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Glorious sunsets due to approaching fall equinox

Harvest is well underway, the evenings and nights are cooler, leaves are starting to slightly change color and it’s become evident that autumn is quickly approaching.

Another indication that fall is almost here are the extraordinarily large and colorful sunsets.

The Farmer’s Almanac said this year’s fall equinox is set to happen at approximately 8:31 a.m. Central Time on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The equinox is a moment that occurs only twice a year and is when the axis of the earth is not tilted toward or away from the sun.

Because of this, the sun rises due east and sets due west and we have approximately the same number of hours of daylight as we do night hours on that day. So, as the meteorologist warned on the evening weather this week — the sun appears huge and is exactly due west — which could definitely blind a person driving that direction at that time. In addition, smoke from the wildfires out west have also intensified the glow — plus created a haziness in the sky.

This is the start of astronomical fall. This is different from “meteorological fall,” which began on Sept. 1, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. Meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle. Astronomers, on the other hand, determine the seasons by the Earth’s tilt.

“While it may seem that the seasons are caused by Earth’s changing distance from the Sun, it’s really due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. This tilt—a 23-degree slant—enables the Sun to appear above the horizon for different lengths of time during the various seasons. The tilt determines whether the Sun’s rays strike at a low angle or more directly onto Earth,” according to an article in the Farmer’s Almanac.

The other equinox is in the spring. the equinox occurs when the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the center of the sun. It is the moment at which the center of the visible sun is directly above the equator.

I am not a scientist — or an astronomer — but all I know is that the sunset is awesome this week, so take a moment to stop and enjoy it around 7:30 p.m. Or take in the sunrise, which has been occurring around 7:30 a.m.

With this fall equinox, comes cooler evenings then days and slowly the turning of the leaves of our beautiful maple trees in Hiawatha. It truly is a glorious time in the City of Beautiful Maples — Happy Fall Y’all!

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County Commission addresses 'jake-braking' concerns

The Brown County Commission addressed a concern from a county resident about semis “jake-braking” near his house.

Virgil Wiltz lives just south of Hiawatha along U.S. 73 Highway, right about the 40 mph reduced speed sign. He said semis coming northbound on 73 often “jake-brake” — or engine brake right about there — causing excessive noise. Many cities have resolutions against semis engine braking within city limits, however Wiltz wanted to know if the county could extend that further out.

Wiltz, who called in to Monday morning’s meeting. said he contacted the state Department of Transportation, since U.S. 73 is a state highway, and was told that the county commission would have the authority to pass a resolution for this purpose.

Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill, present at Monday’s meeting, said that the county can sign a resolution against this out however many miles from the city limits they determine. He said it would be up to local law enforcement to observe and then enforce, but the proper signage could reduce the number of times this occurs.

Sheriff John Merchant said his officers can enforce the resolution in their presence and write citations based on “jake-braking” incidents.

Wiltz asked if it was possible to move back the sign toward the City Lake and that would warn drivers to slow down at that point, rather than putting their brakes on when they hit the 40 mph zone near his home.

“Anything you can help me with I appreciate it,” he told the commissioners.

Commissioner Dwight Kruse said Fairview had a similar ordinance and that while he can still hear some trucks, he thought it had slowed down some of the others. Hill said Horton also had a similar ordinance in effect.

Hill told the commissioners he would work up a sample resolution for next Monday’s meeting for their consideration. In the meantime, Kruse said the commissioners could decide if they wanted to include any other locations on the resolution.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the commissioners were joined by Emergency Management Director Don Pounds and Jeremey Forkenbrock, from the SPARK Committee to discuss issues concerning some requests for Direct Aid due to COVID-19.

Brown County was awarded approximately $1.9 million in federal COVID relief funds to help local organizations and businesses. A SPARK Committee was formed to help filter through requests and determine eligibility — then the county commissioners approved each individual request.

There were questions concerning requests from both meat packing companies, both libraries and KANZA Mental Health that were discussed. One question centered around technology purchased with SPARK funds. Pound said that if new computers or other technology were purchased then it had to be for programs or reasons related to COVID and that had to be specified on the request. He said the money couldn’t be used just to replace equipment that was old.

It was determined that the direct aid amounts could be sent to the entities and receipts were not being asked for at this time. Brown County Treasurer Cheryl Lippold said the requests were being sent to Wisdom CPA and as long as contracts were in place the county were not required to request receipts. She said as the state audits the allocation of these federal funds, they may request receipts if questions on the usage.

Pounds told commissioners he was concerned with a request from KANZA concerning a sprayer and disinfectant that was to be used also at the Jackson County location. He didn’t feel that was an appropriate use of those funds. Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl, who serves on KANZA’s board, said the documentation specified that 5 percent of the disinfectant spray purchased with SPARKS funds would be used at the Jackson County office. He also reminded the commission that Hiawatha’s KANZA office was the headquarters for four counties, so all ordering would be processed here.

