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Getting over '21: Year in review

Staff writer

After wearily bidding farewell a year ago to 2020, Marion County residents this week are saying goodbye — and, in many cases, good riddance — to 2021, hoping that 2022 will bring more positive news.

For the second straight year, pandemic gripped county headlines in 2021, accounting for almost 10% of all news stories read, according to the Record’s annual survey of the most-read stories on its website.

Here’s a rundown, in order, of the year’s top topics:

1. COVID-19

The biggest individual item within this topic, ranking fourth in readership among individual news stories read, was an Oct. 20 account of the deaths of Aulne Church pastor Jeff Lee and his daughter, Jenny Craft, wife of Marion High School football coach Shaun Craft.

A story two weeks earlier about a prayer vigil for them and the pastor’s wife, Dawn Lee, also stricken with COVID, ranked 29th among individual stories.

County health director Diedre Serene’s surprise resignation Aug. 23 over the increasingly political nature of the pandemic was the 33rd most-read individual story.

A revelation published Sept. 1 that half of county nursing home staff members had not been vaccinated and that schools were seeing a tripling of COVID cases finished 40th.

A story April 28 linking a spike in COVID cases to school proms finished 44th, and a story Aug. 11 about school districts refusing to order students to wear masks finished 60th.

All in all, 25 of the 300 most-read stories of 2021 were related to COVID-19.

2. Political rancor

The year also was marred by sometimes heated debate in city and county meeting rooms.

Individual items included a story Oct. 27 about county commissioner Dave Crofoot’s business, Western Associates, declining to print a T-shirt cattleman Mike Beneke ordered critical of not firing county emergency manager Randy Frank.

Former commissioner Diane Novak, defeated for re-election, repeatedly texted her former colleagues Feb. 16 to challenge their payment of zoning director Sharon Omstead’s legal expenses in a case involving a confrontation between her and windfarm opponent Tom Britain.

Marion City Council contributed to the rancor Nov. 15 when it suspended city code over questions involving appointment of a city attorney and Nov. 29 when Mayor David Mayfield lectured council member Ruth Herbel about not surprising city staff by asking unexpected questions during meetings.

Herbel’s earlier discovery that the city had neglected to exempt itself from state statutes requiring most city officials to live within the city’s boundaries created further tension June 28.

Clashes between Herbel and Mayfield also created headlines Jan. 13, March 24, and April 21.

Sheriff Rob Craft contributed to the county’s politicking Feb. 24 by blaming conflicts with past county commissioners for his failure to brief commissioners regularly.

All in all, political rancor was the topic of 12 of the year’s 300 most-read stories.

3. Marion dollar stores

Marion’s off-again, on-again attempts to sell a lot in its industrial park for a new Family Dollar and Dollar Tree store accounted for nine of the year’s top 300 stories.

The biggest individual story was Sept. 8, after developers of the store backed out on a deal to buy land that had been set aside to serve as a buffer for neighboring residences and to handle drainage issues. That story ranked 19th overall. A story Nov. 3 about the developer’s offer to purchase a different lot ranked 123rd.

Other stories included one Aug. 18, ranked 35th, about Mayfield not relaying to council members legal objections raised by Dollar General, which had contended its earlier decision to locate in the industrial park had been prefaced on a city promise, now denied by the city, not to allow other dollar stores in the area.

Neighbors’ protests, reported Aug. 11, and city planners’ decision, reported Sept. 1, not to “clean up the mess” caused by the original purchase contract were among other most-read stories about the new dollar store.

4. ATV accident

A July 4 accident in which a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle driven by Russell Hake of Marion veered into a ditch, pinning passenger Todd Winter beneath it, was the second most-read individual story of the year.

Additional stories July 21 about Winters’s serious injuries and Marion police officers’ investigative process, Aug. 18 about police seeking felony charges against Hake, and Oct. 27 about county attorney Joel Ensey finding not enough evidence in the police investigation to substantiate charges against Hake all finished in the Top 50.

5. Bina fatality

Our account of the tragic deaths July 10 of Denice and Raymond Bina in a traffic accident on I-135 two miles south of Newton was the year’s most-read story overall.

A follow-up piece July 21 about an all-night prayer vigil for the couple was the fifth most-read individual story of the year.

6. Tabor arrests

A series of stories about arrests of Tabor College athletes on drug, alcohol, and drag-racing charges accounted for six of the 300 most-read stories, including two in the Top 10 and two more in the Top 50.

An April 28 story detailed how six members of the basketball team had been arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

A story Nov. 3 reported that two more Tabor athletes faced drug charges after a party in Marion.

A Nov. 17 story involved drunken driving charges against yet another Tabor basketball player.

A Sept. 15 story dealt with marijuana allegations against three football players.

A story March 3 involved felony charges filed in connection with an accident that occurred while two Tabor athletes allegedly were drag-racing along Industrial Rd. in Hillsboro.

7. Damaging weather

Stories June 30 about teens being rescued from a car swept into tree branches and damage to the Marion County Lake dam after heavy rain and flooding were among six weather-related stories in the Top 300.

Included was coverage Dec. 22 of a near-historic windstorm and Feb. 17 of record cold and blackouts.

