2018 Year in Review

by Charles Gerian

How would you describe 2018?

As we enter the New Year, the Blackwell Journal-Tribune would like to thank you, our loyal readers and advertisers, for your support during this year. Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane and look back at some of the big stories we shared with you during 2018.

In January, the J-T reported on how the Blackwell Police Department helped a family that was in need during Christmas. Dayle McGaha, who served as the publisher of the J-T from 1980 – 2000 and has now returned to be a columnist, was the first “Person of the Week” for the year.

Also in January, the Blackwell Associated Charities Food Bank collected more than 60 lbs. of food to donate to Blackwell families. Blackwell High School later named the recipients of its basketball and wrestling royalty awards for the year. Towards the middle of the month, members of the Blackwell Ag Boosters Club raised over $19,000 for local 4H and FFA chapters at their annual trophy auction, and several members of the Blackwell High School Vocal Department performed in the All-State Choir concert in Tulsa. Closing out the first month of the year, the Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet, and the J-T's “Best of Kay County” award winners were chosen. Cesar Angel Valenciano was charged in the May 2017 shooting death of Christopher Connolly.

In February, Blackwell Elementary School students celebrated the 100th day of school. The Blackwell portion of the nationwide “Barn Quilt Trail” debuted. The Blackwell Police Department also made the news by arresting two Texas residents who had embarked on a crime spree in the Midwest. Later in the month, Central National Bank donated $1,000 to Kara's Game, and Blackwell residents took to the polls to vote “No” on a proposed hotel-motel tax increase. Emma Dice and Jaime Ridenour were named valedictorian and salutatorian at BHS. February ended with the selection of Blackwell’s 2018 Girls State delegates. The 92nd annual 4H and FFA livestock show was held at the Kay County Fairgrounds.

In March, choirs from Blackwell High School advanced to the state choir contest, and Blackwell Public Schools’ Bart Cox and Vicki Johnson were named the top teachers in the district for the year. The Top of Oklahoma Museum on Main Street hosted the official unveiling of the Top of Oklahoma Barn Quilt Trail. Toward the end of the month, the Blackwell Board of Education began discussing the impending statewide teacher walkout. Doyce Boesch was named the Blackwell Public School Foundation’s Hall of Fame inductee for the year. Wrapping up the month, the Blackwell Youth Center remained open during the week in order to accommodate children who were displaced by the 10-day walkout, which aimed to bring about teacher pay raises and increased funding for education across the state.

In April, the Blackwell Police Department pressed drug charges against Ashley Mies, Michell Longston, Delana Counterman, and Brandon Chambers. The charges were brought about after officers initiated a traffic stop on a car with nine people in it. Choirs from Blackwell High School then went to the state choir competition in Shawnee, bringing home three “Superior” ratings and one “Excellent” rating. In April, the teacher walkout entered its second week while students from Blackwell High School took a trip to Peru with BHS Spanish teacher Sherri Swafford. The community of Blackwell also welcomed BOSTD Geosynthetics, a plastics manufacturer.

In mind-April, the Elk's Lodge donated $1,500 to Kara's Game. Blackwell resident Jonathan Fink was arrested after a high-speed chase that ended in a crash. The BHS prom was also held. The community-wide “Trash-Off,” which aimed to clean up Blackwell’s streets, was held. Ashley Mies, Lamario Stillwell, Kelsea Baker, and Louisa Walkingsky were arrested on drug offenses related to the possession of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

In May, Kara's Game honored the Stafford family after the passing of Caden Stafford. Casey’s General Store, a nationwide gas station chain, also announced plans to open up shop in Blackwell. Mayor T.J. Greenfield held the city's first FOCUS meeting “to answer questions about progress in Blackwell.” Graduation was held at BHS. The First United Methodist Church was broken into, and $2,500 worth of computers and other items were stolen. The nearby community of Deer Creek welcomed a new mercantile, and the BJ-T resurrected its “Yard of the Week” segment. May ended with the annual opening of the Blackwell Memorial Pool.

The month of June began as the “Run for the Fallen,” a marathon honoring members of the military who were killed in action, came through Blackwell en route to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. The Iron Horse Restaurant also opened in June, closing just months later. John Gerian was honored for his 13 years of service as Blackwell's animal control officer, and RCB Bank held a customer appreciation event. The First United Methodist Church held a free eye examination clinic. June drew to a close with EDF Renewable Energy making a $5,000 donation to Blackwell Middle School's cheerleaders, allowing them to purchase new uniforms. The June 26 election was held. Richard Jernigan retired from his 45-year career with the city of Blackwell.

July was kick-started by the annual Fourth of July parade on Main Street. Blackwell High School student Britany Harth competed in the NRA Youth Adventure Camp's shooting competition. Near the middle of the month, the murder of Deepkuner Bhakta, 25, at the Best Way Inn in Blackwell rocked the community. The incident received the attention of local law enforcement agencies, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and state news channels. Near the end of the month, local law enforcement agencies met at Blackwell High School and held various training exercises. And, following weeks of controversy, the Blackwell City Council reached an agreement with the Blackwell Fraternal Order of Police to maintain a minimum of 15 officers on the police force after positions within the police department were on the chopping block during a summer characterized by the city’s budget shortfalls.

In August, the First United Methodist Church donated seven “Cool Cop” air-hoses to the police department. The hoses are designed to cool the body armor worn by officers during hot summer months. The United Way’s annual “Stuff the Bus” drive was held. August ended with the United Way’s fundraising kick-off breakfast as Blackwell students returned to school from summer break.

In September, Blackwell teachers launched a new fundraising campaign to buy books for students, and the Top of Oklahoma Museum celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Strip. A new apartment complex opened up for business. Back at BHS, Blake Bergman was named Maroon Spirit, and Maggie Brown was named Miss BHS. The school’s annual Homecoming ceremonies were held following the 101st annual Kay County Free Fair.

In October, the Kay County Farm Bureau Banquet held its annual banquet as torrential rains came through Blackwell, causing widespread flooding. Local veteran Felicia Ingram was named the parade marshal for the Veteran's Day Parade. Local police and fire departments held a training exercise in conjunction with the Blackwell Regional Hospital. The Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad also announced that it had started shipping products for two local companies.

November began with Ryan Taylor opening a new insurance agency through Farmer's Insurance, while the City Council approved plans allowing a hemp nursery to set up shop in town. Early November also saw the first snow of the season. Luis Octavio Frias was added to the U.S. Marshal Service's 15 Most Wanted criminals list for his suspected involvement in the murder of former Blackwell police officer Janett Reyna. In mid-November, Blackwell City Manager Thomas “Chip” Outhier retired unexpectedly and left Blackwell within the span of a few days. The City Council has yet to hire a permanent replacement. November ended with city workers hanging up Christmas wreaths and décor on Main Street. Also, the Associated Charities held a coat-drive in an effort to give warm clothing to those in need. Wrapping up November, the Rock Falls Wind Farm announced it would pay the property taxes it owed to local school districts following a months-long debate over whether it legally had to do so. The Blackwell Economic Development Authority was involved with the wind farm, which was situated in the school districts of Deer Creek-Lamont and Newkirk.

In December, Casey's General Store opened in Blackwell, and the annual “Night of Lights” Christmas parade was held. The Blackwell Board of Education voted to ban medical marijuana on school grounds, and Prairie Smoke BBQ came under new ownership. The month came to a close with the news that the Blackwell Regional Hospital would be pursuing remodeling plans.