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Serendipitous donation kick-starts Kansas Guard unit’s fundraising efforts

The headquarters for the Kansas Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Brigade sits about 15 miles south of the Nebraska-Kansas border in the town of Hiawatha.

Like many small towns in Kansas, Hiawatha has retained a distinct historic feel, with many original buildings and brick roads around the town square.

Across the street from the Brown County courthouse, the Citizens State Bank and Trust has operated for over a hundred years; the 1963 version of the building still stands today, an American flag proudly displayed out front.

It was here, several weeks ago, Maj. Nick Carlson, battalion administrative officer, and Staff Sgt. Alicia Young, battalion medical readiness noncommissioned officer, came, based on the recommendations of the state Family Programs Office, to open a new savings account on behalf of their unit’s Soldier and Family Readiness Group at the request of Lt. Col. Shawn Plankinton, battalion commander.

“In the next 18 months or so, we’re going to ask the battalion to go forward to Southwest Asia,” Plankinton said. “At some point, we’ll want to do care packages. The post office is awesome, but they don’t deliver them for free. So there’s always, at least, postage involved, even if everything else is donated. We needed an account where we can accept donations and do fundraising.”

Soldier and Family Readiness Programs exist for a multitude of reasons, acting as a mechanism to get information to military families, connecting Soldiers and families to the chain of command, helping make military families aware of available community resources, and offering a network of mutual support within a military community. Programs can also conduct fundraising on behalf of the unit, so having an approved bank account established is necessary to ensure any funds are properly secured.

“It takes time for any of this to get going,” said Aimee Plankinton, Shawn’s wife and SFRG battalion advisor. “The Soldiers have to have training to even open an account. Volunteers also have to be trained and have background checks before they can interact with our families. So it can’t just happen in a day. This isn’t something that we want to just be starting at the beginning of a deployment because the Soldiers would get halfway through the deployment before the programs get stood up.”

Carlson said that establishing the account early was a high priority for the Plankintons, so he gained the proper approvals to initiate the account and set out to coordinate with the bank.

“I’m kind of old school,” Carlson said. “When they said we could apply online, I asked if we could come down there and do it in person.”

Although initially apprehensive due to COVID-19, the bank agreed to set up an appointment for them to meet with a bank representative.

Things went smoothly at the meeting, except for one small problem: the unit did not have the minimum required funds to deposit into the new account. The bank representative told him they could have up to 30 days to come up with the minimum required funds. Carlson said that, as one of the few full-time employees in the unit, he had a feeling the initial deposit would likely have to come out of his own pocket.

Fortunately for Carlson and the 2-130th SFRG, worrying about how to secure their initial deposit didn’t last long. Just a few days later, the bank representative called back with some unexpected news.

“She told me the president of the bank saw two uniformed Soldiers and wondered what they were doing,” Carlson said. “She must have told him the back story.”

The bank representative told Carlson that the president himself had decided to make a donation to help get their SFRG fund started, and invited them all to come back to the bank on March 4 to accept the check.

“They didn’t have any money, and I knew they needed it,” said Theodore Starr, chairman and president of Citizens State Bank and Trust. “I figured if you didn’t have any money to start out, you needed to create that momentum going forward to get your program off the ground. If you don’t have anything, you can’t build upon it. So that’s what I wanted to supply.”

Starr’s military connections run deep.

“I was raised by two Army officers — there was a lot of discipline in my house!” Starr joked. “Dad was a licensed pilot when he enlisted. He was in Army ROTC at K-State. He thought he could fly, but he was deaf in one ear from childhood polio and they wouldn’t let him fly. So he [joined the air defense artillery and] shot down enemy planes, instead. My mother was with 119th General Hospital in England. That’s where my parents met after the war.”

Starr’s grandfather and three uncles also served in the military. Although he did not personally spend time in the military, his patriotism is apparent.

“I keep graves for all the family members, and one other gentleman, here in town. I keep flags on all the graves 365 days a year.”

In the board room, the bank has a display highlighting all of the bank employees who have served in the military over the years.

The board room walls, lined with portraits of previous and current board members, including both his parents and his daughter, suggests that the 2-130th and the Starr family have something else in common: their history as staples of Northeast Kansas.

“Citizens State Bank and Trust has been in the family for 84 years. The Starrs got to Jackson County in 1874. We just can’t seem to move away. I’ve really enjoyed raising our family here.”

“We appreciate the Guard here, we really do,” he continued. “I’m very familiar with that facility. Growing up here, I could probably still walk around the armory with my eyes closed.”

Starr and Plankinton, whose father grew up in the town of Holton just south of Hiawatha, reminisced about events that were held at the Hiawatha armory, like the Boy Scouts racing in the pinewood derby.

Now, everyone in the room had come together in an effort to continue the tradition of the Hiawatha armory being a place of community.

