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A 'Christmas Vacation' stop in Hiawatha

Hiawatha has its very own Clark Griswold.

Drive by 304 Choctaw and get the full effect of Karl and Kathy Kliewer’s holiday extravaganza — Christmas Vacation style.

Karl Kliewer is a fan of the Chevy Chase movie that came out in 1983 and depicts Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold — a hard-working average American father who wants to have the true family Christmas celebration with everyone invited to his house. Lots of fun Chevy Chase antics arise, but a focal point is the house, where Clark decorated the house with “250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights.”

Karl Kliewer may not have quite that many lights in his yard, but he comes close. The Kliewers moved to this house in December of 2001 and he said it was so close to Christmas time that he didn’t decorate a lot that year. Every year he put out a few more decorations and then one Christmas, about 15 years ago, Kathy came home with two inflatables.

“I had never seen those before and thought it was pretty neat,” he said. “They were 8 feet tall and all you had to do was plug them in!”

From there a true Clark Griswold was born. Every year they have added to their festive yard and are up to 9 inflatables among numerous other decorations. He said some inflatables along the way had to be replaced, due to wind and other weather issues that caused some damage.

Karl said he has a repair kit to patch the inflatables, replace lights but sometimes he has to say “forget it.”

One very large inflatable Santa over 12 feet tall stands near his back tree line and Karl said his lights had burned out long ago, so he just shines a spotlight on him and that works just fine. Santa is so tall that the wind catches him, so he ties him to a large tree stake to keep him stationary.

Kathy said she always knows what to buy her husband and after Christmas hits the sales to find lights and other decorations to add to the yard — or to replace something that has become weathered. Her most recent acquisitions were inflatables that paid homage to Christmas Vacation — the Griswold car with Christmas tree was added last year and this year she came home with Cousin Eddie’s RV.

The Kliewer yard slowly comes alive around 5 o’clock, but Karl said each of the sets of lights and inflatables are set to dusk, so as the sunlight diminishes each one comes on at a different time depending upon how the sun hits it.

Throughout the Kliewer yard you can find not only Christmas Vacation decorations — which the fried cat display came from a friend — but Disney and other traditional Christmas decorations as well. He has an inflatable of the traditional red truck toting a Christmas tree next to a countdown inflatable. Since Karl is a retired math teacher he likes to use math equations to add to his countdown. Such as 4 squared equals 16 days left until Christmas!

Karl also has the traditional manger scene on the east side of the house with a spotlight.

“We can’t forget the that,” he said.

Just like Clark Griswold, finding enough plug ins can be a challenge. He starts his decorations in October with the countdown inflatable first. Then every weekend he spends 10-15 hours working on the yard until everything is out by Thanksgiving.

He also has notebook that he details where everything was placed each year.

“And where it was plugged in,” he said. “That’s pretty important.”

Karl, who is part of the Christmas Vacation Facebook Fan Club, reminisced about last year’s present — a conversation with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo from the movie through Zoom.

“That was really fun,” he said.

He also likes to share Christmas Vacation quotes on Facebook as well, posting photos from around his yard.

The best part about going all out with lights and decorations is sharing Christmas with everyone who drives by. The Kliewers are gearing up for this week’s upcoming Merry and Bright Night, sponsored by the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau, from 6-9:30 p.m. on Saturday. Everyone is encouraged to Deck the Halls with lights and decorations and drive around to see the town.

Karl said anyone driving by his yard that night might be seeing the jolly old elf himself, along with a few of Santa’s helpers!

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Merry and Bright Night set for Saturday

The Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau is once again planning the Merry and Bright Night for Saturday, Dec. 18 and is asking local residents to go all out in decorating their houses and businesses.

The HCVB will create a map and on Saturday, Dec. 18, they are asking those signed up to have their lights on and decorations out from 6-9:30 p.m. The map will be posted on the Hiawatha Chamber Facebook page — find the link and follow the map around the community and turn on some Christmas tunes while you are at it! A flyer with lists of addresses of participating businesses and houses will also be available at Casey’s.

The HCVB welcomes lights and displays in the country as well.

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Powerful storm causes power outages, widespread damage

A powerful storm swept through Kansas Wednesday afternoon, bringing frigid temperatures, high winds and tornadoes along with a widespread power outage.

