2021 in review: Year of triumphs, year in flux

Here is a recap of the big stories from 2021, which we didn’t actually have space to include in last week’s paper, which would have been our usual practice – too much news.


— Two local fundraisers raised thousands of dollars to support local struggling small businesses, which were forced to close their doors because of the statewide coronavirus mandates. A GoFundMe to “Save the Rio Theatre” had raised $11,248 of its $21,000 goal, and a New Year’s Day fun run to support Steelhead Strength and Fitness raised more than $5,000 to support the shuttered gym.

— Sweet Home High School teachers Michelle Snyder and Blake Manley won two microgrants to support STEM and career and technical education. One grant went to Manley for his “Manley Jobs” video series and Snyder planned to use the funds she received to purchase suturing, phlebotomy and respiratory therapy equipment for her health occupations classes. 

— The Sweet Home Police Department rolled out a revamped Neighborhood Watch program. 

— The Sweet Home School District announced plans to bring all students back to in-person learning during the month of February, starting with K-3 students on Feb. 1. 

— First responders were among the initial Sweet Home residents or employees to get COVID-19 vaccine shots.

— A newly finished memory book, commemorating the year of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, was released. 

— New City Council members Dylan Richards and Angelita Sanchez were sworn in, along with Lisa Gourley and Dave Trask, who were reelected in the November 2020 election. 

— City Council members approved a $75,455 contract with Dougherty Landscape Associates of Eugene to develop a downtown parking and streetscape plan for Sweet Home. 

— Construction began on the new Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District vehicle bay six months later than expected, thanks to delays caused by permitting issues. 

— City Librarian Rose Peda retired and was honored with a celebration. 

— Neighbors on Willow and Yucca streets began the process of forming a Local Improvement District to improve the water supply and road infrastructure. 


— School staffs practiced and made preparations for the return of students, which happened Monday, Feb. 1, as kindergarten through third-graders entered classroom doors for the first time in nearly a year. 

— Steelhead Strength and Fitness opened after Gov. Kate Brown announced changes to state restrictions that had kept the business shuttered. 

— Sweet Home football players started practice for the upcoming shortened season. 

— Sweet Home High School reported record graduation numbers from the previous June, despite the closing of the school to brick-and-mortar classes and a 2020 graduation ceremony held in pods, in separate ceremonies over the course of two days. 

— Sweet Home quarterback Aiden Tyler signed a letter of intent to play football for Western Oregon. 

— Fire destroyed a home on the south end of Fifth Avenue, but when firefighters entered the building after dousing the flames, they found a survivor: a Labrador retriever dog that had taken refuge under a couch. 

— A new pastor, Jeff Dankenbring, and his wife Simone arrived at Freedom Hill church in an effort to “replant” the congregation. 

— Katie Robeck signed a letter of intent to play soccer for Hesston College. 

— Sweet Home volleyball and basketball players traveled to Idaho to get a chance to compete, and both won big. 

— Sixteen Sweet Home High School students were chosen for a Winter Court, held after Homecoming was cancelled (along with all other in-person activities) the previous fall. 


— After more than a year of inactivity, Sweet Home High School football, volleyball, soccer and cross-country athletes stepped back into competition. 

— Longtime community leader Tim McQueary died at age 76. 

— City Council members put the brakes on a planned Local Improvement District for the Willow Street neighborhood after residents protested aspects of the plan, particularly financing. 

— Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey, 54, died of cancer. 

— Melody Jordan-Reese was named executive director of the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce. 

— City officials announced that they had been able to refinance three loans, saving $766,000 and improving Sweet Home’s bond rating. 

— Members of the Linn County Small Woodlands Association began planting ponderosa pines in a grove at Sunnyside Park, which will honor former resident Bob Mealey, who worked to restore the native species to the valley until his death in 2007.

— Sweet Home High School math teacher Melissa Klumph, 43, remembered by colleagues and students as a caring, inspiring mentor and friend, died following a long battle with cancer. 

— Sweet Home businessman Josh Victor offered the Linn County Board of Commissioners $1 million for the former Willamette Industries mill site in Sweet Home. 

