Year in review: Christmas tree leads list of stories from 2018


January 2, 2019

Here is a review of the major news stories of 2018, compiled by our staff.

By far, we think, the biggest story of 2018 for Sweet Home was the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree experience. But there were others, and for the most part, the big news was good news: the completion of upgrades at Hawthorne School and the beginning of remodeling at Sweet Home Junior High; SHEDG's financial progress; a quick round of bargaining that resulted in a contract for the school district's classified employees; new equipment for Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District and new Police Department positions; and lots more.

The month-to-month lists below are simply when we reported these stories. In some cases, due to various circumstances, our report may have appeared some time after the event.


- A wastewater rate increase kicked in Jan. 1, raising most residents' monthly payment to $17.10.

- A new door installed at Linn-Benton Community College's Sweet Home Center provides better access to disabled people using wheelchairs.

- The East Linn Treasure Seekers donated $5,500 to the Kids Food Pak program.

- Cooper Callis was the first Sweet Home baby born in 2018.

- A local teenager was arrested for hit and run after his car struck a 13-year-old Sweet Home Junior High student as she walked home from school.

- In response to continuing issues with dog-related calls, police are being given more discretion on whether to issue citations. Also, the city announced it would hold a "dogfest" later in the year that would focus on responsible dog ownership.

- In an event at Weddle Bridge, attended by a wide range of local officials, U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home District Ranger Nikki Swanson announced that Sweet Home's forest would produce the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.

- The School Board gave a thumbs-up to plans for a remodel of Sweet Home Junior High.

- City officials said they were reworking the city's land use rules as they updated that section of the city's code.

- Longtime city finance director Pat Gray retired, replaced by Brandon Neish.

- Sue Olson retired after 24 years behind the window at A&W.

- A project to install "Hero Banners" featuring current and former servicemen and women from Sweet Home, was announced by Jim and Lisa Gourley.


- Longtime local volunteer and Lebanon firefighter Randy Whitfield was hired as the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District's new battalion chief.

- City planning commissioners began the challenge of figuring out how the state's new accessory dwelling law would apply to Sweet Home.

- Supt. Tom Yahraes got a big thumbs-up from School Board members after his annual review.

- An IRS filing showed the Oregon Jamboree, operated by the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, was in the black for the first time in six years in 2016.

- The Sweet Home girls swimming team placed second at state; the boys placed fourth. Megan Hager and Lauren Yon won individual titles for the girls, and Rawlins Lupoli was a state champion for the boys.

- The wrestling team placed third in the state championships; Marissa Kurtz won the state 105-pound title with a victory over teammate Lexi Schilling.


- Milt Moran succeeded Dave Furtwangler as president of Cascade Timber Consulting.

- Ally Tow signed to play volleyball for Linn-Benton Community College.

- Swimmer Mia Davis signed to compete for the College of Idaho.

- Thanks to community grant funding from the city and Sweet Home Community Foundation, new playground equipment was installed at Little Promises preschool.

- Sweet Home alum and Harvard University professor Dr. James J. McCarthy was named winner of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, considered the "Nobel Prize for the Environment."

- Eric Galster, Julie Mayfield and Chris Wingo were named the top public safety employees of the year at the annual awards banquet for the Sweet Home Police Department and Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

- City Councilors approved a $788,000 contract for design work on the new Wastewater Treatment Plant.

- Chris Hiaasen was named the new vice principal at Sweet Home High School.

- Kayla Miller was named the Boys & Girls Club's Youth of the Year.

- The City Council approved a remodeling plan for the new City Hall.

- Moriah Winn, 11, was the winner of SHARC Showdown talent competition after a performance featuring violin and vocals, sometimes simultaneously.

- Ricky Yunke became one of 42 students on the West Coast to be awarded a full-ride ROTC scholarship, his to Oregon State University.


-Sweet Home City Council members were told that the community is facing a "recycling crisis" due to refusals by China to allow formerly accepted imports of American garbage that is deemed too dirty to properly recycle.

- Sam Galster retired from Foster plywood mill after 45 years of work there.

- The Sweet Home High School Symphonic Choir placed first in its league and qualified for the state competition

- Jake Hindmarsh was crowned Mr. Husky 2018.

- Alice Grovom and Dave Jenkins were named Distinguished Citizens at the Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet.

- The initial estimate for remodeling Sweet Home Junior High came in at $11 million.

- Gemma, Sweet Home Police Department's drug dog, finished five weeks of training that certified her to detect heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.

- Blake Manley, a former logger from Cove, was hired to lead Sweet Home High School's new natural resources program.

- Shortages of rental housing are resulting in rising rates in Sweet Home.


- The Forestry Club took second place at the state championships, with Callie Baker and Luke Shiffert named Overall Jill and Overall Jack as the top individual competitors.

- Marty Lovik and Carolyn Crawford were installed as commander and president of the VFW and VFW Auxiliary, respectively.

