2020 Year in Review

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The year 2020 was definitely memorable, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone’s way of life and altered the course of history. For three-fourths of the year, nearly all festivals and sporting events were wiped from the calendar. Here’s a look at the year in review for Monroe County. 

January 

The Illinois General Assembly passed hundreds of new laws last year that affected citizens in 2020. Starting Jan. 1, adult-use, recreational marijuana became legal in the state. 

A pillar of the local agricultural community stepped down. Pam Jacobs retired Dec. 31 as county director for the University of Illinois Extension. Jacobs worked at the extension office in Monroe County for over 42 years. “It has provided great satisfaction to see how education helped youth, families, producers and businesses,” said Jacobs.

In January, the federal government began what The Associated Press called its “largest peacetime operation,” that being the 2020 U.S. Census.

When the Illinois General Assembly began its legislative session Jan. 28, the House had a bill to consider that drew the ire of Monroe Countians. That legislation was Senate Bill 533, which would make daylight saving time the year-round time in Illinois. 

Gov. JB Pritkzer announced recipients of grants through the state’s Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Program, and one of those recipients was the Waterloo Park District. The district was awarded $400,000 to help build a new splash pad at William Zimmer Memorial Park, located off Rogers Street.

For only the third time in American history, a president was impeached. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in December to impeach President Donald Trump, and Trump’s trial began in the U.S. Senate. It ended in acquittal in February.

Columbia High School got a makeover. CHS Principal Brian Reeves spoke to the school board at its Jan. 16 meeting about wanting to re-brand the school by designing a new logo and mascot.

In 1981, the Monroe County assessor’s office was in what Mike Fausz described as “turmoil.” Fausz retired Feb. 7 after holding four county positions over his tenure. “Hopefully, I’ve made a difference in the county,” the Maeystown resident said. “It’s something I still like to do, but, after all these years, it’s time to go.”

Two Monroe County high school soccer standouts were recognized on the Chicagoland Soccer 2019 All-State Team. Waterloo High School senior goalkeeper Sam Ward and Columbia High School junior forward Jonah James both made the team.

The Waterloo High School boys bowling squad competed in the Belleville East Regional and placed fourth to advance to the Collinsville Sectional.

February 

While the world was focused on the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization declared a “public health emergency,” flu season was still impacting America.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced that Integrity Healthcare of Columbia had been fined again for various violations. The IDPH fined the 119-bed skilled care facility at 253 Bradington Drive a total of $29,400, with all three fines being doubled because the violations carried a “high-risk designation.”

The business community in Waterloo gained new member, as Candace Gardner started as executive director of the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. Gardner took over for Roberta Rohwedder.

In a rare event for the Valmeyer Police Department, there was a new police chief. Marty Seitz took over after former chief Tom Andres retired following 23 years with the department. 

Monroe County was well-represented at the IHSA State Competitive Cheerleading Finals in Bloomington, as both the Columbia and Waterloo varsity high school squads competed in the medium division. After placing third in the preliminary round, Columbia ended with a third place score of 91.43.

The fate of Prairie du Rocher is uncertain, but citizens and local leaders worked to make sure one of the oldest communities begun by French colonists in the United States is not lost to history. The status of local levee accreditation caused concern for many citizens and businesses in the nearly 300-year-old village.

The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court ruled against Sunset Overlook in Columbia, upholding an earlier ruling by Judge Julia Gomric in Monroe County Circuit Court. Gomric gave a partial summary judgement, issuing an order that permanently enjoined it from selling and/or serving food or drink outside, consuming food or drink outside, providing ancillary entertainment outdoors or providing ancillary entertainment indoors without a special use permit.

The Monroe County Board promoted a familiar person to a new position in county government. Former Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Kevin Scheibe became the county’s new public safety coordinator.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich became a free man about four years earlier than expected. President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of the disgraced Democrat who appeared briefly on Trump’s reality TV show “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

The Waterloo High School wrestling team continued one of its best seasons in school history by qualifying three wrestlers for state by virtue of strong performances at the Mascoutah Sectional. Jordan Sommers, a sophomore at 195 pounds, followed up his regional championship with a sectional title to advance to state. Also advancing to state for the Bulldogs were Brandon Lloyd at 160 pounds and Brett Howard at 285 pounds. Sommers capped off his amazing 2019-20 campaign with a fifth place medal at the IHSA Class 2A state wrestling meet in Champaign.

