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As 2021 wound down, The Fairfield Ledger asked its readers to vote on the top 10 stories of the year in each market. These are the top 10 stories of 2021 as selected by Ledger readers.
1. Community remembers slain FHS teacher
Nohema Graber touched the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of students who had her as a Spanish teacher at Fairfield High School.
Graber’s current and former students found ways to carry on her memory after her death on Nov. 2. Upon hearing the news of her passing, FHS alumna Mira Pappin began painting a portrait of her former teacher. Pappin worked on the piece through the night, and early on the morning of Friday, Nov. 5, posted a photo of her painting on Facebook.
The painting shows an image of Graber wearing a cross behind a row of flowers with the words “Peace and Love” written over her head. It was a phrase familiar to her students, one that she often said after giving a big assignment.
“It was her way to tell us that she meant us the best,” Pappin said. “She was helping us improve with any assignment she gave us. Her mantra of ‘peace and love’ always stopped our complaints, because we did love her.”
Pappin said she painted the portrait of Graber because she felt the need to honor and celebrate her former teacher, and Graber always appreciated Pappin’s artwork.
“I hated seeing all the photos of the news articles people were posting of her,” Pappin said. “They were grainy and didn’t show how her students saw her, which was full of color and beauty.”
Emma Carlson, FHS Class of 2019, wrote a poem in memory of her former teacher. She posted it on Facebook just hours after learning of Graber’s passing.
The poem ends with the lines:
We will all see you in everything that is good
And we will all smile and we will all croon,
“Hola, Señora Graber. ¿Cómo estás?”
Carlson shared memories of her favorite times in Graber’s class. She had Graber for Spanish II and Spanish III. Like Pappin, she loved Graber’s catchphrase “peace and love.”
“I always thought it was funny when she would do that,” Carlson said. “She’d give us a couple pages of homework, and then exclaim, ‘Don’t hate me! Peace and love, chamacos [kids].’ It was impossible to think of her as mean after that.”
2. $34 million bond referendum for new middle school fails
The Fairfield Community School District was sent back to the drawing board after voters rejected the district’s effort to build a new middle school during a referendum on Sept. 14.
The voters rejected a $34 million general obligation bond to build a new middle school, add air conditioning to the Fairfield High School gymnasium and relocate the tennis courts south of the middle school that would be displaced by the new building.
The bond would have raised the school district’s property tax levy from $11.82 per $1,000 of assessed value to $13.33.
The vote total was 692 (49 percent) for approving the bond and 721 votes (51 percent) against the bond. The proposal needed 848 votes, 60 percent of the votes cast, to pass.
“I know we will continue to do our best to maintain all of our facilities and keep our students and staff safe,” Fairfield Superintendent Laurie Noll said. “We will continue to fix things that we know need to be fixed.”
3. MidWestOne Bank acquires First National Bank
MidWestOne Bank announced in November it had purchased First National Bank in Fairfield.
MidWestOne Financial Group, the parent company of MidWestOne Bank, announced it was acquiring Iowa First Bancshares Corp., the parent company of First National Bank in Fairfield. The agreement will broaden MidWestOne’s footprint in the important Fairfield market and provide key resources to support Fairfield’s future growth.
“FNB Fairfield has a long history as a community- and family-focused bank in Iowa,” said MidWestOne Chief Executive Officer Charlie Funk. “For more than 156 years, they have been putting their customers first, providing financial services and economic stability to the Fairfield community. We look forward to continuing that rich heritage and providing them with the resources and support — and financial strength that MidWestOne is known for — to help secure their future for decades to come.”
Peg Hudson, senior vice president of CMO MidWestOne Bank, said the merger will need to go through regulatory hurdles, and that it likely won’t be complete until mid-2022.
Decisions about what will happen to the two banks respective buildings, or where employees will move, have not been finalized, Hudson said.
4. FEDA shell building sold to Sun & Fun Motorsports
A motorsports business announced in November that it is planning to open a dealership in Fairfield in the spring of 2022, after it moves into a shell building south of town.
Sun & Fun Motorsports of Iowa City purchased Fairfield Economic Development Association’s 30,000-square-foot shell building and the 3-acre site it sits on along 227th Street in the Business & Industrial Park off Highway 34. Sun & Fun expects to invest $2.7 million in developing the location and completing this expansion project that will result in creating up to 17 jobs. Construction improvements will begin immediately and an opening of the new dealership is slated for March 2022.
Scott Goedken, owner of Sun & Fun Motorsports, said in a news release, “We are very excited about coming to Fairfield.”
Sun & Fun is the largest powersports dealer in the Midwest, currently retailing 11 brands companywide. The new dealership will retail two off-road vehicle brands, Can-Am and CFMOTO.
“As a new business coming to Fairfield, it has been great working with the community,” Goedken said.
The new dealership will be comprised of a showroom sales floor with quality parts and accessories for sale and a certified full service shop.
5. Louden Housing renovates 44 apartments in Broadway Building
The project to renovate the Broadway Building into affordable apartments became a reality in 2021, six years after its owner announced a desire to spruce up the historic structure.
The building, located at 607 W. Broadway Ave. in Fairfield, was once home to Louden Machinery Company, which sold barn products around the world. Today, thanks to housing tax credits and private investors, the building has been converted into Louden Housing consisting of 44 apartment dwellings, 39 of which are for low-income households, while the rest are market rate.
CBC Financial Corporation received almost half a million dollars from the Iowa Finance Authority to renovate the building into an affordable housing project. Before renovations were finished in 2020, the building had only 18 units with plenty of empty space. The building’s first floor had once been home to Café Paradiso and Vivo’s Restaurant, but that space was turned into apartments during this most recent renovation.
