Review of the Year, part 2: Challenges mount as 2020 progresses

This is the second half of our review of last year’s news in Sweet Home. The first half, covering January through June 2020, appeared in last week’s newspaper and is viewable at under the postings for Dec. 30, 2020.


– Nearly 200 local residents lined Main Street in support of the Sweet Home Police Department in a “Back the Blue” rally organized by a retired Police Department staffer Gina Riley.

– The City Council approved a four-year contract with city employees to end nearly a year of negotiations.

– Citing concerns about the economic impacts of COVID, the City Council rescinded a planned water rate increase for local residents.

– Use of county parks was exploding by early summer as residents and visitors opted for outdoor recreation as “the only game in town,” said Linn County Parks Director Brian Carroll.

– Upgrades have been completed at the Sunnyside dog park, thanks to efforts by local resident Larry Willett.

– Former Springfield and Oregon State University swimmer Jacquie Price took over as head coach of the Sweet Home Swim Club.

– Becky Belcher was chosen as Sportsman’s Holiday Queen from a field of nine young women.

– A Cut the Gut cruise night drew more than 160 vehicles to Sweet Home’s Main Street as one of a few events for Sportsman’s Holiday. Another was a cornhole tournament that drew teams from all over Oregon.

– A brush fire that burned half an acre off Green River Road was spotted by an ODF cruiser, who noticed smoke as he cruised past the area.

– A new reporter, Kelly Kenoyer, joined The New Era staff.

– The Police Department formally opened a new property watch program designed to help commercial property owners, business owners and apartment owners prevent unwanted activities after business hours.

– A runaway jet ski struck and severely injured two children, Zach Maynard and Kennedy Swanson, both 6, in the swimming area at Lewis Creek Park. Zach died several days later in a Portland hospital. Kennedy was able to return home after a stay in the hospital. Sweet Home residents provided a massive outpouring of support and fundraisers, an escort by public safety personnel and vehicles, and lined streets to mourn Zach’s death and provide support for his and Kennedy’s family.

– Samaritan Health opened its new Samaritan Treatment and Recovery Services drug treatment center in Lebanon.

– Local triathlete Rebecca Wolthuis completed her first Ironman triathlon, mapping out her own course locally after the event she had planned to compete in Northern California was cancelled.

– The Oregon Jamboree unveiled a series of short video documentaries telling the history and best stories to come out of the country music festival.

– The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of Country Lane residents who had been engaged in a legal battle with Albany and Eastern Railroad over their right to cross the company’s railroad line that parallels Highway 20.

– Former Sweet Home Junior High Principal Colleen Henry was named the school district’s coordinator of instructional technology as the district prepared for probable virtual and online instruction in the fall.

– COVID case numbers for Sweet Home became available for the first time in late July as the Oregon Health Authority began publishing coronavirus case totals by zip code.

– Sweet Home volleyball player Teja Abbott signed to play for the newly established beach volleyball program at Bushnell University, formerly Northwest Christian.

– The OSAA announced that all fall sports, including football, would be allowed to start practice Aug. 17, to give schools time to acclimate to changes they’ll need to make in reopening in the fall; but daily doubles would not be allowed in any sport. Summer workouts already in progress could roceed, but since football, cheerleading and dance/drill were considered full-contact activities per the governor’s and Oregon Health Agency guidelines, they were prohibited.


– The Oregon Department of Education announced that students in fourth grade and above would start the school year at home.

– Delays over a period of five years have resulted in a sidewalk project along Highway 20 in Foster to balloon to more than $3 million.

– A “Freedom Rally” that had taken place the previous two weeks near the corner of 15th Avenue and Highway 20 got a competitor when “Black Lives Matter” protesters began congregating at the same time, Friday evening, near the junction of Highways 20 and 228. This continued for several weeks, but police reported no incidents. The BLM protesters materialized following a report in The New Era that a Facebook page linked to one of the organizers of the Freedom Rally, Jimy White, promoted white nationalist and racist themes.

– Four different agencies and at least a dozen bystanders teamed up to rescue a young boy trapped in rapids at McKercher Park.