— Alex Paul, former publisher of The New Era and a longtime local news reporter, started a new gig as communications officer for Linn County, a new position for the county. 

— Sweet Home High School held its first Homecoming celebration since the fall of 2019, beating Sisters in a Friday night football game. 

— Fire destroyed a house on 41st Avenue. 

— The Sweet Home Kiwanis Club disbanded after more than 60 years of serving the community. 

— Local bell enthusiast Dw-Wayne Hill donated a church bell to Cascadia Bible Church. 


— Schools Supt. Tom Yahraes announced that Sweet Home would respond to relaxed rules from the state Department of Education with expanded schedules, busing and staff. 

— Will Tucker was appointed to the Linn County Commission to fill the seat left vacant by the death of John Lindsey. For Tucker, it was a return to the board, from which he had stepped down after three terms and was replaced by Sherrie Sprenger. 

— Sweet Home’s volleyball team won the state 4A championship, the first in the sport in school history 

— Oregon Jamboree Director Robert Shamek told the Sweet Home School Board that the festival would proceed, one way or another, depending on state and county protocols. 

— Linn County returned to “high” COVID-19 risk level after bouncing around for most of the previous three months of the year. 

— Spring sports opened their six-week season.

— Longtime coach and athletics supporter “Donna Momma” Davis died at 81. 

— The Oregon Jamboree announced its first performers for the 2021 festival: Dustin Lynch, Parmalee, Niko Moon, Cam and Jessie Leigh. 

— Sweet Home High School’s Forestry Club took third in a virtual state forestry competition, behind individual champs Dustin Jackman, Tristan Lemmer and Becky Belcher. 

— A Sweet Home woman, awakened by her fire alarm, escaped an early-morning blaze that destroyed her mobile home. 

— Samaritan staffers vaccinated approximately 350 Sweet Home residents during a clinic held at the Jim Riggs Community Center. 

— The city held an open house to consider details of a proposed local improvement project for the neighborhood including Willow and Yucca streets and the Tamarack intersection with 18th Avenue. 

— Longtime assistant Nathan Whitfield took over as head coach of the Sweet Home High School track-and-field program. 


— A Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce fundraising drive raised an estimated $2,475 for a fireworks show planned during Sportsman’s Holiday weekend. 

— Sweet Home High School senior Abby Jerenjcic received a state Youth of the Year award from the Boys & Girls Club. 

— Sweet Home School District Budget Committee members unanimously approved a $55,024,931 budget for 2021-22. 

— A fire that severely damaged the fellowship hall at Elm Street Baptist Church was attributed to arson. 

— Judge Larry Blake Jr. told City Council members that other cities were copying Sweet Home’s Community Court program. 

— Ryan Adams was named head football coach for Sweet Home High School after Dustin Nichol stepped down following his retirement from teaching. 

— Tristan Calkins won a state title in the long jump and came within a hair – literally – of a second title in the 200-meter run. Jessy Hart was second in the 400. 

— Sweet Home drama students performed “The Many Disguises of Robin Hood,” their first drama production since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in 2020. 


— Holley Christian Church celebrated its 150th anniversary. 

— Linn County Parks staff installed protective booms around the swim area at Lewis Creek Park, where a 6-year-old boy was killed in the summer of 2020 by a runway personal watercraft. 

— Linn County commissioners set July 14 as the deadline to auction the nearly 160-acre former Willamette Industries (Weyerhaeuser) mill site on Tamarack Street. 

— Sweet Home Police Department Communications Supervisor Penny Leland celebrated her 40th year with the department. 

— Seven young women – Paige Chafin, Serenity Dehart, Kami Hart, Jess Maynard, Emma McCubbins, Molly McKillop, Haley Nunez – were named to the 2021 Sportsman’s Holiday Court. 

— Savannah Hutchins and Aiden Tyler were named Booster Club Girl and Boy of the Year at the club’s annual Senior Athletic Awards Banquet. 

