A Look At Local News Stories From 2020

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The year 2020 will go down in history for one news item that affected everyone, and everything. COVID-19 virus swept around the world, cancelling thousands of events, festivals, meetings, classes, and just about anything you can name. This is the KLEM Year in Review, as we look back at the stories making news during the months of January, February, and March.

Going back to January…

Long-time firefighter, Captain Mark Hentges retired from the Le Mars Fire and Rescue Department. Hentges had been a member of the fire department for more than 30 years.

The Le Mars Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet and named Jim and Roxie Rahn, directors of the Le Mars “Youth in Christ” organization as the “Citizens of the Year.” Meanwhile, Hy-Vee was honored as the “Business of the Year.”

The Iowa Pork Producers Association named and honored Plymouth County Pork Producers, Bill and Joan Tentinger of Le Mars as a “Master Pork Producer.” Tentinger is a past-president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and currently serves on the board of directors with the National Pork Board, the entity that supervises the national pork check-off program.

Former Assistant Fire Chief Mike Wise was named by city officials to take over the duties serving as the Director of the Le Mars Ambulance Services. Wise succeeded long-time director Bill Rosesacker who had retired.

At Remsen during their annual chamber of commerce annual banquet, Mid-Sioux Opportunity Director, Dick Sievers was named as the Remsen “Citizen of the Year,” while Beer City was honored as the Remsen “Business of the Year.”

It was in late January when the Des Moines Register’s RAGBRAI annual bike ride organization had named Le Mars to be a host overnight city to the bicycle ride across Iowa. Le Mars was to be the starting point for the bicycle ride across the state. However, later in the year, RAGBRAI officials cancelled the 2020 ride due to the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Long-time Le Mars Police Department Officer, Mark Reed was honored by the Le Mars Police Department as the “Officer of the Year for 2019.”  Reed would later retire from the Le Mars Police Department in June.

 

Turning our attention to the events that occurred in February…

Northwest Bank announced it would be closing its branch office located on Business Highway 75 near the airport entrance. The branch office actually closed their doors in May.

The Iowa Caucuses took place, and in Plymouth County, the Democrats elected former South Bend, Indiana mayor, Pete Buttigieg as their preferred candidate to become president. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders placed second, Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren was third, and eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Former Vice President Joe Biden placed 4th.

It was in February when former Iowa state legislator and Le Mars resident Ralph Klemme called a news conference to officially endorse Steve King to continue representing Iowa’s 4th District. King faced some opposition during a primary race in June, and ultimately lost to former State Senator Randy Feenstra of Hull.

The Iowa National Guard announced in February that Le Mars based Company C of the 113th Calvary would be deployed later in the year. The deployment took place in June, and members of the local guard unit would be sent to Africa for a year deployment.

Dairy Farmers of America announced it was purchasing many of the assets of the struggling dairy processing company Dean’s Foods. The purchase included the Le Mars milk processing facility. The actual takeover wouldn’t occur until later in the year.

It was in late February when the first victims of the corona virus hit Iowa.

Let’s now turn our attention to March…

It was in March when the COVID-19 virus had swept quickly across the state, causing several businesses, government offices, and local schools to close.
Le Mars Community, Gehlen Catholic, as well as all the schools within Plymouth County, and across the state had closed their doors and cancelled classes for the remaining school year.

Steve Schwartz and Charlie Mohning were promoted to become the Assistant Fire Chief and Battalion Fire Chief for the Le Mars Fire and Rescue Department.

It was in March when the Le Mars Community School District began distributing free lunch meals to students and families since the COVID-19 virus kept them from attending classes.

Floyd Valley Healthcare Opens Senior Life Solutions, a mental health clinic focusing on senior citizens.

Le Mars Police Department awarded its “Blue-Line” award to the Le Mars Hy Vee store.

 

At a time when health officials and Governor Kim Reynolds were advising people to remain at home, several hundred people were getting cabin fever and decided to revive the “Central Avenue Cruise”. During two weekends in March, hundreds of people got in their vehicles and decided to drive up and down Central Avenue, honking their horns.

The new track and field at the football stadium was temporarily completed in March.

It was also in March when Piece of Cake won the local “Open 4 Business” contest. They would go on to represent Le Mars in both a regional and state competition.

It was in April when Northwest Iowa Credit Union members were presented with a proposal to merge services with the Siouxland Federal Credit Union. Members would ultimately defeat the proposed merger in June.

The Des Moines Register decided to cancel the 2020 RAGBRAI bicycle ride. Le Mars was scheduled to be the initial overnight host city. Officials decided the route across the state would remain nearly the same for 2021.