“We have a family where the hits really just keep coming for them right now,” Aimee said, explaining how small events can compound into significant challenges, made even harder when a family member is away from home supporting a National Guard mission. “These are the kind of thing we can be prepared for. We work to bring families together so that when someone needs help, they have the support that they need.”

Having the SFRG account in place is integral to that mission.

“We want to get momentum among the families,” Plankinton said. “We want to have everything in place, so whether a unit is deploying or not, if they want to do an organization day, or do some family activities, we’ve got the framework set up.”

“Most people think that going overseas is the only time Soldiers are doing something, but we have folks doing missions locally, we have folks out in D.C. that went out to support the inauguration,” Plankinton said. “So what we do to support the Soldiers and the families isn’t just one weekend a month, or every three or four years when we deploy them, it’s something we want to be able to do year-round.”

One of the first initiatives the 2-130th SFRG hopes to get off the ground with the help of their newly funded account is a project to recognize the children of the 2-130th Soldiers.

“We had a logo made for our family support group and we’ll order those as patches for our children,” Aimee said. “April is the Month of the Military Child. So every April we want to do an annual Month of the Military Child ceremony, where each child, when they reach a certain age, will receive those patches and a certificate as a way for us to show our appreciation for what they do as children of Soldiers.”

“It is about the kids, but it’s also a reason for our families to get together and see each other,” Plankinton said. “Getting them together now is important, because a year or 18 months from now the Soldiers aren’t here. Now’s the time to start building that community.”

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Bravos returning to action with games slated for Hiawatha

The Bravos are returning to action with games slated to be played in Hiawatha this year.

The Bravos is a team that is part of the Midwest Plains College Wooden Bat league and is made up primarily of Latin American players — with many coming from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and other countries. They are coached by Edgar Santos, a player at Ranger College in Texas and a native to Venezuela. Other coaches are Reiner Mendez, a player at Peru State College and Gianfranco Garlobo, an assistant coach at Peru State University.

Occasionally, a local player has been part of the team — last year Hiawatha’s Hunter Pavlish played for the Bravos, along with Austin Gerety of Seneca.

The Bravos have been playing in Sabetha for several years and were scheduled to split games with Sabetha and Hiawatha last year, but COVID stepped in and games in Hiawatha were put on hold.

However, this year, the playing field is looking much better for COVID-related issues and the City of Hiawatha is planning a full slate of recreation for the summer — including eight Bravos games to be played at Paul Rockey Memorial Field at Noble Park.

The season kicks off in late May with some road games and the first home games are slated for the first week of June in both Sabetha and Hiawatha.

Games are free and open to the public and the community is encouraged to come out and support the Bravos. In fact, there are many opportunities to support them.

Local organizers are Joey May and Ryan Meininger of Hiawatha and Jo Grimes of Sabetha and the General Manager of the team is Paul Herl of Sabetha.

The program is also backed by the city’s Hiawatha Parks and Recreation Department.

Organizers are currently looking for additional housing opportunities — in both Hiawatha and Sabetha as the teams will practice and play in both locations.

Host families would provide a home for 1-2 players for the duration of the season — which is around 8 weeks. They provide their own transportation and can help with meals, but host families are also helped to supplement with meals.

Organizers say they are still in need of host families in Hiawatha. Host families will bring the players into their home as part of their family for six to eight weeks, support them at games, and incorporate them into their family activities and meals. Players come with their own spending money and have some transportation, with the team providing other transportation, as well.

Other ways to support the team would be through financial contributions, such as sponsorships. Sponsors are recognized at games and can participate with fun activities during the Seventh Inning Stretch and other ways. The organization had many local business sponsors last year for financial and meal contributions.

The team is also looking for donations of air mattresses and bicycles for players, who will be performing community service projects around Hiawatha. Also sought are volunteers for scorekeepers and announcers at the home games, along with community groups or businesses to sponsor game meals.

If you would like more information about volunteering or hosting a player or providing an after-game meal can contact Joey May at jeffmay77@yahoo.com. Anyone wanting to contribute financially can contact Ryan Meininger at ryan.meininger.fl2x@statefarm.com. Contact either for more information.

Discussion continues on finding negotiator to represent county in wind farm talks

Discussions on finding a negotiator to represent Brown County for wind energy talks continued at Monday morning’s Brown County Commission meeting.

The commission has made it clear that there are not any current negotiations in process for any wind farms to enter the county. However, based on advice from Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill, the commissioners are considering retaining the services of an attorney who specializes in wind farm negotiations for any future need.

Hill told the commission a few weeks ago at a meeting that he would recommend James Neeld, an attorney who negotiated wind energy contracts for Nemaha County. He said the Nemaha County Attorney was happy with Neeld’s representation of the county for the wind energy negotiations. As transmission lines for the Nemaha County wind farms will cross through Brown County, Hill proposed getting Neeld on board for potential negotiations. He noted there was not a retainer fee needed — Neeld only charged for work completed.

