Take a look back at top news from 2017

One of the highlights of 2017 was the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21.

Photo by Lukas Eggen
One of the highlights of 2017 was the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21.

POLK COUNTY — The year brought good news and bad. We take a look through 2017’s Itemizer-Observers to remember it all.



Snow was quite the story during the winter of 2017. Schools were closed and sporting events canceled several times before the season was over.

Oregon’s Retirement System: PERS puts pressure on tight budgets for local governments

Local governments’ 2017-18 fiscal year budgets have a shadow looming over them in the form of Oregon Public Employees Retirement System rate increases.

PERS officials say rising rates won’t be an anomaly, continuing for the foreseeable future.

Ella Curran Food Bank feeds thousands: Patty Nevue is just about to her one-year anniversary as director of the Ella Curran Food Bank.

She has seen the ebb and flow of the donation cycle, and said the food bank — and all who use it — is blessed to have so much support from the community year-round.

Nevue took the job from Pat Jaffer in January 2016. She said she was surprised to see the scope of people served by the food bank.

Snow leaves schools on thin ice: With more than average snow in early 2017, school districts began to wonder if they’d have to make up snow days. Perrydale School District has called three snow days, which exceeds the two snow days built into the schedule. Perrydale will make up one day.

Central School District has called three snow days (the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Christmas break) but should still meet the hours requirement if there are no more snow days.

Dallas School District has used five snow days, but has up to nine it could use.

State law requires 900 hours of instructional time during a school year for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

For grades nine through 11, the requirement is 990 hours. Seniors are required to attend 966 hours.

Dallas officers cleared by grand jury: A Polk County grand jury found that two Dallas police officers were justified in using deadly force during the Dec. 16, 2016, shooting incident that killed Jeremiah N. Anderson.

The grand jury’s finding was unanimous, said a press release from the Polk County District Attorney’s Office.

Clow Corner, Highway 99 to get roundabout: Roundabout. That’s the solution for the intersection at Clow Corner and Highway 99W that Polk County and Oregon Department of Transportation officials agreed to pursue.

County officials say it’s not a perfect solution and more expensive than the traffic signal they have been wanting for a decade, but it’s at least doing something at an intersection that has a history of serious crashes.

As of September, the intersection of has been the spot for 32 crashes in the last 10 years, according to ODOT. Of those, five were very serious crashes, with two fatalities.

Monmouth shows off senior center expansion: Hundreds gathered at the Monmouth Senior Center for its open house and ribbon cutting, celebrating the 2,133-square-foot expansion project.

The $520,000 addition was paid for through fundraising from the Friends of the Monmouth Senior Center, coupled with contributions from the city of Monmouth as well as grants from Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Fund and the Collins Fund. While the actual construction was speedy — the ground-breaking was in the summer of 2016 — securing the money took more than a decade.



Former Motor Vu owner Jeff Mexico takes down a sign at the snack bar at the drive-in after officially closing the drive-in theater in February.

Court security to limit access: County commissioners consider limiting access to the courthouse through the historic doors in an effort to increase courtroom safety.

Final credits for Motor Vu Drive-In: Motor Vu owner Jeff Mexico took down signage at the snack bar at the drive-in on a Friday afternoon in mid-February. He closed the drive-in after an online campaign failed to raise money to purchase the land the theater occupied.

Great American Eclipse comes in August: A special section with information about the eclipse, as well as memories of the last eclipse to hit Oregon, ran in mid-February.

A blessed ministry: Jinett Yeager named First Citizen by Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce.

Other winners at the banquet were Business of the Year: Heartstrings Floral & Artisans; Young Pros of the Year: Devin Colby Jones and MacLarin Jones; Organization of the Year: CASA of Polk County; and Excellence in Arts; Abe Huff.



New Central School District Superintendent Jennifer Kubista talks with Silvia and Kirby Johnson on the first day of school in September. Kubista was selected from three finalists at the end of the district's search to replace former superintendent Buzz Brazeau.

Lights of the Community: Awards showcase Monmouth, Indy businesses, people.

Steve Milligan, Monmouth’s mayor, was honored as First Citizen at the March banquet. Other winners were: Retail services – Independence Cinema; Nonprofit or organization – Partnerships in Community Living Inc.; Food and Beverage Service – Arena Sports Bar & Grill; Personal Service Provider – Monmouth Fitness Club; Professional Service Provider – Monmouth-Independence Networks; Financial Service Provider – Oregon State Credit Union; Distinguished Service – Josh Cronin; Junior Citizen – Andrew Love; Educator of the Year – Marcella Stepp-Rodarte; Education Support Staff of the Year – Becky McMillian.

