Housing developments, city council changes and annexations occupy three of the top four positions in the Philomath Express’s annual list and review of the top news stories of the year.
The proceedings that took place within the walls of City Hall moved Philomath into a new direction that in future years will expand the number of residents while providing needed housing. However, not all see those decisions as good for the city.
Although only a handful of people were vocal in their opposition to the development and annexation decisions, the city’s residents at large seemed to back them up during the November election. Four new citizen volunteers will sit on the city council.
News involving the community pool, rodeo, businesses and high school also made the top 10 along with heartwarming stories about one man’s survival of sudden cardiac arrest and a teen’s victory on homecoming night. Bad news is not immune from consideration and the unfortunate fatal hit-and-run that occurred back in January is included.
Philomath Express editor Brad Fuqua selected the top 10 stories of the year considering various factors, including importance and impact to the community, and perceived interest through public events, comments, emails and interaction through social media channels.
1. Housing development. With two apartment complexes under construction in town and the city paving the way for significant housing subdivisions in the following months, Philomath’s future began to take on a new look.
The effort to relieve a housing shortage in Philomath was not well-embraced by some individuals and they didn’t shy away from sharing their thoughts on the matter at various public hearings and meetings. Concerns covered topics from infrastructure to financial impacts to the loss of Philomath’s small-town feel.
One project that brought the most opposition was the 166-home subdivision planned for a former mill site. Called Millpond Crossing, its developers had said they wanted to bring more housing to town at affordable prices. But the site’s environmental past took center stage with a lot of back-and-forth dialogue on the matter.
In the end, the proceedings that took place at City Hall in 2018 put into motion changes that will impact the community. Whether those impacts are seen as positive or negative depends on the point of view.
2. City council, mayor. The voters who colored in the little ovals on their ballots apparently wanted to see change on the Philomath City Council. In the November general election, four residents with no previous council experience won seats, which they will take over in January.
Chas Jones attracted the most votes, followed by Marion Dark and Terry Weiss. Doug Edmonds and David Low retained their councilor seats and Matthew Thomas edged out another candidate for the final spot.
In addition, Eric Niemann won the mayor’s seat in the first contested race for that position since 2006. Niemann beat out fellow councilor Jerry Jackson Sr., by a comfortable margin of 500 votes as the successor to Rocky Sloan, who has worn the mayor’s hat for the past six years.
3. Clemens Community Pool. In perhaps the best “good news” story of the year, the Benton Community Foundation gifted the Philomath School District a $734,000 grant to keep Clemens Community Pool open for at least another 10 years. The pool was in need of serious repairs and officials had to face the possibility of closing the 58-year-old facility.
Chris Quaka, BCF president, said that to his knowledge, it was the single-largest gift from an endowment in the 65-year history of the foundation. The endowment that served as the source was established in the 1990s in memory of Kathryn “Kitty” Nitka.
4. Annexation approvals. Annexations were in the news all year long in Philomath. First, the city announced in late January that it would follow state law and make final decisions on annexation applications submitted by property owners and developers instead of sending them out for a vote of the people. A new law signed by the governor in 2016 limited voter-approved annexations. Corvallis and Philomath have been challenging the legality of the law but a setback in Benton County Circuit Court led both cities to reassess its options while the appeal remained under review.
City attorney Jim Brewer advised the city to follow state law as it currently reads and continue to pursue the appeal. If the city did continue to send annexations to the ballot, legal challenges likely would not go in its favor.
Various properties were annexed into the city, including 19.88 acres that city councilors voted on at a Dec. 19 meeting that had been requested for that purpose.
5. Philomath Frolic & Rodeo. Someday when the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo looks back on its history, the events of 2018 will likely stand out. First, the rodeo secured its future by making sure it could continue to be staged at the rodeo grounds.
Paul and Lola Skirvin donated roughly 20 acres to Philomath with the understanding that the city would enter into a long-term lease agreement with the Frolic & Rodeo. In late August, the Frolic and city entered into a lease agreement that included a 99-year term.
