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Former county commissioner, restaurant owner Steve Roberts passes away

Former Brown County Commissioner Steven D. Roberts, who was also owner of the Country Cabin Restaurant of rural Hiawatha, has passed away.

Roberts died on Saturday, Dec. 26 at the age of 67. He was born Nov. 1, 1953 in Marysville, the son of Jim and Cleta Patton Roberts. He graduated from Marysville High School in 1971 and attended Missouri Western College.

He married his high school sweetheart Marlys Tjaden in 1973 — they were together for 42 years.

Roberts began his lifelong career in meat cutting when he started working at Heidman’s Locker in Seneca in 1973 and in 1975 went to work at Johnson’s Locker in Hiawatha. Roberts worked for Lindy’s Thriftway in the meat department for many years. He owned Roberts’ Retail Liquor, was a partner in CR Rentals, catered out of his own and owned Daylight Donuts in Marysville, along with his parents.His final business endeavor was The Country Cabin, his lifelong dream, which he owned and operated until his untimely death.

Roberts also served as a Brown County Commissioner for 20 years; highlights of his years on the commission were construction of the law enforcement center, new windows in the Brown County Courthouse, and the Rulo, Nebraska Bridge.

Survivors include a daughter Alicia, a son Philip and their children, along with Maryls and a brother.

Friends may call at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home in Hiawatha From 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2. The family will be present to visit friends from 2 until 6 p.m. Saturday at the Country Cabin, 2534 Kestral Road, Hiawatha.

For the full obituary go to www.chapeloaksfuneralhome.com.

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Calhoon retires as Boller steps in as Horton Police Chief

The City of Horton announced this month that Chief of Police John Calhoon will be retiring from the position at the end of the year.

Calhoon as been pulling double duty as Horton’s Police Chief and City Administrator for a few years now, and will be staying on as the City Administrator, while Assistant Police Chief Jonathan Boller will step into the role of Chief of Police.

Calhoon has spent the majority of his law enforcement career in Brown and Atchison Counties, starting his career with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, and spending 16 years with the Horton Police Department and nearly 19 years as the Atchison County Sheriff. Calhoon also spent time as a Captain at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. He has been back with the Horton PD since 2013.

The City will host a small reception at the Horton Community Blue Building at 716 1st Avenue West in Horton from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31. For those wishing to send cards, they can be addressed to the Horton Police Department at 205 East 8th Street, Horton, Kansas 66439.

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Ice storm knocks out power for some, downs limbs

Northeast Kansas was blanketed with a coat of ice on Tuesday as a winter storm swept through the state.

Accumulations of ice were anywhere from a quarter to a half of an inch in the area — with some heavier in Northwest Missouri and around St. Joseph.

Several local residents were without power as ice weighed heavy on power lines and falling limbs caused some issues as well. According to Evergy’s power outage map, there were just a handful of local residents still without power Tuesday evening and most of those were restored later that night or by Wednesday.

The ice weighed heavy on tree limbs and many had fallen into roadways and also contributed to downed power lines. In Hiawatha, city crews were seen early canvassing the town to move any limbs that might be obstructing roadways.

Hiawatha Police Chief John Defore said fortunately, his officers did not report any accidents within city limits, but assisted in removing some limbs from city streets throughout the evening Tuesday.

Out in the county, there were some reported slide-offs and some limbs down, but the incidents were not serious, according to Sheriff John Merchant.

“Brown County was very fortunate during this ice storm,” he said. “We had several slide offs with no injuries reported, KDOT were quick to salt the roadways, making travel a lot safer. We had limbs down across most of the county. Several areas reported power outages and utility companies did a great job restoring power.”

Weather Wednesday and Thursday was partly sunny with another winter storm predicted for the first day of 2021 — as meteorologists called for anywhere from 3-6 inches of snow for Northeast Kansas.

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County rescinds mask mandate

Despite a recommendation from hospital and county health officials to keep the county mask mandate in effect until Jan. 18 to allow adequate time following all holiday gatherings the Brown County Commission voted 3-0 to rescind the mask mandate that has been in effect since Nov. 16.

