Here’s to a new year, new start

Allen County residents share their hopes for a brighter future, starting in 2021.

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December 31, 2020 - 10:24 AM

When the calendar flipped to 2020, Americans were ready to greet the new year with a hearty cheer. Many made resolutions to eat healthier, be friendlier or find ways big and small to make the world a better place.

Of course, nobody had an inkling the looming global pandemic would tip the world on its ear.

Soon quarantine, social distancing and face masks became a part of the “new norm.” Schools closed their doors for a time, while businesses were left to contend with a stunning drop in activity. (Some closed their doors and never reopened.)

Tack on one of the nastier presidential elections in recent memory, and more than a few are happy to say “good riddance” to what 2020 had to offer.

But as is our nature, hopes for a brighter future persist. 

Life is slowly coming back to normal, even with plenty of questions remaining on how the country will emerge from the pandemic.

News that most Americans will have access to vaccines protecting us from the novel coronavirus (eventually) is the latest indication that we may once again be able to frequent restaurants, gather with loved ones or simply offer a hearty handshake.

With that in mind, the Register reached out to several in the community about how the past year has inspired them to become more involved in the community, or take part in broader movements, as well as their goals and resolutions for the upcoming year.

Their comments follow.

Randy Rasa

“2020 re-emphasized for me the value of our local trail network, especially when many of our regular activities were severely limited by safety concerns and the necessity of social distancing,” writes Randy Rasa, cycling enthusiast and trails manager of the Lehigh Portland Trails complex. 

“I’ve been encouraged to see a growing community of people who use our trails nearly daily, for family outings, for nature hikes, for dog walks, for exercise and athletic training, or just a bit of serenity,” he said. “People really do seem to love our trails. 

“Most rural Kansas communities don’t have easy access to high-quality trails and publicly-accessible natural areas, and I hope people recognize and appreciate that,” he concluded.

His plans for 2021 and beyond are to continue to maintain, improve and expand our Allen County trail system and outdoor spaces. 

“If people want to get involved, I encourage them to contact Thrive Allen County and volunteer,” Rasa said. “There are some exciting new projects in the works!”

Tracy Keagle

HUMANITY House has had no down time during the pandemic, notes Tracy Keagle, the organization’s executive director

“We closed our doors to the public in mid-March but kept our food pantry, utility and rent assistance and kitchen up and running,” she noted. “Throughout the summer, fall and into winter we have had food box distributions through the Farmers to Family program.”

The program provided 60 boxes of fresh produce with each distribution, a number that eventually doubled.

“Recently we received 180 food boxes,” Keagle said. “Each distribution never lasted more than an hour.”

The Humanity House Community Garden yielded over 10,000 pounds of produce that was given away during pantry hours and through distributions. With families being quarantined, employers cutting back on hours, businesses closing and sickness, food insecurity is hitting lots of folks, Keagle noted. 

“The stimulus package that increased the amount of SNAP benefits to the full benefit that a family would receive if they had no income, reduced the numbers of people who normally use the pantry,” she said. “What we did find is that the number of folks who have never used a pantry before increased greatly. 

“Though it is terrible that people are struggling, we have found that for some it was an eye-opener on how you can be doing all of the right things and your life can still be blindsided by something out of your control,” Keagle said. “We saw and heard compassion and understanding from folks who before had a narrow view of what struggling with money and food insecurity does to a person. 

“What we missed this year was the connections that we have always made with those who come through our doors,” she said. “To sit and have a cup of coffee and chat for awhile, for a group to come in and fold bags and talk about what was going on in their lives, the classes that had the participants in stitches and those that made us think about our lives. We have missed those things deeply. We have missed the  one-on-one interaction that is so important. The person can tell you what is happening in their lives, unburden themselves and be made to feel that everything is going to be OK. This enables us to find more ways that we can help the individual or family.   

“We look forward to the day we can once again open our doors to the community. Kindness and connection are the cornerstone of Humanity House.” 

Bob Johnson

FORMER Register scribe Bob Johnson writes, “My goals for 2021 are for personal improvement, both physically, mentally and philosophically,” including: 

“Refrain from prejudging people. Forming opinions early on is a mistake I have been guilty of, often to find later how mistaken I was.

“Many folks pledge to lose weight in a new year. I want to keep from gaining weight, while eating healthier and exercising more wisely. My hobbies of hunting artifacts and metal detecting take me outdoors often and onto countryside trails – including one day recently when the wind boiled across the countryside and the temperature was in the low 40s. I’m delighted wife Beverly sees the value of my meanderings.

“Read often to keep the grey matter percolating. Good books provide more adventure and information than anything available on a screen.

“Finally, I vow to give more time to the Lord by reading my Bible often. And, most of all, to be kind and considerate in all things that involve Beverly. My fervent hope is that each person in our little corner of the world has a wonderful new year, safe from coronavirus and other maladies and rejoicing in all that is daily life.”

Nich Lohman

“MY GOAL for 2021 is to relearn all of the socializing skills I’ve lost in 2020,” writes Nich Lohman. “With all of the quarantining in 2020, I haven’t spent time around friends or any gathering of people most of the year.”

Stacey Fager

Stacey Fager, USD 257 superintendent of schools, admits he was never much on listing new year resolutions in the past.