The Freeburg-Waterloo Raging Bulldogs advanced to the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association Varsity 2A finals with a 6-3 win in a deciding Game 3 semifinal showdown with Collinsville. The Raging Bulldogs lost to Granite City in the final.

March

After an individual in St. Clair County tested positive for COVID-19, leaders from across Monroe County met March 3 to discuss plans to handle a potential outbreak.

The number of coronavirus cases continued to rise nationwide, but there had been no confirmed cases in Monroe County.Still, life had largely come to a standstill as the federal government, state government, businesses and event organizers had all taken steps to reduce its spread.

The final hour of the Monroe County Board meeting on March 16 was devoted to the coronavirus, with the board approving two releated measures and hearing the latest. The board OK’d a measure called the Health Department Emergency Preparedness and Response and Communicable Disease Control Quarantine Rules and Regulations. The commissioners also released $100,000 in health department reserve funds for COVID-19 response.

The state-mandated closure of schools began March 17 in Illinois, putting prep sports in limbo across the state.

A Columbia woman in her 40s and a Monroe County woman in her 60s were the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County. Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said his office was notified of the first positive test on March 22 and the second on March 24.

Different types of businesses were handling restrictions put in place to help slow the spread of COVID in various ways. With Gov. Pritzker’s shelter in place order, many stores like boutiques and florists were closed or only offered online shopping.

Gov. Pritzker announced March 27 that all schools in the state would start using remote learning days. Prior to the order, schools were using “Act of God” days, which meant students could not be required to do any work and could not receive a grade for any optional work completed. Although  Pritzker ordered all schools in the state to remain closed until at least April 7, local districts still helped students by providing food.

Ryan Martin was no longer a Monroe County assistant state’s attorney after Martin’s ex-wife was granted an emergency order of protection in Monroe County.

Republican David Friess won the primary election  and earned the chance to run against Democrat Nathan Reitz for state representative of the 116th district in the general election.

Gov. Pritzker appointed Jerry Costello II to serve as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. 

One of the most prominent individuals in the local law enforcement community retired, as Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Under Sheriff Jim Lansing’s last day on the job was March 27.

The community mourned the death of Monroe County Commissioner Ronald Schultheis, the man who “never met a stranger,” according to his family. Schultheis, 68, died March 28 due to complications from myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition that affects blood-producing cells in bone marrow.

April 

Monroe County reported its first COVID-related death. The individual, a man in his 80s, died April 6. At the time, the county had 18 confirmed cases of the virus. As of the April 29 paper, Monroe County cases jumped to 68 with 10 deaths. 

Gov. Pritzker announced plans to extend the state’s stay at home order through April 30 as the coronavirus pandemic continued. Pritzker announced April 17 that in-person learning at schools statewide would be suspended for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.

Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion economic relief plan to help offset some of the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

President Trump issued guidelines April 16 for states to begin returning life to some semblance of normalcy, targeting May 1 for a phased reopening in at least some states.

The Monroe County Board conducted its first “virtual meeting” April 6 in the face of the ongoing pandemic. The Waterloo City Council conducted it first outdoor meeting during the state’s “shelter in place” order in the parking lot of City Hall.

A coronavirus outbreak at a senior living facility in Columbia led to a steady rise in cases and four more deaths for Monroe County. Wagner announced April 14 that two more individuals had died from complications associated with the virus. Both of these people were associated with an outbreak at Garden Place Senior Living in Columbia, who had a total of 27 cases and 10 deaths by month’s end.

In an era of drive-by birthday parties and drive-thru visitations, it was clear the coronavirus pandemic had impacted virtually all areas of life. 

Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery adapted to the pandemic by shifting its entire operation to focus on helping fight the virus. The business worked with other area groups to manufacture hand sanitizer that contains 80 percent alcohol. Residents showed up in droves at the Monroe County Health Department as bottles of the sanitizer were handed out.

One of the most devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic was the toll it took on the workforce, with millions of Americans filing claims for unemployment insurance. Monroe County was no exception.

The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors canceled all IHSA spring state tournaments while leaving the door cracked ever-so-slightly for some semblance of competition in the summer.