Organizational changes accomplished with the introduction of a board of directors. Darrell Hinchberger took over as president late in the year in place of Chris Workman. Also during the year, the rodeo saw a move to eliminate the Sunday matinee and add a Thursday night performance. The rodeo was also the recipient of a horse sculpture that will oversee the grounds in the near future.
6. New businesses in town. For the second straight year, Philomath’s motto of “We’re open for business” rang true with several new ventures opening their doors. One of the most noteworthy occurred on the west end of town with Nectar Creek, which produces mead, opening its production facility and restaurant.
Out West Farm & Ranch took over a feed store operation on the east end and The Dizzy Hen brought a farm-to-table restaurant to the downtown vicinity. Several others also launched operations, including Marcotte Distilling and Main Auto Body. And the Sullivan family announced plans to expand with a new office and warehouse facility on North 19th across from its Alyrica complex.
7. PHS band’s state title. In the final state band championships appearance for Dan Johnson, the outgoing Philomath High School performing arts director, the Warriors won it all. Despite some very prestigious honors over the years under Johnson’s direction, the band program had never finished any higher than second, which occurred in 2010, 2016 and 2017.
But at the state championships, May 9 on the campus of Oregon State University, Philomath’s 53-member wind ensemble earned the Class 4A title for a storybook ending to Johnson’s run as director. In the words of senior Chase Heern, “People on stage were crying because we played so well on stage.”
8. Sudden cardiac arrest. In one of the most powerful talks to ever take place before a chamber of commerce audience, local resident, insurance agent and community volunteer Severn Thomas described how he died on the morning of May 18 while on a bike ride. “When you have sudden cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death, there’s a small chance — one out of 10 that you’ll survive,” Thomas told a hushed audience.
Kurt Hill, his biking partner and friend, had been trained in CPR and knew what to do to get Thomas’s blood flowing. Not only did Thomas survive, but he didn’t suffer any brain damage. A recording of Hill’s 911 call accompanied the program to send a strong message to all the importance of learning first aid and CPR.
9. Memorable homecoming. Facing the Clemens Field grandstands during halftime of a Friday night football game, Philomath High sophomore Sophie Gerding took in the moment as her week as a homecoming princess was starting to wind down. Instead, Gerding experienced a moment that will last a lifetime when the announcer identified her as the 2018 homecoming queen.
Gerding, the daughter of Nate Gerding and Heather Parcell who was born with a rare disorder called Williams syndrome, jumped up and down with joy and with a huge smile on her face at the announcement. Last year’s queen, Sarah Buddingh, placed the crown on her head.
For those who watched, it was a special moment to be remembered.
10. Hit-and-run kills volunteer. In one of the most disturbing news stories to ever appear on the pages of the Philomath Express, 70-year-old trash pickup volunteer Robert Ozretich was killed in January after he was hit by a pickup driven by 54-year-old Toledo resident Ricky Ray Ferguson.
After the collision occurred, Ferguson fled the scene but witnesses helped point police in the right direction. After various tips and despite attempts to change the appearance of his vehicle, Ferguson was arrested later the same day in Blodgett. Ferguson was sentenced to 11-1/2 years in prison.
Other noteworthy news stories in 2018 (listed in chronological order):
• The Philomath Connection bus service expanded with runs on Saturdays.
• Philomath Police and Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a fugitive from California wanted for armed robbery after responding to a reported altercation at a local gas station.
• The Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce honored several individuals during the annual Samaritan Awards. Carey Oien earned the First Citizen award with the others going to Marilyn Schmidt (Senior), Royce Markley (Junior) and Aundie McClelland (Future).
• The city made plans to build a nature park on 11th Street during the coming summer, but the project did not materialize on schedule and was delayed until 2019. The city voted later in the year to name the park in memory of Philomath educator Flossie Overman.
• Philomath hosted for the first time a regional Battle of the Books competition that brought 56 teams to town.
• The city council unanimously extended a $10 general fund fee for the second year.
• PHS principal Brian Flannery resigned and was replaced by former assistant principal, Mike Bussard.