“I don’t feel they purposely deceived,” he said.

Pounds also said he felt KANZA had requested a lot of PPE supplies related to COVID — almost nearly as much as the hospital. He questioned why all of that was needed. Lehmkuhl pointed out that KANZA serves many patients at their Hiawatha headquarters, as well has have 50-70 children in their summer program. He said he felt that would necessitate the need for quite a bit of supplies.

“Mental health has seen one of the biggest rise of services,” Lehmkuhl said.

The commissioners suggested to ask KANZA Mental Health to request that Jackson County pay a portion of the disinfectant spray from their SPARKS funds. They agreed to process the remaining Direct Aid requests.

They also agreed that if the state deemed the expenses were not credible during an audit, that KANZA — or any other business or organization — could be asked to repay the funds.

Funds from the SPARK money had to be spent this fall with all invoices due to the state by Dec. 15.

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It's all about building relationships

Susan Bryant is retiring after nearly a quarter of a century of building relationships with the public at the Morrill Public Library.

Bryant said she was driving back and forth to St. Joseph, Mo., as a grant writer and it got to where she couldn’t face another winter driving back and forth. She and her husband, Greg — who retired just last year after teaching many years at Highland Community College — reside just outside of Robinson in Brown County.

A part-time position opened up at the Morrill Public Library and Bryant thought it seemed the perfect change of pace for her — and a shorter commute.

The position was for the main library desk, two nights a week. This was 23 years ago and Bryant said she had no idea what sort of adventure was in store for her then.

“Over the years, my position sort of grew,” she said with a smile. “I just kept developing more hours.”

Bryant said at the time, there was a lapse with the children’s regular Storytime, so she decided to start that again.

“I wasn’t really sure how to do it, but said I would try,” she said. “After that I really got into children’s programming.”

Bryant said part of her duties expanded to include the Summer Reading Program and even adult programming. She also offered tech help as the world of technology and libraries expanded, including in recent years helping library patrons with online digital libraries in Northeast Kansas.

“Over time, computers have gotten much easier and we were able to help people just walking in on the fly,” she said.

Part of her job at the library has involved making relationships — not only with her co-workers, but the many, many library patrons, board members and the Friends of the Library — who support the library with fundraisers and other ways. Bryant said it’s been great getting to meet so many people from different walks of life and also very interesting in helping them solve their problems.

“We get so many people asking for help, questions and problems, that we help out,” she said. “Each day offered something different.”

Bryant said the problem-solving is what she really liked about customer service — in addition to getting to know the library patrons.

“Often times I would end up learning something too,” she said.

Bryant’s other roles at the library included Outreach Librarian, which also included duties such as planning programming at the library. She started Culinary Quests — a monthly group that met to expand their horizons on food offered around the world.

The year 2020 brought a whole different aspect to servicing patrons at the library, Bryant said. A major renovation project started at the beginning of the year and for a while portions of the library remained open. However, by March COVID-19 had become a serious issue in the community, so the library closed it’s doors — which allowed easier access for contractors.

While the doors remained closed, Bryant said services continued. She and other library employees brainstormed to offer more virtual and online services — including Storytime, which was also held outdoors at the Ag Museum this past summer.

They offered delivery services for homebound and patrons living in assisted living and at the nursing homes. She said their digital library usage expanded as well and she was happy to help local residents learn more about utilizing this on their tablets and computers. In addition, technology help is still being offered and the library has provided curbside book check-outs.

While Bryant didn’t anticipate the end of her library career to look exactly as it does with the Coronavirus pandemic in full swing, she has embraced this year of challenges as have all of the other library employees.

Plans for retirement include hopefully a little travel — depending upon COVID restrictions — and some projects at home. She said her nephew and his wife are having a baby, so she has a quilt project first on her list!

“This job has suited me very well,” Bryant said. “I really liked the creative parts of it and the organizational parts of it. I like to help people solve their problems. I met so many people and made so many connections. I am so grateful for that.”

The Friends of the Library are sponsoring a card shower for Bryant — whose last day will be on her 65th birthday — which is Thursday, Sept. 24. Cards of well wishes and with memories can be sent to Bryant, c/o the Morrill Public Library, 431 Oregon St., Hiawatha.

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School Board opens up football games to general public

The Hiawatha School Board met Monday night and after hearing from local health officials decided to reopen football games to the general public.

Including the JV game Monday, the school has hosted two home games and had thus far kept the varsity game closed to the general public — instead offering each football, band, dance and cheer student a specific number of tickets for their family and friends. This ensured that the number of spectators was kept low for social distancing purposes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS Athletic Director Kim Lillie said that additional tickets were allowed for the Sept. 4 home varsity game due to Senior Night, but this week’s upcoming home game against Riverside only four tickets would be allowed if they followed the game protocol released at the beginning of the season.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser said even though attendance numbers may not have been as significant as a normal football game, he still noticed people not really social distancing and that the middle section of the home bleachers was still pretty packed.

