The General and Primary Elections were also prominent news stories. There were close races, nationally and locally, that kept politics in the news. The opening of Hand of Hope Kitchen in downtown Thayer was a welcome, good news story. Several people in the Thayer area organized the kitchen in order to help those that are less fortunate. Needed improvements were made to the Eleven Point River's Whitten Access located in Alton. A new boat ramp and parking and canoe tie-ups were added by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Here is a look at what happened in Oregon County and the surrounding area from July to December.
The Eleven Point River Angler's Association and with the Missouri Department of Conservation, gave summer school students from Alton, Koshkonong and Thayer a break from the classroom. They hosted three pond fishing events where volunteers taught students to bait their hooks, how to cast, and when to reel in. The purpose of the Eleven Point River Anglers Association is to support and promote the improvement of the Eleven Point River fishery, as well as the maintenance and improvement of the camping and picnic areas, boat launching ramps, access roads, and parking areas.
The 2011-2012 Thayer High School Cheerleading Squad received a billboard in honor of being State Champions. Joe Barbee, a retired coach and teacher from Thayer and grandparent of a cheerleader, felt the squad needed more recognition. "It was a unique honor for the girls to win first in the state. They worked hard and deserved more recognition than what they have received." The state cheer competition started in July 2011 in Willard, Mo., where the Thayer Cheerleaders placed second, qualifying them for state. In October 2011, they competed in Columbia against seven teams, winning first place in the 2A Large category.
In July, changes were made to address concerns about traffic backups at the busy Highway 142 and Highway 63 intersection. The construction project added a turning lane from Highway 63 to the east entrance of Thayer High School. Lendall Husky, Area Engineer with Missouri Department of Transportation, said, "The first step was creating new driveways to entrances of Wal-Mart and the Thayer School campus. They will help with the widening of the lanes." A contractor began work on the widening project the week of July 9. MODOT added two foot wide shoulders along each side of the road, with rumble strips, on Highway 142 east all the way to Highway EE in the Couch area.
Oregon County political candidates shared a little about themselves and their reasons for seeking office during a political forum on Monday, July 9 at the Oregon County Music Theatre in Thayer. Dr. Erwin Burke, of Burke Chiropractic in Alton, sponsored the event. Burke said, "We have a lot of patients come in our office that ask us questions about politics and candidates running for the different positions. We decided to do something about it. This is the first time a town hall meeting has been held like this," said Burke.
On July 17, 97 counties in Missouri were designated by the USDA as primary disaster areas, due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. Farmers had eight months from the declaration, which was later extended, to apply for loans to help cover their losses.
A second primary election town hall meeting was held on Monday, July 30, for the residents of Oregon County to learn more about the local, state, and federal candidates running for offices this year. Dr. Erwin Burke, of Burke Chiropractic of Alton, sponsored the second meeting, which attracted more candidates for state offices.
Former Oregon County Deputy Sheriff Darrin Sorrell, 32, of Thayer, was sentenced in Butler County for theft charges that were lodged in October of 2011. Sorrell plead guilty to felony theft by coersion. Under a plea deal with prosecutors, the imposition of sentence was suspend. Sorrell was placed on three years' probation, and ordered to make restitution of $3,200 within 60 days. Reports indicated that Sorrell threatened an Oregon County woman with an investigation of her for distributing marijuana if she did not pay him money.
The drought in Oregon County and surrounding areas increased business at the Ozark Regional Stockyard in West Plains. The Regional Stockyard, saw record amounts of cattle sold last summer. The scorching temperatures, dry land, lack of feed and the high prices of feed left many farmers with no choice but to sell their cattle. The Ozark Regional Stockyard manager told The South Missourian News that people were having to sell cows that they normally wouldn't. "Each week, the quality of the cows is getting better and better because they can't afford to feed them." The normal average amount of cattle sold weekly, during the summer, is 600 to 800 head. In 2012, the stockyard saw a weekly average of approximately 1600, two times the average number.
Oregon County's August, 7 Primary election, which involved some hotly contested races, brought out a turnout higher than other areas of the state. The Circuit Clerk's office reported that 32 percent, up one percent over the last Primary Election held August, 2010, of registered voters, voted.
Statewide, only 23 percent of Missouri's registered voters cast ballots in the Primary Election. The contested races in Oregon County apparently motivated more voters to take advantage of their right to vote. The two main offices that drew interest were Oregon County Sheriff and First District Commissioner. On the Democratic ticket, the incumbents came out on top. Incumbent Sheriff George Underwood defeated his opponent, Mike Barton, taking 84 percent of the vote. Incumbent First District Commissioner John (Big John) Wrenfrow won the primary over Nathan Roberts with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
On the Republican ticket, the races were much closer. Current Thayer Police Chief, David Bailey, defeated Kevin Jotz for Oregon County Sheriff with nearly 60 percent of the vote. The Republican candidate for the First District Commissioner is Jason Kemper, who took 54 percent of the vote over Alonzo Bradwell.
Fall armyworms were a fall problem for farmers. After fighting off a spring infestation, armyworms had returned by September, causing additional losses, on top of the drought. Sarah Kenyon, Agronomy Specialist at the Oregon County MU Extension Office, said the adult armyworms migrated from the south.
Governor Jay Nixon made a stop at Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative on Sept. 10, the day he extended the state of emergency drought assistance deadline. Governor Nixon credited rural cooperatives for providing necessary and expedited electrical connections to service water expansion projects. The drought relief program, which gave farmers the opportunity to receive assistance to drill new wells, deepen existing wells or find other ways to provide additional water, was put into place by Nixon on July 23. The extended deadline went an extra 45 days to Nov. 15, and gave farmers longer to get their projects completed.