The Monroe County Republican Central Committee recommended to Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore that Dennis Knobloch of Valmeyer be appointed to fill the vacated county commissioner seat due to the passing of Ron Schultheis.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann announced the hiring of Lucas Liefer to take over the assistant state’s attorney job vacated by Ryan Martin.

Dane Walter was out after five seasons as Waterloo High School boys head basketball coach. Scott Spinner replaced him.

May 

In the first issue for May, the Republic-Times reported 74 confirmed cases and 11 COVID-related deaths in Monroe County and ended the month with 93 cases while the death toll remained at 11.

Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center in Waterloo reported three employee coronavirus cases, but no residents.

Gov. Pritzker extended Illinois’ stay at home order until the end of May with some modifications. That move was met by criticism and, in one case, a lawsuit from leaders in southern Illinois.

As local residents continued to wear masks, meet virtually and remain socially distant, Pritzker announced the initial framework Illinois will use to return to some semblance of normalcy. The five-phase plan, titled “Restore Illinois: A Public Health Approach To Safely Reopen Our State,” took a regional approach by dividing Illinois into four regions. Monroe County Commissioner Vicki Koerber expressed concerns about Pritzker’s assessment of the coronavirus danger in Monroe County. Monroe County Health Department Administrator  John Wagner said there was exaggeration in discussions.

The Monroe County Board adopted a resolution  “asking for relief from… Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.”

By the end of the month, each region in Illinois was on track to move to the third phase of the state’s reopening plan, bringing life closer to normal than it had been in months.

Like other business, ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic affected the farming industry nationwide, including in Monroe County.

The latest social media trend that aimed to make high school seniors’ truncated senior year special made its way to Monroe County with the creation of the Facebook group Adopt a Waterloo IL High School Senior.

Waterloo city workers replaced banners promoting local businesses with special tributes to graduating seniors from Waterloo and Gibault Catholic high schools. The banners were installed along Market Street as a way to honor the Class of 2020.

The Waterloo School Board spent the majority of its meeting hearing public comments on graduation plans. Graduation was supposed to be May 17, but the stay at home order derailed that plan.

Valmeyer police and fire department vehicles escorted Valmeyer High School seniors through the village for a graduation parade. Most of the class members were on hand for one of their last hurrahs as VHS students.

Columbia High School presented a pre-recorded virtual graduation ceremony on the date of the scheduled commencement for the Class of 2020.

WHS shared a pre-recorded virtual graduation video, with the roughly hour-long video serving as the only ceremony students would get.

Former Monroe County Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Martin withdrew as a candidate for the state’s attorney position.

Officer Shawn Westfall of the Columbia Police Department retired after 31 years of service, 25 of those spent in Columbia.

The Maeystown, Waterloo and Valmeyer fire departments battled a fire near Maeystown.

Brian Unger prepared to take over as Waterloo athletic director, replacing Mitch North.

People can now know what a Pie Hard pizza for dinner feels like, as the food truck turned restaurant had its grand opening in Waterloo.

June

In the same week every region in Illinois opened more, Monroe County reported a few more COVID cases, including one at a senior living facility, and another death. The county began the month with 97 cases and 12 deaths and ended the month with 115 positive cases and the death toll unchanged.

Churches began to reopen in light of national and state court rulings, with most still offering streaming or drive-thru services as well.

It took roughly 10 weeks from the first reported case for Monroe County to pass the century mark in coronavirus cases – including an outbreak at Cedarhurst Senior Living in Waterloo.

The Monroe County Fair became the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic as the fair board announced it was canceling the year’s event “with sincere regret.”

Likewise, state fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin were canceled by executive order of the governor.

Every region in Illinois  moved to the fourth phase of the state’s reopening plan, bringing the state as close to pre-pandemic life as it would get for some time.

The Valmeyer Patriots formed as an optional and independent baseball team that plays in a COVID League in Missouri.

The Illinois High School Association released its draft of Return to Play Stage 2 guidelines for resuming high school sports.

Over 50 individuals gathered in front of Columbia City Hall to protest racism and police brutality. A week later, a few hundred people attended a protest in downtown Waterloo called “Waterloo Speaks.” These were held across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd, a black man, died after now-former police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying face down. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter while three other officers who were with Chauvin were fired and faced charges of aiding and abetting.

