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Fire destroys Horton houses

HORTON — A fire engulfed a small house on Tuesday afternoon in Horton, causing it to collapse, before spreading and bringing complete ruin to two neighboring homes on either side, authorities say, although no one suffered any injuries aside from minor smoke exposure.

Horton Chief of Police John Calhoon, who also serves as the Horton city manager, said at the scene that he and another first responder had been about a minute away from the scene when a 911 call reporting a house fire came in at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Upon arrival, he found the original house lost to the flames, believed to be linked to the recent installation of a wood-burning stove. However, Calhoon said, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“The smoke was very heavy,” he said. “We did have a few of the residents checked out. We had to get away from the smoke a few times, some of the first responders did.

“I’m so thankful. I mean, we’ve got responders from a thirty mile radius helping us out here.”

Calhoon said the original house burned to the ground before first responders could begin attacking the blaze, and it became obvious that the fire would spread to the two neighboring homes no matter what firefighters did. Surely enough, by 1 p.m. Tuesday, flames had affected all three structures, with the original house burning off all of the fuel on site throughout the afternoon as firefighters battled to keep the blaze from spreading further.

A damage estimate isn’t yet available, but wrecking equipment had been brought in by 4 p.m. Tuesday to demolish the easternmost house, which had been gutted by the fire with only its blackened exterior walls remaining. Crews remained on site to perform additional demolition work on the site. Calhoon said that four families, about 12 people in total, had been rendered without a home by the fire. He said the local government is working with the American Red Cross of Topeka to provide emergency aid to the victims.

The City of Horton confirmed that all three houses are considered “destroyed” at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and announced that the victims are in need of clothing and food, and posted clothing sizes to its Facebook page. Any clothing or financial aid donations have been directed to the Horton Police Department, 205 East Eighth St. in Horton. Call (785) 486-2694 for more information.

In addition to the Horton police and fire departments, the scene received aid from the Washington Township Fire Department of Everest, the Everest Fire Department and the Atchison County Rural Fire District No. 2 of Effingham to combat the blaze.

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Hometown fun for the holidays

We are two weeks from Christmas and there are still time to participate in some hometown Christmas events.

Don’t miss out on the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitor Bureau’s Shop Local campaign, which runs through Dec. 21. The winning tickets will get $700 and $400 to spend at those participating businesses.

The HCVB still has ornaments and cards — featuring Santa flying over the Clock Tower, by Katherine Miller — available. Contact the office at 742-7136 for information.

In the meantime, mark your calendar for these other upcoming holiday events in the area — including a new Christmas movie event at the Historical Society Memorial Auditorium — set for Saturday, Dec. 14.


Holiday Events

Saturday, Dec. 14 — Candy Cane Hunt and Breakfast With Santa: The HP&R is teaming up with the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau this year for a special jolly event on Saturday, Dec. 14 at the Fisher Center gym.

Join HP&R and the HCVB in searching for Santa’s lost candy canes. This is a free community event for toddlers to fourth graders. Groups will meet at the Fisher Center at the following times: 9 a.m. — Toddler/preschool ages; 9:30 a.m. — Kindergarten-1st grade; 10 a.m. — 2nd-4th grade; 10:30 a.m. — Special Needs Toddler-4th Grade. After each hunt, families are welcome to join Santa in the gym for a grab-and-go breakfast and photos. The hunts will take place by the walking trail by the Fisher Center.

This is a free community event – register your family by calling 742-7176.

Saturday, Dec. 14 – Reindeer Run: Following the Candy Cane adventures is a new event this year — the Reindeer Run at 11:30 a.m. on the walking trail by the Fisher Center. Register now for this short fun run along the walking trail. the race is planned for a mile-ish distance but may shorten depending on weather and course conditions. Everyone who registers by Dec. 9 will get a free pair of reindeer antlers to wear during the run! This event is for all ages and will feature two different routes for youth and adults.

Saturday, Dec. 14 – TUBACHRISTMAS: Set for noon at the Brown County Courthouse lobby. This is the 26th annual event, started by Jerry Speidel and Kevin Pennel. Anyone wanting to participate in the concert can come at 9:30 o’clock the morning of the concert for practice on the first floor of the Brown County Courthouse. Anyone who plays a euphonium or any low brass instrument is welcome to perform in the concert. For more information on TUBACHRISTMAS, go to the website www.tubachristmas.com.

Saturday, Dec. 14 — Christmas Movie: The Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau is teaming up with the Brown County Historical Society to offer an afternoon of Christmas nostalgia at the Memorial Auditorium with a special Christmas movie presentation. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. with the movie starting at 2 p.m. Popcorn and drinks will be available. This is a free Christmas event, however the Historical Society will be accepting a freewill offering for new stage curtains.

Saturday, Dec. 14 — HAATS Christmas Music: Annual Christmas program at 7 p.m. At the Brown County Historical Society. Join HAATS for the music of Christmas and art show. This event is free and a thanks to the community for its support during the year. Come and enjoy the sounds and talents of the NEK Kansas music community. Freewill donations will be accepted to help fund new curtains for the auditorium. Come early, at 6:40 p.m. For Christmas caroling in the lobby.

School Board approves retirement of long-time teacher

The Hiawatha School Board approved a retirement request of a long-time elementary school teacher at Monday night’s regular meeting.

The board approved the request of kindergarten teacher Brenda Schuetz’s request at Monday’s meeting. Schuetz has been with the district 30 years and a teacher for 32 years. Her retirement is effective at the end of the academic year.

In other business:

Lori Fordyce received a Blue Cross Blue Shield $700 grant to be used for Red Hawks Ready for Life Day.

