The Herald's top stories of 2020January 8, 2021
By Herald Staff
The phrase “hindsight is 2020” couldn’t be more true of last year, as 2020 was an eye-opening year.
We all endured struggles, whether it was COVID-19 and its complications or protests stemming from feelings of injustice and unfairness.
But there were happy moments, too. The community adapted to the ongoing challenges. New businesses opened. People reached out to each other to give comfort and support, and even a dance.
Yes, 2020 showed us a lot.
These are the top topics and stories in The Herald last year, the stories and issues that drew your attention, and ours.
“Speechless traffic stop” most viewed
A story and video of police officers dancing with a young teen girl in March was the most viewed story on The Herald's website in 2020, with nearly 134,00 views.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Mike Allen and West Baden Springs Police Officer Gideon Ewing danced with the girl on a sidewalk in French Lick the night of March 13.
Allen had stopped the vehicle she was in for driving with no headlights. He found Hailey Wilson driving her young stepsister, seventh-grader Selena Mereno, home from a dance. Allen noticed Selena looking sad in her long dress and heels and, upon asking, found out that no one would dance with her. So he asked her what her favorite song was — it was Dan + Shay’s “Speechless” — keyed it up on his phone, and called Ewing to come to the site.
He then invited Selena out on the sidewalk for a dance, which she gladly accepted. Ewing would also share a dance with the youngster.
The dance was captured on video and shared online, to thousands of people’s delight.
COVID-19 wreaks havoc
The most dominant struggle in 2020 was COVID-19, a new coronavirus strain that shocked the world.
At first, it was in other countries. Then early in 2020, it reached the United States’ coasts, and then Indiana.
In Dubois County, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 22, with the first death being confirmed May 10. The county was already under a local disaster emergency declaration, which had been enacted just five days before.
Buildings either closed to or limited access to the public. Nothing is open 24 hours a day anymore, not even Walmart. Restaurants adapted, streamlining their menus and moving to a more robust take-out system. Food trucks became the new rage.
But some businesses, like Mad Batter and Adventures Recreation and Gear in Jasper, could not withstand the shutdowns and supply chain disrtuptions, and closed their doors permanently
The public was warned to wear masks for protection, stay socially distanced — 6 feet or more — from others, wash your hands constantly, stay at home if you feel sick. A mask mandate eventually came down from the state.
Infection and death numbers attributed to COVID-19 continued to rise throughout the year. Dubois County entered the code red designation in the state for its high positivity rate and community spread.
People shared the nightmarish journey of suffering through COVID-19.
Laura Wendholt told us in May about the stabbing pains, the inability to stand up without having to catch her breath, chest tightness, coughs, dizziness, and rotating bouts of chills and hot flashes she endured while having the virus.
In December, Jessica Miller shared her family’s grief of losing her grandmother, Clara Mae Frick. Frick had the virus, and died in June, one of the more than 60 Dubois County residents whose deaths are now attributed to the virus.
A vaccine was announced as ready in December, with health care workers receiving the two-dose vaccine first. But all precautions are still in place, and half-covered faces are still the norm.
COVID-19 changes interactions
Another thing COVID did was change the social landscape of the community.
Annual events that no one thought would ever be canceled — August’s Strassenfest, September’s Herbstfest, November’s Christkindlmarkt — were canceled. The weeklong Dubois County 4-H Fair was held virtually.
Cleaners, toilet paper and paper towels were, in a way, rationed: stores limited how much one person could purchase. People either spent time in the open air, away from others, or in their homes, still away from others. Folks use the elbow bump instead of the hug as the sign of a warm greeting.
But the sign of a resilient community emerged, and people reached out to others in different and thoughtful ways.
Seamstresses became popular again as they found patterns online and made masks for health care workers, front-line employees, schoolchildren and others. Now, masks are being color coordinated with outfits, reflecting school or community affiliations, becoming business signs, and making personal or political statements.