The Monroe County Republican Central Committee approved the selection of Lucas Liefer as its party’s candidate for state’s attorney in the 2020 general election.

The Waterloo City Council approved the purchase of license plate recognition cameras for the Waterloo Police Department, which were placed on Route 3 at the north and south entrances to town.

The Monroe County Board approved a new administrator for the county-run senior care facility. Brian Koontz took over for Kim Keckritz, who moved to a part-time role, as administrator at Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center in Waterloo.

The Illinois FFA held its annual convention online due to COVID-19. At this first virtual convention, Valmeyer High School graduate Lexi Mueller was elected Illinois FFA President.

Sunset Overlook in Columbia benefited from several amendments to zoning language in Columbia’s municipal code, allowing owners to resume parts of the Bluff Road business that had been halted due to an earlier court order.

Clean Car Express Car Wash opened next to McDonald’s off Route 3 in Waterloo.

July

Monroe County began July with 126 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths from the virus. “There’s really nothing that I’m seeing that shows big community spread right now,” Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said. The average age of people with COVID-19 at the start of the month was approximately 54.3, according to data from early in the month. 

Later in the month, Monroe County recorded the most cases it had in a week since late March and early April, with 32 new cases in seven days. By the last issue of the paper, there were 13 deaths and 232 cases. 

Michael Vanderschans, a Missouri man, was sentenced to prison in connection with a September 2018 crash in Columbia that killed Stacie Thoma, a 37-year-old employee of Schnucks Market Place in Columbia. Vanderschans got two years in state prison to be served at 50 percent and with credit for two days already served. He was also fined $589 and ordered to pay restitution of $3,222.38. 

The Waterloo City Council approved the purchase of security video systems for the Waterloo Police Department to be placed at the downtown intersections of Main at Third, Mill at Main, First at Main and Mill at Church streets for surveillance.

Elaine Steinbgrubey retired after 39 years of working at Morrison-Talbott Library in Waterloo. She retired June 30 after serving  28 years as the library’s director. Jamie Wratchford took over for Steingrubey. 

Monroe County’s wheat harvest ran about a week late due to wet and cool weather in May, but it still came in at about average numbers. 

Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill announced he would toss his hat in the ring for the office of Columbia mayor. “I feel this is the right time to seek this position,” Hill said.  

The Mon-Clair League started with a bang over the Fourth of July Weekend, one of the few sports activities that took place this year. In the second game of a double-header, Waterloo Millers lefty Matt McGilvray pitched a no-hitter in a 3-0 victory, the first in at least many years for the squad. 

Chris Grode started his tenure as Columbia Superintendent of Schools. “I’m looking forward to meeting all of the teachers here (and) all of the community members here,” he said.

The Small Business Administration released data that showed 57 Monroe County businesses or nonprofits got loans of over $150,000. The largest loan recipients were First Class Workforce Solutions, Budnick Converting and George Weber Chevrolet, all in Columbia, and MAR Graphics in Valmeyer. 

Columbia’s Josh Fleming was named to the Tampa Bay Rays’ 60-man roster for the abbreviated Major League Baseball season. Fleming won his big league debut in August en route to making the team’s World Series roster and pitching in that climatic event. He remained unbeaten throughout his rookie campaign.

The Columbia School District announced its students would attend school using a hybrid approach, with pupils attending in-person twice a week and remotely three days a week. 

Judge Stephen McGlynn ruled during a hearing held remotely he would grant the state’s motion to dismiss the remainder of arguments made by convicted murderer Christopher Coleman in his post-conviction relief petition. In September, McGlynn officially entered an order dismissing all further motions by Coleman in the case. 

The Waterloo School Board voted to begin the school year almost entirely with remote learning after over three hours of discussion. All students started the school year Aug. 19 with remote instruction. The county’s catholic schools, meanwhile, announced they would have students attend in-person given their smaller class sizes. 

August 

Monroe County started August with 291 COVID cases as of the Aug. 5 issue of the Republic-Times. It set a weekly record for new cases when it reported 59 new cases. On Aug. 16, Gov. Pritzker announced the metro east, including Monroe County, would be under new restrictions to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 after it had three straight days of a test positivity rate over 8 percent. Included in the mitigation measures was a mandate that bars and restaurants must close by 11 p.m. The Monroe County Board and Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner were critical of that decision. By the end of the month, the county had 414 cases and 14 deaths. 

