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"American Idol" finalist Maddie Poppe performs at the Butler County Fairgrounds Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Allison, Iowa.

Calmar brewery, art studio celebrate first year's success

CALMAR — Craig and Sara Neuzil found it hard to integrate into new communities as they moved around the globe during his former career in the U.S. Air Force.

But the brewery and art studio the couple opened a year ago already has forged a quick bond with Calmar and its Winneshiek County neighbors.

PIVO Brewery and Blepta Studios on Saturday will celebrate its first year in business — one that saw Craig’s beer distributed in 24 counties, Sara’s artwork flying off the shelves and the rural Spillville natives reconnecting with their childhood roots.

“We traveled around everywhere, and this is home,” Sara said. “That’s why we wanted to be back here and wanted the place to feel like home.”

Craig said the business enjoyed a good first year, living up to its goals.

“We wanted to create a business that supports the community,” he said. “We wanted to complement what’s going on here with something that brings more business and keeps people here.”

The Neuzils hatched the idea 13 years ago when deciding what to do after Craig’s service as an Air Force communications officer ended. Sara was already invested as an artist, and Craig was home brewing in the garage.

“I thought Winneshiek County could use a brewery,” said Craig, noting this was a year before Toppling Goliath started in Decorah. “Thirteen years later there’s already two (other) breweries here.”

The Neuzils built a new two-story building using reclaimed materials salvaged and collected during the decade they had to plan their project. Doors came from a demolished Ossian church rectory; window frame wood was scrapped from a barn at Craig’s family farm; drop ceiling tiles were wrapped from their grandmothers’ flour sacks.

While stationed at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Craig worked days off at breweries in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“I worked at three different breweries cleaning kegs, bottling, whatever they needed,” he said. “It was a chance to learn the business and different styles of breweries.”

It was at one of those breweries where the Neuzils met Richard and Laresche Mar, convincing them move to Iowa and work respectively as the head brewer and taproom manager.

PIVO, Czech for “beer,” has become part of a Winneshiek County craft beer tourism destination.

“We’re in a county with Toppling Goliath, which is internationally known,” Craig said. “That’s great for us because it brings people to the county. But we’re not going to try to make the same beer they’re making.”

Toppling Goliath is well-known for its assertive IPAs, while Pulpit Rock, also in Decorah, is carving out a niche with pastry beers. PIVO, among other things, is known for having an unusually large number of different house brews on tap.

“The term we use a lot with the beer is approachable,” Craig said. “We make some extreme beer too, but we want the majority of our beer to be approachable.

“You have so many Miller Lite and Busch Light drinkers in the state. When they come in, I don’t want to scare them away. But I want them to have something like our Ossian IPA as a stepping stone. Then maybe they’ll say, ‘I can drink an IPA.’”

PIVO names its beer and cider offerings after the nearby cities and towns, such as the Protivin Czech Pilsner, Decorah Nordic Gruit or Festina Rye Saison.

“Home to us is all these little places,” Sara said. “So let’s name a beer after all these little places.”

Craig joked the beer-naming scheme also “avoids lawsuits” as other craft breweries rush to trademark names for their beers.

Blepta Studios occupies the upper floor of the building, where Sara makes Czech, or Ukrainian, eggs out of anything from quail to ostrich eggs. The technique involves hollowing out the egg and decorating the shell with a wax and dye.

She also learned about Azulejo, white-and-blue painted ceramic tiles, while the couple was stationed in Portugal, and has been getting that portion of the business up to speed. Blepta also hosts classes and painting parties that work well with the brewery.

Sara said she was grateful for the way Calmar has welcomed the business over the past year.

“I expected people being excited about us being here,” she said. “What I did not expect was to get thanked on a weekly basis by random people. It’s always a nice surprise.”

The one-year anniversary party runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday in the taproom and will feature live music, bingo, a bags tournament and food specials. All 40 of PIVO’s taps will be set up for house brews, while the brewery unveils its first ever bottle releases: two whiskey-barrel-aged beers and a chardonnay-barrel-aged ale.

