As 2022 comes to an end, take a look back at the local news stories that appeared in the Oskaloosa Herald throughout the year — and shaped our communities. Part 4 of the Herald's Year in Review covers October to December.
Local school districts face challenges in midst of inflation
Oskaloosa Community Schools Superintendent Mike Fisher and Pella Community Schools Superintendent Greg Ebeling discussed the challenges they’ve been facing this academic year due to a tough economy. Fuel costs, coupled with teacher, support staff and bus driver shortages, are a few of these challenges. Ebeling noted inflation “way outpaces” the relatively low 2.4% State Supplemental Aid, or SSA, which continues to “put a squeeze” on public school budgets.
SCRAA awards bids for new farm lease agreements
The South Central Regional Airport Agency awarded bids to four area farmers to rent farmland for use during the next crop year during their November meeting.
The SCRAA approved a resolution to accept four bids in the total amount of nearly $150,000 to rent out approximately 378 acres of farmland it acquired for the construction of a regional airport. These new farm lease agreements will begin March 1, 2023 and end Feb. 28, 2024. The SCRAA has received nearly $61,500 per year from current leaseholders and will receive about $88,500 more per year from new leaseholders.
The project aimed to build a new regional airport between Oskaloosa and Pella, roughly in the Leighton area. However, in June of this year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the agreement that formed the SCRAA from the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa with Mahaska County unconstitutional.
Pella Schools see increase in enrollment
The Pella Community District saw an increase in student enrollment for the 2022-23 academic year. According to the district’s certified enrollment data, the district grew by a total of 42 students this academic year. This growth includes seven resident students and 35 non-resident, or open-enrolled, students.
Superintendent Greg Ebeling said the district is in the “high mark” in terms of total K-12 students served in the district, which is 2,388. Since 1992, the district has grown from 1,700 students to 2,388, a growth of nearly 700 students in 30 years, according to Ebeling.
Love INC, Mahaska Health to offer free clinic
Free Clinics of Iowa partnered with Love in the Name of Christ and Mahaska Health to provide a free monthly clinic for citizens of Mahaska County. Mahaska Drug is also involved in the project. The clinic is held on the second Tuesday of each month at the Love INC offices and is specifically to help meet the medical needs of Mahaska County citizens who are struggling or cannot afford health insurance. It offers employment physicals, blood pressure checks and glucose testing, as well as treatments for sore throats, ear aches and other non-emergent conditions.
Mahaska County, DOT to move ahead with bypass project
The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors approved a predesign agreement from the Iowa Department of Transportation to construct the Northwest Highway 63 bypass, which will connect Highway 63 on the north side of Oskaloosa to Highway 163 on the west.
Mahaska, Marion Counties vote red in the 2022 midterms
Like most of the state, a large portion of Marion and Mahaska County residents voted Republican in the 2022 general election on Nov. 8 for federal, state and county seats.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rep. Mariannette Miller Meeks, Attorney General Brenna Bird, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, all Republicans, were elected to state seats and received the majority vote from Mahaska and Marion County residents.
Republicans Helena Hayes (House District 88), Adrian Dickey (Senate District 44), Ken Rozenboom (Senate District 19) and Barb Kniff-McCulla (House District 37) were elected to serve Mahaska and Marion County residents at the state level.
All Marion County seats were uncontested, thus remaining Republican. Mahaska County was similar with the exception of the contested race for county auditor, in which Republican Teri Cirbo-Rogers defeated Democrat Valerie Lindenman. According to Pate, the unofficial turnout for this election was the second highest in state history for a midterm — more than 1.2 million Iowans voted. The all-time high for an Iowa midterm election was 1.3 million set in 2018.
Cheyne Plants named 2023 Tulip Queen
Cheyne Plants was named the 2023 Tulip Time Queen during the Tulip Queen's Announcement Party on Nov. 12 at Pella High School. Tatum Carlstone, Ellie Wogen, Avery Verhoef and Anna DeNooy were named to the royal court. The new queen and royal court will represent Pella during next year's Tulip Time Festival, scheduled for May 4-6, 2023.
City, county officials break ground for phase one of VA redevelopment
On Nov. 21, members of the Knoxville City Council, Marion County Board of Supervisors and other city officials held a groundbreaking ceremony at the former VA campus to begin phase one of the Knoxville VA District Redevelopment project.
In January 2020, the county and city of Knoxville partnered together to secure the 160-acre former VA campus for redevelopment. The campus permanently closed in January of 2005 and had remained vacant since 2009. The project is now in the hands of the city for redevelopment after the county completed a $10.8 million demolition of the former campus in June.
Phase one will include new housing (34 residential lots) and a four-acre park on the north side of Pleasant Street, called Veterans Park, and is estimated at just over $3 million. According to Mayor Brian Hatch, this phase is slated for completion in April 2023, with new housing hitting the market in the spring.
