What A Year It Was! A Look Back At 2020

Anita Campbell
County Reporter
 As the year 2019 draws to a close, we at the Enterprise flipped through the files of the big stories here in Benton County. The top story of the year was the record setting flooding of Truman Lake and the Lake of the Ozarks during the spring and summer.
Truman Lake recorded a level of 33 feet above its normal pool.
Managers dumped water at the rate of 40,000 cubic feet per second in an effort to keep the lake from rising more.
The Corps of Engineers increased the amount of water sent through its three spill ways as space became available downstream on the already swollen Osage and Missouri Rivers.
In January, the Warsaw R-9 Board of Education voted to close Ruth Mercer Elementary at the end of the 2018-19 school year at the January 17 meeting.  Board President Tracey Spry made the motion to close the RME building.  The motion was seconded by Brandy Fajen.  The vote was Spry, aye, Fajen, aye, Mike Schockmann, aye, Mike Mais, aye, Carolynn Fisher, aye, Drew Burdick aye, and Amie Breshears, nay.
Closing Ruth Mercer Elementary will save the R-9 District $289,000. With the closure of RME, kindergarten will be moved to North Elementary (52 students); Pre-School will be moved to South Elementary (40 students); and Early Childhood Special Education will be moved to South Elementary (53 students).
The RME building will itself will become part of City Union Mission because the land was donated by that group when R-10 was built.
Over 70 members of the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Truman Overlook Center on January 17 for the State of the Chamber event.  A new twist to the annual event included a wonderful meal of chicken, meatballs and pasta catered by the new R-Bar located on Wildcat Drive.
As the Chamber members reviewed the past year, the following awards were presented:
Top Sponsors of the Year Awards were presented to the Hawthorn Bank and Sterett Creek Marina.
The Volunteerism Award was presented to Mike and Shawn Barker of Rolling Perfections.
The Partnership Award was presented to Benton County Tourism.
In February, the Lakeview heights Fire Department responded to a structure fire Saturday evening, February 9 in the Eagle Bay Development on H highway.
The Cole Camp Rural Fire Department and the Stover volunteer fire fighters responded also bringing two tankers of water to assist in extinguishing the blaze.  Despite the efforts of three departments, the structure was a total loss.  Cause of the fire is still unknown.
Also in February, the Warsaw High School FFA members hosted a good crowd at the Seventh Annual FFA Chili Supper/Workers’ Auction on Monday, February 18 in the Warsaw Community Building.   FFA Adviser Stan Adler was extremely happy with the turnout.
FFA collected $1860 on the workers’ auction with FFA member Blake Walker bringing the highest bid at $200 for four hours of work.
According to the Friends FFA the chili supper brought in $2600 which included hog raffle ticket sales and chili supper dinner tickets. 
Benton County District 1 Commissioner Dale Estes, Jr. submitted a letter of resignation with the County on February 5 which was effective as of  February 22, 2019.    
According to Presiding Commissioner Steve Daleske, in late September/early October of 2018, the Commission received a complaint regarding allegations of misappropriation of county-owned fuel by Dale Estes, Jr.
The complaint was immediately referred to the Missouri State Highway Patrol for investigation.
 The Missouri State Highway patrol performed an investigation and ultimately the matter was referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office as Special Prosecutor.
Missouri Governor Mike Parsons appointed Glen Nelson of Lincoln as the new Northside Benton County Commissioner in February.  Nelson replaces Jim Hansen who  was appointed by Parsons as the Benton County Assessor after Rodger Reedy won the seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. 
Nelson served three terms as the Mayor of Lincoln and five years as a Lincoln Alderman.  He had to resign as Alderman to take the position of Benton County Northside Commissioner.
In March, Truman Dam, which stands between Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks, was categorized as a potentially unsafe dam, in a risk assessment study conducted in 2018 by the Army Corps of Engineers. 