In Brown County, the high winds caused some serious damage to outbuildings, roofs, trees, vehicles and more. Sheriff John Merchant said he had not received any reports of serious injuries from the storm, however three semis did roll over due to the high winds.

He said two semis were at the junction of US 75 and US 36 Highways at Fairview and emergency personnel was on the scene for several years trying to open the highway. He said the drivers sustained minor injuries. Another semi rollover was just north of Hiawatha on U.S. 73 Highway near the junction of 250th.

Sheriff Merchant said power lines were down across the road, near 260th and U.S. 73 Highway, and they intersected so the road was shut down for a time to clear the road.

Sheriff Merchant said reports he had of the winds indicated that gusts reached up to 90 mph at some points.

“We couldn’t even stand up and had a hard time opening our vehicle doors,” he said. “It was some of the most horrendous wind that lasted so long.”

USD 415 Hiawatha schools dismissed early — at 1:30 p.m. — due to the high winds. Sheriff Merchant said he was in contact several times during the day with the superintendents of Hiawatha and South Brown County schools. He said he knows early dismissal causes some concern with parents, but said he backed USD 415’s decision wholeheartedly.

“We were told the more serious winds would be setting in at 3 o’clock and that’s about when the buses would go out,” he said. “Those buses were top heavy and they made the best decision for the safety of the students.”

Sheriff Merchant said the Hiawatha Fire Departments, along with other fire departments, Brown County Squad 48 and other emergency personnel — along with county citizens — were out for hours helping clear roads, put out fires from sparking wires and helping block roads. He also said he was appreciate of the help of the Kansas Department of Transportation, who came out to help block roads and put up signage.

“KDOT was huge in helping us,” Sheriff Merchant said. “A lot of people worked together. That’s what it takes — working together.”

In Hiawatha, five very large trees were casualties of the storm, in addition to some smaller ones, according to Police Chief John Defore.

“I was very thankful it wasn’t worse,” he said.

Chief Defore said the areas where the five large trees fell had to be blocked off and he said city street crews were out most of the night with the police department helping.

“We used just about every barricade and cone the city has,” he said.

Two major incidents occurred within the city, he said. At 706 Kickapoo, a large chunk of tree went through the roof of a house. He said there were no injuries and clean-up was occurring Thursday morning.

On Redwing Drive, a trampoline was airborne and got tangled in three separate power lines and a tree.

Chief Defore said there were no major fires, but said members of the fire department were out throughout the night checking on sparking wires. He said it was reported that wildfires from the storm out west had caused smoke to blow across the state and clear into Missouri.

Clean-up has already started in the city of Hiawatha and City Administrator advised that residents can place any limbs at curbside to be picked up. City crews will not go onto private property.

Also out west, I-70 was closed for several hours Wednesday due to the dust and debris the high winds were kicking up.

As of Thursday morning, power had been restored to most of Hiawatha and the Evergy Power Outage Map was showing areas north near Padonia and Reserve were still out, along with the community of Powhattan and country homes west of Hiawatha.

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Hiawatha Commission removes Fire Chief

The Hiawatha Commission met on Monday evening, and following a discussion voted to remove Gene Atland from the position of Fire Chief in a 3-2 vote.

The group held a discussion on the current appointed Fire Chief, and the ability of the city to allow the department to select their own candidate for the position.

Current Fire Chief Gene Atland was appointed without recommendation after the commission removed former Fire Chief Ryan Shockley in November 2019.

During his designated time at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Brian Shefferd said he understands that there has been a problem with the Fire Department for a while, and that he believes that the department should be able to select their own chief. After some procedural discussion, Shefferd motioned to remove Atland, which would allow the members of the Fire Department to vote for a qualified candidate to be recommended to the commission, who then would hold a vote for appointment. The commission discussed that the residence restrictions, determining how far out of town the Fire Chief can reside, are still in effect.

Shefferd’s motion was seconded by Commissioner David Middendorf. After calling for a vote, Commissioners Middendorf, Shefferd and Evans Woehlecke voted ‘aye’ with Commissioner Becky Shamburg and Mayor Bill Collins voting against the motion. The motion passed, removing Atland from the position immediately. Assistant Chief Paul Shaefer will be notified that he will be the Acting Fire Chief until a recommendation and appointment are made.

The commission also voted to extend the deadline for homes in progress that have been found to be in infringement of the Minimum Housing Code Violations. Dean Tollefson — the only property owner present — was given a six month extension, while the other properties were afforded an extension until April.

