Review of the Year: 2016 marked by tragedy, turmoil, triumphs
January 3, 2017
Here is our annual review of some of the biggest news stories we reported in 2016:
n Funeral services were held for Ozzie Shaw, widely recognized as the father of the Linn County Parks System, who died just before the new year began.
n Officials of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam reported that the organization was in the black, after the Sweet Home branch suffered income shortfalls significant enough to threaten the club’s future in Sweet Home.
n Samaritan Health officials announced that they were going to convert the assisted living program at Wiley Creek Community to a live-in drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, then reversed that decision within a week after two heated meetings with local residents.
n Linn County Circuit Court Judge David E. Delsman ruled in favor of Country Lane residents, against Albany & Eastern Railroad Company, giving them an easement to cross A&E’s tacks without paying the company for access.
n Sweet Home log truck driver Neil Nightingale died after his rig was struck head-on by a machinery repair truck driven by Robert Mayfield on Highway 20. Sweet Home residents and companies mounted a number of efforts to raise funds to aid the families of the victims.
n Sweet Home City Council members called on Samaritan Health to provide more services to Sweet Home after Samaritan’s decision not to close the assisted living program at Wiley Creek Community. A crowd of local residents packed the council chambers to discuss Sweet Home’s needs. City leaders later established an ad hoc healthcare committee to discuss and address some of the issues voiced.
n Local Northwest Steelheaders members completed a fishing platform at the junction of Ames Creek and the South Santiam River to provide improved access to the river for disabled anglers.
n County commissioners told the state that they would not participate in a minimum wage hike proposed by Gov. Kate Brown and later approved by the Legislature.
n Sweet Home High School’s four-year graduation rate increased by 3.59 percentage points over the previous school year, as 67.23 percent of the freshmen who started in 2011 graduated.
n A massive convoy of trucks from all over the state rolled into Sweet Home on Feb. 5 in honor of truck driver Neil Nightingale, whose funeral was held at the Sweet Home High School auditorium.
n Sweet Home’s girls won the district swimming championship and the boys placed second.
n Sweet Home’s competition cheer squad won double state titles – the OSAA 4A Large School title and the Oregon Cheerleading Coaches Association varsity championship.
n Sweet Home girls swimmers won the school’s first-ever girls state championship in the sport. The boys placed third at state.
n Sweet Home’s wrestling team won the regional title and qualified 16 wrestlers for state.
n Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District’s Board of Directors approved charges for medical responses that do not result in transporting patients to the hospital and for responses to traffic accidents and rescue calls.
n Virginia Simone Birky of Sweet Home was killed in a single-car accident on Spicer Road, northwest of Lebanon.
n Linn County filed a $1.4 billion lawsuit against the state of Oregon and the State Forestry Department, alleging failure to properly manage forest policy and promote timber harvests on forest trust land.
n Sweet Home’s wrestling team placed fourth at the 4A state championships and junior Kobe Olson won the 120-pound championship, while freshman Marissa Kurtz won a girls state title at 106 pounds.
n Sweet Home won an award for the best-tasting water in the state from the American Water Works organization, finishing ahead of 14 other finalists from around the state.
n Local leaders responded sharply to the emergence of a proposal to establish a half-million-acre Douglas Fir National Monument in the forests east of Sweet Home.
n The Public Safety Committee began exploring the possibility of establishing a "livability ordinance” that would regulate living conditions in rentals, following a proposal to that effect by City Council member Jeff Goodwin.
n City Council member Mary-beth Angulo resigned abruptly from the council, citing the behavior of other council members toward her.
n An apartment fire at 2300 Main St. resulted in the death of a 70-year-old woman, Ramona Sue Schrock.
n Lin Gagner was named Distinguished Citizen at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet. Kristen Adams was honored as First Citizen.
n Tom Yahraes of Montana was selected as Sweet Home’s new superintendent of schools by the School Board.
n James Goble was appointed to the City Council to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of MaryBeth Angulo.
n A 13-year-old boy was rescued by firefighters after he sank chest-deep into the mud on the shore of Foster Lake at Calkins Park.
n Guy Smith was named Firefighter of the Year at the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District’s annual awards banquet.
n Junior Dan Virtue pitched the first perfect game in memory in a 10-0 baseball win over Molalla.
n Justin Ray Gomez of Sweet Home was arrested following a police pursuit that ended in a crash – with an infant in his car.
