scene for an immigrant is not a good way to go, but I didn’t want to do anything else other than art.”

That opportunity presented itself when a former student of her mother’s moved to Minnesota and saw the need for Haitian cultural education in the state, after an increasing number of Haitian children were adopted by white Minnesotan families following the earthquake.

“The problem was most of the parents didn’t speak Creole or French, and didn’t know anything about Haitian culture,” Saint Juste said. “These kids, whether it was the language, food or environment, felt appreciative but disconnected.”

Saint Juste’s move to Minnesota marked the start of collaborations with several local arts organizations, including the arts education nonprofit COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts), where she serves as a teaching artist. She joined the COMPAS roster in 2016, said Julie Strand-Blomgren, the group’s arts program director, who connects Afoutayi with educational institutions.

Through COMPAS, Saint Juste integrates Haitian and Afro-Caribbean konpa and kizomba dance styles, Creole language and folklore into educational programs at schools, libraries and recreational centers in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. This summer, she is leading daily sessions in Haitian and Afro-Caribbean dance at the Center for Performing Arts’ summer camp in Minneapolis.

“I always think somebody’s easier to connect with when you can see pieces of yourself in them,” Strand-Blomgren said. “Maybe kids don’t always see themselves as a dancer, but they can maybe relate to her through something else because she brings so much of herself to every room.”

Saint Juste’s work addresses the cultural challenges faced by Haitian students in American classrooms. In Haiti, children learn through “song, drumming and movement,” she said. “But in American classrooms, you have to sit down, be quiet and listen. That is a big cultural shock for them.”

That disconnect became more apparent when Saint Juste noticed her son, then 4, struggling in the structured classroom. “For him, everything in school was dancing and drumming,” she said. “Here, there’s not that much space to move around, and teachers at school would tell me he had an issue.”

Saint Juste knew her son wasn’t alone; many Haitian children were facing similar struggles. Determined to bridge the gap, she visited her son’s school and performed Haitian dances. She explained the cultural context of movement and rhythm in Haitian education and how teachers there incorporate it into the curriculum. Not only did Saint Juste’s son begin to thrive, but other students benefited from the more engaging learning environment.

“The kids who identify as troublemakers or have fallen behind a grade level suddenly shine because they have a space to show their energy,” she said.

In 2020 she published “The Mermaid and the Whale,” a children’s book that celebrates Haitian folklore. The book — available in English, Haitian-Creole, French and Spanish — highlights the historical significance of Creole as a language of Haitian resistance and identity.

“For many years, Creole was prohibited in schools,” Saint Juste said. “Children were required to learn French, even though they thought, felt and communicated in Creole at home. This created a gap between those who attended school and those who didn’t.”

The book also challenges stereotypes about Haiti. “A lot of Haitian kids, when they come [to the U.S.], feel frustrated,” she said. “They feel like they are the bad guys because the news only spreads about the economy of Haiti, or violence. We need to value and keep alive the positive aspects of our history so that our children feel proud to be Haitian.”

The local Haitian Flag Day festival, founded by Saint Juste and her mother in 2017, serves as a platform to celebrate Haitian heritage every May 18.

“We celebrate with everybody,” Saint Juste said. “Our suffering is the suffering of all Black Caribbean cultures. We hope people attending the festival see the struggles we face in Haiti and look at us with hope. … I feel so proud, because we’re creating a group of ambassadors who are going to advocate not only for Haiti but for all Afro-Caribbean culture.”



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Man admits he raped, held St. Kate’s student captive in dorm for days; sentence capped at 7½ years

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A 20-year-old man agreed to plead guilty Friday after being charged with holding his girlfriend captive in her St. Catherine University dorm room for four days while he raped, beat and waterboarded her until she escaped.

Keanu A. Labatte, of Granite Falls, Minn., said in Ramsey County District Court that he intends to admit to second-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with the attack in early September.

The plea deal between the defense and the prosecution calls for Labatte to be sentenced to a term no longer than 7½ years. He remains free on an $80,000 bond ahead of sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 4.

A spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office said prosecutors will ask for Labatte to receive the full 7½-year term.

According to the charges:

The woman went to security at the Catholic women’s university in St. Paul to report the abuse she endured from Labatte, who had become enraged by texts, photos and social media content that he discovered upon his arrival on Sept. 7. Security immediately alerted police.

She told police that Labatte squeezed his hands around her neck until she “felt lightheaded and saw stars” and raped her.

On Sept. 9, he forced her into the bathtub and “engaged in waterboarding by covering her mouth with a wet washcloth,” the charges said. He also brandished a knife and threatened to kill her.

The woman escaped after persuading Labatte to let her go to the cafeteria, but she went to police, who noticed black, blue and red marks on her neck. While she was telling police what had happened to her, Labatte was calling and texting her cellphone, which he had given back to her under the condition that she take a photo of herself getting food. He texted at one point asking why the police were outside.

Police went to the woman’s room, found Labatte still there and arrested him.

At the time of his arrest, Labatte was on probation for violating a restraining order issued in November in Yellow Medicine County on behalf of a 17-year-old girl who had been his girlfriend.



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