• The PHS dance team’s Lori Haslam was honored as the 1A-4A coach of the year during the state championships.
• Joey Howell and Meghan Erickson won the Mr. and Miss PHS title during the annual fundraising competition in April.
• Longtime performing arts director, Dan Johnson, transitioned into a new administrative position with the Philomath School District.
• The school district and Kings Valley Charter School agreed on an equitable funding model, a move that served as an example of an improving relationship that at times had been challenging in the past.
• Philomath voters showed overwhelming support for local education through the renewal of the school district’s operating levy for another five years.
• Voters approved five measures on the ballot involving the annexation of 22 properties as part of an effort that was primarily focused on getting rid of various islands that had been created over the years.
• A 68-year-old Blodgett man, Wesley Joe Newell, was shot and killed May 21. Jim Dandee Morris, 56, and Julie Ann Thurman, 51, were indicted in the shootings, which also seriously injured one other person.
• Philomath High’s Class of 2018 graduated with 101 students earning diplomas. Valedictorians were Lily Bogard, Jensen Davis, Rosalina Page and Jesse Pittman.
• A lack of committed participants forced the Philomath Youth Activities Club to cancel its annual Benton County BBQ fundraiser.
• In June, a 5-year-old Philomath girl was killed in a crash on Marys River Estates Road. Laurie O. Ramsey, 41, the child’s mother, was arrested on manslaughter, assault and driving under the influence of an intoxicant charges, to which she pleaded not guilty. As of the end of the year, the case was still going through the court system.
• The Philomath Frolic & Rodeo introduced a few changes to this year’s celebration, including the ability for rodeo fans to purchase reserved seating online. This year’s parade featured outgoing PHS performing arts director Dan Johnson as the grand marshal.
• Philomath resident and dementia sufferer Jerry Wylie served as a keynote speaker in July at the 33rd annual International Conference of Dementia in Chicago.
• A mother and son escaped injury during a July 17 fire that destroyed a home on Benton View Drive.
• Local law-enforcement officials staged active shooter drills in July at Philomath Middle School.
• The Arc of Benton County’s new Philomath Thrift Store celebrated its grand opening in late July. The store had been at its previous location in Philomath for about 36 years.
• Several emergency response agencies took part in a hazardous materials training exercise in Philomath in August.
• School superintendent Melissa Goff and the Philomath School Board agreed on a new three-year contract after six months of negotiations.
• The Philomath School District outperformed state averages in every subject, according to Oregon Department of Education reports on standardized testing data.
• The late Paul Mariman was inducted into the Philomath Legend Club with a special ceremony that followed the annual cross-country meet named in his memory. Relatives from as far away as Germany were on hand for the event.
• The state’s transportation and tourism commissions designate Highway 34 as a scenic byway, a move that local city officials hope will bring in more tourism dollars.
• Dave Wiger retires after 40 years of volunteer firefighting service to Philomath Fire & Rescue.
• To the delight of birders in the area, a rare songbird, the dickcissel, made an appearance at Philomath’s sewage ponds.
• Philomath Community Services, a local nonprofit organization, hired an executive director for the first time in a move to more thoroughly oversee its five outreach programs.
• Former PHS science teacher Jeff Mitchell died Aug. 20 at age 73. Family and friends, including former colleagues and students, gathered at an Oct. 20 service at the home he shared with his wife on the Willamette River.
• Longtime music teacher Diane Crocker organized her last Veterans Day assembly at the middle school. Planning to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, Crocker had put together 37 programs over a 38-year stretch.
• Philomath fire chief Tom Miller and firefighters Lindsay Taylor and Kyler Crocker go to California in November to assist with the battle against the Camp Fire and help with its aftermath.
• Kings Valley tree farmer Pat Malone wins a seat on the Benton County Board of Commissioners. Malone is to take over the position held by outgoing commissioner Anne Schuster, a Philomath-area resident.
• A boil water alert went out to Philomath residents following a waterline leak in late November. Testing revealed no contamination in the water.
• Former mayor and longtime logging truck operator Charlie Hall died at age 94.