In other business:

The group also voted to approve plans for ARPA funds, which include engineering reimbursement for the sewer department, purchasing a generator for a lift station and air conditioning work for the Fisher Center, from the first round of funding. Also approved was a request from the city offices to move utility meter reading to no earlier than the 15th of the month to comply with billing software.

The commission voted to approve agreements with Sabetha Community Hospital for occupational assessments and PCE & drug testing services, as well as renewing firefighting services with the outlying communities, allowing for an extension through January of the current contract to allow the groups time to vote.

Commissioner Middendorf and Richard Jarvis were approved for renewed terms on the Tree Board, Floyd McElwain was appointed for a 3 year term on the Airport Board, and Middendorf was appointed as the City Commission’s representative on the Land Bank Board.

The Commission also voted to approve the hiring of a full-time Municipal Court Clerk, allowed a temporary permit for the Hiawatha Country Club to serve alcohol for the hospital New Years Eve fundraiser, donated 3 splash passes to the Hiawatha High School After Prom, approved a land lease renewal with the Brown County Historical Society for historical farming and voted to enter into an agreement with the Kansas Department of Children and Families to provide water and wastewater assistance payments. Also approved was an ordinance governing mobile food vendors inside city limits, along with an annual city salary and compensation ordinance.

The commission voted to approve the Consent Agenda, which included utility refunds in the amount of $162.45, payment to Tedrow Construction, LLC in the amount of $33,000.00, and payments to Crawford, Murphy & Tilly in the amounts of $2,000.00 and $3,000.00.

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School Board member resigns in protest of another's decision to move kids out of district

Hiawatha School Board member John Wright walked out of Monday night’s meeting — resigning the final month of his 20 years of service in protest of another school board member’s decision to move her children out of district.

The move came after Wright, along with board members Andrea Groth and Keith Erdley, were recognized and given plaques for their years of service. The December meeting was to be the last of these board members as newly elected officials were to take their positions in January. Wright had declined to run again and his position will be filled by Roni Tietjens. Erdley also had declined to run and his position was won by Jim Robidoux. Groth was narrowly defeated by Jacqueline Kerl.

All three exiting board members were recognized and given an opportunity to speak at the beginning of the meeting. Wright reflected on his years of service and how he had been initially elected as “the Redskin candidate” during the year of the change of the mascot and the accomplishments of the board during the time he had been on. Wright said his family goes way back in the School District and he is most proud of the accomplishments of the district.

Erdley said serving his term had been enlightening and he felt “honored to be a part of COVID,” taking part in tough decisions to continue the district’s education. Groth said she enjoyed being a part of the board and helping serve, not only during COVID, but in other aspects.

Following other staff recognitions, Wright turned the conversation to express concern that Groth had transferred her children from USD 415-Hiawatha to attend private school in another community, following a trend of late of several district families.

Wright told his fellow board members that he felt the board was “a family,” and he considered them friends. He said if he had a concern or disagreement then he wanted to bring it up. Wright said he felt situations had come up since the last board meeting he wanted to address. He said he talked to Groth personally prior to Monday’s meeting.

“As a parent I understand you can do what you want to do,” he said, noting that as a board member he felt that serving should be number one priority.

Wright said he didn’t feel comfortable sitting on the board with Groth as her move made it seem she did not have the dedication to the Hiawatha district. He said he had challenged her to resign her final month of service or he would resign in protest in her place.

Board President Tom Simmer encouraged Wright to reconsider, stating he had a lot to offer and he hoped he would fill out the remaining month of his term.

“I would consider it a privilege and an honor if you would stay on,” Simmer said, noting that he understood Wright’s feelings.

When Groth made no comment or any move to accept his challenge, Wright resigned and said he could not sit on the board with her and would take his plaque and leave. Board members thanked him for his years of service as he was leaving.

Algae in diesel tank leads to bus issues

Also at Monday night’s School Board meeting, board members discussed concerns over several buses breaking down. Superintendent Lonnie Moser said the first thought that the buses were gelling up — which happens to diesel engines during cold temperatures. But he said it didn’t make sense as the cold temperatures hadn’t settled in for consecutive days yet.