– Human remains found in April on Chandler Mountain, near Upper Calapooia Drive, were positively identified as those of Mark Hardin, a Sweet Home resident who was reported missing in 2011.

– The Linn County Fair livestock auction was held virtually, on line, instead of at the fairgrounds.

– A Sweet Home man, David Charles Johnson, was arrested after allegedly shooting another man in the shoulder after a confrontation between the two over Johnson’s behavior earlier in the day.

– The School Board finalized school plans for the district in the fall, with children in kindergarten through third grade set to return to school in a hybrid model, while older students would stay at home and engage in distance learning.

– The Oregon School Activities Association announced that it had opted to schedule truncated winter, fall and spring seasons – in that order – with actual contests starting in the new calendar year and running through late June.

Under the new schedule, the winter sports of basketball, wrestling and swimming would begin official practices Dec. 28, with their first contests Jan. 11 and culminating the week March of 1-7. Basketball teams will have 14-game regular seasons. The fall sports of football, soccer, volleyball and cross country could start practicing Feb. 22 and would play their first contests March 8. Football would have a seven-game regular season. The spring sports of baseball, softball, track, golf and tennis would begin practices April 19, play their first contests starting May 3 and have culminating weeks June 21-27. Baseball and softball teams would have 18-game regular seasons.

– County commissioners declared a local emergency in response to Gov. Brown’s order in late July that students in fourth grade and above start school online. The move provided funding for children’s activities.

– Sweet Home experienced a spike in car thefts, with four reported in the five-day span of Aug. 1-5.

– Just a few days after a boy was rescued from Calapooia River rapids at McKercher Park, bystanders rescued an 8-year-old girl who was sucked into the same rapid.

– A Milwaukie man was arrested on burglary charges after, police said, he was caught on camera during a break-in at a local storage facility.

– After deadlocking at their previous meeting, City Council members approved a zoning change to allow the construction of apartments on a .61-acre property overlooking Mountain View Road

– A 30- by 30-inch burl, which had trapped two children earlier in the month in rapids at McKercher Park, was removed by Linn County Bridge Crew workers.

– Swimmer Megan Hager was certified as an All-American as she departed to Colorado State University to begin her college swimming career.

– City officials announced they were retiring Old Sweepy, the city’s ancient street sweeping truck.

– A veteran educator from Alaska, Terry Martin, was confirmed by the School Board as the new principal at Sweet Home Junior High.

– School officials announced that school would officially start online for all grades, as Linn County failed to meet the metrics prescribed by the state to allow students to attend class.

– Residents and city officials conducted a drive-through retirement celebration for Ken Bronson, who stepped down as director of the Senior Center, though he would continue to be involved in managing the center and Linn Shuttle, which is operated by the staff at the Senior Center.

– Paul Rowton was honored with the Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service award, Jim Hagle was named First Citizen, and Kristina Mathers was Junior First Citizen as the chamber held a virtual awards ceremony six months after it postponed its Awards Banquet due to COVID.

– A fire that broke out on the north shore of Green Peter Lake was contained after it burned 14 acres over two days at the end of August.

S eptember

– Costs for improvements to Sweet Home’s wastewater treatment plant have risen to about $1.9 million, but officials say the changes will help the plant last longer.

– A red flag warning on Labor Day turned very real very fast as heavy smoke from approaching wildfires darkened the skies around Sweet Home.

– City Council members approved plans to increase system development charges, though they capped the building fee increase at about $15,000, a lower figure than staff suggested.

– Brush fires above Highway 20, near Menear’s Bend and on High Deck Road were quickly knocked down early on the Tuesday following Labor Day, but by then residents’ eyes had turned toward the south and the approaching Holiday Farm Fire, which had started along Highway 126. As smoke billowed into the area, lines of vehicles formed at gas stations and residents stocked up on supplies and packed to-go bags as evacuation orders forced residents in the Calapooia River area to vacate their homes. Volunteers congregated in the Thriftway parking lot to move livestock as necessary and others loaded up groceries for evacuees. The heavy smoke resulted in the cancellation of the Best in the West Triathlon Series, which was scheduled for the weekend following Labor Day. As evacuation orders were reduced later in the week, eight fires were reported in the area of Scott Mountain, all suspicious in nature.