Board President Tom Simmer said he had been contacted by some district patrons who were unhappy they couldn’t attend games. Other board members agreed and said they hated to limit numbers, but wanted to start the season with caution.

Moser said that’s why the board was meeting more often, to re-evaluate the situation and they could make changes as necessary.

“We make the best decisions to our schools can stay open as long as possible,” he said.

Health officials present at the meeting were Hiawatha Community Hospital providers Jodi Twombly and Danielle Jagells, along with district nurse Erin Wenger.

Twombly recommended wearing masks — even outside — to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“You can still social distance with a mask if you don’t want to get caught up in a quarantine,” she said, noting that if all parties have masks on the likelihood of spreading COVID-19 is 1 percent.

Quarantining is required if someone is exposed to a person who tested positive — ranging from 10-14 days, depending upon when exposed. This can create a huge domino effect for students and district staff — something that school officials are hoping to avoid by requiring mask usage.

The situation is no different at a football game, the health officials stated. And, people are becoming more used to being asked to wear masks. Wenger also told the board that the students — all ages — have adapted to mask usage as well and there are “mask breaks” worked into the schedules.

Following much discussion, it was the general consensus of the board to reopen football games to the public — however masks will be required upon entry. District passes will also be accepted. Any child under the age of eighth grade must be accompanied by an adult. Patrons are asked to provide their own masks.

The discussion turned to other activities — such as volleyball, which is also restricted to a specific number of tickets for each student to allow family and friends to attend. Health officials gave a recommendation to keep attendance there limited, as it was indoors.

The board decided to keep volleyball limited to tickets upon entry — district passes cannot be used. Temperatures are taken by an iPad upon entry. Cross country will remain limited to immediate family with masks recommended if social distancing cannot be maintained. Again, children under the age of eighth grade need to be accompanied by an adult. There are currently no home girls tennis meets scheduled.

It was also the recommendation of the health officials that school remain in session on-site currently, due to low numbers in the county. Twombly advised that the hospital will be receiving the “rapid result” tests within the next week. However, they are 85 percent accurate for negative testing. She said if the test comes back positive, then it’s accurate, but if someone with two or more symptoms tests negative, then another test will be conducted with results not available for two-three days.

The hospital is working on staffing for its COVID clinic in preparation for the fall as more people are showing symptoms — which require testing. She said, that unfortunately, the Coronavirus symptoms are much the same as many other seasonal viruses or even some allergy symptoms. And as fall progresses into winter, there will be influenza cases popping up as well — also offering very similar symptoms.

Each school has a temperature kiosk to record staff and student temperatures upon entry and again halfway through the day. School staff is also monitoring other symptoms that may occur.

The School Board will meet again at 7 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 28 to re-evaluate any situations brought before the board.

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Hiawatha and other local schools announce positive COVID cases this week

As school has been in full swing for almost a month for many local schools, a few local districts — including Hiawatha — are reporting COVID-19 cases among staff and students this week.

Late Thursday, Hiawatha Superintendent Lonnie Moser sent out a statement to parents and district patrons that a staff member at Hiawatha Middle School had tested positive for COVID-19. According to Moser’s statement, the district was notified that day by the NEK Multi-County Health Department of the positive case.

“Per our established protocol, we have cleaned and disinfected all areas of the building the individual has used,” Moser said.

The district is also in contact with the Health Department to ensure effective contact tracing and to continue to take the steps necessary to protect the health of students and staff. The individual who tested positive will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days from on-set of symptoms.

Horton High School Superintendent Jason Cline reported a positive case of a high school staff member on Wednesday. In a letter to district patrons, Cline said that per district protocol, the portion of the building in use by that individual have been temporarily closed for extensive cleaning and disinfecting.

“We are also in contact with the Brown County Department of Health and take the steps necessary to provide the health of our students and staff,” he said. “The individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days.”

Five positive COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Prairie Hills USD 113 school district since Friday. The first case was reported Friday, a teacher at Sabetha High School. On Sunday, it was reported a student at the Wetmore center was positive. The third and fourth cases were reported Tuesday — a student at Sabetha Middle School and an adult employee at the Wetmore center. On Wednesday, district officials were notified of another student at the Wetmore Academic Center had tested positive.

The district officials stated that the areas impacted by the positive individuals were cleaned and disinfected and USD 113 said it is in contact with Nemaha County Community Health Services and will take the steps necessary to protect the health of its students and staff. Each individual who tested positive has to quarantine 10 days.

Atchison 409 public schools have announced two positive cases — announced Tuesday afternoon. According to district officials one student and one staff member have tested positive.

As of press time, Doniphan West had also not announced any positive cases, and Troy has confirmed one positive case Aug. 31.