This goes into effect on Monday — however, the mask mandate in the City of Hiawatha remains in effect until such time the Hiawatha City Commission would make a decision to rescind it. In addition, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska has issued a statement that they are NOT rescinding their mandate and masks ARE required on the reservation.

The vote was made at Monday morning’s regular commission meeting, after the commissioners heard from County Health Officer Robin Downard, Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg and two South Brown County residents.

Downard reported the county COVID figures as 977 total positive cases with 58 active and 28 deaths — according to Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports. She noted that the hospital and the testing site at Horton would most likely be pretty busy this week following the long weekend.

Downard reported also that the positivity rate had declined since the mask mandate had gone into effect Nov. 16 — from 30 percent and more down to 8 percent the week of Dec. 6, 11 percent the week of Dec. 13 and 27 percent the week of Dec. 20. She noted the positivity rate was meant to reflect the number of positive cases was increasing — but rather the positivity rate is a percentage of those who are getting tested. She noted that overall testing had declined in recent weeks and Broberg agreed the COVID Clinic at the hospital had seen fewer patients in recent weeks.

On Nov. 16, the commission voted to align the county with the state’s mask mandate and no longer opt out — which was a decision made in July when the county had 18 cases at that time. In November alone, the county added 500 positive cases and hospital resources were stretched thin, in addition to Broberg’s concern that being able to transfer patients to higher levels of care was very limited.

The mask mandate was extended on Dec. 3 to Dec. 28 — which was this week’s meeting where Downard and Broberg both recommended extending the mask mandate until Jan. 18 to allow at least 14 days following New Year’s Day in order to evaluate the impact that holiday gatherings would have on the active cases within the county.

Broberg told commissioners that in November, the county saw a significant spike that was very challenging for healthcare providers as 500 positive cases were added in that month alone — whereas it took 8 months to record the first 300 positive cases.

He said since the mask mandate went into effect, the numbers of reporting positive cases had been on a decline — making a difference for the healthcare system and noted that by continuing that mandate it would continue to help keep the situation under control.

Broberg shared information that based on the percentage of cases — roughly 10 percent for the county’s population of nearly 10,000 people — this placed Brown County as third in the highest when look at states. The positivity rate in the county is actually higher than the state positivity rate.

Other information concerning the number of deaths was shared to the commission, showing that Brown County was in the top 10 of all Kansas counties based on the number of deaths. Nemaha County was also among the top 10.

Downard also confirmed that a majority of the 28 recorded deaths so far had been attributed to a nursing home in South Brown County. She said, that due to HIPPA guidelines she could not share specific numbers and other information.

Downard said the drive through clinic that opened last week at the Horton Armory would continue testing through this week, but unless CARES Act funding was renewed after Dec. 31, she didn’t think it would continue the following week. She warned that positive cases within the county could increase based on the increased testing there.

Downard told commissioners that other local counties still had mask mandates in effect — some until the first part of January and others indefinitely.

“Let’s keep our kids in school and those of us in the community can help by wearing masks,” Downard said.

Two residents from South Brown County joined the meeting via Zoom, and challenged the commission to rescind the mask mandate. Lucas Heinen questioned the science behind wearing masks and the date provided by Broberg. He said the mask mandate — along with other guidelines that have gone along with the COVID-19 pandemic — have created challenges for communities and business owners.

He questioned why hospital employees were testing positive if they were wearing the proper equipment. Broberg replied that due to the virus now being community spread it is hard to pinpoint exposures and that’s why the wearing of masks is so important to help mitigate the spread. Broberg also noted that the hospital has continued to evaluate it’s procedures to keep the virus from spreading among employees.

Broberg told the commission that the concern had spread from the COVID pandemic to a worldwide health crisis and urged the commissioners to keep the mask mandate in effect.

“Sometimes you just have to believe and show some action,” he said. “Look at the effect the action has had on Brown County.”