n A forest fire burned six acres near the intersection of Soda Fork Road and Highway 20.
n The Sweet Home School District learned that it will receive a $1.4 million grant to upgrade the high school auditorium to ensure earthquake safety.
n The death of country music legend Merle Haggard left Oregon Jamboree officials scrambling to find a replacement for his headliner slot in the 2016 festival.
n The South Santiam All-Lands Collaborative, which is engaged in a variety of efforts to improve livability and economic development in the Sweet Home area, registered as a non-profit organization.
n Linn Shuttle unveiled a new Dial-a-Bus van that provided more space and headroom for local riders, particularly disabled users.
n The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District officially placed a 31-cents-per-$1,000 property tax bond on the May ballot to raise money to purchase equipment and construct and maintain facilities.
n Salem real estate broker and Sweet Home apartment owner Justin Cherrington told the City Council it should enforce its chronic nuisance ordinance against an apartment complex across the street from his property in the 1200 block of Nandina Street.
n Frank McCubbins, longtime collector of exotic animals, para-plane enthusiast, world traveller, missions supporter and general lover of all things fun, died at 84.
n TJ Baham became the first Sweet Home Awana participant to win a Clarion Award, the highest level attainable in the Bible memorization program.
n Kobe Olson became the fifth Sweet Home wrestler to win the Triple Crown of high school wrestling, taking the Greco and freestyle titles at 126 pounds at the state championships.
n Sweet Home’s ad hoc healthcare committee held a series of meetings to plan a health fair for later in the year, at a yet-undetermined date.
n The City Council voted 5-1 to approve an agreement with longtime City Manager Craig Martin to end Martin’s employment with the city effective April 30.
n An engineering consultant told the City Council that the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant will require $20 million in upgrades.
n A proponent of the proposed Douglas Fir National Monument, speaking at a meeting of the Native Plant Society in Salem, likened the Douglas fir forest to the redwoods in calling for establishment of a half-million-acre monument in the forests east of Sweet Home.
n Maurice Diggs of Sweet Home was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading no-contest to a felon-in-possession of a firearm.
n The City Council voted unanimously to begin collecting construction bids to move Municipal Court from City Hall to the police station, at an estimated cost of some $45,000.
n The City Council voted unanimously to pay $25,000 in earnest money to buy the former Sweet Home Ranger District office at 3225 Main St.
n New Sweet Home Ranger District Ranger Nikki Swanson officially assumed her duties after replacing Cindy Glick, who retired.
n The School Board voted 7-1 to require drug tests of all students competing in athletics or competitive activities.
n Haley May became the first Sweet Home girls golfer to qualify for state in a decade then shot a 91 on the second day of the state tournament (after a 119 on Day 1) to place 21st.
n Joel Aranda, a volunteer wrestling coach at Sweet Home High School, was arrested on charges of online corruption and luring a minor.
n Bethany Gingerich earned three medals, two in individual events and one with the girls 4x100 relay team, at the state track and field championships, after winning district titles in the 200 and 400 the week previous.
n Edie Wilcox was elected to chair the Sweet Home Planning Commission.
n About 170 volunteers turned out to help sort more than 40,000 books from FirstBook, which were then distributed to local schools, Sweet Home Public Library, the Boys & Girls Club, Head Start and other programs for local children.
n Christy Wurster of Albany was hired to serve as city manager pro tem.
n Former rock artist Aaron Lewis and Merle Haggard’s sons Ben and Noel Haggard were signed to fill the spot in the Oregon Jamboree line-up left open by the death of the senior Haggard.
n Rebecca Wooley and Sarah Dunkley were named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, from the 176-member graduating Sweet Home High School Class of 2016.
n Josie Knight and Nick Rodgers were named Athletes of the Year for Sweet Home High School.
n Councilman Bruce Hobbs announced his resignation because he was moving outside the city limits.
n The School Board ratified a three-year contract with classified employees, providing a 2.5-percent pay increase in 2016-17 and 2 percent each of the following years.
n Bradley Wolthuis and Sarah Hewitt were named Freshmen of the Year.
n Three Sweet Home Parks Board members wrote a letter to Chair Jane Hazen, asking for her resignation, claiming she had misrepresented her position and the board in the community and in posts to social media.