Father Osang Idagbo announced he was moving to a new role as pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Cahokia and Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Dupo. “This has been a very rich and rewarding experience for me,” Idagbo said of his time at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Waterloo. Father Linus Umoren took over for Idagbo in August.

The Valmeyer school district announced that students would return to school in-person. 

Columbia learned it will have a new mayor in 2021 after current City Clerk Wes Hoeffken announced he would enter the race and current Mayor Kevin Hutchinson, who has served since 2005, said he would not seek another term. 

Monroe County voters received a letter, mandated by state law, from Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean with instructions on how to vote by mail ahead of the November election. McLean, a Republican, said he was confident in the security of the process.

The Columbia school district changed course, announcing it would begin the year with remote learning only as the pandemic worsened here. “We can’t add a congregation of students and teachers and whatnot back to our schools when our numbers are increasing,” Superintendent Chris Grode said. 

Monroe County collected almost $63 million in property taxes, which was up about 3.6 percent or $2.1 million from last year’s total. “The normal inflation rate plus new growth in the county increased the total tax amount,” Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein said.

The Waterloo Millers opted out of the Mon-Clair League playoffs that began in Cape Girardeau, Mo., citing COVID safety concerns with having eight teams play in one location on a single day. In the playoffs, the Belleville Rockies bested defending champion Millstadt Green Machine to win the championship at Borsch Park in Valmeyer.

The Waterloo High School turf athletic field and surrounding track was severely damaged by flooding. Downpours caused water and silt from an adjoining farmer’s fields to the south and west of the complex to pour over the berm protecting the facility, overwhelming the drainage system and covering the entire field and several lanes of the track. 

Vern and Joan Tepen simultaneously retired from Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School and Gibault Catholic High School, respectively. The couple had a combined more than 80 years of teaching experience.

The Waterloo City Council approved new welcome signs for the four main entrances of the city. The signs were installed in December. 

The owners of Stubborn German Brewing Company in downtown Waterloo got an early Christmas present when members of the Waterloo Masonic Lodge #737 announced the brewery’s rent had been paid through the end of the year. “Times are tough for all small businesses out there, and this helps us greatly,” Stubborn German co-owner Tammy Rahn said. 

Waterloo native Lexi Krekorian, whose stage name is Alexandra Kay, reached new career heights when her new country-pop single debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart. 

It was confirmed that Valmeyer would welcome a new business, with a Dollar General being built there on South Meyer Avenue. The store opened Dec. 1. 

September

Monroe County began September with 461 coronavirus cases and 14 deaths from the virus as of the paper’s first issue of the month. Starting Sept. 1, Illinois imposed more mitigations on the metro east to slow the spread of COVID-19, with the newest restriction being a ban on indoor dining. The region’s positivity rate remained above 8 percent, so the previous mitigations were also extended. 

In mid-September, Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center in Waterloo became the latest senior care facility in the county to have a COVID outbreak. This one ultimately resulted in the death of 18 residents. The county ended September with 16 COVID-related deaths and 692 cases.

George Ziebold, known around Waterloo as “Mr. Rotary,” died at the end of August at the age of 94. “He was extraordinarily generous,” longtime friend Jay Huetsch said. 

The community rallied around Eleanor Krebel, the young daughter of Nathan and Molly Krebel who was born with Down’s Syndrome and Transient Myeloproliferative Disorder, by participating in various fundraisers for the family. 

The Gibault Catholic High School boys golf team won local bragging rights by claiming the Monroe County Golf Tournament at Acorns Golf Links in Waterloo. 

The Columbia and Waterloo school districts resumed in-person learning in late September. Both schools adopted slightly different hybrid models when welcoming back students.  

The Waterloo City Council OK’d a plan to connect its walkways through a proposal called the North Waterloo Trail Connector. The plan involves a loop of interconnected sidewalks and multi-use paths throughout the city, including constructing a new sidewalk along the east side of North Market Street from Route 3 to HH Road and on the south side of HH Road east to Route 3.

Welda DeRousse Jr., 74, of Red Bud, died Sept. 19, after crashing his helicopter into a storage facility he owned, resulting in an explosion. The crash occurred at EZ Self-Storage in Red Bud.

