Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
As 2021 wound down, the Southeast Iowa Union 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 Henry County readers.
Back in October 2020, the Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce announced that the Mt. Pleasant Childcare Center is coming to Henry County.
On July 6, 2021, the new Mt. Pleasant Community Childcare Center, housed in the former Family Video building, opened its doors to the public, serving 50 children.
The child care center came after years of desperate need for a child care center in Mt. Pleasant. As the economic heart of Henry County, the chamber and community members knew that the lack of child care was strangling the economy and its growth.
The community has been working on the issue for several years. Discussions on how to address the issue began in March 2020 when business leaders and community members came together to consider possible solutions.
From an economic standpoint, Kristi Perry, executive vice president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance, said businesses have historically struggled to hire and recruit employees due to the child care shortage.
The Henry County Board of Trustee’s passed the final resolution approving the operating lease agreement with Great River Health Systems in June.
In a unanimous vote the Henry County Health Center trustees leased all of their assets and employees, excluding the ambulance services, to Great River Health Systems in Burlington.
This 11½-year lease came after nearly two years of accumulated effort by the board to ensure the preservation of health care access in Henry County despite major losses in the hospital’s budget.
As part of the leasing agreement, Great River will retain the assets of the board of trustees and the Henry County Health Center while extending funding to cover the losses in the Emergency Medical Services Department or ambulance services.
However, this leasing agreement comes structured as a lease, not a sale of the hospital meaning that Henry County still retains ownership of those assets.
The leasing agreement allows the Great River Health Systems to compensate for Henry County’s financial shortcomings while being able to use their assets in their systems.
For years now, the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion has been a major staple for the town of Mt. Pleasant.
Midwest Old Threshers CEO Terry McWilliams said that after missing the reunion in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic people were ready to get back and see their friends they might only see once a year.
“For a lot of folks it’s like anything they missed out on in 2020 with COVID affecting them,” McWilliams said. “Seeing family members, getting together and having fun they got to do here. So Old Threshers Reunion is a reunion for a lot of folks. A lot of these folks only see these friends at this time of the year. After not seeing them for two plus years makes the experience more joyous.”
“In 2020, there was no hugging going on, but there was a lot of hugging and handshaking going on at this Old Threshers Reunion.”
Henry County Schools showed their support for Fairfield, amid the death of Fairfield Spanish teacher Nohema Graber in November.
Schools including Mt. Pleasant, New London and Winfield-Mt. Union all wore orange and black — Fairfield High School colors — for a week in November to recognize and support Fairfield through their loss.
A number of the school districts’ superintendents explained why it's essential to support their neighboring school.
Mt. Pleasant Superintendent John Henriksen said that even though the two schools are considered rivals, they're connected in so many ways other than competition, which led to the creation of #friendsbeforerivals.
The Mt. Pleasant school district is also raising money to help its neighbor.
New London Superintendent Chad Wahls said districts must come together in hard times.
"In times of struggle, districts need to come together more than in times of celebration," Wahls said.
New London also decided to raise money for Fairfield by selling slushies.
New London Principal Scott Kracht came up with the idea to have 50 cents of every slushy provided to Fairfield.
The rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant in Henry County last summer concerned county health officials.
Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin told the Board of Supervisors in early August that, after weeks of seeing minimal positive tests, the daily numbers are steadily climbing.
“We had eight over the weekend — four Saturday and four Sunday — seven Monday, four Tuesday, six Wednesday and eight today,” Van Dorin said.
“The delta variant is very prominent and very contagious,” Van Dorin said, adding that the current wave of infections is hitting people under 40 the hardest. “Hospitalization rates for people under 40 are a lot higher than before.
“It used to be for people over 50, but many of them are immunized now.”
The rise of the Delta variant came as the state began shuttering Test Iowa sites, leaving county health departments and medical providers to conduct COVID tests.
“We are our own test site now,” Van Dorin said.
A landslide forced the closure of New London Road on Lowell Hill on Aug. 11.
Initially, only the southbound land of the road was closed.
The slide has caused a crack in the lane, and the decision was made to close the southbound lane.