n Sunshine Industries placed its first client in a mainstream job, with Sweet Home Sanitation.
n New wooden statues, depicting a logger and a gold miner, were placed at Shea Point in memory of late Chamber of Commerce board member Gus Gerson.
n Sweet Home High School alum Amanda Basham placed fourth in the prestigious Western States Endurance Run 100-mile race, which attracts top trail runners from around the world. The race was the first 100-miler for Basham.
n New schools Supt. Tom Yahraes officially started work.
n The City Council approved a $10,800 contract with the University of Oregon Community Planning Workshop to develop a concept plan for Sankey Park.
n Linn County joined several other Oregon counties in filing a lawsuit arguing that the state’s new sick-leave law is an unfunded government mandate — and that the county therefore is not obliged to follow it.
n McKenzie Yoder was crowned Sportsman’s Holiday Queen, leading a court of Tori Clark, Elea Hewitt, Brittany Nicholson and Sierra Swanson.
n Following a revolt by members of the city Parks Board, the City Council voted 5-0 to remove Parks Board Chair Jane Hazen from the committee.
n Testing identified four locations in Sweet Home High School in which lead levels were above the allowable maximum, while all other 156 locations throughout the district were below.
n The City Council approved the purchase of the former Sweet Home Ranger District headquarters for a new City Hall. The city agreed to pay $750,000 for the property.
n Diane Gerson was appointed to fill the seat on the City Council vacated by the resignation of Bruce Hobbs.
n Highway 20 was closed at Sheep Creek Bridge, east of Sweet Home, for repairs to the bridge and its abutments, which were damaged from an active landslide.
n The Oregon Jamboree drew a total of some 41,000 fans over its three-day run, featuring headliners Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith and Aaron Lewis. Organizers announced that Jason Aldean had been signed as a headliner for the 2017 festival.
n The City Council approved a city tax on marijuana sales, conditioned on the approval of such sales by city voters via separate measures that the council also placed on the ballot for the Nov 8 election.
n Driver Deborah Gerig of Sweet Home was killed in a rollover accident on Highway 20 about five miles west of Sweet Home.
n A 41-year-old woman, Sarah Randolph who had recently moved to Sweet Home, was killed after she was struck by a vehicle while reportedly walking in the westbound traffic lanes on Highway 20 during early-morning hours.
n The School Board approved a $168,000 contract with ZCS of Klamath Falls to engineer and manage a seismic upgrade to the Sweet Home High School Auditorium.
n The Sweet Home Ranger District unveiled a variety of proposals for the Trout Creek Planning Area, including commercial logging, road improvements and restoration projects.
n A Sweet Home man, Jeffrey Zeigler, was arrested after allegedly setting fire to a neighbor’s SUV and damaging another vehicle belonging to the neighbor following a neighborhood dispute between the two.
n Local alums from the Ford Institute Leadership Program produced a plan proposing the creation of an organization focused on promoting and supporting economic development in rural Linn County. It calls for implementation of five specific strategies aimed at connecting area businesses with existing help from agencies and programs, navigating the regulatory environment, and marketing assistance in the age of social media.
n Mollie Andrews, proprietor of the legendary Mollie’s Bakery for 42 years, died at age 95.
n The inaugural Sweet Home Community Health Fair drew a crowd estimated at 1,500 people and full house of vendors at the high school Activity Gym.
n Owners of Radiator Supply House purchased the 12-acre former Clear Lumber site on 47th Avenue to accommodate their expanding business.
n Linn County Judge Daniel Murphy weighed arguments from Linn County and 14 others in a $1.4 billion breach-of-contract lawsuit against the state, accusing the Department of Forestry with mismanaging state forests it had received from the counties during the Great Depression.
n A rabid bat found in the Sweet Home area, at a location officials did not disclose, led to a call for local residents to vaccinate their dogs and cats against rabies.
n City Council members approved a rate adjustment that increased most Sweet Home residents’ water bills by $12 per month.
n Eight candidates rounded out the final field for four Sweet Home City Council seats on the November ballot following the deadline for filing.
n The Sweet Home Elks Lodge received national recognition as an All-American Elks Lodge, the first in the state to do so, after a resurgence in its membership and outreach.
n A record number of athletes turned out for the sixth annual Best in the West Triathlon Series at Foster Lake.
n Sweet Home schools scored below the state average on the Smarter Balanced state assessment for 2015-16.