After 100 years of operation, Camp Vandeventer at 3464 Trout Camp Road in Waterloo closed following a vote by the Greater St. Louis Area Councils. The camp was used by local scouts for decades. 

Monroe County’s corn harvest was above average, with yields running about 170-200 bushels per acre. 

October

The county’s COVID-related death toll surged to 23 by the Oct. 7 issue of the paper after eight Oak Hill residents died in about two weeks. The case total at the time was at 746. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health brought its first mobile testing site to the county, and the state lifted regional restrictions Oct. 9. It imposed them again Oct. 28 after the positivity rate again topped 8 percent. Monroe County ended the month with 958 cases and 30 deaths total. 

The first Monroe County Tailgate Fest took place Oct. 10 at the fairgrounds, organized by Songs4Soldiers founder Dustin Row.

Admiral Carlisle A.H Trost, the namesake of numerous roads in and near Monroe County, died at age 90 from complications related to a fall. A Valmeyer native, Trost rose through the ranks of the Navy to serve as Chief of Naval Operations from 1986-1990. 

Illinois Department of Health data obtained by the Republic-Times showed the state does not know where many people were contracting the novel coronavirus in the metro east. Almost 14,000 of the 18,279 cases that had been contact traced in the region as of Sept. 21 listed “unknown” as the location the cases were traced back to. 

The Republic-Times won the top award in its division at this year’s Southern Illinois Editorial Association Better Newspaper Contest, earning the General Excellence plaque. The R-T also won first place in advertising excellence, best use of photography and newspaper design, best website, best feature photo, best news photo, best news story and best sports photo.

Craig Ohlau, an Edwardsville resident who played amateur baseball in the Mon-Clair League for 17 years, released a new book about his time in the league. The book is called Kings of the County League: One League, One Team, One Dynasty.

The Valmeyer Junior High School eighth grade baseball team went to state this year, as did the Millstadt Consolidated Schools squad. Both teams lost in their first-round games. 

Jon Fahey of Waterloo was the most high-profile local member of a film crew behind the newly released “Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot.” Fahey served as producer while his wife Kelly worked as an associate producer, Christina (Garfield) Schmitt played a small role, Jamie Lanman helped as special effects make-up artist and Ricky Beckeer wrote a song. The first two are from Waterloo, while the latter two live in Columbia. 

The Gibault boys golf team won a Class 1A regional title. The team had an 18-hole score of 338, 19 strokes better than second-place Trico. Gibault finished third in the sectional round. 

The Waterloo boys golfers placed fifth in their 2A regional, while Columbia’s squad did not place. The Columbia girls team, however, won the regional, beating Waterloo by 10 strokes.

The county hosted two public hearings on a proposed bike lane along Bluff Road from Columbia to Valmeyer. Public feedback was mixed, and the county board ultimately decided against pursuing the bike lane any further. 

Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann declined to prosecute a citation issued by the Illinois State Police to Washy’s Saloon in Waterloo for failing to comply with mitigation measures imposed on the region by the state. 

The Waterloo High School tennis doubles team of Haley Storm/Kailey Walter placed third at sectionals, earning the designation of state qualifier. The state meet did not take place due to the pandemic. 

Two WHS runners won Mississippi Valley Conference titles. Joe Schwartz won the boys championship, while Angelynn Kanyuck got first in the girls race. The athletes’ teams placed fifth and fourth, respectively. 

November

There were 1,110 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths as of the Nov. 4 issue of the paper. The long-predicted fall and winter spike in the pandemic began. The entire state saw new, stricter mitigation measures take effect Nov. 30 as the third wave of the pandemic pummeled the country, with that announcement coming as Monroe County set new records in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Monroe County ended the month with 1,879 cases and 47 deaths, per the Nov. 25 issue of the Republic-Times. There were 25 residents hospitalized with the virus, almost tripling numbers seen in the summer. 

Republicans’ dominance of Monroe County government continued after voters elected GOP candidates George Green and Lucas Liefer to the offices of county commissioner and state’s attorney, respectively. Both men won over two-thirds of the vote. Chris Hitzemann, who was unopposed, also took over for retiring Democrat Dennis Doyle as the county’s judge. 

At larger levels of government, Republicans David Friess and Mike Bost will represent this area in the Illinois and U.S. House, respectively. A proposed graduated income tax amendment failed to garner the votes needed to pass. More than 75 percent of Monroe County voters agreed with that outcome. 

