2018: YEAR IN REVIEW

 

December 26, 2018

JANUARY

First Sidney Baby Born

Blake Ahrens was the first baby born at Sidney Regional Medical Center in 2018, making his appearance on January 12.

The 2018 New Year's Baby was born to Savannah and Tanner Ahrens of Sidney.

Blake came in at 9 lbs, 1 oz and is 21 inches long.

College program promotes developing small business

The company changes. It could be new owners, a reduction in staffing or a new management style. The change results in employees deciding to accept the change, move to a new community or possibly follow a dream and hang their own shingle.

Western Nebraska Community College has a program to help people considering doing business their way. A lunch meeting was held Friday, Jan. 19, at WNCC for prospective business owners to meet agency representatives and other people considering entrepreneurships.

The meeting was lead by Paula Abbott, MSM, WNCC Sidney Campus Director.

"We don't want to see jobs go away. We want to see them grow," said Bryan Venable.

Venable is the Business Resource and Social Enterprise Fund Manager for the Panhandle Area Development District. PADD is a public non-profit council of governments serving the 11-county Panhandle area, according to the PADD website.

Organizations represented Friday include Western Nebraska Community College, the City of Sidney, Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce, the Nebraska Department of Labor, Nebraska Business Development Center(USDA), Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) and PADD.


Donation assists Camp Lookout renovation

In the mid to late 1800s, the western plains were wild and the men and women who tried to tame them were wilder still.

Camp Lookout was established as one of many outposts to help ensure the safety of people moving into the west.

The Boot Hill Committee is working to restore the Camp Lookout building to historical significance.

Since its construction in 1867, the building went from being a military outpost, to a brothel, then into private ownership before it was purchased by the City of Sidney. It was built to house soldiers from Fort Sedgwick in Colorado who were sent to set up an outpost along Lodgepole Creek to protect railroad workers constructing the Union Pacific railroad west.

FEBRUARY

Agri-Plastics opens first US production facility in Sidney

Agri-Plastics, an Ontario-based manufacturer of calf housing solutions, has opened its first US production facility in Sidney. Three rotomolding machines are currently being installed, and the plant will be fully online by June 2018, according to Agri-Plastics owner Darren VanBuuren.


"Our new Nebraska facility will help Agri-Plastics better serve dairy producers and calf raisers in the western US, and help us meet the growing demand for quality calf housing worldwide" said VanBuuren.

Agri-Plastics is investing $4.5 million in the 159,000-square-foot plant, which will initially produce a new line of outdoor calf hutch systems called Flex Hutch™, according to VanBuuren. Other products to be manufactured at the Sidney location include calf indoor and outdoor pens, poly-farm equipment, and custom molding projects for various OEM manufacturers. The company currently operates two other rotomolding facilities in Ontario with a combined manufacturing space of 200,000 square feet.

Joyce recognized by Aviation Association

James Joyce was recently inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame.

The recognition took place during the annual Nebraska Aviation Symposium held in Kearney Jan. 25.

Sidney Resident Reaches 107 Years Young

The year was 1911. Transportation was a mixture of horses, buggies and stage coaches and the occasional car. The Civil War and Indian conflicts were recent memory.

It was also the year the Johnson family added one more to the family role and the population of Cheyenne County.

Ada Johnson recently celebrated her 107th birthday. It started with a round of "Happy Birthday" sung to her as a wake-up call. She had visits from family and friends and several arrangements of flower to recognize her long life and more are due in the next few days.

Community Gets The Nod At Chamber Banquet

While the stage was set to mimic the Hollywood Oscars, the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce could well have named its Saturday awards program the "Team Awards."

The Chamber annually uses its award banquet to recognize significant contributions to the community by both businesses and individuals. But without exception representatives of business and individuals alike gave credit not only to their own teams, but the Sidney and Cheyenne County community as well.

No matter the category, award winners this year brought forth thanks to groups and individuals who contributed to the success for which they were being recognized.