Le Mars Community School District used their 3-D printerto make plastic headbands for face shields for health officials as they battle COVID-19.

Friends of the Gehlen Catholic Ball decide to hold the annual fundraising event as a virtual online program.

Le Mars Police Department welcomed new officer Sam Magana.

It was in April when the Dennis Groetken estate contributed $6 million dollars to local entities, including a $2.5 million donation to the All Saints Parish Catholic Church. Others to receive the estate funding included: Floyd Valley Healthcare, Gehlen Catholic school, and the Le Mars Public Library.

Due to concerns with the COVID-19 virus, the city of Le Mars closed all public playground equipment, basketball courts, skateboard parks, and public restrooms in April.

It was April when Plymouth County reported its first case of COVID-19. Another event that was cancelled due to the pandemic was the annual Easter egg hunt.

Local pork producers became worried when many regional meat processing facilities had either shut down their production, or had greatly reduced processing due to employee absenteeism from being infected with the COVID-19 virus, causing disruptions in the pork industry.

The Le Mars Chamber of Commerce announced the cancellation of the annual “Ice Cream Days.”

 

Turning our attention to the month of May…

Plymouth County authorities investigate a fatal shooting incident at rural Merrill. 83-year old Thomas Knapp is eventually charged with murder for killing his step son.

Orange City cancells the annual Tulip Festival.

Plymouth Energy LLC of Merrill is forced to shutter production of ethanol because of the decline in demand for the corn-based fuel.

The traditional Memorial Day Services normally held at the Plymouth County courthouse grounds were cancelled.

The Le Mars Fire and Rescue Department along with the Plymouth County Dive Team, Le Mars Police Department, and Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office had to rescue three people after their kayaks had capsized because of a tree had fallen into the Floyd River.

 

Now let’s review those stories that made news headlines during the month of June.

80 soldiers from the 113th Calvary – Troop C left Le Mars for a yearlong deployment to Africa.

Le Mars Municipal Band cancels the season due to the COVID-19 virus.

State Senator Randy Feenstra wins the Republican primary for Iowa’s 4th District Congress, defeating incumbent candidate Steve King.  Feenstra would go on and win the congressional seat in the general election.

Le Mars Community, Gehlen Catholic, and Remsen St. Mary’s hold outdoor high school senior graduation ceremonies as a way to implement social distancing.

Le Mars city officials unveil the architecture rendering of the new Cleveland Castle Park playground equipment.

Lux Fest is cancelled because of the pandemic.

A 13 year old boy from Sioux City unfortunately drowns at the Kellen’s Ponderosa.

It was in June when approximately 125 people gathered at the Plymouth County Courthouse grounds for a “Black Lives Matter” protest rally.

The Plymouth County Civil Service Commission upholds the firing of Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Leusink. It would be later revealed that Leusink faces theft, burglary, and drug charges.

Le Mars Community Board of Education appoints Jill Feuerhelm to the school board to fill the vacancy by Mackenzie Lang. Lang and her family had moved into town and therefore was no longer residing within her district.

Both the Plymouth County Fair and the Iowa State Fair are post-poned.

Farmers Co-op Society’s top two managers plead guilty to federal charges involving grain marketing fraud.

And finally, dairy industry pioneer, and former president of Wells Enterprises, Fred D. Wells dies.

Those are the stories that made the headline in 2020 during the months of April, May and June.

We continue to look at the stories that made news headlines as we review the year 2020. In this segment, we will look at those stories that happened between July and September.

Starting with July, the annual Independence Day parade for Le Mars was cancelled due to COVID concerns, however, the Loutsch family did proceed to have their annual antique tractor parade held at Oyens.

It was in July when officials with the Clay County Fair at Spencer decided to cancel the world-famous county fair.

The Good Samaritan Society of Le Mars confirmed having three people testing positive with the COVID-19 virus. Good Samaritan was the first long-term nursing care facility in Plymouth County to report having positive cases.

Le Mars Community School District Foundation honored Gail Vonk and Dr. Steve Collins with their Distinguished Alumni Award.

Le Mars Community Board of Education decided to have masks and/or facecoverings be mandated for all students, faculty, staff, and administration. Anyone visiting the school, or attending an event, would also need to wear a mask. The school board also decided to begin the school year with in-person classes, rather than incorporate a hybrid remote online educational system.

Charges of 1st Degree murder were handed down to 83 year old Thomas Knapp after shooting and killing his step-son Kevin Juzek. Knapp pleaded not guilty to the charges. The incident happened in May.