Drive-by parades became the rage. Families and friends did them for birthdays, like Holland 6-year-old Knox Gogel in April. There were parades of appreciation, like the May drive-by celebration for Southridge assistant football and softball coach Jason Songer. People drove by Ed Payne’s Huntingburg home in mid-May to thank the Candy Man for years of joy — and to get candy from him one last time.
Folks picked up hobbies, spent more time with family at home and through Zoom, and watched movies they would have otherwise seen in a theater. Kids and adults took horses, cattle and other animals by nursing homes last summer to visit residents outside in the open air.
People visited their elderly loved ones through nursing home windows, to make sure they did not feel neglected since nursing homes had to keep visitors out. Grandparents visited their grandchildren through doors, like Tom and Penny Spangler of Jasper did in the spring. Grandkids did the same, like the grandchildren of Michelle and Brad McCain of Holland, who made visits around Easter and after.
People made a way to connect with each other despite the virus.
Race, culture and unity spotlighted
Issues of excessive use of police force against, racial disharmony and political strife trickled down into Dubois County.
More than 200 people gathered around the Dubois County Courthouse on May 29 for the peaceful Stand Up and Say their Name protest. The event was in response to the May 25 murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Protestors held signs with the names of African Americans killed in instances of police brutality and in hate crimes dating back to the early 1900s, signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and signs calling on all Americans to stand in solidarity with the black community.
There was also more disturbing acts done by vandals. An adult and juvenile were arrested in early June for defacing the Walmart and Hometown IGA buildings with messages related to Floyd’s death.
But the national incidents did open the doors of dialogue. Also in June, Black residents shared their stories of living in Dubois County, and the challenges that come with that: people giving dirty looks, the use of the word “colored,” their children being bullied at school for the color of their skin.
Later that month, a roundtable-like discussion aired online and on local radio stations that focused on community relations. Though it was noted that the majority of the group at the discussion was white, there were some people of color, from the Latino community. They explained that racism is also felt in the Latino community, which is the biggest minority community in Dubois County.
And in November and December, some Latino voices talked about relationship with Anglo community in a series of stories in The Herald, including one on Nov. 28 with Jose Dubon, Huntingburg’s first Latino councilman; he assumed office on Jan. 1. Their words shined the light on the issues and gave a ray of hope for how both communities can come together as one.
Mid-States Corridor project
Many in the community are also protesting plans to build a new highway through the county because it will likely take farmland.
The Mid-States Corridor project has been a source of confusion and contention for a while. That escalated in 2020.
Rallies have been held at the Dubois County Courthouse, the first one on Aug. 1. More than 100 people came with masks, literature, chairs and various signs saying things like “Don’t take our home sweet home” and “Don’t destroy the only home I know.” People have also taken to signing petitions, calling their leaders and writing letters in local news publications.
The Mid-States Corridor is a proposed, four-lane, limited-access highway that would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, and through Dubois County to connect to I-69. The Lochmueller Group has been studying route options and different road types. They have been narrowed down to five route options: two running west of U.S. 231, one running somewhat parallel to the state road in Dubois County, and two running east of the road. Those options were shown at a series of community meetings in February, at which hundreds of people attended. The options are being narrowed down to one proposed option this fall, which will be studied to determine a more specific single route. COVID-19 has changed the timeline for this, but it has not changed the sentiment of those who object, including those who could possibly lose farmland that has been in their family for generations.
Celestine Elementary closed, Jasper Elementary opened
Celestine Elementary, which had been part of the Northeast Dubois School Corporation since the four school corporations were created in 1968, closed at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
That ending was bittersweet, and somewhat unfulfilled — due to COVID-19, Indiana schools were closed in March, so students did not get to return for year-end activities and goodbyes.
The Northeast Dubois School Board voted in June 2019 to close Celestine Elementary in an effort to save the corporation money and eliminate the need to place a second property tax referendum on the ballot when the current one — which passed in 2016 — expires in 2024.