Another Horton area resident — Rex Lockwood — also joined the meeting and asked the commissioners to rescind the mask mandate. He said that prior to COVID, the residents of the county had a choice and asked what right the commissioners had to take away those choices. He said nursing home residents and patients were being kept from their loved ones and ministers in their last hours.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl said he had heard from numerous residents on both sides and even had received some “hate mail” for his recent decisions on the COVID guidelines.

Lehmkuhl said he felt they were past the two major holidays and that the number of active cases was low. He said he felt that if people were sick they knew to stay home. He said he was in favor of lifting the mask mandate and reopening the courthouse, as he had numerous calls from local residents who have had difficulty getting their county business accomplished. Lehmkuhl also questioned on whether the mask mandate was being enforced.

Broberg reminded that there are a considerable number of asymptomatic patients with COVID — and these people spread the highly effective virus with no knowledge. He also noted that Christmas just happened and another major gathering holiday — New Year’s Eve — was coming up and realistically the health officials need to get at least 14 days past those concerning dates before being able to accurately evaluate the impact of those holiday gatherings.

Commissioner Keith Olsen — who has voted against the mask mandate previously — said he felt it should be a person choice and it was his opinion the county rescind it.

Commissioner Dwight Kruse said he had concern about what the holiday numbers would be and was in favor of following the recommendations of Broberg and Downard, but ended up voting in favor of the motion to rescind the mask mandate.

The video of the meeting is available for viewing on the Brown County Kansas Government Facebook site.

In other business:

The commission also voted 3-0 to reopen the courthouse to the public as of Jan. 4, for regular hours of 8-4:30 p.m. Masks are required, due to the city mask mandate, and each department will be responsible for setting limits of customers.

The commission also voted 3-0 to rescind the resolution restricting mass gatherings within the county.

County Attorney Kevin Hill asked for a moment of silence to remember Steve Roberts, former county commissioner and restaurant owner, who passed away over the weekend.

“He served the county well for a number of years and a number of people are hurting today with his passing,” he said.

Brown County Emergency Manager, Don Pounds, and Brown County Treasurer, Cheryl Lippold, discussed checks that need to be written to different entities to disperse SPARKS funds.

Brandon Roberts, Brown County resident, requested a six month extension on his property that is enrolled in the NR program.

The commission voted to offer the position of director of the JJA/ACC (Juvenile and Adult Community Corrections) to Chris Denner at $55,000 effective Dec. 28. The commission voted to offer the deputy director position to Vicki Hubin at a pay rate of $45,000.

The commission discussed the nurse at the front door. As of now, the last day for the nurse is Dec. 31. The commission will leave it up to the new board to decide to keep that position.

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'My Mom - this wasn't the year she was supposed to die'

A Hiawatha native lost her battle with COVID-19 this past week – just three days before Christmas.

Diann Mendez Windmeyer Hall was one of roughly 200 people who has died (as of Dec. 22) due to COVID-related reasons in Shawnee County since the pandemic began and one of 2,000 in the state. But her kids want the community where she grew up to know their mother is much more than a statistic.

She was a real person and her family was robbed of time with her by COVID-19.

Hall, who passed away Dec. 22 at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, was born Oct. 29 in Hiawatha – the daughter of Joaquin and Jessie Robidoux Mendez. She graduated from Hiawatha High School in 1970. Hall was a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, whom she helped with bookkeeping and writing grants. She moved to Topeka in 2000 to become a caregiver for the elderly.

She married Fredrick Windmeyer in 1973, who died in 2003 as a victim in a drunk driving incident. Years later, she remarried to Ray Hall.

Windmeyer said he has lived in Charlotte, N.C. For the past 20 years, and has visited his mother frequently. When March and the pandemic came, he and his sister tried to educate his mother on the importance of being safe – getting her a mask and trying to keep her home. However, despite their efforts, Hall became sick in mid-November.

Windmeyer remembered receiving a call from his mother on Nov. 12 when she told him of a headache.