John Phillips, tabbed for the Ralph Olsen Director of the Year Award said all were strengthened because all worked together in making the area's success a priority. Phillips was honored twice, the first time alongside his wife Kim, with the pair receiving the Edna Anderson Award, given to citizens in the community who dedicate their professional lives to the community, plus have a track record of community service.

Cabela's Employees Offered Voluntary Retirement Packages

For months since the announcement that Bass Pro Shops purchased Cabela's, uncertainty has hovered over Sidney like a cloud.

"What's going to happen on the hill" has been the question many have tried to guess as they hope for their future in Sidney.

That question was answered late last week when those employed at Cabela's headquarters received letters outlining a severance package for those voluntarily leaving the company. It is believed that the letters were sent to the majority, if not all, of those employed at Cabela's corporate headquarters.

That was confirmed Tuesday by Bass Pro spokesman Jack Wlezien, who said that while there might be some exceptions due to individual circumstances, "for the most part, everyone got one."

The severance packages included a one-time payment of $40,000 to employees over 50 or with more than 10 years of service. Those younger than 50 or with less than 10 years were offered a $20,000 payment.

The offers are in addition to the company's normal severance package, reported to be a set amount of pay for every year of employment.

City reviews Financial State of the City

Total government assets for the City of Sidney increased by about 11 percent, $5,535,585, by the end of the 2017 fiscal year, according to an audit presented to the city council by Rauner & Associates, P.C.

The audit is for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017. The audit was presented to the Sidney City Council Feb. 13.

While assets increased by 11 percent, expenses increased by 16 percent and revenues increased by $102,632, less than one percent.

Business-type Activities assets increased by 2-1/5 percent, $1,266,056 with expenses almost flatlining at a .21 percent increase. Meanwhile, revenues decreased by 1.14 percent, $163,892 and charges for services increased by $439,478 or 3.26 percent.

Taxes continue to make up the majority of governmental revenue at 62 percent. Operating Grants, Capital Grants and Contributions account for about 17 percent of the city's revenue. Charges for services account for 7 percent of revenue, followed by franchise fees 6 percent of revenue.

MARC Lands in Sidney

An air rescue service newly based out of Sidney officially went into operation last week, and it didn't long to make its first run.

Medical Air Rescue Company (MARC) went "live," or able to carry patients, Saturday morning, and that evening carried its first patient.

MARC's local operation, in the works since January 2017, has spent the past few months setting up shop in Sidney. The company purchased two homes in Sidney, one for medical personnel, the other for pilots and ground crew, and has made arrangements for use of the Sidney Regional Medical Center helicopter pad and a hangar at the Sidney Airport.

MARC, based out of Rapid City, S.D., also has satellite operations in Valentine and Pine Ridge, S.D. The Sidney operation, said Sidney Base Manager Shannon Odiet, fulfills a need the air medical community has been looking at for several years.

"This was an underserved area," Odiet said. "There have been a lot of companies looking at Sidney for a long time."

MARCH

Sidney School Board Planning Against Cabela's Impact

With staff reductions related to the Bass Pro absorption of Cabela's, the Sidney School District is bracing for a related loss of students.

In the school board's work session Tuesday, Supt. Jay Ehler reported the District is down 53 students since the start of the school year.

"We know that we will have a significant number leaving this spring and summer so we will continue to have discussions based around appropriate staffing and making cost effective decisions regarding facilities," Ehler said.

The State of Nebraska supports public schools through a formula comparing costs to revenue, including local tax revenue and grants. The State supports school districts with a formula based on the difference between local revenue and the actual cost of operation, and the average number of students in attendance during the school year.

Ehler said the District has lost 93 students over the last two years.

Sidney School District Approaches '21st Century'

The Sidney School Board Monday approved a program that will offer more flexibility for teachers and students.

Labeled the 1 to 1 Chromebook Iniative, Sidney students will have access to a computer they can take with them on field trips, to a local wifi hotspot, home or anywhere within the school to do their homework.