Floyd Valley Healthcare began “TestIowa” clinic site for testing of COVID-19.

Plymouth County Board of Supervisors approve a plan for courtroom renovation.

It was in July when Remsen farmer, Dan Cronin, died as a result of a grain bin suffocation accident.

Jacob Bergman was sworn in as the newest officer with the Le Mars Police Department.

Since the Plymouth County Fair had been postponed due to the virus, officials were able to create the “Gold and Clover Classic” which allowed 4-H and FFA members the opportunity to exhibit their projects. Attendance for the event was limited to members and family.

 

Local civic organizations report feeling the financial pinch from not having a county fair this year. Many organizations operate food stands at the fair as a means to raise money for their organization.

The state’s drought monitor shows dry conditions had spread into additional western Iowa and northwest Iowa counties.

 

Let’s now take a look at the events that happened in August.

At least 50 residents living in southeast Le Mars were adversely affected by a water main break.

Democratic Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten held a drive-up political rally at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds. Supporters remained in their vehicles and were able to listen to Scholten’s message on their radio through the use of a small range FM frequency transmitter.

It was in August when a derecho wind storm had hit Iowa destroying an estimated 10 million acres of crops, buildings, powerlines, and power grids. Fortunately, Plymouth County escaped from being hit by the storm. However, local utility company representatives from North West REC and NIPCO were summoned to help restore power in central and eastern Iowa.

Plymouth County Board of Supervisors vote down a grant application for the proposed Plywood Recreational Trail.

Remsen city council held a special evening meeting to decide whether the community should feature the annual Demolition Derby. Ultimately, the council decides there wasn’t enough security and first responders to hold the event, as they are concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19.

It was at this same time, Plymouth County health officials report a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Tara Geddes, Plymouth County Community Health Director blames a couple of golf tournaments, as well as several family gatherings for the sudden surge of positive coronavirus cases.

In August, an unfortunate accident happened near Jefferson, South Dakota involving an ambulance that claimed the life of Tonya Brucher, from Le Mars. Brucher was a volunteer EMT. The ambulance she was in was returning to Sioux City after transporting a patient to Sioux Falls.

Now lets examine those stories that made news headlines in September.

Hinton school is forced to go to a hybrid learning system, where the students split their time. Half the week they are in class, and the remaining days they are learning through an online remote system.

Dry conditions push up the maturity of crops and the date for the fall harvest.

Northwest College president, Greg Christy participates in Governor Reynolds weekly COVID-19 update news conference.

Knights of Columbus phone-a-thon raises more than $58,000 and sets a new record for Life Skills Training Center.

Le Mars Community School Board approves plan for upgrade and renovation to both the softball and baseball complex.

Northwest College of Orange City reports setting a new record for student enrollment at 1,412 students.

Iowa Lt. Governor, Adam Gregg, stops in Le Mars to visit with developer Adam Brown regarding a tax relief incentive program for new housing and apartment units.

Akron-Westfield voters overwhelmingly approve SAVE program. SAVE stands for Secure an Advance Vision for Education. Money earned through a sales tax helps with financing the costs for school’s improvement on infrastructure.

Republican Congressional candidate, Randy Feenstra is the special guest at the Plymouth County Republican Party fund raiser event.

It was September when Le Mars Police Officer Jeremy Singer was terminated from his duties after it was learned that he posted negative comments on social media. The comments were thought to be a determent to the police department.

Dordt University of Sioux Center and Northwestern College of Orange City rank second and sixth respectfully with Best Colleges in the Midwest by U-S News and World Report.

It was September when formal felony charges of theft, burglary and drug possession were filed against former Plymouth County Sheriff’s Deputy, Aaron Leusink.

Bill Young announced in September he would be retiring his position as a trustee with Floyd Valley Healthcare. The retirement would take effect at the end of December.

Le Mars Rotary organization dedicated a flag pole and park benches in honor of Ina Gatts at the O’Tool Park. Gatts, a one-time active Rotary member and first female president of the local civic organization was instrumental in naming the park.

It was in September when we had learned we would be saying good bye to the Le Mars Truck Stop and J & J Cafe.  Kwik-Star Convenience store had purchased the property.

Those are the stories from July to September as we review the year of 2020.

As we conclude our series of reports looking back on the year 2020, this time around we will highlight those stories that made news headlines during the months of October through December.

