HARTINGTON, Neb. -- Taking a break after a morning spent serving coffee and breakfast, Erin Schroeder laughs, repeating the joke that she and her husband, Ben, have a new child that now occupies much of her time.
Like any young one, it's consuming a lot of their energy, but it's also helped bring a buzz to Hartington's business district.
The two veterinarians have found a niche restoring century-old buildings here, and their latest project, the historic Hartington Hotel, has kept Erin busy. Rather than doctoring area residents' pets and horses, Erin has been welcoming them to the coffee shop, ballroom and guest suites she and Ben opened inside the hotel on Oct. 1.
"This is our third child," Erin said with a chuckle. "The joke is I'm on maternity leave to take care of our new building."
They've been taking care of one thing or another -- usually many at the same time -- their entire professional careers, especially since the restoration bug bit them after moving to Hartington a little over a decade ago to take over Cedar County Veterinary Services from Ben's father, John.
Neither Erin nor Ben had a construction background. They loved animals instead. Erin grew up near Lake Champlain in Westport, New York, knowing from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After graduating from Syracuse University, where she was a scholarship basketball player, she went to vet school at Kansas State University, where she met and married Ben.
By 2007, they had bought Ben's father's practice. They've moved the clinic three times, remodeling each new location to fit their needs for treating cattle, horses and small animals. They did the same when they opened a clinic in Vermillion, South Dakota, and again after opening a Yankton, South Dakota, clinic, which they've since sold.
They grew to like the demolition, planning and design that goes into renovation projects, a departure from their daily veterinary work.
"I really feel like it's two different sides of my brain and my husband, too. It gives us each a creative outlet," Erin said.
The buildings got bigger, the projects more ambitious.
In 2015, they bought the Globe clothing store building, which was built in 1901. They gutted it and turned the top floor into a home for them and their two boys. The main floor was turned into an event space for small parties and gatherings. After finishing that project, they asked a real estate agent if he had any buildings they could buy and restore. He eventually asked if they'd be interested in the Hartington Hotel, a building just up the street from the Globe that they'd eyed a time or two.
"I don't think we got out of the office before saying yes," Erin said.
Vacant for 23 years, the former hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stood prominently on North Broadway, Hartington's main business district. The three-story brick structure, built in 1917, was structurally sound and had been gutted years earlier but had reached a point at which something needed to be done before it began to deteriorate.
They didn't have immediate plans for the building, but they knew one thing for sure.
"We wanted to preserve the historic character" and turn it into an attraction, something to bring people to Hartington, Erin said.
They set to work as they made plans. Ben did a lot of the demolition work, Erin planned and designed the final product. Both worked to clean and restore original wooden beams, hardwood and tile floors and the hotel counter. A contractor did the major construction work.
They began work late last year and have transformed an empty building into an attractive and active business.
The main floor is home to The Lobby, a coffee shop that serves gourmet coffee, breakfast and lunch. Erin said local residents desired a formal dining option in town, so on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they host a sit-down buffet in the ballroom, which also can be reserved for private parties. It's also been used for weddings and receptions.
The top two floors were renovated into 17 bedrooms and nine bathrooms divided among four suites. They're popular with wedding parties, guests and families.
In the basement is The Tap Room, an event bar that was a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Erin will soon open a home decor shop named Togged to the Bricks in a storefront inside the hotel.
It's been a lot of work, a lot of time balancing treating animals and giving a historic building special treatment, but it's been worth it, Erin said.
"It's something you have to be passionate about," she said. "It just makes us proud."
That pride appears to be contagious. Erin said that since they've restored the Globe and now the hotel, she and Ben have noticed other downtown business owners improving their buildings, whether it's a new awning, touching up the facade or doing some renovations. There's more traffic downtown on Saturday nights.
"There's just a renewed energy," Erin said.
Erin and Ben plan to keep that energy flowing. Erin has her eyes on other older buildings she'd love to restore. It may seem like an interest that has little in common with veterinary medicine, but Erin said the two are more similar than you'd think.