When the 2016 referendum passed, many hoped it would help the corporation’s financial hardships and keep Celestine open. But district enrollment continued to decrease, which caused state funding to decrease as well.
The building was owned by the Catholic Diocese of Evansville and constructed next to St. Celestine Catholic Church in 1942. With the closure, the building was returned to the diocese.
And the students moved on to Northeast Dubois Elementary School or Northeast Dubois Intermediate School.
Meanwhile, Jasper Elementary School opened with the 2020-21 school year.
Students from Fifth Street and Tenth Street elementaries filled the school on its first day, Aug. 12.
The approximately 111,000-square-foot school has six kindergarten rooms, four pre-K rooms, 30 general classrooms, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classroom, a gymnasium, a cafeteria with a stage, art and music rooms and a library. The roughly $30 million building can hold up to 850 elementary students.
The idea of building an elementary school was first mentioned at a February 2017 Greater Jasper School Board meeting. At that time, the board reviewed a study that showed nearly $20 million in repairs were needed at Fifth Street School and Tenth Street Elementary. Studies, plans and drawings ensued. After designs and a contractor were in place, a groundbreaking ceremony at the school’s new site, on Portersville Road just north of Jasper Middle School, was held in May 2018.
With the school’s opening in August, in the age of COVID-19, students’ temperatures were checked, kids had to wear masks, social distancing protocols were enforced and parents could not walk their children inside.
The Herald sold
The Dubois County Herald, a 125-year-old, family-owned newspaper, was sold to Paxton Media Group in summer 2020.
The Rumbach family made the announcement on July 29 and Paxton began publishing the paper on Aug. 1.
Paxton Media Group publishes more than 70 newspapers across the Midwest and Southwest, including 12 dailies in Indiana. Headquartered in Paducah, Kentucky, its nearby newspapers include the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, the Princeton Daily Clarion and the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.
Businesses opened; businesses closed
Dubois County has had its share of new businesses opening, and businesses closing.
The long-anticipated Dunkin’ opened on Jasper’s north side in October, and the drive-thru lines at the shop in those first few weeks showed the anticipation.
St. Benedict’s Brew Works added an additional Dubois County location at the River Centre in Jasper in the fall.
Yard Goat Artisan Ales opened to the public on Halloween, after making extensive renovations to its building on Huntingburg’s Fourth Street. Fry’d, known for its decadent burgers and ax throwing area called Chop’d, opened in Huntingburg on Nov. 3.
Kohl’s department store opened in Germantown Shopping Center in March. Factory Connection moved into the shopping center in the fall.
But the community lost some businesses as well, such as Mad Batter and Adventures, which closed in April and July respectively.
The 22-year-old Mac-A-Doos and Out of Bounds in closed its doors at the end of December.
Bob and Jacque Disinger, who owned Disinger Jewelers for 30 years, announced in November that they were retiring. The business was liquidating at the end of the year, and a new owner was said to be reopening it in January.
…And on, and on...
And there were ongoing matters that continue into the new year.
Plans for expanding the Dubois County Security Center and Dubois County Community Corrections Center continue. Officials considered financial repercussions as it pertained to the virus and subsequent job loss for members of the community. Plans for a justice building, that would house the courts and justice departments, was met with scrutiny. It was taken off the table this summer, but was discussed again in December as a possibility.
The Thyen-Clark Cultural Center is nearing completion. The years-long project, which will house the Jasper Public Library and space for Jasper Arts, hopes to end in the near future with the center’s opening at the corner of Fourth and Mill streets. The library closed in December and books are being moved from the former Main Street location to the new building. The City of Jasper is now looking for a buyer for the Main Street site, which it owns.
The United States selected a new president, Joe Biden. Jasper broke in a new mayor for his first year, Dean Vonderheide. And Huntingburg said goodbye to its mayor of nine years, Denny Spinner. But Spinner isn’t too far; he is now head of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and he still lives in his hometown. A Republican caucus named Steve Schwinghamer the new mayor of Huntingburg.
The year 2020 was a very full year.
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