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Local teens find a productive way to stay active in the pandemic

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HARTINGTON — A local teacher and a group of teens have found a great way to let time pass during a historic pandemic.

Hartington-Newcastle teacher and coach Laura Noecker came up with the idea of chopping thistles for a handful of female students to help local farmers this spring and summer.

Just call them the Thistle Chicks, Noecker said.

“I was looking for a way to get some work done and found that I was a bit over my head in a few of our rental pastures where we feed our cows and calves,” Noecker said. “There were places within these pastures that we could not get into to spray for weeds and the thistles had gotten a bit over our heads (literally) so I told my husband that I would round up a crew of kids to help us out.”

It was also an opportunity to see a few of those kids and get out of the house.

“I have not seen my students since the middle of March and thought it would be fun to get a few of the ones who I knew about ranching and chopping weeds together for a thistle party and we could knock these patches out a little at a time,” Noecker said. “What I recruited was a group of four girls and teache, Kari Ekberg, their junior high math teacher.

“We invited many other teachers to join us and even asked both Superintendent A.J. Johnson and Principal Cory Uldrich, but it was only Miss Ekberg who said, ‘sounds like fun.’”

Maddie Steffen, Hazel Hochstein and McKenzie and Karli Bruning were then in full action.

“After a few outings we have knocked down quite a few thistles, shared lots of stories and Miss Ekburg said she can now add chopping thistles to her resume,” Noecker said.

It has been quite the experience for the girls.

“You wouldn’t think this is the most fun job, but Mrs. Noecker makes it all the better,” Karli Bruning said. “On Wednesdays, we get up early to go and chop thistles so it wouldn’t be too hot. We were excited to finally get out of the house and do something other than chores around the farm. The first day, we all learned the proper way to chop thistles and that it doesn’t just take one day to do.

“We chopped thistles for about 3-4 weeks and for about four hours each day. After talking to each other, we decided we needed one more helping hand. That’s when we thought our other teacher, Ms. Ekberg would be the perfect fit. So, the next week she came, and we all had a blast. That’s when we decided to call ourselves The Thistle Chicks.”

The party seems to have not ended yet for the girls.

“The weeks went on, the fields became bigger, and we just kept having more and more fun,” Karli Bruning said. “This past week, Mrs. Noecker said it would probably be our last week of chopping thistles. I don’t know about the rest of them, but my sister and I made some great memories and had some fun times.”

The girls are also athletes for the Wildcats and this activity is a way to kill two birds with one stone.

“Wednesdays are the only day that these girls do not attend morning weight room and conditioning programs at our school,” Noecker said. “Did I mention that they are hard workers? Breaks consist of a cooler full of a variety of whatever I have in the garage refrigerator and a random snack each person brings to share. These girls are learning even how to get out of a pinch with a 4-wheel drive.”

“Each member gets paid a different amount per hour depending on their tenure. The girls thought it was very funny the day that they got paid more than Miss Ekberg because it was her rookie appearance. They do the math in their head. We are trying to not use cell phones for everything these days. It’s basically financial literacy class through a thistle crew.”

Noecker said the Bruning girls and their cousin Maddie are known as hard-working girls.

“This was a great way for me to see my students, for them to see each other and make some money along the way,” Noecker said. “Their conversations are quite funny, ranging from who is dating whom, how are we going to have a fair without funnel cakes, to who their coaches are going to be next fall. I knew that they would be great workers and they have proven it.”

Steffen agrees it’s been the almost ideal way to beat COVID-19 pandemic days.

“I am doing this because after being stuck at home it was nice to get outside and help out my teacher,” she said. “I like that I can help out my teacher and still have a lot of fun with her and my friends.

“I enjoy fun conversations and being outside. The thistles? Not so much.”