The Harry S. Truman Dam received the assignment of a Dam Safety Action Class (DSAC) 2 Rating. According to the Corps of Engineers, a DSAC 2 Rating is Urgent (Unsafe or Potentially Unsafe) and is characterized as “Failure Initiation Foreseen or Very High Risk.”
According to Harry S. Truman Dam Safety Program Manager Pendo Duku, that rating is a general assessment based on specific concerns. In the case of Truman Dam, the high population numbers downstream and the potential for an extreme rain event are the primary concerns. “Population is greatest concern to us,” Duku said.
The Warsaw High School Ozark Echoes staff hosted the 70th annual Ozark Echoes Ball on Saturday, March 9 in the John Boise Middle School cafeteria.  The theme for the dance was “Memory Lane” since the Ozark Echoes yearbook is celebrating their 70th edition.  Very few schools in the state have been in publication for 70 years.
One of the highlights of the evening was the crowning of the 2019 Ozark Echoes royalty. Juniors Kya Schepker and Parker Love were crowned Echoes Princess and Prince.
     Seniors Madie Gardner and Dayvon Bruce were crowned Echoes Queen and King.  The crown bearer was Henry Adler, son of Stan and Amanda Adler, and the flower girl was Janee Jackson, daughter of Ethan and Emilee Jackson.
Echoes adviser is Mrs. Amanda Adler.
After almost 36 years of service to Benton County. County Collector Donna Hart retired in March.  Donna served as Benton County Collector for 12 years.  She started her service when the late J. D. Johnson was elected as County Collector in 1983. Before that she had worked in the office of Bishop Gunstocks.
Donna was a 1973 graduate of Warsaw High School and married her high school sweetheart William Hart in 1972.  They are the parents of two children. Their son Craig and his wife Carey live in Lee’s Summit.  Their daughter Amanda and her husband Brock Divine live in Nixa. The Harts are also grandparents to five boys and twin granddaughters.
Hart was the only elected Democrat serving in the Benton County Courthouse.
A fire destroyed the Bumper to Bumper store on Commercial Street across from WalMart on March 20.  The Warsaw Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire and extinguished it by 9:30 PM.  The cause of the fire was not known.
Governor Mike Parson has issued a state of emergency for the Show-Me State in response to heavy flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
“The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure,” Parson said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with our local partners to assess needs and provide resources to help as Missourians continue this flood fight and as we work to assist one another.”
Parson plans to visit affected areas to survey the damage and meet with local officials in northwest Missouri on Thursday afternoon, a release from the governor’s office stated.
The governor said the worsening conditions along the Missouri and Mississippi River systems are a result of release from upstream reservoirs, snow melt and excessive rainfall
In April, voters in the Warsaw R-IX School District passed the district’s Proposition S issue to pay for repairs to the district’s buildings.  The Proposition was a no tax increase issue and is to be used to put a new roof on WHS and JBMS in the near future.
In another school related issue, Adam Arnett and Carolynn Fisher were elected to serve on the Warsaw R-9 School Board.
Also in April, Aater months of incarceration, seventeen year old Andrew J. Floyd appeared in court for the alleged shooting of Warsaw’s Chief of Police Jason Wenberg on April 16 in Benton County.  Floyd was certified as an adult on April 11 and will face charges of multiple felonies.  Floyd was 16 when he was charged.  He is being held in Pettis County pending his trial.
On April 15, David Malecki of Edwards was sworn in as the Benton County District 1 Commissioner at the Courthouse.
Governor Mike Parsons appointed Malecki to finish the term of Commissioner Dale Estes, Jr. who resigned from the position.
Malecki has lived in Benton County since 2008 on a farm originally purchased by his father when his father was stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in the 1950’s.
A 2017 graduate of Warsaw High School died as the result of an accident in Pettis County on April 14 at 7 AM.
The crash occurred as Mericia M. Wilbanks, 19, of Sedalia was driving a 2011 KIA Sorento south  on Highway U in Pettis County.  Wilbanks failed to negotiate a curve and ran off the roadway striking a tree.