Because the issue seemed to be related to fuel, it was decided to bring someone in to test the underground tank at the bus barn. The district purchases a large quantity of fuel on an annual basis to fill this underground tank to supply all of the diesel to the buses, along with regular gasoline for district vans.

Testing on the underground tank — which was thought to have been installed in 1981 — revealed quantities of algae and bacteria that was most likely the culprit in the bus break-downs. The tank was treated and new diesel and gasoline brought in to fill so they hoped this would alleviate the issue, although it could take a few weeks for the new fuel and additives to cycle through.

Board member Ian Schuetz recommended that someone be on call at the bus barn during regular routes to be able to switch out buses if one would break down and there wouldn’t be a long delay in delivering kids either to school in the morning or home in the evening.

In other business:

The board approved the purchase of new Chromebooks — 240 of them to replace old ones at the elementary and middle schools. Esser 2 funds will be used for the purchase of $44,983.56.

As part of the Consent Agenda, the board approved Carl Parman as HHS Assistant Boys Basketball Coach, Kaitlyn Martinez as HES Para, the resignation of Christina Simpson as HES Nurse, Patricia Leeper and Myles Long as HHS Custodian, Samantha Reynolds as HES Custodian, Heather Gildersleeve as HES Nurse.

The board approved the purchase of 240 Chromebooks to replace existing ones at the elementary and middle schools, to be paid for from Esser 2 funds.

District Maintenance Director Chris Morey reported that engineers with the company BCS replacing the HVAC control systems would be on site later this week to start work, which is estimated to last 2 weeks. He said the HVAC systems would not be down during the replacements.

Morey also updated the board on snow removal plans, noting the district contracts with Aller LLC to be on call for heavier snows. He said Aller charges $125 per hour, per machine and to clear large snows from the parking lots costs approximately $1,000. He is only brought in if the district maintenance equipment can’t keep up with heavier snows.

There was concern over an excessive natural gas usage reported at the HMS and Morey reported that a sensor had gone bad on a boiler and the problem had been alleviated with help of Kansas Gas.

Morey reported that gas and diesel had been delivered to fill the tanks at a combined cost of $18,975 from Ag Partners. He said the tanks are filled twice a year.

Morey reported on issues with needed repairs at the district greenhouse. He said the greenhouse was inspected and would need about $8,000-$10,000 in repairs, however those could not be made until May or June. He said the company who inspected the greenhouse is making some minor repairs and installing extra thermostats so the greenhouse can be utilized through the spring growing season. He said the more extensive repairs would be made next summer and the ag teacher Jean Wege reported she had received a grant to help with the cost.

Curriculum Director Jean Abeita was joined by teachers from each facility to provide a report on the STEM program.

In his Superintendent report, Moser reported on COVID numbers within the schools, noting that as of that night only 3 positive cases were reported. He said numbers were posted weekly on the district website.

Moser made mention of the Career Days held recently at the middle and high schools, noting it was well received. Simmer said he felt the event should be held twice a year with fewer businesses at each event in order to allow students to visit with more businesses.

Moser updated on the JAG program, noting that one student was a national officer and was able to visit Washington DC for the annual meeting. He also reported on recent music concerts, noting that attendance wasn’t quite what it was before COVID, but noted the quality and work from the teachers and students was good. He said HHS concerts were last week and this week will be HMS concerts.

Moser also updated that finals were starting this week and there will be a full day of school on Tuesday the 21st.

Moser also told the board members that the Teammates Mentoring Program at the middle school was back on track after a break due to COVID and that training for volunteers was happening.

Special Education Director Becky Shamburg was present and asked the board not appoint new board members to the Interlocal board until the January meeting, due to the timing of meetings.

District patrons Larry Stover and Virgil Hallauer spoke during public comment section, asking about the Diversity Council, expressing concern over books allowed in schools and Hallauer put in a request to inspect the books in the district libraries.

The board held Executive Sessions for nearly 2 hours, going into a 20-minute session on Attorney-Client privileges, a 5-minute session for Negotiations and two 30-minute sessions and another 15-minute session on non-elected personnel. No action was taken following.

Photo By Joey May

HHS band instructor Jarod Estrada directs the Jazz Band in a selection at last Thursday night’s concert that also included a performance by the Concert Band. See Page 9 of today’s edition for more on the concert. The Hiawatha Middle School Concert is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 20 at the HHS auditorium at 7 o’clock. The public is invited.