UPDATE: Captured on video: Deer breaks through Janesville high school window

JANESVILLE — As head of the Janesville School District, superintendent and principal B.J. Meaney is used to the buck stopping with him. On Monday afternoon, that was literally the case.

A young deer broke through the administration office window at Janesville High School just as Meaney was wondering what the commotion was outside his window.

“We’d kind of gotten notice that there was something going on outside,” Meaney said. “I walked into my office to look out, and there was a deer who seemed confused.”

The deer had gotten inside some construction fencing and then was confused as to its direction of travel, running east and west along the high school building, Meaney said.

Finally — as students Marra Fitzgerald and Marlee Boyle captured the scene inside and outside on Snapchat — the deer bolted straight for Meaney’s office window and broke through, landing in his office.

“This was a first time for me,” Meaney said.

A parent picking up his child was inside, grabbed a chair and steered the deer through an open door and back out of the school.

“A parent thought quickly and picked up a chair,” Meaney said. “For us, it felt like 4 or 5 minutes, but it was probably 20 seconds.”

That parent identified himself on Facebook as Josh Smith, and said he was picking up a child for an appointment at the time.

“Yep, had to help a deer out of the school today,” Smith wrote. “Definitely not expecting this.”

Classes went on as scheduled, and workers cleaned up the broken glass and debris and boarded up the window. Meaney said Modern Builders would be replacing the window soon, as temperatures have been below freezing.

“There were a lot of elevated heart rates, but everybody’s OK, it happened quickly and the deer got out and is gone,” he said.

“For us, it felt like 4 or 5 minutes, but it was probably 20 seconds.” Superintendent B.J. Meaney

Dead in cars and homes: Northern California fire toll at 42

PARADISE, Calif. — The dead were found in burned-out cars, in the smoldering ruins of their homes, or next to their vehicles, apparently overcome by smoke and flames before they could jump in behind the wheel and escape. In some cases, there were only charred fragments of bone, so small that coroner's investigators used a wire basket to sift and sort them.

At least 42 people were confirmed dead in the wildfire that turned the Northern California town of Paradise and outlying areas into hell on earth, making it the deadliest blaze in state history. The search for bodies continued Monday.

Almost 230 people were unaccounted for by the sheriff's reckoning, four days after the fire swept over the town of 27,000 and practically wiped it off the map with flames so fierce that authorities brought in a mobile DNA lab and forensic anthropologists to help identify the dead.

Meanwhile, a landowner near where the blaze began, Betsy Ann Cowley, said she got an email from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. the day before the fire last week telling her that crews needed to come onto her property because the utility's power lines were causing sparks. PG&E had no comment on the email, and state officials said the cause of the inferno was under investigation.

As the search for victims dragged on, friends and relatives of the missing called hospitals, police, shelters and the coroner's office in hopes of learning what became of their loved ones. Paradise was a popular retirement community, and about a quarter of the population was over 65.

Tad Teays awaited word on his 90-year-old dementia-stricken mother. Darlina Duarte was desperate for information about her half-brother, a diabetic who was largely housebound because he had lost his legs. And Barbara Hall tried in vain to find out whether her aunt and the woman's husband, who are in their 80s and 90s, made it out alive from their retirement community.

"Did they make it in their car? Did they get away? Did their car go over the edge of a mountain somewhere? I just don't know," said Hall, adding that the couple had only a landline and calls were not going through to it.

The blaze was part of an outbreak of wildfires on both ends of the state. Together, they were blamed for 44 deaths, including two in celebrity-studded Malibu in Southern California, where firefighters appeared to be gaining ground against a roughly 143-square-mile blaze that destroyed at least 370 structures, with hundreds more feared lost.

Some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by the blaze were allowed to return, and authorities reopened U.S. 101, a major freeway through the fire zone in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Officials were still conducting damage assessments and Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said he expected those inspections would show hundreds more homes incinerated on top of the 370 already counted.