"It's a lot like an animal," Erin said. "We see things that are broken, sick and debilitated. Most of the time with TLC and the right care you can improve an animal's life, and it's the same thing with buildings. You just have to love them."
The Schroeders obviously have a lot of love to give. More buildings are destined to become part of their family and Hartington's future.
SIOUX CITY -- With just a week before the Nov. 6 election, Republicans hold a slight edge over Democrats in early voting in Woodbury County, according to local data.
Through Monday, voters registered as Republicans had cast 4,498 ballots, or about 43 percent, compared to 4,288, or about 41 percent, for registered Democrats.
Democrats have slightly more room to grow their early voter total, though. Through Sunday, Democrats had requested 6,200 absentee ballots, returning them at a rate of 68 percent. Republicans had asked for 6,306 ballots and had returned 71 percent of them.
As usual, independent voters could decide the outcome of races. About 15 percent of ballots, or 1,609, had been cast by voters with no party affiliation.
The totals include absentee ballots that have been requested and returned and people voting in person at the counter at the county auditor’s office in Sioux City or at a satellite voting location.
Early votes by Democratic voters are up this year compared to the last midterm election in 2014, while Republican early votes are slightly down. Through the first nine days in 2014, GOP voters had returned 4,633 ballots, compared to 3,981 for Democrats and 1,747 for all others.
Overall, the total early votes processed in Woodbury County this year is nearly identical to the 2014 pace, 10,348 to 10,361. But an apples-to-apples comparison is not possible because a 2017 law shortened the number of early voting days from 40 to 29, Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill pointed out. The number of ballots requested so far this year is slightly higher than at the same point in 2014, however, Gill said.
Early voting in Iowa started Oct. 8, and continues through the close of business Monday. Oct. 27 was the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to their homes.
"We also want to remind voters to that the absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before the election (Nov. 5) or be hand delivered to our office before the polls close in order to count. If they lost their absentee ballot, a voter can still go to the polls and vote," Gill said.
This year's ballot in Woodbury County will include races for governor, several statewide offices and Iowa's 4th District, as well as contests for the state Legislature, two county supervisor seats and some other local races.
WASHINGTON — A week out from the midterm elections, the Pentagon said Monday it is sending 5,200 troops, some armed, to the Southwest border this week in an extraordinary military operation to stop Central American migrants traveling north in two caravans that were still hundreds of miles from the U.S. The number of troops is more than double the 2,000 who are in Syria fighting the Islamic State group.
President Donald Trump, eager to focus voters on immigration in the lead-up to the elections, stepped up his warnings about the caravans, tweeting: "This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!"
But any migrants who complete the long trek to the southern U.S. border already face major hurdles — both physical and bureaucratic — to being allowed into the United States.
In an interview Monday, Trump said the U.S. would build "tent cities" for asylum seekers.
"We're going to put tents up all over the place," Trump told Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham. "We're not going to build structures and spend all of this, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars — we're going to have tents. They're going to be very nice and they're going to wait and if they don't get asylum, they get out."
The Pentagon's "Operation Faithful Patriot" was described by the commander of U.S. Northern Command as an effort to help Customs and Border Protection "harden the southern border" by stiffening defenses at and near legal entry points. Advanced helicopters will allow border protection agents to swoop down on migrants trying to cross illegally, said Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy.
"We're going to secure the border," O'Shaughnessy said at a news conference. He spoke alongside Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
Eight hundred troops already are on their way to southern Texas, O'Shaughnessy said, and their numbers will top 5,200 by week's end. He said troops would focus first on Texas, followed by Arizona and then California.
The migrant caravan on Monday demanded the Mexican government help its 4,000 participants reach Mexico City even as a smaller group of Central Americans entered the country, presumably with the intention of joining it.
Worn down from long miles of walking and frustrated by the caravan's slow progress, some migrants have been dropping out and returning home or applying for protected status in Mexico. Conscious of that frustration, its representatives demanded "safe and dignified" transportation to the capital after the group arrived in the Oaxaca state town of Niltepec.
