2021 Year in Review

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From COVID rising and declining and rising again, to all the impacts locally as a result, 2021 was definitely an interesting year in Monroe County. There were also plenty of milestones and comings and goings. Here’s a look at the wild year that was 2021.

JANUARY 

As of the first issue of 2021, Monroe County’s COVID death count was at 61 with two pending; 37 people were hospitalized and there were 239 active cases. By the end of the month, the death toll climbed to 76, in part due to reclassification of some deaths by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The first COVID-19 vaccinations arrived in Monroe County.

Residents and employees of long-term care facilities in Monroe County were the first to be vaccinated.

The first vaccine clinic in Monroe County for medical personnel and those ages 85 and older was held at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. Demand for the vaccine remained high and clinics continued throughout January, with 500-plus vaccines being administered at each clinic.

At its monthly meeting, the Columbia School Board voted to add more in-person learning at its schools. The Waterloo School Board decided to stay the course with a hybrid approach for the time being. 

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo), who did not seek another term in the Illinois Senate, announced he was considering becoming a candidate for Illinois governor.

Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) began his term in the Illinois General Assembly. Republican Terry Bryant began her first term in the Illinois Senate, taking the seat vacated by Schimpf. Bryant had previously served as representative in Illinois’ 115th House District. 

On Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald Trump entered the U.S. Capitol building during a joint session of Congress in protest of election results.

A criminal justice bill passed in Illinois was decried by local law enforcement heads, who felt the bill undermined public safety. 

The Columbia Police Department had a new chief as Jason Donjon took over the role from retiring CPD Chief Jerry Paul.

17-month-old Sawyer Kanofsky of Waterloo died after a choking incident at Carrot Patch Daycare Center in Columbia. Sawyer’s parents later filed a lawsuit against the center and some of its employees.

Two Waterloo men joined a Modoc woman in being charged in connection with a cannabis dealing ring that involved the U.S. Postal Service. Charged were Lori A. Uhl, Jason M. Doore and Brett A. Myers.

Three people were charged following a sexual assault and home invasion near Burksville on Jan. 10. Charged were Kayla, Matthew and Sean Korves.

A rash of area vehicle break-ins and thefts continued as several vehicles were entered in Millstadt.

A Waterloo woman, Lauren Miller, 38, who had been reported as missing at the beginning of the month, was found dead in a Walmart parking lot in Mt. Vernon.  

School sports began the year still on hiatus due to COVID restrictions, but the Illinois High School Association began meetings with the Illinois Department of Public Health and other groups to determine when it would be safe to return to school sports in the state.

By the end of the month, a system was put in place to allow “low-risk” sports such as baseball, tennis and bowling to resume play conference games only within the region.

The Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association announced it canceled its regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mon-Clair League added a new Missouri team, the Southeast Tropics, for the 2021 baseball season.

FEBRUARY 

February began with four more COVID-related deaths, bringing the total to 80. There were 88 COVID deaths reported by the end of the month. Spread of the disease seemed to be falling at month’s end.

 Vaccine clinics early in the month had many local residents turned away due to available doses being used up quickly.

An increase in doses came in the middle of the month after what Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner described as “two days of raising hell” as a result of perceived vaccine distribution inconsistency in Illinois.

The Waterloo School Board approved a plan to bring the most students physically back to school since the pandemic began.

The Republic-Times absorbed the subscriber list of the Monroe County Independent, which ceased operations after 20 years.

Eight inches of snow and several days of near-zero temperatures made street cleanup after the storm difficult for local crews.

A prolonged extreme cold snap led to national electricity availability issues. Residents were asked to lower home thermostat temperatures by two degrees and the City of Waterloo began generating its own power to help supply in the area. 

The second impeachment trial of President Trump concluded Feb. 13, several weeks after President Joe Biden took office. Trump was once again acquitted of charges brought against him during his time as president.

All four Monroe County law enforcement departments reported lower crime numbers in 2020, with some of the decrease attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of two men charged in the 2019 fatal shooting of Illinois State Police Trooper Nicholas Hopkins of Waterloo changed his plea from not guilty to guilty when Al Stewart Jr., 21, pleaded guilty Feb. 10 to armed violence, obstructing justice and possession with intent to distribute cannabis. 