The commissioners tabled any decision for a couple of weeks and Commissioner Bill Pollock said he would like to find a couple of alternatives to Neeld. He said, based on his discussions with newly elected Nemaha County commissioners, that Neeld charged too much and didn’t necessarily represent the county well.

On Monday, Pollock introduced Josh Ney with Kreigshauser Ney Laws Group, which has offices in Topeka and Olathe. Ney also serves as Jefferson County attorney and told the commissioners that while he did not have expertise with wind energy negotiations, he had experience with local governments and land acquisitions. He told commissioners that there are currently not any wind farms in Jefferson County either.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl, who is also chairman of the commission, thanked Ney for his interest, but said they had a county attorney who has been representing Brown County for 29 years very well in all other legal matters and said what they really needed was someone who specialized in wind energy.

Commissioner Pollock made a motion to enter into a contract with Kreigshauser Ney Laws Group, however the motion died due to lack of second.

The commissioners tabled any decision on obtaining the services of an attorney for these purposes until further research on attorneys could be conducted.

Brown County resident Lucas Heinen provided the commissioners with packets of information about wind farms and asked permission from the commission to provide any names for their review in their search for a negotiator.

In other business:

Commissioner Lehmkuhl reported on continued staffing of the nurse at the main entrance of the courthouse. Starting April 1, the nurse will only be on an as needed basis for the courts.

Following discussion on the county’s COVID leave, the commissioners voted to extend the leave through the end of June.

Tami Lehmkuhl, discussed repairs to the roller from District 1 and District 3. The cost of the repairs would be $7,771.95. The commissioners voted to pay the cost. Lehmkuhl discussed different funding options she had researched for the Road and Bridge department. Lehmkuhl also discussed a federal grant compliance virtual training she would like to attend.

Commissioner Lehmkuhl presented three bids for removal of four trees on courthouse square. The bids are as follows: Gamble Tree Service with a bid of $8,100. Gudenkauf Tree Service with a bid of $4,350 and Kyle’s Tree Service with a bid of $8,250. Discussion was tabled until the commission can further inspect the trees.

Dave Schuetz, Custodian, inquired about the purchase of a utility shed for the courthouse as well as updating the 11 year old lawnmower.

Brown County Treasurer, Cheryl Lippold, presented a quote for $21,695 from Navrat’s for replacement of the desk stations in her office. Lippold will contact additional businesses to get additional quotes.

Wanda Davis, Director, discussed the billing for Meals on Wheels program. Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, will contact the NEK Area Agency on Aging to attend next week’s meeting.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, discussed Evergy billing for the old jail. The county sold the old jail in July of 2016.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, presented the Industrial Stormwater Permit Holders Invoice for the commission’s signatures.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, presented the contracts with Allied Business Solutions. County Attorney, Kevin Hill, requested references from Allied Business Solutions.

The commission will next meet on Wednesday, March 31 for the end-of-month regular bill paying session.

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Donations being raised to help family who lost house in fire

A Gofundme account has been set up to raise money to help a rural Horton family who lost their house in a fire Monday night.

According to the Gofundme account, Cassy Cox-Small and her daughters lost their home in a fire. The house was declared a total loss and tragically, the family lost two dogs in the fire. The family was not home at the time of the fire.

The Gofundme account is raising funds to help the family with replacing belongings and finding a new home by helping pay the deductible for renters’ insurance, and the cost of a deposit and rent for a house, along with funds to pay for temporary housing.

To make a donation, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/coxsmall-family-house-fire.

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HCVB planning Easter Egg Hunt, Golden Egg scavenger hunt

With Easter just around the corner, the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau is working on a plan to bring the Easter Bunny to town for the annual celebration at the courthouse square on Saturday, April 3.

The annual egg hunt was put on pause last year due to COVID-19, but this year it’s a go. HCVB Administrator Sarah Kleopfer said the hunt will be spread out more around the entire courthouse square to allow for better spacing and more age groups for kids between infant through fourth grades.

The Easter Bunny will be available starting at 9:30 a.m. on the north side of the courthouse for photos — social distance style, with no direct contact. The hunt will get underway in a fast and furious way at the strike of 10 a.m. on the town clock. Kids need to bring Easter baskets for the egg hunt.

In addition, the HCVB is sponsoring the annual Golden Maple Leaf Egg Scavenger Hunt the week leading up to Easter. Starting on Monday, the HCVB will post clues daily by 10 a.m. the Facebook site and Hiawatha Happenings. Follow the clues posted daily to find the Golden Maple Leaf Egg on PUBLIC property only around Hiawatha. The HCVB issues a reminder to please not go on private property in search of the hidden egg.

The prize is $25 in Chamber Bucks, which can be spent at any number of participating businesses who are Chamber members.

Whoever finds the egg needs to contact the Chamber at 742-7136 or by email at hiawathachamber@rainbow tel.net to claim your prize.

Masks are still required within Hiawatha City limits, according to the current mask mandate in effect, and the HCVB asks that all participants and parents please wear masks for the event.