- Keegan Holly signed a letter of intent to play football at Lewis and Clark College.

- Sweet Home School District added six full-time-equivalent positions in its 2018-19 budget.

- The City Council reached a consensus on reducing the amount of water included with the base charge most residents pay from 400 to 300 cubic feet.

- Haley May finished 12th at the girls state golf championships. The boys team finished 11th.

- The proposed city budget for 2018-19 included a new police officer position and creation of two sergeant positions.

- Sam Somatis and Jake Hindmarsh were named Sweet Home High School's valedictorians for the Class of 2018; Ally Tow was named salutatorian.

- Gerding Builders of Corvallis was selected as contractor for the Sweet Home Junior High remodeling project.

- The City Council agreed to fund a Commercial Exterior Improvement Program to stimulate economic development in the downtown.


- Sweet Home resident Jim Yon was sworn in as Linn County Sheriff.

- Former Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce Katrina Crabtree was arrested on theft and fraud charges.

- Local author Pam Ogden's book on her family's adoption experience, proceeds from which will go towards the adoption of another baby, hit the shelves.

- A former local bookkeeper was sentenced after pleading guilty to forgery and theft charges involving money stolen from a local business she worked for.

- Justin Kurtz signed a letter of intent to wrestle for Umpqua Community College

- Haley May signed a letter of intent to play golf at Corban University.

- Keegan Holly and Ally Tow were named Boy and Girl of the Year at the annual Senior Sports Banquet.

- Gerald Wodtli, a Washington retired optometrist, was honored with a High-Q Award at Sweet Home High School's graduation, which featured 132 seniors who received their diplomas.

- Improvements to Sankey Park included removal of trees, a new bathroom, and plans for a new footbridge over Weddle Creek.

- The Planning Commission approved new rules for accessory dwellings in Sweet Home.

Jenny Daniels was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the School Board after Ben Emmert moved from Sweet Home.

- The City Council renewed a contract with Jacobs Engineering to operate the city's water and sewer plants.

- Sweet Home Charter School founders watched their first class graduate from high school.

- Local teacher and Oregon Department of Forestry summer staffer Craig Wilson was honored as the state's Seasonal Firefighter of the Year.


- Cathy Lindsay of Sweet Home was named state president of the VFW Auxiliary.

- Dale Jenkins of Sweet Home was named American Legion district commander.

- Local author Gay Byers published a book she wrote 10 years ago, "Adventures of Louie the Llama."

- Treyson Smith and Kailey James were named Sweet Home High School's Freshmen of the Year.

- Crimes against people increased by 55 percent in Sweet Home according to reports comparing numbers at the end of June to the previous year.

- Ryan Cummings and Chris Wingo were promoted to sergeant as part of a Police Department expansion included in the 2018-19 budget approved by the City Council.

- Avamere, which owned Twin Oaks nursing home, announced it would close the facility within 90 days due to a "decline" in patient numbers.

- Tests showed that Sweet Home water was clear of cyanotoxins, which were detected in May in Salem's drinking water.

- County commissioners approved an 8 percent trash rate increase for rural Sweet Home residents.

- Erik Duncan retired after 42 years at Foster Plywood plant.


- A. Jay Bronson took over as supervisor for Sweet Home's community pool.

- The Planning Commission approved a fourth marijuana retail outlet in town. As of the end of the year, only one of those, Going Green, was open.

- A Sweet Home retired couple, Bill and Stacey Houtz, announced they were moving to Uganda to live there full-time after helping there at an orphanage on multiple short-term mission trips.

- An official from Washington, D.C. visited Sweet Home to select the tree that would become the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. He chose one of six candidates.

- Sunshine Industries purchased two brand new vans, the first time it has ever had new vehicles.

- The city's Youth Advisory Council organized a Rural Youth Leadership Summit that drew 27 teens from around the valley for a day of kayaking and talks on leadership by various public officials and others.

- Bethanie Young became the pastor of the Nazarene Church in Sweet Home.

- Oak Heights School started the year with a Kindergarten Boot Camp to give youngsters a chance to adjust to school before older students arrived.


- The first rain in 71 days fell on Sweet Home.

- Hawthorne School opened its doors for the fall witih a brand new security-conscious office and entry way, and earthquake retrofitting on buildings around campus.

- Dominic Valloni was officially named maintenance supervisor for the city of Sweet Home.

- The City Council agreed to seek bids on the remodel of the new City Hall.

- The landowner of residential properties in north Sweet Home, off of 18th Avenue, said he wants to connect his land to city water in response to concerns about arsenic in wells in the area.

- The City Council initiated the process of raising garbage rates 8 percent.

- Sweet Home School District added 16 new teachers.

- The City Council voted to send three members, Mayor Greg Mahler, Councilwoman Susan Coleman and Councilman Dave Trask, along with City Manager Ray Towry, to Washington D.C. in December for the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree.