Central SD names top three: English, Kubista, Tucker make final cut for superintendent

A meet and greet was held in late March to meet the three finalists for Central’s new superintendent. Jennifer Kubista got the job.

An in-depth interview was printed in early April to get to know Kubista better.


American Gas & Tech to name school after Fink: The man who sold the former Tyco Building in Dallas to American Gas & Technology will have part of the facility named after him. All future employees will train at the Harvey S. Fink Welding School at the facility, now primed to begin production of natural gas liquefiers.



The removal of “Noah’s Ark” from the former Weyerhaeuser mill site in Dallas makes the property more attractive to businesses wanting to locate in the Willamette Valley.

Mill landmark comes down: Crews remove the Weyerhaeuser mill building known as Noah’s Ark.

Another piece of Dallas’ timber town legacy disappeared with the dismantling of the old drying shed affectionately known as “Noah’s Ark,” on the former Weyerhaeuser mill property.

The property owner, Northwest Demolition & Dismantling, has been getting the site ready for redevelopment. Most of the wood from the structure was salvaged, while other materials were recycled.



The repainted sign at Sgt. Ian Tawney M. Memorial Park.

Reach for the sky: This story about local amateur astronomers Jon and Susan Brewster, marked the first of many stories gearing up for the Great American Eclipse. In it, we meet the Brewsters, who have an observatory built at their Monmouth home, situated for perfect stargazing.

Events center awaits decision: Owners of a proposed event center on Polk Station Road just outside of Dallas are awaiting a Polk County Hearings Officer decision on an appeal of its conditional use permit. Before the planning department approved the permit, neighbors and other groups expressed opposition and concerns, mostly about traffic, noise and safety.

UPDATE: The hearings officer recommended approval of the event center and the Polk County Board of Commissioners supported that recommendation. According to Mark Bernard, senior planner for Polk County, the approval contained a condition that no more than three events take place per month. As of late December, the owners hadn't applied for the necessary change of use permits to open the center, Bernard said.

Taking matters into his own hands: Dallas resident Alex Lofton, family and friends restore and renew Tawney memorial sign.

When Alex Lofton found out Sgt. Ian Tawney’s memorial park sign was vandalized, he wasn’t going to let it sit overnight without trying to fix it. He, his brother, his girlfriend and friend packed up buckets of soapy water and scrub brushes, parked his car in front of the sign and used the headlights to try and clean off the pink spray paint.

The search for the grail: Caceu owns one of two olive farms in Polk County.

Bogdan Caceu is searching for the “holy grail” of olive trees. He is the owner of La Creole Orchards, bordering the Bridlewood neighborhood of Dallas.

He’s among about a dozen growers who are pioneering Oregon’s budding olive and olive oil industry.



One of the highlights of 2017 was the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21. Crowds gathered at Riverview Park.

Eclipse: Why all the fuss?

The moon will cast its shadow over Polk County the morning of Aug. 21 during the Great American Eclipse, but what’s the big deal? When it comes to eclipses, timing is everything. The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 has it all.

Local cold case featured on show: Detective John Williams thought the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had the Glenn Pennie disappearance case solved in 2013. Pennie vanished from his home on Airlie Road at some point between the evening of Oct. 3, 2004, when he made a phone call, and Oct. 5, 2004, when he was due in Oakland, Calif., for a hearing on his late father’s estate.

This Polk County missing person’s case sparked the interest of producers of Oxygen’s “Cold Justice.”

Infant dies during house fire: An 11-month-old boy died in a Monmouth house fire on Aug. 9. Two adults, including his mother Natacia Abbe, along with two other children were able to evacuate. The home in the 700 block of North Catron Street was heavily involved in fire when firefighters arrived, said Polk County Fire District No. 1 Deputy Chief Neal Olson. The fire was electrical and started on or under the patio, Olson said.

Two firefighters were injured in the attempts to rescue the 11-month-old boy, Sebastian, and to put out the fire. Both firefighters were treated for their injuries, Olson said.

Lifelong dream realized at Illahe Vineyards: At about 9:25 a.m., Lisa Hoople looked up at the sun shortly after the Great American Eclipse began at Illahe Vineyards in Dallas.

“It’s starting to really shape up as the moon now,” she said.

Hoople, from Portland, watched the eclipse with her husband, James Hoople, and Carrie De Graaf, who visited them from Michigan just for this occasion. They had planned ahead.