8. Pool and ballpark

A heated dispute — reported in Top 100 stories from Feb. 10, 17, and 24 — between the City of Marion and the Marion-Florence school district over costs at the Sports and Aquatic Center in Marion may ultimately have led to a new agreement between the city and the schools, reported May 5, to turn over to the schools the city’s youth recreation programs and ballpark.

9. Utilities

Stories March 17 about the likelihood of utility bills soaring for 2½ years, May 5 about a supposedly “insulting” rationale for borrowing money to fix Marion’s power grid, June 7 about Marion’s city water turning brackish during water main replacement, Aug. 4 about repeated blackouts blamed on demand and a suicidal raccoon, and Aug. 11 about city crews mislocating a water line that was punctured during excavation all finished in the Top 300.

10. Fire chief

A story Feb. 24 about Mayfield and administrator Roger Holter giving fire chief Preston Williams two days to resign was the year’s 10th most-read story.

A story March 10 about Williams narrowly avoiding being fired finished 15th. His eventual resignation, reported March 24, finished 110th.

Other top topics

  • 11. Café 256 closed in Marion but Al’s Café plans to reopen in Lost Springs.
  • 12. Pilgrims flocked to Pilsen for Father Kapaun Day in June before Kapaun’s remains briefly returned to Pilsen in September.
  • 13. Embattled Hillsboro Health Care Clinic, operated by Herington Hospital, first announced it would close then announced it would remain open.
  • 14. Police had to be called to a Burns City Council meeting after a debate over secrecy and the legality of some council actions became heated.
  • 15. Windfarm opponents Amy Stutzman and Tom Britain both were in court regarding altercations with government officials or employees of the county’s southern windfarm, later purchased by a Danish company.
  • 16. Three people were killed, two children rescued, and 20 greyhounds escaped after a traffic accident on US-56 in February.
  • 17. Two lawyers with ties to Marion, Susan Robson and Keith Collett, were named district court judges in October.
  • 18. Workers quitting and roads surfaced with ground-up concrete full of dangerous wire imperiled county road maintenance.
  • 19. A drift of 14 pigs desecrated Summit Cemetery. They ended up being shot in March by “good Samaritan killer angels.”
  • 20. Marion officials admit failing to tell tax appraisers about building permits, resulting in the Building Center and Diamond H Fitness not being properly taxed.
  • 21. Investigation of the suicide of an inmate left alone after not being completely booked into jail resulted in no charges.
  • 22. Rexana Seibert was arrested twice after bizarre behavior and sent off to have her competency to stand trial evaluated.
  • 23. A marketing alliance involving regional agricultural co-ops was dissolved.
  • 24. Knowledgeable burglars defeated alarms to steal $8,645 in drugs from Hillsboro Hometown Pharmacy.
  • 25. Municipal worker Kenneth Carlson died after a mower overturned on him, drowning him in a Hillsboro city pond.
  • 26. Rural residents face cutoff of garbage collection.
  • 27. Holter narrowly escaped a council vote in April not to renew his contract.
  • 28. Three Canada men were charged in the 2020 murder of Shalan Gannon, a Wichita woman whose body was discovered in the Ninnescah River.
  • 29. The county began its attempt to pick up the pieces of a fiasco involving replacement of its heated dock.
  • 30. New census figures show the county shrank but Marion grew during the 2010s.

Crime stories

A total of 47 crime stories also finished in the Top 300, including these headlines that placed in the Top 100:

  • Guest's death mars reception; apparent suicide follows quarrel after wedding.
  • Bounty hunters jailed after incident here.
  • Probe of mail theft ring confirmed.
  • Charges likely after shivering toddler found in DUI arrest.
  • Combine altercation leads to court date.
  • Thefts so rampant they're not reported.
  • Hours after refusing care, overdose victim dies.
  • Long chase makes Main a drag strip: Speeds reach 75 mph downtown, 110 on highway.
  • Weeks of investigation lead to drug, theft arrests.
  • Boy, 12, shot by 10-year-old.
  • 103 mph in city = $1,400 fine.
  • Thief eludes manhunt: $3,142 shoplifter avoids half-dozen deputies, aerial surveillance.
  • Cop's lift to pharmacy leads to drug-linked fracas.
  • Lawyer in 10th delay of molestation trial could be disbarred.
  • Moving to small town teaches crime is everywhere.
  • Hillsboro woman bilked out of $28,950.
  • Drunk head-butts cop who gave him a lift.

Accident stories

A total of 21 accident stories also finished in the Top 300, including these headlines that placed in the Top 100:

  • Angry encounter with anglers leads to wreck.
  • Convicted in fatal crash, driver faces new DUI.
  • Likely drunken driver plunges car into lake ravine.
  • Ailing driver pulls over and into a hedge row.
  • Firefighter wrecks car en route to false alarm.
  • US-50 'unforgiving' but 'safe' after pair of head-on crashes.

Good news, too

Not everything attracting readers’ eyes in 2020 was bad news, of course.

A total of 36 feature stories also finished in the Top 300, including these headlines that placed in the Top 100:

  • Fed up with city life, couple moves to B&B.
  • Auction may attract global crowd.
  • House near park to become unique gathering place.
  • Beloved artist leaves legacy of generosity.
  • Thousands turn out to buy pieces of history.
  • Grieving husband finds strength to continue tour business.

Last modified Dec. 30, 2021

 

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