“However, if anything, this past year has reinforced the necessity to be flexible, take new information openly as it presents itself, and then adjust to do the best job you can possibly do,” he said, pointing to how the school district has operated since March.

“I commend the commitment from our BOE, administration, faculty, staff, students  and parents as we have worked through countless obstacles to provide an outstanding learning environment this past semester,” he said. “But we know these challenges will continue into the second semester and we have to stay the course.

“There is so much to celebrate with the outstanding things happening in the Iola School District,” Fager said. “I am just so happy to have a small part in it.”

Paige Olson

Paige Olson of Piqua expressed gratitude for her life’s blessings big and small.

“I’m thankful for the resources and opportunities I have,” she said. “I am very fortunate to have a strong family support system and a job that is supportive and a group of friends who are really understanding. A lot of people don’t have that, so I am focusing on using what resources I have to help other people.”

Relationships will remain a top priority in 2021, Olson said. “I want to re-evaluate the relationships I have in my life and strengthen those I feel have weakened over the past year.”

Jessica Qualls

Jessica Qualls, manager of Around the Corner Coffee Shop, is a bit more succinct. 

“I’m working on surviving the year,” she said.

Iola Mayor Jon Wells lists a number of simple, yet ambitious, goals for the upcoming year.

“I would say the past year has definitely been a challenge,” he said. “One thing I’m going to work on is focusing on spiritual, mental and physical well-being.”

Bruce Symes

ALLEN COUNTY Commissioner Bruce Symes points to his faith in the coming year.

“As weird as this year has been, it really only drives home for me what I ought to keep in

 mind every year, that we’re fragile, flawed, temporary and desperately in need of God’s grace,” Symes said. “You can look at specific headlines but generally they show those three things. But thankfully we also have seen locally and worldwide the positive effects of God’s love when people help other people. As I go into the new year I want to stay humble and thankful to God and try to be His light as I can.”

Ken McGuffin

Ken McGuffin, retired school administrator, said, “The pandemic and politics have reaffirmed the notion to never take anything for granted again,” he said. “Value each sunrise and sunset and try to find something positive about every single day I am given.

“The words of John Donne ring out to me, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ I think about that often especially with all the politics surrounding mask wearing and the necessary steps needed to rid ourselves of this virus.”

Teresa Weatherbie, rural LaHarpe, said Americans are getting ahead of themselves if they think the election has been decided.

“The election’s not a done deal yet and this paper is nothing but the National Inquirer,” Weatherbie wrote on a Facebook post. “This paper is so democratic it’s ridiculous.”

MaryLou Barnett

MaryLou Barnett, meanwhile, is focused on a healthier diet— eventually.

“As soon as the holiday cookies, etc. are gone, I will go back to eating better,” she joked.

Alana Cloutier

ALANA CLOUTIER tossed her hat into the world of politics with her unsuccessful bid for a State Legislature seat. The experience was illuminating, she said.

“Running for office was an excellent reminder that social media is not real life,” she said. “The division that exists on Facebook is not as wide when you’re out in the real world. When I announced that I was running for the Kansas House of Representatives I had a lot of people tell me that I was brave, that as a woman, and a Democrat, running in a rural district was going to be nonstop nasty comments, or potentially unsafe. I did get a few rude comments on Facebook, but for the most part, people were very nice and supportive. 

“National politics is not on a lot of people’s radar, in fact, if you talk to people in person, most are more annoyed about potholes than Pelosi, their complaints are local, not national,” she continued. “Most people I met were happy to have someone ask their opinion, to talk about issues with, or to just vent. Because of Covid-19 I didn’t spend every Saturday knocking on doors, but the conversations I had over the phone, or if I was out delivering a sign or putting up door hangers were the highlight of the campaign. More politicians up and down the ballot need to get out and talk to people, and not make assumptions about what their top issues are.”

Her goals for 2021 include more togetherness.

“And not just because I miss seeing friends and family,” she said. “I love seeing big projects happen in Allen County, because I know those groups are a mix of every part of the political spectrum working together to make something for the community, which is how it should be! If 2020 made one thing clear, it’s that we are better when we work on something as a group.” 

Damaris Kunkler

DAMARIS Kunkler entered 2020 intent on spending more time with her daughter, who was in the midst of her senior year of high school. 

“The pandemic slowed everything down,” Kunkler recalled. “I wanted more time with my daughter, and then bam! We were on lockdown together.

“It gave me the opportunity to really get to know her,” she said. “We became teammates around the house. She hated cooking so much she offered to do the dishes every day. Oh yes, you better believe I left my cereal bowl everywhere — paybacks!

“We talked about life, current events, and screamed at Covid from our back porch,” she continued. “We also danced. She introduced me to Tik Tok. We hiked. “

There was no way to turn away from it, but this slower paced time opened up Kunkler’s creative energy, too.

“I wrote so much music,” she said. “I painted. I learned how to navigate through many different digital platforms. Made jewelry. Recorded. Learned harmonica. It made me think of that saying that everything is not created or destroyed. I have so much energy, it has to be expressed somehow so it was cool to get to know myself without so many distractions. My energy manifested creatively.”

Her goals for 2021?

“To continue to grow musically,” Kunkler said. “To stay current with technology. Be more bold and open about my role as a content expert for grassroots movements representing rural communities. 

“And dance waaaaay more!”

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