2010 was a busy year in Columbus and Cherokee County, from a contentious election to the even more contentious closing of a beloved school. The Advocate here will name our top 10 stories of the year. The editorial board chose these based solely on their impact on the community this year.
1.) A beloved community school was closed by the Columbus Unified School District 493 Board in June as a cost cutting measure. The board voted 5-2 to close the Scammon Elementary School which also housed an autism program after a series of contentious public meetings in which some residents broke down in tears.
“We are looking at this now only because of the lack of state funding,” School Board Member Marta Brown said at the meeting in which the school was closed. “No one is finding fault with your school.”
The closing was prompted by nearly $1 million in state funding cuts earlier in the year.
“The state pulled 900,000 from us this year,” said Board Member Jim Crain during the meeting. “They can pull that amount again. There is no guarantee we will get through the coming year, even if we close your school.”
The students and teachers have since been absorbed into Columbus Schools.
2.) The long-time General Manager of Columbus Telephone and ardent Columbus booster Jim Dahmen announced he would be stepping down this year, and did so on Oct. 1.
Dahmen had worked for Columbus Telephone for 25 years.
He said in Sept. he is proudest of Columbus Telephone’s fiber optic communication system.
“We are one of about 100 communities in the Midwest that have 100 percent fiber optic service,” he said. “This is a big economic advantage for the Columbus community.”
3.) The disputed election between long-time State Rep. Doug Gatewood, (D-Columbus) and his Republican challenger Mike Houser. The official canvas the Friday following the Nov. 2 election showed Gatewood leading by just 77 votes, 2,905 to 2,828, prompting Houser to ask for a recount. The recount was completed the following week and the final tally saw Gatewood pick up two votes and the final tally was 2,907 to 2,828.
Houser said after the recount he was unsurprised by the outcome, but was satisfied it was fair.
“I didn‘t figure it‘d change a whole lot,” he said then. “I just wanted to make sure the machines weren‘t messed up.”
4.) After more than a year of court proceedings Kaston Hudgins was bound over for trial on two counts of first degree murder Sept. 10. Hudgins stands accused of slamming into the back of a car driven by Teresa Kemp during a car chase with police in 2009. Taylor Kemp, 13, was also in the car at the time and both were killed.
Hudgins, who allegedly suffers from schizoaffective disorder disorder was originally found incompetent to stand trial and remanded to the Larned State Psychiatric Hospital for treatment. Upon a recommendation from the doctors there, Hudgins competence was reexamined and he was found capable of assisting in his own defense and arraigned on the murder charges. He has been scheduled for trial March 8, 2011.
5.) Convicted murderer Robert Jarman was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Feb. 8, 2010 after being convicted in late 2009 of the murder of his wife Suzanne.
In October 2009 Jarman was found guilty of deliberately shooting his wife in the back of the head with a 12 gauge shotgun on Aug. 22, 2007.
6.) Three Columbus residents were arrested for arson and conspiracy to commit arson by the state fire marshal‘s office in 2010. Kenneth “Donut“ Webber was arrested at the Columbus Free Store on Nov. 16 on charges of burglary, arson and conspiracy to commit arson. A little over a month later, on Joann Slaugh and Kathryn Gray were arrested as alleged conspirators. All three are free on bond.
7.) Empire District Electric Company asked the Kansas Corporation Commission for a 25 percent rate increase to cover the costs of new generating capacity early in the year, triggering anger from many residents who felt their bills were already too high. The KCC did not approve the 25 percent hike, opting instead for a 12 percent increase which added about $12 to an average customer‘s monthly bill.
8.) A former Columbus Unified High School student won the Bronze Star with V for valor for actions in Afghanistan. The 27-year-old Army Specialist Eric Paxton, was standing his post in a guard tower at the Jalabad air field in Afghanistan when the car pulled up to the gate. He lost his hearing when the explosive laden vehicle blew up. Shrapnel blew into his left knee, thigh and right forearm. He immediately fired the machine gun he was manning and shot though all of the ammunition he had. Next he grabbed the M-249 SAW machine gun and fired all of the ammunition it had. Out of ammunition, Paxton jumped out of the tower and grabbed an AK-47 rifle from an Afghan policeman hiding behind a wall and used it to hold off the insurgents until a quick reaction force could arrive. He went to school in Columbus Kan. from the 8th grade through his sophomore year.
9.) Farmer’s Coop in Columbus and Baxter Springs took in 2.5 million bushels of corn in 2010 — a record harvest.
“It’s the most we’ve ever had brought in,” said General Manager Machelle Shouse.
The elevator had to close for one Saturday afternoon and one Sunday.
“Loaded trucks had to go elsewhere for that Saturday,” she said, “but we took inbound trucks again on the following Monday.
While agriculture department statistics for 2010 won’t be released until March of 2011, the Kansas Corn Growers Association had some figures available.
“The average yield for Cherokee County was 109 bushels of corn,” said Kansas Corn Growers Communications Director Sue Schulte. “The yield per acre was actually down from 2009 but the number of acres planted was up 25 percent.”
Corn Growers in Southeast Kansas planted 450,000 acres.
The Kansas Corn Growers Association figured the yield per acre times the number of acres planted to come up with 6.018 bushels of corn for the county for 2010.
10). The CUHS Titan football team made the state playoffs for the third year running, after knocking off powerhouses Coffeyville and Labette County to secure the berth. The Titans ended the season 5-5 after losing to the Chanute Blue Comets on Nov. 2 in the first round of playoffs.