It took several days for Americans to learn that Democrat Joe Biden had beaten President Donald Trump for the presidency, but Monroe County voters knew on Election Day who had won local office. “I think the election went really well,” Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean said, adding there were no technical issues or fraud problems. 

Trent Blank, a 2008 Columbia High School graduate who pitched at Baylor University and in the Colorado Rockies’ minor system, was named the bullpen coach and director of pitching strategy for the Seattle Mariners. 

The Columbia City Council decided to not allow the keeping of domestic chickens within city limits after residents asked the council to pass an ordinance allowing “backyard chickens.” 

The WHS girls cross country team placed sixth at sectionals, qualifying for a state tournament that did not take place this year. 

Students in Waterloo Junior High School and WHS returned to remote learning due to the number of teachers forced to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 as the pandemic worsened. The Columbia School District later followed that same approach with its older students for the same reason. Eventually, all students went temporarily remote after Thanksgiving before returning using the same schedules they had before the holiday.  

Dorothy Brandt, 94, of Maeystown, known as a volunteer for many organizations and a community treasure, died Nov. 17.

Dennis “Boog” Pieper, who managed the Valmeyer Lakers of the Mon-Clair League for over 50 years, died suddenly at age 73. Funeral services took place on the field bearing Pieper’s name at Borsch Park. 

December

By the Dec. 2 issue, Monroe County had recorded 2,136 cases and 46 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. This month, the Food and Drug Administration approved two vaccines, each over 90 percent effective, to combat the virus. 

Monroe County received its first COVID vaccine shipment Dec. 23.  “Now we see the end in sight,” Wagner said after the first vaccine was OK’d. “It’s really the first step we’ve taken to ending this thing.” Wagner was among the first in the county to be vaccinated, as the first 100-dose shipment was reserved for health care personnel.

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz declared the facility “COVID-free.” That lasted less than a month, as Koontz reported that employees had tested positive for the virus in late December. 

Another creation of Songs4Soldiers founder and event coordinator Dustin Row was the first “Frosted Flick Fest” on the parking lot of the Columbia American Legion on Dec. 4-5, featuring outdoor performances of Christmas films “Elf” and Christmas Vacation.”

Judge Dennis Doyle, one of the longest-serving elected officials in the county, retired as resident judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit Court. Doyle worked in the county’s government for 36 years. “I just had a wonderful career here, and I owe it to the people of Monroe County,” Doyle, a Democrat, said. 

Republican Bob Elmore likewise ended his time as a public servant after six years on the county board. After Elmore’s retirement, Vicki Koerber unanimously became the county’s first female chairman in the county’s 204-year history.

New data released by the Small Business Administration showed almost $43 million in federal aid flowed to 680 Monroe County businesses and nonprofits through the Paycheck Protection Program.

The IHSA said there will be no high school sporting events played until at least January because of the pandemic. 

Washy’s Saloon in Waterloo canceled a controversial large concert after consulting with Wagner. “I support the restaurants for indoor dining with social distancing, but with a big concert like that, this is not the time to be having something like that,” Wagner said. “And Washy’s agreed after I talked to them.”  

Ethan Ellis, the son of late Hecker resident and St. Louis County Police officer Mitch Ellis who died in an automobile accident, completed his Eagle Scout project. Ellis created a StoryWalk display on the grounds of Morrison-Talbott Library in Waterloo. 

Deb Carrico won the 2020 Wessel Pistor Ward at Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center. The award is for the most outstanding employee involved with caring for residents and working with fellow staff. 

In addition to Hoeffken and Hill competing in the mayoral race, Columbia will have two contested city council races, according to filing results. Doug Garmer has filed to challenge James Agne for his spot on the council in the April 6 election, and Paul Khoury will run against Gene Ebersohl. 

Columbia will also have three new school board members because incumbents Karen Anderson, John Long and Greg O’Connor did not file to run for re-election. Tyson Search, Andrea Crowder-Khoury and Adam Hemken filed to fill those seats. Waterloo will have a new member of the city council for the same reason, with Matt Buettner to replace Russ Thomas. 

The Monroe County Board discussed a $14 million expansion of the county jail. The current jail began being used in 1984 and needs substantial repair and upgrading to meet expanding requirements, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing said. 

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