The road was closed because a portion of the land began breaking up and sliding down the hillside to the Skunk River.
The Henry County Engineer’s Office made the decision to close the road and pull up the pavement on the hill.
“It’s quite a problem. It hasn’t stopped moving,” County Engineer Jake Hotchkiss said. “We put cold patch in there trying to close up the ruts just to see if it would be a minor movement.
“Once it jumped into the northbound lane, that’s when we had to make the decision to close the road.”
Hotchkiss said the he believes the damage was caused by heavy rains that raised the level of the Skunk River. When the river level dropped, it pulled moisture from the hillside causing the road slide.
In early September, crews began constructing a temporary road for use until a permanent replacement could be designed and constructed this year.
In September, New London School District voters approved a $5.375 million bond that allows the district to create additional classrooms at Clark Elementary, construct a new gymnasium space and add supplemental parking.
485 total votes were cast with a final tally of 328-157. The bond vote exceeded the needed 60% approval needed, with 68% of voters in favor.
New London is on the upward trend in terms of residents and enrollment. This is one reason the bond money is important to the district.
“New London is growing,” Superintendent Chad Wahls said. “That’s one of the main issues we’ve tried to point to in this bond election. The school grows along with the city, and we’re starting to see that in the classroom.”
With the money from the bond, the school plans to turn the Clark Elementary gym and multipurpose room into additional classrooms.
Elementary-age students now have three separate sections at each grade level.
They plan to add a new gym space for athletics and physical education classes.
New parking will be built to help the flow of traffic and ensure pedestrian safety.
The Mt. Pleasant girls soccer team needed just one more win to clinch the Southeast Conference championship.
Mt. Pleasant ran past Fort Madison 5-2, to complete the season sweep of the Bloodhounds and win its eighth game in a row, clinching the SEC championship.
The Panthers scored three goals in the first half to take a 3-1 lead into the break. Mt. Pleasant won the second half 2-1.
It was another banner day for sophomore forward Andrea Lopreato. She scored four times on just seven shots on goal to lead the team to victory.
The only other Panther goal of the game came from Abby West. Elly Manning and Anna Ostby each finished the game with one assist.
Emma Pieper faced 10 shots on goal and saved eight of them.
Along with the 8-0 overall record, the Panthers are 7-0 in conference play. The Mt. Pleasant defense gave up two or fewer goals in every game this season.
Trent Hobbs, who posted on the Henry County Republican Party Facebook page stating patriots should prepare for a revolution and “stay locked and loaded,” resigned from his position as chairman in January.
Hobbs said his comments were misinterpreted.
In a Jan. 6 post, Hobbs wrote the country is “officially screwed,” and the republic is on the path to socialism.
“So from this time forward, patriots stay locked and loaded. Keep your family close,” Hobbs said.
“Locked and loaded” is a phrase not a threat, Hobbs said. He continued to say he is not a violent person and condemns violence in every form.
Hobbs said he is a modern day Paul Revere warning people to be “alert, vigilant and stay safe.”
The original post came as the country watched hundreds of pro-Trump rioters breach the U.S. Capitol after protesting the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes that confirmed Joe Biden's win.
“Get ready for the coming revolution as the storming of the capital today will be likened to the shot heard round the world that launched the first Revolutionary War,” Hobbs said in the post. “Only this time it will be Red vs Blue.”
In July, police in Mt. Pleasant have concluded one of its officers complied with the department’s use-of-force policies in the June 29 arrest of a Mt. Pleasant man.
A YouTube video, shot by an onlooker, of David Hudnall, 31, being taken into custody at a Fast Break convenience store, prompted the review.
The video, which showed only part of the arrest, is shot in a car’s rearview mirror. The video shows Hudnall being struck in the head and sides multiple times by the officer.
Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Lyle Murray ordered an independent review of the arrest.
Following the investigation, the police department stated all video sources of the arrest were reviewed by an independent investigator.
“The investigation has determined that the arresting officer complied with department policies in using appropriate force to restrain Mr. Hudnall from engaging in further unlawful acts and to protect himself or others from harm,” the release stated.