Wilbanks was transported by Air Ambulance to Research Medical Center in Kansas City where she was pronounced by Dr. Rebecca Burnham.
Wilbanks was not wearing a safety device at the time of the accident.
Local resident Amie Breshears was  hired as the Community Engagement Specialist in Agriculture Business for the University of Missouri Extension in Benton County in April.
Breshears will be serving Benton, Pettis and Henry County.  Extension Agent Gene Schmitz has been reassigned to the Pettis County office but will be serving Benton County as the Livestock Specialist.
While Breshears’ office will be in the Brady Annex Building here in Benton County, she will be serving every county in west central Missouri.
Breshears’ job is to help with economic development in west central Missouri.
Lincoln R-1 Schools were on lock down at the request of the Lincoln Police Department on Tuesday, April 23 at 10:45 AM.
According to Lincoln Superintendent Kevin Smith, the FBI notified the Lincoln Police Department and the Benton County Sheriff’s office that a Lincoln student had posted a threat on social media.
“A Lincoln student posted some inappropriate statements on social media and it caught the attention of the FBI,” said Smith. “While this incident turned out to be a prank, we take every threat seriously and we took the appropriate steps to make sure all our kids were safe.”
Smith went on to say that he was proud of how his faculty and staff took care of the situation.  Every door in the building was locked and no one was admitted until the situation had been deemed safe.
A Lincoln man was seriously injured in a tractor accident at the intersection of Route B and Route H in Benton County on April 26 at 4:30 PM.
The accident occurred as Michael G. Lutjen, 57, of Lincoln driving a 1946 Allis Chalmers tractor failed to negotiate the turn out of the driveway of the Eagles Lodge.  The tractor went into the ditch and overturned, trapping Lutjen underneath. 
Lutjen was sent by life flight to the University of Missouri  in Columbia with serious injuries.
The Corps of Engineers began spillway release from Table Rock Lake Dam in April.
The corps opened gates one foot each, releasing about 5,000 cubic feet per second. One of the four hydropower turbines is currently offline. With the current release, that is nine billon gallons of water a minute. That’s enough water to fill 14,683 Olympic size pools a minute.
Several inches of rain filled creeks and rivers spilling into Table Rock Lake Tuesday into Wednesday morning. More rain is in the forecast.
At the May 1 meeting of the Benton County Commission, County Clerk Susan Porterfield noted that restitution had been received from Dale Jr. Estes in the amount of $717.50 as was required by the Missouri Attorney General’s office.
Also in May, Graduation was the main activity for many Benton County teens.  Twenty five Lincoln High School seniors received their high school diplomas on May 10. Speakers included Christina Eckhoff and Aleah Paxton.
Christina Eckhoff, daughter of Darren and Sheree Eckhoff, graduated as the valedictorian of the Lincoln High School Class of 2019.
Aleah Paxton, daughter of Matthew and Michelle Paxton, graduated as the Class Salutatorian for Lincoln High School.
     A student of the Lincoln School District since kindergarten, Paxton plans to attend State Fair Community College in the fall.     Paxton plans to enter the medical field as a diagnostic medical stenographer. 
Sixty-two Cole Camp seniors received their high school diplomas on May 12 at 2 PM in the CCHS gym.
For the first time in CCHS history, a valedictorian and salutatorian were not selected.  Instead seniors were awarded summa cum laude (3.9-4.0 GPA; magna cum laude (3.8-3.89 GPA) and cum laude  (3.7-3.79 GPA) status.
Summa Cum Laude graduating seniors included:  Mikayla Acklin, Hannah Anderson, Paige Doogs, Keygan Fox, Tayler Gudde, Tori Harding, Clayton, Hesse, Samuel Jones, Camryn Schear, Katelyn Schlesselman, Alexis Shane, Evan Shearer, Welton  Vosmith, Carter Wienberg and Helaina Williams.