— Samaritan Health officials announced that Wiley Creek Community would be sold to Salem-based Mosaic Management, which would continue operating the senior living facility, and that a new 15,000-square-foot primary and urgent care clinic would be built on the 42-acre site, to be operated by Samaritan. 

— One hundred twenty-eight seniors graduated as the Class of 2021. 

— Schools Supt. Tom Yahraes announced his resignation. 

— After mixed input from residents, the City Council approved a $1.63 million local improvement district for the Willow and Yucca streets area. 

— The Sweet Home High School girls swimming and boys wrestling teams both won district titles. 

— Sweet Home placed second as a team in swimming, as Chloe Tyler and Malia Hewitt both won individual titles and the Huskies won two relays. 

— The Sweet Home boys won the state wrestling championship behind individual titles from Kyle Sieminski, Jacob Sieminski, Brayden Newport and Tristan Spencer. The girls were second, as all four of the Huskies’ qualifiers placed, Sicily Neuschwander and Jessy Hart finishing second, and Paige Chafin and Kami Hart third. 


— A fire, started by a homeless man, burned one-tenth of an acre just east of the Narrows before firefighters arrived to put it out. 

— A quilt made by longtime Sweet Home High School teacher Myrtle Gates, who died in 2017 at age 106, was donated by her family to Sweet Home High School. It is composed of squares on which students in 1976 wrote messages, which Gates then sewed into the quilt. 

— Max Klumph and Lydia Wright were named Freshmen of the Year for Sweet Home High School. 

— Haley Nunez was named Sportsman’s Holiday Queen for the 2020 festival, back after a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19. 

— Fred Dodge retired from Hoy’s Hardware after 30 years.

— The Bruler Fire broke out on the Willamette National Forest northeast of Sweet Home, burning 65 acres in the first day after it was reported. 

— After being cancelled in 2020, the Linn County Fair returned, with record crowds. 

— Following the retirement of Sgt. Jason Van Eck, three officers were sworn in to new roles in the Police Department: New police officer Trevor Sundquist took the oath of office and Sgt. Jason Ogden was promoted to captain, and Officer Dave Hickox to sergeant. 

— The Bruler Fire grew to 156 acres during its first week. 

— New School Board members Janice Albert and Sara Hoffman were sworn in at the trustees’ monthly meeting. 

— The Santiam Wrestling Camp returned after not being held in 2020, drawing nearly 100 of the state’s top wrestlers.

— Dr. Larry Horton was named recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, Karla Hogan was named First Citizen, Chris Chapman Junior First Citizen and Christy Duncan was Patty Woods Woman of the Year. They and others were honored at the Chamber of Commerce’s live awards banquet, outdoors in Sankey Park. 


— A Junction City man who was convicted in June of killing two Sweet Home teens in a crash that occurred while he was driving drunk on Highway 228 in May 2020, was sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison. 

— The Oregon Jamboree returned to Sweet Home after a year’s hiatus, drawing crowds of about 12,000 on the first two nights. Trace Adkins was announced as one of the headliners for 2022.

— New Principal Debbie Phillips arrived to take over at Hawthorne Elementary School, replacing Barbi Riggs, who was appointed the district’s director of the Teaching and Learning Department. 

— Containment on the Bruler Fire, which had spread to 195 acres, was announced at 65% at the beginning of August. 

— Sweet Home Wrestling Coach Steve Thorpe was named the National Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. 

— State Sen. Fred Girod and Rep. Jami Cate held a town hall at Sankey Park to hear from a few dozen local residents who attended. 

— A new medical clinic, Ridgeway Health, opened at 1023 Main St. 

— Local grade-schooler Madalyn Coleman was named the state’s winner in the “If I Were Mayor” contest. 

— Residents protesting the state’s mask mandate in K-12 schools filled the Sweet Home School District Office parking lot, brandishing signs and making their voices heard during the School Board’s August meeting. Board members unanimously passed a petition to Gov. Kate Brown to rescind the mask mandate and support a return to local decision-making on health and other issues. 