– As smoke cleared, sports returned to Sweet Home High School in the form of six-week “mini seasons,” starting with spring sports – baseball, softball, track and fiel, and golf, the latest twist in the process of re-instituting school sports.

– Groundbreaking began for a complex of 48 apartments at the intersection of Mountain View and Long streets, behind 7-Eleven.

– While the Best in the West triathlon series was officially canceled following the wildfires earlier in the month, some would-be participants gathered at Lewis Creek Park and completed their own individual triathlons, including Ken Bronson of Sweet Home, who finished his first-ever Ironman over a course he devised – and had to modify in progress due to dangerously heavy smoke in one stretch of the bike ride.

– Melody Jordan Reese, who formerly managed social media for the Chamber of Commerce, was named Office Manager for the organization as well.

– Police Chief Jeff Lynn reported that the wildfires earlier in the month had prompted nearly 1,000 calls to Sweet Home Police.

– The Sweet Home Library joined with the 4-H, Outdoor School ad SHOCASE to provide evening activities for local children.

– Planning commissioners approved a 54-lot Duck Hollow subdivision.


– Kurt Schnabel, who became the new pastor at Cornerstone Fellowship during the summer, was introduced in The New Era.

– The city held its annual Harvest Festival on the first Saturday of October. The event also included the unveiling of a brand new playground structure in Sankey Park.

– The Church of the Nazarene began allowing local homeless residents to camp on its property in an effort to provide support and keep the homeless off the streets.

– COVID cases started surfacing in Sweet Home in greater numbers beginning in October, with two new cases in the first week.

– Local merchants told The New Era that effects of the coronavirus on their businesses have included runs on products and the inability to get inventory reliably. Meanwhile, the demand for wood products has skyrocketed due to a variety of factors, including homebound residents who are finally getting those projects done.

– The varsity softball team got its first win in 17 months, 11-6 over Harrisburg, and the first baseball game played on Sweet Home High School’s diamond in more than a year ended in a 14-3 loss to Harrisburg for the junior varsity team. Coaches said they were just happy to see players getting a chance to compete.

– The City Council agreed to allow the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District to use the old City Hall building for training purposes.

– City workers will staff Sweet Home’s water and sewer treatment plants, the City Council decided in a split vote. The city will take over operation of the plants from Jacobs Engineering on July 1, 2021.

– Steve Carlson, a native of Minnesota, joined the Sweet Home Police Department.

– The U.S. Army Corps of Engineering upgraded Green Peter Dam from “high” to “low risk” after years of studies, a risk assessment and recent rehabilitation of spillway gates.

– A pre-election Sunday afternoon rally brought a procession of hundreds of vehicles flying U.S. flags and others supporting President Trump, which paused briefly, then drove on to further destinations.

– City Council members held a special meeting to discuss options for revitalizing the downtown.

– Sweet Home High School halted its spring sports “mini season” after an athlete developed a “presumptive case of COVID-19.” The move canceled the only track meet planned for athletes who had been working out for some six weeks. The golf team had played its only real competition, an inter-squad match, the day before the decision.

– A homeless man featured in a report by The New Era was able to reunite with his family after a 20-year separation. They found him during a Google search, which they had done periodically in attempts to locate Louis Carreiro.


– White’s Electronics officially ended seven decades in Sweet Home when it was announced that it was being purchased by Garrett Electronics of Texas, a competitor.

– Sweet Home student Jake Fanning was surprised by an unexpected gift from retired Sweet Home Coach Tom Horn, who decided to give Fanning his pickup truck as he was moving to Arizona.

– City Council members decided to purchase a new CityCat street sweeper for the city, for $206,186, funded from the city’s Street Improvement Fund.

– Sweet Home Police Sgt. Chris Wingo resigned to take a job in Woodburn.