Firefighters managed to prevent about 57,000 homes from destruction by the so-called Woosley fire as it raged along a path 20 miles long and 14 miles wide from northwestern Los Angeles through suburbs and the Santa Monica Mountains to the Malibu coast, Osby said.

He estimated that about 200,000 people were still under evacuation orders after repopulation of some neighborhoods began late Sunday along with the reopening of the U.S. 101 state highway that runs through the fire zone.

Gusty, dry Santa Ana winds returned Monday and fanned several much smaller new fires and containment of the Woolsey fire was estimated at just 20 percent. Despite the windy conditions, there were no big flare-ups and blue sky replaced the massive smoke plumes of previous days.

In Northern California, fire crews still fighting the blaze that obliterated Paradise contended with wind gusts up to 40 mph overnight, the flames jumping 300 feet across Lake Oroville. The fire had grown to 177 square miles and was 25 percent contained, authorities said.

In Southern California, new fires erupted west of Los Angeles in the rugged Rocky Peak area along State Route 118 and in suburban Thousand Oaks.

Firefighters and water-dropping aircraft quickly corralled the flames but Osby said the area's fire risk remained very high because of "extreme conditions."

The fire's cause remained under investigation but Southern California Edison reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an outage on an electrical circuit near the location where the fire started as the Santa Ana winds blew through the region.

More than 8,000 firefighters statewide were battling wildfires that scorched more than 325 square miles, the flames feeding on dry brush and driven by blowtorch winds.

Local conductors will lead statewide choir, orchestra

CEDAR FALLS — Singers and musicians from elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state will gather for concerts in Ames later this week. Their performances will be under the batons of Jason Weinberger, wcfsymphony conductor, and Michelle Droe, general music and chorus teacher at Lincoln Elementary School.

Droe, who teaches K-6, will direct the statewide Opus Choir.

She was one of 10 semi-finalists for the Grammy music educator award from among hundreds of teachers nominated nationwide this year, but the honor doesn’t compare to being chosen to conduct the honors choir.

“I was elated. This has been a dream of mine. Opus is such a wonderful music group, and it will be a fantastic experience,” said Droe, who has been teaching 27 years.

The 33rd annual Opus Choir concert takes place at 4 p.m. Thursday in Stephens Auditorium on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.

The choir is for students in grades five through nine, sponsored by the Iowa Choral Directors Association. Five of Droe’s sixth-graders were chosen from 20 of her students who auditioned. In addition, there are 20 students from Holmes, 10 from Hanson, six from Peet, four from Aldrich, two from Orchard Hill and one From North Cedar.

There is just one rehearsal for the choirs several hours before the concert. “Everyone has to have the music down when they arrive. They’ll also have a magical lunch at ISU that the kids love. They’ve worked hard for everything,” the choir conductor said.

Among the pieces Droe will conduct are “Sound the Trumpet” by Henry Purcell and “In the Highlands,” arranged by Wayne Bisbee.

On Saturday, Weinberger will be at the podium to lead the Iowa All State Music Festival orchestra at 7:30 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. Sponsored by the Iowa High School Music Association, it is the 72nd annual festival.

“This is really special for me. I remember playing in the all-state orchestra when I was a kid in California. It always was such a big event in my life. I’ve been in Iowa 15 years, and this is my first shot at all-state. I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Weinberger said.

Students participate in a rigorous audition process to earn a place in the orchestra. When the students arrive this week for the festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday, they will audition for seating positions within the orchestra and rehearse new music for the concert.

“That’s really where the rubber meets the road. Kids will have had the music earlier in the process and worked through all the technical issues before the orchestra rehearsals. It’s demanding, but they come out the other end with this really wonderful performance,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger’s musical selections for the concert are challenging, including Adam Schoenberg’s “American Symphony,” with its difficult rhythmic passages, and George Gershwin’s “American in Paris.”

“I thought I might as well give the kids the experience of doing music that I do most and best, one by a newer contemporary American composer and a piece like Gershwin’s with jazz music in it,” Weinberger said.

Jason Weinberger