Scottie Moore honored as "Citizen of the Year"
The Mahaska Chamber and Development Group honored Scottie Moore as their 2022 Citizen of the Year at Oskaloosa Main Street’s “Turn on the Lights!” event Nov. 20. Moore is a former Oskaloosa high school teacher who has “just made a huge impact in the lives of so many Oskaloosa graduates,” said Mahaska Chamber and Development Group’s Executive Director Amy Brainard.
Brainard resigns as Oskaloosa Main Street director
The Oskaloosa Main Street Board of Directors announced that Amy Brainard resigned from her position as director, effective Dec. 5, 2022.
In her letter, Brainard shared, “Anyone who spends more than 10 minutes with me knows that I am passionate about education and youth development. My next position will allow me to interact with students, staff, and teachers on a regular basis.”
During her time as Main Street director, Brainard was part of a wide variety of projects, including the Elevate Your Living: Upper Story Housing Tour, the Mahaska Wish Book and this year’s successful Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant.
“Amy jumped wholeheartedly into learning the Main Street approach and has impressed us immensely with her ability to balance maintenance and growth for Oskaloosa Main Street. We will miss her and wish her all the best in her new position,” said Allison McGuire, Oskaloosa Main Street Board chair.
Osky's 2022 Young Ambassadors announced
Preslee Breuklander, age 4, was named the 2022 Young Ambassador Princes, and Myles McGee, age 3, was named the 2022 Young Ambassador Prince for the annual Oskaloosa Main Street Young Ambassador Contest. Both children attend the Oskaloosa Early Childhood Development Center. This year, 27 children between the ages of three and kindergarten participated in the contest-fundraiser.
PURIS Foods reduces workforce, pauses production at Osky facility
Production paused at the PURIS Foods plant in Oskaloosa after officials reduced its workforce to meet the company’s “current business needs,” according to Lauren Perez, chief of staff at PURIS Foods.
Perez confirmed in an email with the Herald that employees were notified “on right sizing staff to meet current business needs” on Monday, Nov. 21. Perez would not confirm the extent of the workforce reduction but said there are still employees working in Oskaloosa. She said employees who were let go were offered severance, along with resources and “outplacement services through a PURIS partner.”
PURIS is a food supply chain that produces pea protein and other plant-based ingredients that are used for meat substitutes, protein powder and other products. The company was founded by Jerry Lorenzen in Oskaloosa in 1985, according to the company’s website.
OCSD sees enrollment increase
Enrollment in the Oskaloosa Community School District increased by 46 students this academic year, according to the Iowa Department of Education. The latest numbers indicate a reversal of the decreases in enrollment the district has experienced in recent years. Certified enrollment at Oskaloosa Schools totals 2,255 this year, an increase of 46 students from the previous year.
Studio Osky debuts first show with Fairfield artist
Studio Osky kicked off its career as a local art hub Dec. 10 with an open house featuring Fairfield artist Jenny Sammons. Sammons made her Studio Osky debut with a woodland themed show titled “Woodland Vibes.”
Mahaska County moves ahead with joint Wapello resurfacing project
The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors voted to finalize a $4.2 million funding agreement with Wapello County to resurface routes G77 and T67, a project that will take place in both counties. Supervisors voted on the agreement during their regular meeting Dec. 5. The agreement states both routes are in need of resurfacing and fleshes out each county’s responsibilities in the process moving forward.
Mahaska County officials take oaths of office
Elected officials from Mahaska County took their oaths of office Dec. 15 at the Mahaska County Courthouse, including county attorney Andrew Ritland, county treasurer Connie Van Polen, county recorder Jody Van Patten and county supervisors Steve Wanders and Chuck Webb, all Republicans.
“It’s one of the privileges of my position that I get to come in and do the swearing in of the newly elected officials,” said Judge Rose Anne Mefford, who administered the oaths of office. “The voters have put their trust in good people. Mahaska County has always been fortunate to have good leaders step forward to take these roles.”
Marching Dutch make final Rose Bowl preparations
The Marching Dutch wrapped up their Christmas holiday quickly this year before flying to Pasadena, California on Dec. 28. They represented Pella as they marched at the Tournament of Roses in the Rose Parade on Jan 2.
The band was led by co-directors Dameon Place and Gabe Schott as they traveled west to perform in one of the most watched parades in the nation. Place says the Marching Dutch prides themselves on a tradition of excellence that allows them to perform at key events like the upcoming Rose Parade.
The performance was an opportunity of a lifetime for Pella’s young marching band students — all 210 of them — but it’s far from the band’s first time hitting the road to perform. The two previous times the Marching Dutch appeared at the Rose Bowl were in 1988 and 2003.
“One thing that is important to recognize anytime we talk about this, is what a community effort this has been. And I know that sounds cheesy and hokey, but in this instance, it is unbelievably true. Our community has been unbelievable in their support of our students going to this parade,” Place said. “The price tag of an event such as this is pretty astronomical, and our local businesses and our local corporations as well as individual families stepped up in ways that were just so unexpected and so generous to make sure that every student in the back was able to go.”