– The District Attorney’s Office decided not to file charges against a Salem man, Antonio Cassanova-Gonzalez, who lost control of a watercraft that plowed through the swimming area at Lewis Creek Park in July, striking two children, one of whom died later at a hospital.

– Incumbents Lisa Gourley and Dave Trask, and challengers Dylan Richards and Angelita Sanchez were elected to the Sweet Home City Council from a field of nine candidates. Other election winners were Jami Cate of Lebanon for the state House of Representatives District 17 seat, outgoing state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger for the open Linn County Board of Commissioners Seat 3, and incumbent state Sen. Fred Girod. The city’s library and police levies both passed comfortably. The Linn County Local Option tax levy for the Sheriff’s Office did not pass.

– Bailee Hartsook signed a letter of intent to play volleyball for Western Oregon University.

– A newly established Community Court is providing options for low-level offenders, who are given a chance to take advantage of needed services and clear their criminal records.

– Little Promises Children’s Program re-opened its doors after eight months of closure due to the COVID pandemic and problems with its water supply, which were corrected with the drilling of a new well.

– Gov. Brown initiated a strict mid-month “freeze” on public gatherings and a shutdown of local businesses such as gyms and theaters, including those in Sweet Home, and heightened restrictions on restaurants.

– The City Council approved a plan to refinance some of the city’s debt, taking advantage of unusually low interest rates.

– Volunteers, led by the Rotary Club, joined up to build plywood platforms to create pod shelters for the homeless camping at the Church of the Nazarene.

– Longtime dispatcher Teresa Culley retired after 33 years with the Sweet Home Police Department.

– The new owner of the former Twin Oaks rehabilitation facility, Sapphire Health Services, is in the process of creating an 18-apartment 24-hour residential elder care home at the site.

– Linn County established a new record for new COVID cases, with 169 reported for the week ending Nov. 23; the prior week had 104 cases, also a record.

– The boys and girls soccer teams competed several times, including a match against each other that gave the girls a chance to play their only home game, and the volleyball team hosted a four-team jamboree at Husky Field, since indoor competitions were not allowed under OSAA directives.


– Three part-time staffers at the city library received layoff notices in mid-November after property tax revenues were slow in materializing in early November. But their jobs were restored by early December, after the tax revenues flowed in, a little later than city officials expected.

– Five COVID deaths were reported in Linn County during the final week of November.

– City Council members held its first reading for an ordinance that would fine owners of derelict buildings and require a higher level of maintenance for vacant commercial and industrial properties.

– Domestic violence rates have shot up dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, say officials of agencies that deal with the problem. While child abuse reports are down, experts warned that a lack of mandatory reporting is likely the reason for that dip and that abuse may be more severe than normal.

– Sweet Home Alumni Foundation’s Trees for Scholarships auction, held virtually online, brought in approximately $15,000 to help fund college for local graduating seniors.

– Two local teens, Aiden Shamek and Carsen Palmer, finished third in a forestry video contest put on by a consortium of timber-related organizations for students in four Northwest states.

– SHEM’s Cindy Rice told the Rotary Club that COVID has resulted in a “strange and surreal” year for the organization, which has adapted its practices and services to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic.

– Sweet Home volleyball players Savannah Hutchins, Shelbey Nichol and Graci Zanona signed letters of intent to play for Linn-Benton Community College.

– In response to rising coronavirus numbers, the OSAA announced a new sports schedule in response to COVID, with fall sports starting in February, followed by spring and culminating with winter sports, all in six-week seasons with opt-in culminating weeks.

– Schools Supt. Tom Yahraes reported that enrollment has dropped in the district since the start of the pandemic, but that he expected it to rebound when COVID restrictions on in-class activities are lifted.

– The City Council said goodbye to members James Goble and Courtney Nash, who did not finish in the top four in the nine-candidate City Council election.

– The City Council ditched a proposal for a business license, after councilors said they had gotten a lot of criticism from constituents.

– Samaritan Health began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to medical workers at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital and other area medical facilities.

– Ted and Kathleen Franks celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.