Magna Cum Laude graduating senior was Miriam Marimon and Cum Laude graduating senior was Megan Thomas.
The Commencement speakers chosen by a faculty committee were Tori Harding and Evan Shearer.
 Warsaw High School held graduation on May 17 in the high school gym. 
Increased lake elevation and flooding is causing numerous closings at Harry S. Truman Lake in May.
According to a Corps of Engineers news release, recent rains increased Truman Lake’s elevation to 724.11 inches mean sea level Friday morning. Even with no additional rain, the lake is expected to surpass 728-inches by mid-week. Increased surveillance of the dam will begin at elevation 725.6 inches.
A four year old was seriously injured in a two vehicle accident on U. S. 65 Highway at Route T in Benton County on May 14 at 11:30 AM.
The crash occurred as a 2002 Ford Explorer driven by Nicole Long, 34, of Warsaw crossed the eastbound lane into the path of a 2008 GMC driven by James P. Johnson, 60, of Sedalia. 
The Johnson vehicle traveled off the east side of 65 Highway and struck a guardrail.
Ava Long, 4, was flown to Children’s Mercy by Lifeflight Eagle with serious injuries.  Nicole Long was flown to Truman Medical Center by Staff for Life with moderate injuries.  Neither of the Longs was wearing seat belts at the time of the accident.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office reported one person was dead and another was on the run after a shooting May 15.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office said they received a call around 7:30 p.m. from 47 year old Khristy L. Clark. Clark told a dispatcher that Travis C. Henderson, 45, was pointing a shotgun at her outside of a house near Ionia.
Deputies arrived on scene and found Clark deceased from apparent gunshot wounds.
The Sheriff’s office says Henderson fled the scene in a pickup truck that was later recovered in a rural area east of Ionia.
The Sheriff’s office believes Henderson was picked up by another person and left the location.
The streets of Warsaw were lined with people as the 53rd Annual Jubilee Days parade welcomed all to the celebration in June. WHS senior Donna Pitts represented Warsaw as the Jubilee Days Queen.  WHS student Grace Drake followed Pitts as the Jubilee Days Princess.
The Twin Lakes area was packed over the Fourth of July weekend. Erin Cordrey of the United States Corps of Engineers reported 2079 visitors came through the Truman Dam Visitors’ Center over the 4th of July weekend.  Friday was the busiest day with 820 visitors at the Center.
A Warsaw woman drowned in Truman Lake on July 5.
33-year-old Rebecca L. Feese of Warsaw attempted to wade across a low-water crossing at 12:40 p.m. July 5 and was swept downstream.
Feese was pronounced deceased by Dr. Olmstead at Bothwell Regional Health Center at 2:59 p.m.
The incident occurred near 19754 Balke Road in Benton County.
The body was transported to Reser Funeral Home.
Some Missouri school children could get an extra week out of school in August next year.
In July, Governor Mike Parson signed legislation to push back the start date for public schools by an extra four days.
Current state law allows schools to start no sooner than 10 days before the first Monday in September. The law changes that to 14 days beginning next school year.
Schools now can start earlier if the school board gives notice, holds a public meeting and votes to do so. Districts won’t have that option next year.
Backers said pushing back school could help Missouri’s tourism industry by giving an extra week for summer vacations.
Rodeo fans filled the arena for the Twenty-eighth Annual Benton County Rodeo on July 12 and 13.
Trinity Dennis was crowned Lil Miss Benton County Rodeo on Saturday night. Ambri Simons was crowned Benton County Rodeo Princess and Shaina Roskamp was crowned as the Benton County Rodeo Queen.
According to Rodeo volunteer Erin Kellner, both nights of the rodeo had great attendance but on Saturday night the area was packed.
In August, a huge crowd flocked to Drake Harbor to enjoy the music of the Third Annual Cigar Box Guitar festival.
Last year’s Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival was a huge hit. So much so that the American Blues Scene rated this festival the #4 of the Top Five Blues Festivals in Missouri!