— Kevin Hill was sworn in as the School Board’s newest member 

— Lisa Riggs, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Gresham-Barlow School District, was named Sweet Home’s new school district superintendent, replacing Tom Yahraes. 

— Soaring coronavirus numbers caused by the arrival of the delta variant prompted local health officials to urge residents to rethink their stances on vaccinations against the virus. 

— New Library Services Director Megan Dazey arrived in Sweet Home to take over the position vacated by the retirement of Rose Peda. 

— Residents expressed concerns to the City Council about both the state’s mask mandate and about the city’s plans to create a homeless camp.

— New Sweet Home Police Officer Savannah Brad was sworn in. 

— William Maze, of Sweet Home, was sentenced to just over nine years in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse. 

— Aaron Huff started as the new assistant principal at Sweet Home High School, replacing Chris Hiasson, who retired at the end of the school year. 

— Crowds of citizens attended a town hall meeting, hosted by the Sweet Home City Council, to voice opinions about the state’s mask mandates. 

— Audrey Richards, principal of Sand Ridge Charter School in Lebanon, took over as principal of Sweet Home Charter School as well (our story on Richards appeared Nov. 3). 


— A Sweet Home man, Jock Edwards, was arrested for stabbing a teenager in Sankey Park.

— Blake Nightingale was named park ranger for the Quartzville Corridor area. 

— Dan Tow was named athletic director at Sweet Home High School, replacing Nate Tyler, who continues as an assistant principal. 

— Local firefighters responded quickly to put down a brush fire that ignited immediately west of White’s Park, north of Highway 20. 

— Some 200 people turned out for the first of several free Tuesday night concerts, held in the parking lot behind the Rio Theatre. 

— The Best in the West Triathlon returned to Lewis Creek Park after skipping (officially) 2020. 

— Parents, many of them unmasked, delivered their opinions of how the state and the school district are handling the coronavirus during the School Board’s September meeting. 

— The Sweet Home City Council held a special meeting to discuss a proposed homeless facility on Linn County-owned property behind Bi-Mart, next to Sweet Home Public Works headquarters.

— School District officials closed school for an extra day, to dovetail with a scheduled day off, after 145 students and staff were quarantined due to coronavirus in late September. 

— Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon announced he would not seek re-election, a week after Lt. Michelle Duncan was named Undersheriff. Meanwhile, Jon Raymond, a 22-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, announced he would be running for Sheriff in May. 

— County Commissioner Will Tucker announced he would seek a fifth term on the board in the May election. 


— The city’s Harvest Festival drew large crowds to Sankey Park.

— New pastor Mark Scott took the helm at Crawfordsville Calvary Chapel church. 

— An Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that the former Willamette Industries (Weyerhaeuser) mill site in Sweet Home needs $500,000 in asbestos abatements to its buildings. A DEQ representative suggested to the City Council that the city not take possession of the property from Linn County because it would assume liability for the abatement. 

— Bi-Mart announced it was selling its pharmacies, including the one in its Sweet Home store, to Walgreens. 

— Dale Keene was appointed to the Sweet Home School Board to fill its remaining vacancy, the Crawfordsville seat. 

— New Linn-Benton Community College President Lisa Avery told a group of community leaders during a meeting on Weddle Bridge that she wants to see the college “really step up our game and work more closely with our rural partners.” 

— Real market values of properties in Linn County climbed from $18.8 billion in 2020 to more than $21 billion for the 2021 tax year, Linn County Assessor and Tax Collector Andy Stevens announced. 

— Using new technology, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office came up with a new composite for remains found in the Gordon road area in April 2020.

— Community Health Committee members discussed the possibility of creating an interim homeless camp in the parking lot north of the Police Department.

— Capt. Wes Strubhar, a top Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District volunteer, announced he was taking a six-month leave of absence in response to the state’s requirement that he be vaccinated to serve as a firefighter or medic. 


— The City Council voted to eliminate 15-cent daily past-due fines on Sweet Home Library materials for three months, in response to a recommendation from the library’s advisory board. 

— The Downtown Trick or Treat event drew hundreds of kids (of all ages) and also included a brief play put on by SHOCASE, a local group that supports and advances arts and culture in Sweet Home. 