The District has 1,006 devices for students in grades five through 12, according to Technology Facilitator Matt McKay.

The new computers will allow students the flexibility of starting an assignment in class and finishing at a different location on the same computer. Likewise, teachers will have the option of assigning research from a specific website that can be downloaded onto each computer, or have students view a video outside of class and do the "homework" and discussion during class.

Sidney Student Narrowly Misses National Spelling Bee

A few weeks ago, Sidney had a competition generating the sweat and concentration of a chess match, and wrestling. While it did have a physical impact, it was a competition of the mind. It was a competition of understanding of the English language and how words are spelled with the ultimate goal of the national competition in Washington, D.C.

A Sidney girl missed that plane ride by one word.

Meghana Nakkanti, who defeated last year's Cheyenne County spelling champion, made it to the final two in Omaha this weekend in the regional competition, the Midwest Spelling Bee. She lost to 13-year-old Marrs Magnet Center of Omaha eighth grader Stephanie Lewis. Nakkanti misspelled the word "pious" in the final oral round. Lewis won with the word "leechcraft."

Charlotte Dorwart said Nakkanti is the first Cheyenne County speller to finish this well in her six or seven years of working with the Cheyenne County Spelling Bee.

Governor Recognizes Ag Week

Commends Agri-Plastics for Sidney Operation

National Agriculture Week was March 18-24, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts sees it as a time to celebrate Nebraska as well.

"Agriculture is the heart and soul of what we do," Gov. Ricketts said Wednesday. "If we're going to grow Nebraska, we have to grow agriculture."

Gov. Ricketts said one in four jobs in Nebraska are agriculture-related.

Gov. Ricketts stopped in Sidney for a lunch hosted by the the Cheyenne County Farm Bureau. Following the lunch, the governor, Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman and Farm Bureau representatives toured the Agri-Plastics plant in Sidney.

Gov. Ricketts said expanding agriculture has three components: international trade, value-added agriculture and the third is property tax. He said 95 percent of the state's consumers are outside of the borders.

State Takes Control of Sidney Nursing Home

A Sidney nursing home and assisted living center are among a group of facilities across Nebraska affected by a move by the State of Nebraska. The state has taken control of 21 nursing homes around Nebraska because their owner couldn't make payroll.

Affected are Sidney Care and Rehabilitation Center skilled nursing center and assisted living center. The homes' owner, Cottonwood Healthcare, also known as Skyline, which is headquartered in New Jersey, notified the state about its financial crisis, so the state took action.

Sidney School District Unveils Strategic Plan

The Sidney School District recently unveiled the District's Strategic Plan.

The Strategic Plan has three points that focus on "World Class Education." The parts are Educator Effectiveness, Positive Purpose and College and Career Ready.

The Strategic Plan begins with what could be called a mission statement outlining the District's beliefs and expectations.

Superintendent Jay Ehler said the Strategic Plan defines what the District has already been doing.

"It just needed to be put into a formalized plan," Ehler said.

Sidney Choir Invited to Carnegie Hall

Sidney High School's choir has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York city next year.

The choir, under the direction of David Mead, received the invitation after performing the work "Sleep," by Composer Eric Whitaker, on an audition recording. The group learned by mid-week last week that its recording had been well received, and after further review by officials from Distinguished Concerts International New York City, they were officially invited to perform.

Council Approves Purchase of Golf Course Club House

Golfers will see a few changes at Hillside Golf Course soon. The City of Sidney Tuesday night agreed to purchase the club house from Hillside Ventures.

The purchase was approved with a 4-1 council vote. Councilman Wendall Gaston voted against the measure.

"The biggest thing is I'm not in favor of city employees serving food and alcohol," Gaston said after the meeting.

The agreement is for the City to purchase the building and business for $295,000. The purchase includes the building, all assets, equipment, personal property, goodwill and franchise rights but does not include inventory.