The event was hosted by the Benton County Missouri Tourism and Recreation.
The Benton County Commissioners set the 2019 tax rate for $.1350 for General Revenue and $.2232 for Road and Bridge per $100 assessed value at their August 19 meeting.
Lawyers for accused double murderer Kylr Yust say he “suffers from a mental disease or defect” and needs treatment before he faces a jury.
Yust’s attorneys filed paperwork Aug. 23 in Cass County Circuit Court that say a doctor who examined him found that he “lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense” and declared Yust “mentally unfit at this time to proceed,” according to court records.
Due to that incompetence, Yust’s attorneys argue that court proceedings, including his prosecution for the murders of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions, must be suspended.
According to the filing, his attorneys have asked that Yust be “committed to the custody of ... the (Missouri) Department of Mental Health for as long as the mental unfitness endures” or until his case is resolved.
Yust is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandoning a corpse in the deaths of Runions and Kopetsky. He is scheduled to go to trial in November.
In September, golfers enjoyed a day on Shawnee Bend Golf Course while they raised $21,000 for the Benton County Cancer Society at their Nineteenth Annual Benton County Cancer Golf Tourney on September 18.
Chair of the event Kelly Stackhouse reported that nearly 100 sponsors and 70 golfers helped BC Cancer Society to raise the money.
A special event at the golf tourney was honoring Larry and June Walthall by renaming the tournament the Larry and June Walthall Benton County Golf Tournament.  Larry and June have been involved in the Benton County Golf Tournament since its beginning.
All money raised for Benton County Cancer Society goes to help Benton County residents suffering with the effects of cancer.
Winners in the Benton County Cancer Golf Tourney included:  first place, Betty McNamara, Ferd Glover, Donnie Nichols, and Chris Carroll.
The Benton County Cancer Society helps any Benton County resident battling with cancer.  Last year each cancer patient received help with transportation, prescriptions, wigs and other needs.
Local resident J. D. Wilson was involved in a chemical flash fire on Tuesday, September 24 at 1:30 PM near Climax Springs.
According to J. D.’s wife, Kenzi, J. D. was at a job site when he entered a laundry room of a house where he was working.  The floor was wet with a chemical that was being used to loosen the flooring.  An unknown spark started a fire and Wilson had to run through the fire down a hallway to get out of the building.
Wilson, who served in the United States Army in Iraq, knew from his military training that he had to close his eyes and hold his breath as he exited the building. 
Fire trucks from Climax Springs and Camden County responded to the fire and Wilson was sent by helicopter to the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia.
Wilson had third degree burns on his legs and second and third degree burns on his arms. 
In October, 175 people filled the Warsaw Community Building at the annual Seniorfest event sponsored by Golden Valley Medical, J & D Pharmacy and Warsaw Health and Rehabilitation.
The Seniorfest provided senior citizens the chance to learn more about the many amenities the Warsaw area has to improve their quality of life.  Twenty-seven vendors had booths to give out important information to seniors.
Also in October, the city of Warsaw was the recipient of the Innovator Award the Governor’s Conference on Tourism Oct. 8-10 in Columbia.
The Innovator Award recognizes small Missouri tourism organizations that produce significant results on a modest budget.
Through local partnerships and a focus on the outdoors, Warsaw has worked to transform the town into a recreational destination. Warsaw’s waterfront trail system – connected to its revitalized downtown – garnered the city national recognition as one of the most bike- and pedestrian-friendly small cities in the country.
Ghosts and goblins filled the halls of Warsaw North Elementary on Friday evening, October 11, at the Second Annual Boo Bash sponsored by the North PTC.
“We were overwhelmed with the amazing turnout for our second Boo Bash,” said PTC president Dr. Amber Campbell.  “We truly appreciate all the community support.”