— Holley School resource room/special education teacher Tina Tressel was dismissed, reluctantly, by the School Board because she did not provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or submit a religious or medical exemption. School Board members indicated they planned to rehire her after the vaccine mandate ends. 

— County voters passed a four-year law enforcement levy for the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, similar to one that had failed the previous November. 

— Sweet Home’s volleyball team won two state playoff games, but lost to eventual champion Cascade in the round of eight. 

— Dan-Dee Sales owners Jack and Lisa Legg announced they were planning to retire and close their store – which has been in Sweet Home for 47 years – at the end of 2021. 

— The Linn County Board of Commissioners agreed to give the City of Sweet Home two acres of former Willamette Industries (Weyerhaeuser) mill site property to create a controlled campsite for local homeless.

— The U.S. Forest Service’s Quartzville-Middle Santiam Project, which includes plans to thin some 90,000 acres of overgrown forestland, create firebreaks and open spaces, and reconstruct or maintain some 300 miles of roads, reached the public comment stage for its draft environmental assessment. 

— Harrisburg man, Keian Troy Hostetler, 18, was arrested in connection with a robbery at Crawfordsville Market that occurred Oct. 27. 

— Linn-Benton Community College’s volleyball team, which includes three Sweet Home volleyball alums, Savannah Hutchins, Shelbey Nichol and Gracie Zanona, won its first-ever Northwest Athletic Conference championship, finishing ahead of 35 other conference teams.


— Gracie Olson-Stutzman, one of Sweet Home’s first female wrestlers, was named coach of Sweet Home High School’s girls wrestling team, which had 15 members as the 2021-22 season began. 

— A Jay Bronson, who had served as assistant swimming coach for the past two seasons after arriving in Sweet Home in 2018 as swimming pool supervisor, took over as head coach for Doug Peargin, who had stayed in that role for 48 years. Peargin continues as an assistant. 

— Sweet Home Singing Christmas Tree leaders announced that this year’s planned performances had been canceled for various reasons, some due to coronavirus impacts. 

— Jim Yon announced that he was going to retire as sheriff at the end of the year and recommended that Undersheriff Michelle Duncan be appointed to the office, which would make her the first female sheriff in Linn County history. Commissioners agreed that Duncan would succeed Yon. 

— A decade after a fire that destroyed the Cascadia Post Office, cutting off local mail access for residents of the community who did not live on the rural delivery route, a combination of effort from various government agencies and the Post Office resulted in the installation of cluster boxes during the fall at the U.S. Forest Service’s Short Bridge Wayside to serve those residents. 

— Paige Chafin signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Eastern Oregon University.

— A record-sized crowd delivered a record-breaking profit at the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation’s Trees for Scholarships auction, which funds scholarships for graduating Sweet Home High School students. 

— Sweet Home School Board members were told by a local teachers union leader that schools are running into staffing issues and teachers are exhausted. 

— Linn County Commission members gave initial approval to give the City of Sweet Home 2.69 acres where the city hopes to locate temporary homeless shelters. 

— A Lighted Christmas Parade drew 26 floats and a large crowd of spectators. 

— Local rising country star Jessie Leigh headlined a Christmas Gala concert held at the Sweet Home High School Auditorium, which also included a program of local performers. 

— Eugene-based Dougherty Landscape Architects unveiled its proposal for Sweet Home’s “Downtown Streetscape” to the City Council. DLA representatives said their goal was to create a walkable downtown, safer for crossing the street and which is attractive for visitors passing through. 

— Local mother Gidget Howser, who worked 18 years, most recently at Safeway and The Point, to get two of her children to the U.S. from the Philippines saw that dream realized with their Dec. 5 arrival. 

— The Oregon Jamboree announced that Miranda Lambert would return as a headliner, joining Old Dominion and Trace Adkins as the lead acts for the 2022 festival. 

— Joe Medley retired after 12½ years of service at Fir Lawn Lutheran and seven at Sweet Home United Methodist churches, pastoring both until the end of 2021.