APRIL

Spring Storm Cripples Area

A hard-hitting spring storm that hit the area Friday left more than a hundred motorists stranded around Sidney, and electric customers from Sidney to Lake McConaughy without power for between 24 and 48 hours.

The storm began dropping snow mid-morning, and around 11:30 a.m., a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 80 near mile marker 66 was reported and it went downhill from there.

The Nebraska State Patrol reported two major areas where accidents and poor visibility shut down traffic on I-80, one of those more than a half mile long and the other where at least 50 vehicles were stopped. By mid-day, all highways around Sidney were closed.

Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP), working with the Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office, Sidney Police Department, Sidney Public Schools, Region 21 Emergency Management, the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and others, worked to clear all of the stranded vehicles.

Fair Board Brings Entertainment to '18 Fair

Fair time will include entertainment by an established artist and by an up and coming talent.

The Cheyenne County Fair will include the talent of Rodney Atkins and McKenzie JaLynn Band. Atkins is known for songs such as "Farmer's Daughter," "If You're Going Through Hell," and "It's America." "Take a Back Road" (2011) produced his sixth No. 1 in its title track. He has received six nominations from the Academy of Country Music.

The McKenzie JaLynn Band is lead by 17-year-old McKenzie JaLynn. She and her band are being considered for three for the fifth annual Nashville Universe Awards Show to be held in May. Awards they have been nominated for include Rising Star: McKenzie JaLynn, Female Vocalist of the Year: McKenzie JaLynn, and Vocal Group of the Year: McKenzie JaLynn Band.

MAY

County Will See Lower Tax Valuations

A recommendation by the Cheyenne County Assessor's Office to lower the percentages on which property tax values are based has been approved by the Nebraska Tax Equalization and Review Commission.

Last month the Cheyenne County Assessor's Office made its recommendation to the Department of Revenue to lower the percentages on a number of property types. With the Department of Revenue's approval, the matter needed final approval from the Tax Equalization and Review Commission.

Properties taxes are first based on their market value, with tax assessment based from 92-100 percent for residential properties, and from 69-75 percent for agricultural land. Cheyenne County's recommendation was that county properties be taxed at 92 percent of value for residential and 71 percent for agricultural land. From there, tax-supported entities establish their budgets, and mill levies are used to formulate each property's tax bill.

The result of the new measure will be a drop of an estimated 10-14 percent in the city of Sidney, 9 percent in villages and small towns, with rural residence tax value figured at 5 percent less.

Agricultural tax value could drop from 12-20 percent, depending on location.

Law Ride Celebrates 10 Years

Hundreds of riders will stream toward the middle of Nebraska this weekend, participating in the 10th Annual Law Enforcement Ride. From both ends of the state they'll travel, meeting in Grand Island and then going together to the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial.

The riders will be primarily members of law enforcement motorcycle clubs, but participants don't have to be law enforcement, or even motorcycle riders to participate and show support.

The ride has several parts to it. One is the comradery. Riders will spend the day with one another in support of those on law enforcement, but more importantly remembering those 135 fallen Nebraska officers. The ride also serves as a fund raiser, raising money to support the families of Fallen Police Officers and/or Firefighters, as well as for upkeep of the Law Enforcement Memorial.

Storm responders commended for April 13 reaction

It started like most weekends. People joked about the luck of a Friday the 13th. Some watched the sky a little more cautiously when weather services predicted precipitation in the Nebraska Panhandle. When the skies turned gray, then to rain they watched a little closer, and as the wind drove the increasing snow the risk of "a real storm" increased until it became a reality with icy roads, drifting snow, closing businesses and stranding motorists.

For some, it was reminiscent of a time when hotels cared less about revenue and more about caring for people, when residents opened their homes to people in need, and many people were grateful for that kind of compassion as they suddenly found themselves miles from familiar faces, facing snow and cold, and closed roads.

Thursday, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts made a stop in Sidney to formally thank the many people and departments who responded to the crippling snowstorm.

The celebration began with Sidney City Council member Bob Olsen doing the introduction. Gov. Ricketts spoke after that, recalling the weather conditions of the day.