Thayer Police Deparment, along with other police agencies across the nation, partnered with the Drug Enforcement Agency to give the public an opportunity to properly dispose of potentially dangerous expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs on Saturday, Sept. 29. Chief of Police David Bailey said the take back brought in approximately 122 pounds of drugs, which was an increase from last year's 100 pounds. Bailey said that he has noticed an increase in the number of people who are aware of the importance of disposing of unneeded drugs. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. The program is a good opportunity for people who simply don't know what to do with their old or unused prescription medications.
Concerned citizens, business owners, and even students turned out on Thursday, Oct. 4 to learn about changes that the federal Affordable Care Act will have on healthcare, during a forum at the Thayer Fun and Friends Center. Ryan Barker, Directory of Health Policy at The Missouri Foundation of Health, presented information about the Health Care Act to a crowd of nearly 70 people. "We do not take a position on any piece of legislation. I am not here to convince you that this is the greatest thing in the world that it will save this country, but I'm not here to convince you it's the end of the world as we know it. Truthfully, it's somewhere in between," Barker said.
Thayer City council met in a special meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18 to discuss plans for city pool renovations, with a goal to have it back in operation for the 2013 summer. Mayor Buddy Rogers' plan to saw the outside wall of the pool straight and install rebar all the way around, was approved by the council as long as the solution did not exceed $20,000. The council wanted to do all it can to have the pool back open to the public.
The Oregon County Extension Office held its first "Farm Focus," on Monday, Oct. 22, to help local farmers learn about methods of recovering from the drought and what to expect in the coming months. Agronomy Specialist, Sarah Kenyon said, "We invited everyone here tonight to learn about how the drought will impact Missouri Agriculture."
The drought of 2012 also made a negative impact on the black walnut crop. Walnut wood and nuts are in high demand, and they are an important part of Missouri's economy. Dennis Morgan of Myrtle has operated a walnut huller machine for the past three years. Morgan said, this season, he saw a drastic decrease in the amount of nuts people brought to him for sale. Tom Rutledge, of Hammons Products said his company will end up with approximately two million pounds of nuts this year. That is a severely low number, compared to its usual take of 14 to 15 million pounds. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, "The trees grow best on the deep, well-drained soils of north Missouri and on alluvial soils in the south. In addition to providing valuable wood, the walnut's nutmeats are a major industry in the state." MDC also calls the tree, Missouri's most valuable tree. Missouri is the world's leading producer of black walnuts, which are used in baking and confections and even pickled whole.
In Oregon County, approximately 62 percent of voters turned out for the General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. All incumbents defeated their opponents. For the office of Sheriff, incumbent George Underwood defeated David Bailey, the highly sought after Associate Commissioner positions were both won by the incumbents. District One Commissioner incumbent John "Big John" Wrenfrow defeated Jason Kemper and District Two Commissioner incumbent Edward Casey defeated his opponent, Brad Vest. County Assessor Charles Alford defeated Russell Grooms, Public Administrator Mike Crawford defeated his opponent, Mike Harber and County Coroner, Tom Clary and County Surveyor, Scotty Simer ran opposed. Nationwide, President Obama and Vice President Biden defeated their opponents and will serve another term.
The Hands of Hope Kitchen on Front Street in Downtown Thayer had a very enthusiastic turn out for its first free meal on Saturday, Nov. 10. The kitchen was organized by a group of churches and volunteers in order to provide needy families and individuals a place to eat. Beverly Rogers led the efforts to get the kitchen up and running.
Mammoth Spring State Park was chosen as the winner of Region Two's Park of the Year Award for 2011-2012. The Arkansas State Parks Department presented the award in a special ceremony on Friday, Nov. 16 in the park's pavilion. Park Superintendent, Dave Jackson said, "It is an honor for us. We don't get these too often because there are over 50 parks. We do our best. Every once in a while, things come together and we have an exceptional year and that's we had in 2011-2012." Mammoth Spring is designated as a Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. Because Mammoth Spring is the largest spring in Arkansas and one of the largest in the world, it deserves and receives special care. Many compliments were received from visitors praising the appearance of the grounds and cleanliness of the restrooms.
Hunters shot 204,668 deer during the November portion of Missouri's firearms deer season, topping the past four years' harvests and confirming predictions by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). This year's statewide November deer harvest was 7.7 percent more than last year and only 1.3 percent below the previous 10-year average. Top harvest counties during the season Nov. 10 through 20 were Howell with 4,037, followed by Texas with 3,916 and Benton with 3,756. MDC recorded five nonfatal and three fatal firearms-related hunting incidents during the 11-day November firearms deer hunt.
U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson announced on Monday, Dec. 3, that her service in the House of Representatives will end February 2013. Emerson will become the President and Chief Executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in February. She won re-election to a ninth term in November. Her district covers southeastern and south central counties. Once Emerson leaves office, Governor Nixon will set a date for a special election, which has to be at least 10 weeks after the vacancy occurs. Committees for each political party will choose nominees to run in the election.
Harps Grocery in Thayer showed its Christmas Spirit on Thursday, Dec. 6, by making contributions to three charitable organizations that serve Oregon County and Fulton Counties. Store manager, Dan Wrenfrow, presented Harps gift cards to Hungry Children of Oregon County, Hand of Hope Kitchen and FAITH INC. "Christmas for Communities" is a program that was initiated by Harps' corporate office in Springdale, Ark. in 2011. Employees of Harps stores were asked to nominate organizations they felt were deserving of help.