Beginning in October…

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds made a stop in Le Mars to visit with officials at Floyd Valley Healthcare to witness the TestIowa COVID-19 test site, and to talk in general about how the state could assist Floyd Valley with an adequate supply of personal protection equipment such as masks and face coverings. The governor inquired about the condition status of the local
hospital with its fight against COVID-19.

Le Mars Community School’s Homecoming did not have a parade this year, and the usual afternoon pep rally and coronation ceremonies were suspended.
However, Kutter Wright was selected as the Homecoming King, and Caoline Meis was crowned as the Homecoming queen.

The fall harvest was off to a speedy start. By the first week of October when the combines are usually just entering the fields, this year, one-fourth of the corn had already been harvested, and the soybean harvest was 55 percent complete — three weeks ahead of last year’s pace.

Former Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Leusink pleads not guilty to theft, burglary, and drug possession charges. A trial date is still pending.

Dairy Farmers of America completes the buy-out of Dean Foods. The Le Mars milk processing facility begins selling milk under the Kemps label.

Gehlen Catholic held its Homecoming festivities, and like their colleagues at Le Mars Community, they too did not have a parade. However, they did have their coronation ceremonies indoors, although with limited attendance and social distancing. Gehlen Catholic selected Zach Kraft as their king, and
Molly Roder as the queen.

Plymouth County Auditor, Stacey Feldman reports a record number of absentee ballots had been requested for the upcoming general election.

Gehlen Catholic held a “Jay-walk-a-thon” and raises more than $50,000.

 

Le Mars Middle School students create “stars of thanks” messages for Floyd Valley Healthcare employees and display posters outside the doors of Floyd Valley Healthcare.

U-S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss visits Dordt University at Sioux Center to see the college’s Pro-Tech program.

Kelly Flack, of Le Mars, a registered nurse that teaches nursing at Morningside College is named as the new trustee of Floyd Valley Healthcare to replace retiring Bill Young.

More than 500 people stand in line for a box of free food containing produce, fruit, meat and a gallon of milk during a free food distribution held at the Le Mars Convention Center parking lot. A second food distribution was held in December.

U-S Senator Joni Ernst brought her political campaign to Le Mars at the Brown’s Century Theater. Joining Ernst was Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, U-S Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and U-S Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

 

Turning to November…

The election took center stage as Republican Randy Feenstra defeated Democrat J.D. Scholten to represent Iowa’s 4th Congressional seat.

Joni Ernst was narrowly re-elected back to the U-S Senate over rival Teresa Greenfield, although in Plymouth County, Ernst easily defeated Greenfield.
President Trump easily won Plymouth County over Democrat Joe Biden. Trump was also able to win Iowa, but ultimately Biden was elected to be the next U-S president.

Plymouth County Auditor Stacey Feldman reported Plymouth County had a 78 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, which was a new record for voter turn-out. Feldman says 42 percent of the ballots were from absentee voters.

Scott Kommes and Angela Catton were re-elected at President and Vice President of the Le Mars Community Board of Education.

Plymouth County Fairboard re-elected Loren Schnepf as its president. John Ahlers, Mike Bietelspacher and Gail Schoenrock were also re-elected to serve as vice president, treasurer, and fair board secretary.

Assistant County Attorney Amy Oetken leaves Plymouth County to assume the duties as County Attorney for Lyon County in Rock Rapids.

Le Mars Civil Service Commission upholds the termination of Le Mars Police Officer, Jeremy Singer.

Hometown Christmas is established as a new holiday tradition in Le Mars.

Now to conclude the year by reviewing those events that occurred in December…

Both Pioneer Village Winter Wonderland and the Le Mars Christmas Lighted Parade are cancelled due to COVID-19 virus.

Floyd Valley Healthcare receives COVID-19 vaccines and begins vaccinating hospital staff.

Plymouth County Compensation Board proposes to the County Board of Supervisors a four percent increase in salary pay for all county elected officials.

Le Mars Community School officials report student proficiency ratings dropped slightly. Officials blame it on not having classes for the last quarter due to the COVID-19 virus.

Renovation of the Le Mars YMCA/Community Wellness Center is completed.

The paving project on Highway 75 between Hinton and Sioux City is finally completed.

Le Mars city council decides to extend lease agreement with Plymouth Energy L.L.C., despite the fact the ethanol producer has been closed since May.

Plymouth County Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo is given the swearing oath of office as he retires from being the sheriff and at the start of the new year will become a County Supervisor.

Likewise, Jeff TeBrink was given the oath by Judge Jeff Neary as TeBrink becomes the new sheriff for Plymouth County at the start of the new year.

Those are the events that occurred in 2020.