"We had a blizzard, white-out conditions," he said. "The people of the city sprang into action. That's the spirit of Nebraska."

Fourth Grade Closes Big Ag Project

Fourth grade students closed out a two-year project this week, showing their work on the last of 150 agriculture-related jobs.

During the presentation, this year's fourth graders were joined at Central Elementary by fifth graders, who last year started the project, inspired by Nebraska's sesquicentennial (150 year) celebration.

Throughout the project, students studied the state's birthday, hearing from state leaders in person and over video feeds, including Gov. Pete Ricketts' address on the sesquicentennial to the state legislature. As part of their final presentation and celebration, they heard from Nebraska Senator Steve Erdman, who represents the area in District 47, who told the youngsters he appreciated their work in understanding and learning about agriculture.

The bigger part of the project was when students interviewed people from across the state whose jobs were related to agriculture, Nebraska's leading industry.

A big part of their lessons came from Dan and Marilee Rowan of Gurley, who still farm land homesteaded by the family. The Rowan family started farming in the area when Frank and Lotti claimed a 160-acre homestead, plus 160 acres under the Timber Claim Act.

The classes "adopted" the Rowans, who shared not only their own farming experience, but also stories of the hard work their family put in as homesteaders.

JUNE

Sidney Girl Earns Highest Scout Honor

NORTH PLATTE - A Sidney Girl Scout was presented scouting's highest award this week, capping a life-long dedication to learning through Girl Scouts.

In a ceremony held Tuesday, Sarah-Kate Splichal was presented with the Gold Award. With the award, she became one of the elite in Girl Scouts, as less than six percent of scouts earn the award.

In accepting the award, Splichal thanked her mother, "for giving me that extra push I needed when loking for that next step in the process."

Splichal said she recalled her initial contact with scouting when she joined a Brownie troop in Lincoln. That recollection included a welcoming and kind group of people who "helped me get out of my comfort zone."

As she grew older, Splichal joined other activities in school, "but Girl Scouts was something I never let go of through high school," she said. "It had been part of who I was ever since kindergarten."

50-plus Year Flower Garden Sold

The experience greets visitors before crossing the threshold. Entering the dirt driveway at certain times of the year, a visitor is welcomed with the warm scent of fresh flowers, irises to be specific. The four plots are only a sample of what used to dominate the home of Wanda Rezac west of Sidney.

She started what became a passionate hobby when she and her husband bought a house in Sidney in the early 1950s. She says a neighbor was thinning her flowers and offered her some. The few flowers were planted, then when they moved to their home northwest of Sidney, the irises were transplanted to their new home.

"It grew and it grew and I never knew when to quit," Rezac said recently.

Now older and moving slower, she has decided to sell her irises, all 3,000 varieties. She said people from Arkansas bought all of them and are digging them up. Two plots have been taken and the rest are expected to be harvested next week.

"It is amazing to me there can be so many color combinations," she said from the cart she uses to drive among the flower gardens.

She added that the new hybrids are not as hearty as previous generations. She said the Iris Society visited her home the last two summers.

"They were digging those they couldn't find anymore," she said. "They salvaged around 300."

Her home, and the longtime home of the countless irises, has a history of near 58 years.

Chamber Welcomes New Director

In April it was announced that Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce President Denise Wilkinson was resigning for a similar position in a bigger market.

Monday, her replacement and the newest Chamber director/president took the helm.

Hope Feeney, a graduate of Sidney High School and Hastings College, recently returned to Sidney to take on the duties of Chamber president.

"I grew up here, graduated high school here," she said Monday.

After high school she attended Hastings College where she earned a degree in Business Administration and a minor in English. She then took a job with the Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln, Neb., where she with the federal programs including grants, youth and community development programs.

Community is what drew her back to Sidney.

"I was kind of missing that home part of my life," she said.