One of the conditions of the Iowa Finance Authority’s grant was to maintain as many historic features as possible. Visitors to the building’s first floor lobby can see a hay carrier and a large barn door. David Coffinger of CBC Financial said it was no easy task to move the massive hay carrier into its current spot near the building’s south entrance, but it was worth it to preserve that part of the building’s history. Framed posters in the lobby tell the story of Louden Machinery Company, and one of the business’s old scales greets visitors as they board the elevator.
6. Carnegie Historical Museum undergoes major renovations
The Carnegie Historical Museum in Fairfield underwent a major overhaul from 2020-2021, and in early November the museum invited the public to take a look at all the renovations from the past year and a half.
The museum invited the First National Bank Heritage Club to tour the museum, and the following day, the museum hosted an open house to show off the new exhibits on its lower level and upper floor. Patrons got to see restored exhibits, too, such as the Old Settlers Day Barbecue buffalo head.
The new exhibits include those on water birds, Zumi pottery, a history of the town’s electric light tower, passenger pigeons, Stephenson coverlets and more.
The building’s lower level has under gone a major reorganization and is now dedicated to all things Fairfield, from its founding to the modern day. It covers the full spectrum of community life, everything from gas stations to drug stores to buggy showrooms.
Patrons can learn about the history of factories and retail establishments, as well as a nostalgic glimpse into times past, such as the 98-year-history of Parsons College. There’s also an exhibit celebrating the golden anniversary of Maharishi International University, which was founded in 1971 and moved to Fairfield in 1974.
7. Ribbon-cutting held for Petra Park in downtown Fairfield
Alex Stanley said he is thrilled to see a new park in downtown Fairfield.
The park, located at the corner of West Briggs Avenue and North Main Street, is called “Petra Park,” after Stanley’s late wife, Petra. In May, those who had a hand in creating the park gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the park’s completion, its opening to the public, and its transfer to the city of Fairfield.
After the short ceremony, attendees stayed to watch a ballet performance courtesy of Chayse Gilchrist and Ayla Banes. One feature of the park is a ballet pole attached to a mirror. Stanley said that feature was included to celebrate Petra’s love of ballet.
“Whenever the music started, her body started to move, and she was unbelievably graceful,” Stanley said.
Stanley said Petra even considered a career as a professional ballet dancer before deciding it would be too stressful.
Stanley said he and his wife were fond of ornamental grasses and perennials, which are planted in planter boxes along the perimeter of the park. He said they will require only limited maintenance from the city staff tasked with keeping up the park.
8. First Presbyterian Church in Fairfield is sold
The First United Presbyterian Church in Fairfield was sold in 2021.
The new owners are Tammy Haessler and Adriene Crimson, who live on the second floor and rent out space in the rest of the church for special events. Their nonprofit organization that will manage the building is called Golden Magnolia Sanctuary, and in addition to hosting gatherings, they hope to convert a portion of the church into a soup kitchen. Haessler and Crimson said they plan to plant magnolia trees on the property, which they said are found nowhere else in Fairfield.
The church’s congregation is among the oldest in town, founded in 1841, and its sanctuary is 145 years old. At one point in the 1940s, the church had 600 members, but that number has been falling since then and finally reached a point where the church council decided it was time to sell the building.
Sally Johnston, the communications chair of the church’s council, said Sunday worship service draws “30 people on a good day,” and that the church has 90 members on the books. She said selling the building has been “in the back of our minds for the past 10 years.” Deb Doyle, president and chair of evangelism, said paying for maintenance is hard with less and less revenue each year.
9. Trojans beat rival Mt. Pleasant in football
The Fairfield football team crossed a big one off the list Friday night, Aug. 27.
The Trojans went to Mt. Pleasant and beat the rival Panthers 27-18, earning their first win in the rivalry in five years and the first under head coach Nate Weaton.
“It's fun as a coach to walk into those young men and see the joy in their faces,” Weaton said.
It wasn’t easy. The Trojans and Panthers battled for every yard, trading punches in the closest game of the rivalry since the Trojans’ seven-point victory in 2016.
It was a banner night for Tate Allen, who ran for three Trojan scores and threw for one in his first career start at quarterback.
“We never gave up, and that's all we can ask for,” Allen said. “Everyone had each other's back the whole entire game.”
10. Trojan girls’ tennis takes third at state
For the first time in school history, the Fairfield girls tennis team played in the Final Four of the state tournament.
The Trojans went 1-1 at the Class 1A state meet, falling 5-2 to Columbus Catholic in the semifinals before upending Spirit Lake-Okoboji 5-1 in the third place game.
“I was very proud of them,” said Trojan head coach Heidi Grunwald. “I'm glad the seniors got this, and I'm glad Tess (Paton) and Sydney (Wells) got this, too.”
Second-seeded Fairfield had to bounce back after losing its first match of the year against No. 2 seed Columbus Catholic. The Sailors won four of the six singles matches to take a 4-2 lead into doubles, and swept the No. 3 doubles match 6-1, 6-1 against Fairfield’s Lauren Kraemer and Olivia Jones to clinch the match.
Although the Trojans lost the semifinal, they won the marquee match of the day. No. 1 singles player and 2019 state champion Yana Gaskell knocked off Columbus’ Sasha Hyacinth 2-6, 6-0, 10-2 just two days after Hyacinth won the 2021 state singles title in Waterloo.
“I kind of wanted to prove myself,” Gaskell said. “I came out a little nervous and didn't play too well, but I got my game together.”
The Trojans won the top two matches against Columbus Catholic. Paton took the No. 2 match 2-6, 6-3, 10-2 to give Fairfield two wins via tiebreaker.
“ I was definitely tired, because the state singles tournament wiped me out,” Paton said. "I was really excited to be here with my team and have a different experience."