The Mexican government has shown no inclination to assist, however, with the exception of its migrant protection agency giving some of the caravan's stragglers rides to the next town over the weekend.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group supporting the caravan, has said it hopes to hold meetings in Mexico City with federal lawmakers and authorities as well as representatives of the incoming government to discuss migrants' rights and the caravan's future.
But Mexican officials seem intent only on seeing the caravan melt away as it travels toward the U.S. border. The government regularly trumpets the number of migrants who have applied for refugee status or asked to return to their home countries.
On Monday, the Federal Police aggressively tried to turn back hundreds more migrants who crossed the Suchiate River to enter Mexico from Guatemala.
A low-flying police helicopter hovered overhead as the migrants waded in large groups across the murky river, apparently trying to use the downdraft from its rotors to discourage them. Guatemala's Noti7 channel reported that one man drowned and aired video of a man dragging a seemingly lifeless body from the river.
Once on the Mexican side, the migrants were surrounded and escorted by dark-uniformed officers as sirens wailed. The standoff at the riverbank followed a more violent confrontation on the border bridge over the river Sunday night, when migrants threw rocks and used sticks against Mexico police. One migrant died from a head wound during the clash, but the cause was unclear.
The group was much smaller than the first caravan. In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Hidalgo, they said they hoped to continue onward this morning.
Overall, they are poor, carrying the belongings that fit into a knapsack. It's possible there are criminals mixed in, but Trump has not substantiated his claim that members of the MS-13 gang, in particular, are among them.
The president's dark description of the caravan belied the fact that any migrants who complete the long trek to the southern U.S. border already face major hurdles, both physical and bureaucratic, to being allowed into the United States. Migrants are entitled under both U.S. and international law to apply for asylum, but it may take a while to make a claim. There already is a bottleneck of asylum seekers at some U.S. border crossings, in some cases as long as five weeks.
The U.S. military operation drew quick criticism.
"Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money, but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorize and militarize our border communities," said Shaw Drake of the American Civil Liberties Union's border rights center at El Paso, Texas.
Military personnel are legally prohibited from engaging in immigration enforcement. The troops will include military police, combat engineers and others helping on the southern border.
The escalating rhetoric and expected deployments come as the president has been trying to turn the caravans into a key election issue just days before the midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress.
"This will be the election of the caravans, the Kavanaughs, law and order, tax cuts, and you know what else? It's going to be the election of common sense," Trump said at a rally in Illinois on Saturday night.
On Monday, he tweeted without providing evidence: "Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border."
"Please go back," he urged them. "you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!"
SIOUX CITY -- Woodbury County residents have the opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on a proposal that would allow people to legally drive all-terrain and off-road utility vehicles on county gravel and blacktop roads.
The issue was brought for discussion by the county supervisors last month by board chairman Rocky De Witt. He also set Tuesday's meeting as the date for a first reading of a county ordinance that would allow ATVs and UTVs on some roads.
The county supervisors will not vote on the measure until after three readings of the ordinance take place over three separate meetings. De Witt said there are people on both sides of the issue, so it will be good to air it out at at a public meeting. He noted that 42 Iowa counties allow all-terrain and off-road utility vehicles on their roads.
Supervisor Matthew Ung, in a meeting two weeks ago, said he was "surprised" De Witt offered the proposal, as it had not been raised by any county residents at any of the supervisors' periodic town hall meetings in cities across the county.
Iowa code doesn't allow all-terrain and off-road utility vehicles on primary highways or federal interstates. Individual counties can set their own rules for ATVs on county roads
Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra, who oversees the county roads system, has said he opposes the measure, citing safety concerns and the added wear and tear on the gravel roads.
"Ours are all based on safety; it is not to keep people from having fun," Nahra said.
Nahra said Plymouth County voted down an ATV proposal earlier this year. He noted a person was killed near Moville while driving an ATV.
Sheriff Dave Drew also may state a position on the subject in an upcoming meeting.
Tuesday's board meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. in the basement of the county courthouse, 620 Douglas St.