Chautauqua Begins With Social Activities

A number of related events have already taken place, but the Nebraska Chautauqua at Sidney begins in earnest tonight with opening ceremonies and introductions to the players who will be bringing stories of World War I to life.

WWI was chosen for this year's Chautauqua, as the conflict happened 100 years ago. Chautauqua offers opportunities for audiences to come together to develop a fuller understanding of the lasting influences of the Great War. Among the impacts addressed as a part of Chautauqua are America's changing role in international relations as a result of the war, the impact of the war on American race, gender, ethnicity, and class issues, and how technology shaped the war.

With origins in the late 19th century, Chautauqua combines oratory and lectures with literary readings and musical entertainment. The name itself comes from a resort community in New York State where in 1875, a summer program of lectures, sermons, and music attracted such enthusiastic audiences that within a few years similar programs sprang into existence for the public in other parts of the country. Today, Chautauqua upholds the tradition of offering entertainment, education, and community-based heritage. Attendees gather to enjoy scholars-in-residence presenting first-person portrayals of some of our most important historical figures along with a variety of activities for all ages.

Sidney was chosen as one of two Chautauqua sites this year. Last week, the event was presented in Wayne. The events are presented in conjunction with the Nebraska Historical Society and Humanities Nebraska.

State of Sidney:

"We're strong, we're resilient, and we have a lot of positives."

That was part of the message Sidney Mayor Joe Arterburn presented to a crowd of 120 Wednesday at the State of Sidney, presented by the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the City of Sidney.

Arterburn's message focused on the need for the positive in interactions with each other and with out of town visitors alike, as "you never know how that word will affect their impression."

While Sidney was hard hit with the changes at Cabela's, Arterburn said Sidney didn't have the nickname "Toughest Town on the Tracks" for nothing. He said Sidney is battling back, fighting to develop new business.

And when the naysayers get to going, Arterburn's message is clear.

"Get out of our way," he said. "We busy building Sidney back up."

When it comes to big news about new businesses or a magic bullet solution, anyone hoping for such an announcement walked away from the meeting disappointed. But the meeting did provide a lot of information on the processes of drawing businesses to Sidney, as well as the city administration's approach to becoming more efficient.

Cops, Firemen to Mix It Up

Long standing jokes and folklore highlight rivalry between police officers and firefighters. Memes, cartoons and even story lines on television embellish the differences between two sets of important public servants.

Many of us have heard the jokes; "The reason they made [insert department] is so [insert department] could have heroes, too."

But when community safety and well being is on the line, all respond where they are needed.

Sidney's volunteer fire fighters and police officers will be responding to a community need this weekend - where they might also feed the myths a little at the same time.

But it will all be for a cause when they meet for Guns and Hoses, a benefit for the Night of Hope Walk for Cancer.

Derived and sponsored by the Popkorn Shack, Guns and Hoses will pit police and firemen against each other on the softball field.

Proceeds go to Night of Hope Walk for Cancer, a local grass roots group that provides assistance to those affected by cancer.

New alert system goes online July 1

Cheyenne County is updating the emergency alert system effective July 1.

Emergency and weather alerts are presently sent to subscribers of the CodeRed system. The system relays messages to email addresses and phone numbers submitted by people within the coverage area.

Beginning July 1, alerts will be sent by Panhandle Alert.

The Panhandle Alert system serves counties Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Grant, Kimball, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan and Sioux.

To sign up for Panhandle Alert, go online to http://www.panhandlealert.org. The program directs how to enter personal information such as phone number, type of phone, address, email address user name and password. Once an account is established, data can be edited as needed.

PanhandleAlert is available through Smart911.com. Smart911 allows citizens to provide additional details that 911 dispatchers may need during an emergency. The program offers subscribers the option of receiving alerts by text, email and/or voice message.

FILE PHOTO

Flight Nurse Jennifer Arnold and Flight Paramedic Patrick Currie carry a litter to a mock accident scene east of Dalton. The exercise was one of several that the crews of Medical Air Rescue Company (MARC) made with local emergency responders when they came into the area.

 

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