Lori Fordyce and Nicki Mathewson each received a Board of Education Recognition Award.

The board approved the Consent Agenda, which included the following:

1. Approve the Minutes of the November 11, 2019 Regular Board Meeting

2. Approve Preliminary Check Register, Addendum to Preliminary Check Register, Outstanding Purchase Orders

3. Approve the Treasurer’s Report for the month of October 2019.

4. Accept Contributions

5. Approve Middle School & High School Activity Fund Reports for the month of October 2019

6. Approve Trip Requests of HHS Band to Concert Band Clinic in Manhattan, KS 1/24-1/26, 2020 and HHS Headliners Choir to Northwest Missouri State Show Choir Festival in Maryville, MO 2/8/2020

7. Accept the Retirement Resignation of Brenda Schuetz as Kindergarten Teacher, Resignation of Melvin Baker as Driver’s Ed In-Car Instructor and Michael Downard as Baseball Assistant Coach

8. Recommendation to hire Andy Runer as HMS Boys Basketball Practice Coach

9. Approve disposal of surplus technology items

Eric Kientz, CPA, Principal at Varney and Associates, CPAs, LLC presented the financial audit for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The district received an unqualified opinion which means the financial statements are presented fairly and no areas of concern were found. There were some recommendations regarding dual control and cross-training of staff in the business office.

Amy Kopp moved and Keith Erdley seconded the motion to accept the financial audit as presented. Motion carried 4-0.

Approval to Seek Bids for Kindergarten Student iPads — Amy Kopp moved and Jeff Brockhoff seconded the motion to seek bids for 80 iPads for all Kindergarten students. Motion carried 4-0.

Amy Kopp moved and Jeff Brockhoff seconded the motion to grant permission for Superintendent Moser to accept the low bid for Kindergarten iPads before the next school board meeting. Motion carried 4-0.

Jeff Brockhoff moved and Keith Erdley seconded the motion to approve the addition of Interior Design I and II to the Construction and Architecture Pathway for the 2020-2021 School Year. Motion carried 4-0.

District Maintenance Coordinator Matt Cluck explained the findings of the recent fire marshal’s inspection. Items noted include emergency exit lighting and replacement of some sprinkler heads above the stage. The Woodshop Boiler delivery has been pushed back two weeks by the supplier, but Cluck hopes to have the boiler installed during winter break. The middle school bleachers will also be installed over winter break. The new wheelchair lift at the elementary school has been installed. However, the company needs to make an adjustment to an arm, but the lift is safe and operable. A VFD panel in the HVAC system at HMS was recently damaged during maintenance when a breaker blew. Insurance coverage will be sought as it appears to be an equipment failure.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser reported the district was awarded the Commissioner’s Award and the Kansans Can Copper Star Award by the Kansas State Board of Education as part of the Kansans Can Star Recognition program. The Commissioner’s Award is recognition for exceeding predicted postsecondary effectiveness rates. The Copper Star Award is in recognition of exceptional student success in the area of Academically Prepared for Postsecondary Success. The Diversity Council met for the first time in November. Discussion centered around building relationships to develop an understanding of others and acceptance of differences. The group is working on a value statement and will meet again in January. Moser expressed appreciation for the community and surrounding school districts’ support and offer of resources during the recent tragedies suffered.

Following an executive session, it was approved to approve an early graduation request as long as the student fulfills graduation requirements and is in good standing. Motion carried 4-0.

Board members reported on the latest meeting of the Brown County Special Education Interlocal #615 Board. The minutes of that meeting can be found at https://go.boarddocs.com/ks/usd415/Board.nsf/files/BJKUCY7B7992/$file/Special%20Education%20December%204%2C%202019%20Board%20Minutes.pdf. The 2019-20 Master Agreement has been ratified. Becky Shamburg has been exploring the option of electric heating for the building.

By Adam Clay

The Morrill Public Library welcomed its new director, Erin Verbick, with a public reception on Tuesday. Verbick has been an employee at the library for 2 years and recently served as interim director after offered the position permanently.

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Middendorf tapped for another round as Finance Commissioner

The Hiawatha City Commission held a special meeting on Monday evening to address the departure of City Finance Commissioner John Merchant, Jr., who announced his resignation following last week’s meeting.

After hearing from a pair of applicants and reading a letter from a third, the commission voted to appoint David Middendorf to the position.

Middendorf served on the commission a year ago, when Bill Collins moved into the vacated mayor position after Dr. Steffen Shamburg moved away. Middendorf was defeated by Merchant by a narrow margin late last year in an election to fill the position. At Monday’s meeting, he stated that he was comfortable working with city employees, and as a retiree, would have the time needed to fully embrace the position. Middendorf also said during his statement that he felt his abilities and experience would benefit the town.

Also present and applying to fill the position was Charles Bruner. Bruner said that Hiawatha has been good to him and that he would like to give back. He also spoke of finding common ground with everyone, listening to community members and being respectful of all citizens. After Bruner, Mayor Collins read a letter from Brian Shefferd, who was not in attendance as he was traveling on business. Shefferd said he is a small business owner and spoke of his family’s history in Hiawatha, as well as his experience working for a large company and the skills he could bring to the position.

After the commission selected Middendorf, there was a brief discussion of property coming up for sale in a county tax auction. There was some discussion at the last meeting of purchasing several properties that would need to be demolished in order to save time and steps down the line.

Mayor Collins stated that he did not want to pay more money for property that would need to be taken down, especially considering that back taxes from 2017, 2018 and half of 2019 would be owed at the time of purchase. The entire commission agreed that paying back taxes on the properties in question and no action was taken.