He called daily and purchased his mother an oximeter to track her oxygen levels. For the first several days she was mostly tired and had a headache, he said. By Day 8 or 9 she developed a really bad cough and Windmeyer urged her to go see the doctor. On Day 9, she went to the Emergency Room and she had developed pneumonia.

“What’s sad about COVID, you have to literally drop off your family member at the front door and she had to go in by herself,” he said. “I just picture her going to the hospital all alone.”

Nov. 22 was the day she went in to the hospital. For 2 ½ weeks, her oxygen levels had decreased and the COVID “tore up her lungs.” After several days, her condition improved and the ventilator was removed.

“She was doing well for about 3 days, they took her out of ICU and all of a sudden her organs began to fail,” Shane continued.

Hall was put back on the ventilator, along with other machines, but her condition only continued to worsen and she passed away on Dec. 22.

Hall’s physicians said she was allowed visitors toward the end — as since she had been there 30 days she wasn’t infectious with COVID any longer — mainly dealing with the effects the virus had on her body. Jennifer – who lived in Texas – was able to arrive first and Shane jumped on a plane and got to Topeka just in time to spend 4 hours with his mother before she passed away. When they arrived he said they played Christmas music, watched Hallmark movies, they brushed her hair, kissed her and held their mother’s hands during her last hours.

“In my mind I think she waited for us both to be there before she passed on,” he said.

Windmeyer said the nurses and others who care for COVID patients are angels, but it is so hard not to be with loved ones. He said hospitalized patients with COVID-19 sit there by themselves during their illnesses and are by themselves in their last hours if their condition becomes fatal.

Windmeyer wants people to take this virus seriously. Despite urging their mother to take stringent precautions, she still contracted the virus by coming contact with someone positive. He said many people who have either no symptoms, or very mild symptoms, are creating the problem because they don’t take the virus seriously. Windmeyer said he advocates for masks, as they help contain the spread of the virus.

“This isn’t just about me losing my mother – this is a deadly virus and a pandemic taking away so many people,” he said.

Windmeyer said leadership and sacrifice is needed in order to get the pandemic under control and he doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for people to see the big picture as “the pandemic is not over, by any means.”

“What COVID has shown us is there are very selfish people in our country,” he said.

Windmeyer said he loves his hometown and wants to share the story of his mother with the residents and ask them to remember the ones who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“I want to speak out – people need to hear the pain and the sacrifice,” he said. “I love Hiawatha and I believe in the people here. If someone would just have an honest conversation with people and they would see the suffering, I think things would change.”

Windmeyer – who was in Hiawatha at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home on Monday – said he was disappointed when he learned that the county commissioners voted that morning to rescind the mask mandate that had been in effect since Nov. 16. He said at the very least, a mask mandate should not waver and community leaders should go above and beyond and suggested creating a Memorial Wall in Hiawatha and other neighboring communities to honor those who passed away due to COVID-19.

“People have to visualize it to understand it – like 9-11 – there is a wall, where people can see how many people died,” he said.

Windmeyer said the community needs to come together and be there for the families of the victims of COVID-19. He commended the City of Hiawatha for implementing a mask mandate to help keep the citizens safe.

“The city and county leaders need to lead and not cave in to pressure,” he said. “Follow the advice of the medical experts. Masks are proven to be effective.”

Windmeyer said the pandemic is not a political issue, but the people of the nation have made it one. He said the issue is about keeping yourself and others safe from a serious illness, potential death and mitigating the continued spread of COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask is not a big deal – it’s not that hard to understand why we need to,” he said. “My Mom — this wasn’t the year she was supposed to die.”

Hall was honored at services at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home in Hiawatha. Due to the weather and concern over COVID-19, there was not a family visitation. Windmeyer said they were concerned about people gathering and so will plan a Celebration of Life at a later date.

Survivors of Hall include her husband Ray; four sisters — Delores, Josephine, Nancy and Paula, along with five brothers — Joaquin, Anthony (Tony), Alvino, Timothy and Paul. To view the full obituary go to www.chapeloaksfuneralhome.com.