n Enrollment in Sweet Home School District schools increased throughout the district, forcing Holley and Foster schools to each add a new teacher.
n The Sweet Home City Council narrowed its search for a new city manager to three candidates, two of whom showed up for interviews.
n The contractor repairing Sheep Creek Bridge finished work two weeks ahead of schedule, allowing the re-opening of Highway 20 after just over six weeks.
n Drug testing of athletes competing for Sweet Home High School began after the School Board’s approval of the new policy in May.
n The City Council decided to hold off on a final decision on hiring a city manager after settling on a final candidate, Raymond Towry of Ephrata, Wash.
n Sweet Home swimmer Lucia Davis signed to compete for Boise State University.
n Sweet Home’s boys notched their first-ever soccer win over Junction City and the girls did the same against Sisters.
n The City Council continued its search for a city manager by bringing its sole remaining finalist, Raymond Towry, back for another interview.
n City Council members voted 6-1 to hire Ray Towry as Sweet Home’s new city manager.
n District Judge Daniel Murphy granted class certification in Linn County's $1.4 billion breach of contract lawsuit against the state and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
n Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital unveiled the first phase of an $11 million expansion to its surgery unit.
n Nathan Hager and Chloe Newport were crowned Homecoming King and Queen.
n The 2-4 Huskies rolled over one-loss Elmira for a Homecoming win that set them up for a chance to make the play-in round.
n Sweet Home’s boys soccer team clinched its first state playoff berth ever after its best season in history, finishing third in the Sky-Em League with a 5-6-3 record.
n A draft concept plan for Sankey Park, produced by the University of Oregon Community Planning Workshop, called for more than $417,000 in improvements and updates.
n Sean Wolthuis and Elea Hewitt, who were named Freshmen of the Year four years ago, were selected as Junior First Citizens for Sweet Home.
n Former volunteer wrestling coach Joel Aranda pleaded guilty to charges in six separate sexual offense cases involving 11 victims and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
n Raymond Towry began work as Sweet Home’s new city manager.
n A hunter’s gun accidentally discharged as he walked to his truck, striking two of his children as they sat in the back seat.
n Sweet Home Municipal Court officials announced that they would begin offering amnesty on fine payments for people in collections starting January 2017.
n Elea Hewitt was named Linn County Junior First Citizen.
n The Sweet Home City Council and Sweet Home Economic Development Group agreed by consensus to partner in the acquisition of 220 acres along the South Santiam River. The council later approved the partnership.
n The redwood "Christmas Tree” behind the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce office was taken down due to age-related problems.
n Dave Trask, Lisa Gourley, James Goble and Diane Gerson were the top vote recipients in the November City Council election. Sweet Home voters also turned down a prohibition on the processing and sale of marijuana and approved a 3-percent tax on marijuana sales.
n The Sweet Home School Board voted 7-0 to return the district to a five-day school week.
n City councilors told the Planning Commission that they would prefer that the commission and city ordinance stop allowing variances to land-use regulations.
n Kevin Bachand of Sweet Home died after being electrocuted and falling from a power pole in the 3700 block of Green River Road while apparently trying to steal copper electrical wire.
n The City Council voted to move forward with a partnership with the Sweet Home Economic Development Group to develop the former Knife River property.
n Kenny Rogers signed to headline at the 2017 Oregon Jamboree.
n Sweet Home’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, formerly held at the Chamber of Commerce, was moved to Clover Memorial Park.
n SHEDG reported a net overall loss of $264,000 on its IRS Form 990 for the year 2015.
n Local veterinarian Dr. David Larsen and his wife Sandy retired after 40 years of running the Sweet Home Veterinary Clinic.
n In response to continued vandalism and other problems, city officials said they were considering moving Dahlenburg Bridge from Sankey Park to another location.
n Judge Daniel Murphy ruled that Linn County and eight other counties can opt out of Oregon’s paid sick leave law because it is an unfunded mandate.
n Planning Commission members approved two variances to open the door for Dollar General to build a discount variety store at the former location of Ron’s Radiator Shop, 1937 Main St.
n SHEDG reported a loss for 2015 of $264,000 in tax documents filed by the non-profit organization.
n Sweet Home Junior High science teachers Michelle Clarno and Mark Holden were presented Outstanding Classroom Teacher Awards by the Oregon School Teachers Association.