- Sherman and Leslie Weld were named Linn County's top tree farmers for 2018.

- The School Board agreed to spend money from the district's Long-Term Maintenance Fund and General Fund to cover higher costs for remodeling Sweet Home Junior High.

- A group of local quilters turned in the last of more than 70 tree skirts headed to Washington, D.C. to adorn Christmas trees in capitol offices.

- Work at Sweet Home Junior High unearthed a surprise: a time capsule believed to have been buried between 1992 and 1994.

- City Council member raised concerns about the length of time the Oregon Jamboree is impacting Sankey Park.


- A chainsaw carving of two loggers cutting a tree was unveiled at East Linn Museum as a monument to the industry.

- Four years of tests have revealed a variety of pollutants at the site of the former Willamette Industries Sweet Home mill.

- The city launched its first-ever leaf collection program, in which residents could request pickup from a vacuum truck.

- The School Board agreed to authorize an evaluation committee to offer a contract to complete seismic upgrade projects at Holley and Foster schools next summer.

- The 2018 Oregon Jamboree was more solidly in the black than it has been in seven years, Director Robert Shamek told the SHEDG Board of Directors.

- A county resident accused Commissioner John Lindsey of removing election signs that disparaged Lindsey.

- The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the new City Hall.

- Police dog Gemma and her handler, Officer Sasha McDonald, have made busts resulting in the seizure of 20 ounces of narcotics in six months on the streets in Sweet Home.

- A new management software called the "Mobile311 Citizen Portal" allows Sweet Home residents who notice something that needs to be fixed to report it to city officials quickly and easily via the Internet.

- The City Council approved a bid of $910,000, by GBC Construction of Corvallis, to remodel City Hall.

- Wildlife officials told an audience of 170 people at a forum held in Sweet Home by Rep. Sherrie Sprenger that the state's cougar population is double its management goals.

- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drilled into Foster Dam to test underlying soils and determine how well the dam will hold up during an earthquake.

- An 80-foot Noble fir was revealed as the choice for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, then was cut and hauled to Sweet Home.

- The Sweet Home volleyball team finished fifth in the state championships, 21-4 overall and with a perfect league record.

- Susan Coleman, Diane Gerson and Greg Mahler were re-elected to the Sweet Home City Council, and newcomer Courtney Nash was elected to join the council. John Lindsey was re-elected to the County Commission and Rachel Kittson-MaQatish and Michael Wynhausen were elected to the Linn County Circuit Court bench as judges. Rep. Sherrie Sprenger was re-elected as well.

- Demolition began, officially, at Sweet Home Junior High in preparation for remodeling there.

- Sweet Home residents turned out en masse to celebrate the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree with a parade and day-long festivities, during which local residents signed their names and greetings on banners on the truck that transported the tree to Washington D.C.

- Austin Olin and Sarah Hewitt were named Sweet Home's Junior First Citizens.

- State report cards suggest Sweet Home schools are continuing to improve in student performance.

- The School Board approved a contract for district classified employees in what Velma Canfield, union president, said was "probably the best contract negotiations the classified have had in years."

- A committee of local residents that aims to address Sweet Home's homelessness problem heard from a Lebanon police officer who deals with the issue there about his city's experience.

- The City of Sweet Home estimates that up to half its water production is leaking out of the system.

- The final two of a series of vehicles purchased through bond money approved by voters in 2016 have arrived at Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

- Michelle Knight took over as varsity girls basketball coach at Sweet Home High School.


- Sweet Home city residents and officials were among the onlookers as the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was lit in Washington, D.C.

- Police Chief Jeff Lynn told a committee of local residents who aim to address Sweet Home's homelessness problem that he wants to move forward with an attempt to bring a county adult services team to town to help push resources to those in need.


- Nearly 150 children shopped for family members at the Kids Free Christmas Store at the Evangelical Church.

- Former City Councilman Scott McKee, now of the Community Services Consortium, is seeking volunteers to help count and gather information about the local homeless population.

- Longtime local resident Ethan Rowe joined the Sweet Home Police Department as a patrol officer.

- A wrongful death lawsuit, stemming from a truck crash in 2016 that killed local log truck driver Neil Nightingale, was settled for an undisclosed amount.

- Trees for Scholarships organizers expected the event to bring in $30,000-plus in proceeds after the sale of 14 trees and many other fund-raisers at the event, which benefits the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation.

- The City Council adopted an ordinance changing the zoning on a portion of the new 6½-acre City Hall property to highway commercial.

- The Sweet Home cheer squad's first-ever home competition drew 25 teams and hundreds of people.

- The Oregon Jamboree announced its final headliner, Chris Young, who will join Hank Williams Jr. and the Brothers Osborne at the 2019 festival.

- Little Promises preschool celebrated its 35th year of operation.

- City Manager Ray Towry got a highly positive evaluation from his bosses, the City Council.

- After half a century in Sweet Home, Santiam Drug store shut its doors.


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