They even made a dry run of their drive from Portland on all back roads to get to the vineyard in case of bad traffic.

It took two hours, so they stayed for a wine tasting after route testing and made a connection with Illahe’s tasting room manager Kathy Greysmith.

Traffic sparks concerns: Monmouth resident wants changes at intersection of MES.

Paul Sieber, a resident of Monmouth for longer than four decades, is looking for a change in his neighborhood.



Kevin Coady reunited a Purple Heart with Jack Kightlinger’s family.

Baskett Slough battles water primrose: Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is looking a little drier than normal for this time of year, and it isn’t because of the warm summer. The culprit is a plant with little yellow flowers that doesn’t belong here: the invasive water primrose.

Refuge employees are trying to eradicate it early, which requires draining the wetlands, including those beloved by local birders and hikers.

Purple Heart finds way to family: Quest to reunite medal to hero’s descendants takes 12 years.

After a 12-year search, Kevin Coady finally found the family of fallen U.S. Marine Pfc. Jack Carl Kightlinger.

City councilors vote to close Wagner: The city of Falls City voted to close Wagner Community Library effective June 30, 2018 if a solution to long-term funding is not found.

The council agreed in November to keep the library open until Aug. 31, 2018, for the summer reading program. City staff is now scheduling public hearings required before a public library can be closed.



The “Alone” video was shot by Talewind Visuals, of Salem, and written and performed by Central students.

Fire contract set to expire

A contract between Southwestern Polk Rural Fire Protection District and Falls City Fire Department regarding services in that area of the district is on the verge of expiring without a new agreement.

A three-month extension of the contract ended, and the two sides did not see eye-to-eye on the details.

Thursday, Dec. 21, Fire Chief Bob Young announced the end of the 70-year agreement.

City to gauge support: The city of Dallas has hired a consultant to help gauge support for solutions to improve its police and fire stations — including building a facility to house both departments.

In December we learn that focus groups organized to gauge support of a combined police/fire/ems building didn’t offer much insight into how Dallas citizens would vote if funding for the facility were placed on a ballot.

The council declined to move forward with preparing to place a bond before voters in May and didn’t authorize further research via a telephone poll.

Teens to teens: Never alone: Students in Central High School’s Power Peers leadership class decided to help raise awareness of suicide. With the assistance of the Mid-Valley Suicide Prevention Coalition and Central staff, the class kicked off a year-long suicide awareness and prevention campaign. Part of that campaign was a short video, “Alone,” which members of the Power Peers class helped write and starred in.



Ethan Carter connects wires during the prototype designing portion of the make-a-thon on Saturday at LaCreole Middle School.

Make-a-thon inspires: Imagine building a high-tech greenhouse or chicken coop in one day — with no programming experience going in. The 50 or so students and adults who gathered at LaCreole Middle School for Saturday’s Dallas Make-a-thon don’t have to imagine.

They did it. The event was organized by SparkFun and Online NW, and Innovate Oregon.

URD may extend duration 10 years: The Dallas Urban Renewal District may extend the duration of its district, possibly another 10 or more years. On Nov. 6, the Dallas Urban Renewal agency board and advisory council met with consultant Elaine Howard to review options.

Grand jury clears sheriff’s office in shooting: A Polk County grand jury cleared Polk County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Haynes and Deputy Kelly Lorence in the shooting death of Baltazar Escalona-Baez, 17, of Silverton. On Nov. 21, the grand jury unanimously found the officers were justified in using deadly force during the incident, which happened on Oct. 28 near Fort Hill in Polk County.




City council votes to terminate Foggin: The Dallas City Council voted to part ways with City Manager Ron Foggin in a 5-to-4 vote on Dec. 4. The termination followed Foggin’s annual performance evaluation and was effective immediately.



He will receive a severance package of $15,425.20 monthly for a maximum of nine months or until he is hired somewhere else. Council President Micky Garus, who voted in favor of the termination, said it was enacted under section 10 of Foggin’s contract with the city and is a “no cause” termination. Along with Garus, councilors Terry Crawford, Bill Hahn, Jackie Lawson and Paul Trahan voted for the termination. Councilors Jim Fairchild, Kelly Gabliks, Jennie Rummell and Ken Woods Jr. voted no. When asked the reason behind letting Foggin go, Garus said the city is “moving forward and is hopeful for future opportunities.”

Greg Ellis accepted the job as interim manager in Dallas a few days later.

We know there are many stories not mentioned here — what were some of the headlines you remember from 2017? Let us know at ionews@polkio.com.

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