According to Campbell, the PTC netted over $1100 at the event.  The money will be used to purchase playground equipment.  The PTC will also be helping with scholarships for the North faculty.  “We want to help the teachers who often pay out of their own pockets to give the students the little extras,” Campbell said.
New to the Boo Bash this year was the Chili Cook-off.  There were ten entries to the cook-off.  Winners included:  first place, Brandon Ward; second place, Soup and More/Circle D First United Methodist Church; third place, Samantha Dove; best decorated table, Teddy and Teresa Gatliff; Fan Favorite, Heather Lindsey; and Most Unique Chili, Hanger Flying LLC.
Best Costume went to first place, Piper Whipkins; second place, Cheyenne RedWing; third place, Bree Meyer.
The Tenth Annual Truman Lake Turkey Trot Run/Walk collected $1800 in race fees and donations for the WARM House.  Participants also donated canned goods to give to the WARM House.
Seventy-one people register for the 5k and one mile fun walk held on November 2 on Drake Harbor.
Overall first place 5k male finisher was John Borthwick with a time of 20:15.
Overall first place 5k female finisher was Shannon Murry with a time of 28:58.
The Jerry Smartt Award presented to the oldest 5K participant was awarded to Sharon Freeman.
One mile fun walk awards went to Elin Pena, fastest walker with a time of 16:36.  Youngest walker went to Elin Pena, seven years old.  Oldest walker was presented to Don Jurgersen, 79 years old.
   This annual event is organized by Dr. Emily Lane and the Lane family.
Men enrolled in the Opportunity Farm program, in West Benton County, put together 92 Thanksgiving dinner boxes for local area needy families on Friday, November 22. City Union Mission, headquartered in Kansas City has sponsored this service for the last several years.
A $550,000 cut in federal funding has made it necessary for the Kansas City District U.S.
 Army Corps of Engineers to make operational changes and closures at several campgrounds located at Harry S. Truman Lake.  These changes are being made in an effort to improve park operating efficiencies, while still providing a quality recreational opportunity for the public.
The following changes will take effect immediately:
All Corps of Engineers managed campgrounds will be closed December through February.
Berry Bend Beach will be permanently closed. The Berry Bend campground as well as the picnic areas, shelters, and boat ramp will continue to be open.
The Berry Bend Equestrian Campground will no longer be operated by the Corps of Engineers.  Campground operation will be advertised for private operation.  The equestrian trials, picnic shelters and boat ramp will remain open to day use activities..
Talley Bend Campground will no longer be operated by the Corps of Engineers.  Campground operation will be advertised for private operation. The boat ramp will remain open.
Sparrowfoot Campground will be closed for the 2020 recreation season. The picnic area and boat ramp will remain open.
Visitors that normally camp in Talley Bend or Sparrowfoot are encouraged to visit Berry Bend, Bucksaw, Long Shoal, Osage Bluff, or Thibaut Point.
According to Natural Resource Manager Tammy Gilmore, the Corps of Engineers had to make some tough decisions when they received news of the federal cuts so they made their decisions of which campgrounds to close.
Children of all ages enjoyed the annual ‘Breakfast With Santa on December 14 at the Warsaw Community Building sponsored by the Benton County Human Services Council.
Over one hundred children, parents and volunteers enjoyed breakfast as well as a visit with Santa Claus and many other activities.
According to Tricia Binnie, RSVP project coordination and vice president of Human Services, the children enjoyed decorating cookies, having their faces painted, and writing letters to Santa.
The money raised at “Breakfast with Santa” will be  used to purchase home delivered meals to senior citizens in the area.
Later Saturday night, hundreds of people lined Main Street in Warsaw to watch the annual Christmas Day parade.
Chamber of Commerce director Mac Vorce reported there were 45 entries in this year’s parade which is up from last year.  Twelve floats as well as horses, animals and walkers were lead by the Warsaw High School marching band and cheerleaders.
As we approach 2020, we at the Enterprise wish you a Happy New Year and ask you to keep reading The Benton County Enterprise, your local news source.