Trevor Hudson was sentenced to seven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for possession of weapons by a felon and three years for aggravated battery (deadly weapon).

The local vehicle theft problem did not subside, as several vehicles were stolen and more had items taken from them in the Columbia area. Most of the vehicles were unlocked.

Butch Kunkel, most recently associated with Outsider Tavern in Waterloo, retired after 56 years in the “people business.”

Longtime custodian Faye Mudd retired after a 40-year career with the Waterloo School District.

IHSA released a schedule for abbreviated seasons of “low” and “medium” risk sports. Basketball was not scheduled initially, as it fell into a “high risk” category, but hoops began in the middle of February after changes in the region’s COVID mitigation level status.

Football, which had been canceled in 2020, was scheduled for a six-game, round-robin style pool play slate in the spring. 

The Waterloo High School boys basketball team started playing winning basketball for the first time in several years. The last time the Bulldogs had been above .500 during a season was back in March 2014.

MARCH

Monroe County reached a grim milestone early in the month when it recorded its 100th death associated with the COVID-19. The count was up to 102 deaths by the end of the month as heavy traffic at vaccine clinics continued at the fairgrounds. More people became eligible to receive the shot and Johnson & Johnson became the third pharmaceutical company to receive emergency authorization for use of its COVID-19 vaccine.  

Gov. JB Pritzker announced an updated version of his Restore Illinois reopening plan designed to get the state closer to pre-pandemic life sooner. 

Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson resigned after being indicted in federal court in connection with his insurance dealings with the city and being charged with one count of false statement to the Metro-East Public Corruption Task Force. Columbia Ward III Alderman Gene Ebersohl was chosen to be the city’s interim mayor until a new mayor was chosen in the April municipal elections.

Former superintendent of Waterloo schools Wayne Collmeyer died from injuries sustained while volunteering on the Waterloo Santa Float in December 2020. 

The family of Jonah Matthews, who was struck by a train while driving a tractor near Fults in 2019, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in St. Clair County. The suit alleges “negligent and careless acts or omissions” resulted in Jonah’s death. The lawsuit was filed against Glendell H. Farms, Ken Hartman, Anita Hartman, Joann Hartman and Union Pacific Railroad Company, with the attorneys seeking damages in excess of $50,000 from each of those individuals or entities.

The Waterloo High School Speech Team set records collectively and individually at the Illinois High School Association state tournament. Coached by WHS teacher John Rickert, the team placed 12th overall in the tourney, the highest in its history. 

Excitement was in the air for the start of the high school football season in Waterloo and Columbia March 19, and both teams delivered victories for the home crowd. Playing on the old grass field behind the former high school due to the turf field at the current high school needing repairs, Waterloo turned back the clock in a 33-19 win over Civic Memorial.

MVCHA hockey teams were given good news as a five-game season with playoffs was announced and teams began play early in the month.

High school basketball ended and abbreviated boys soccer and volleyball seasons began at area schools.

APRIL 

One year after the first Monroe County resident death related to COVID-19 was reported, health department administrator John Wagner announced he would no longer report death totals. Wagner had long been critical of how the state counts deaths from the virus because it appeared it counts anyone who tested positive and later died as a COVID death. The number of reported deaths was at 105 before dropping by 15 to 90 due to IDPH reclassification.

Wagner also publicly took issue with the way positivity rate numbers were calculated by IDPH. He contended Monroe County residents who were tested in Missouri were not properly added in a timely manner, if at all.

Vaccination clinics began administering second-dose shots and all county residents over the age of 16 became eligible to receive a vaccine during the clinics.

As clinics continued throughout April, Wagner noted a trend of less demand for the vaccines. 

Schools began planning how to use the third round of money allotted through the federal Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief Fund. 

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department hired the first Black deputy in its 205-year history, Calvin Savage.

Voters elected four new officials for the City of Columbia. Bob Hill defeated Wes Hoeffken in the mayoral race. Doug Garmer and Paul Khoury were elected to aldermanic seats, replacing Gene Ebersohl and James Agne, respectively. Andrew Hitzemann filled the city clerk position, running unopposed. 

Dupo Mayor Jerry Wilson narrowly won re-election by just 15 votes. In the Dupo Village Board race, the three top vote-getters were incumbent Dawn Keys and newcomers Ron Dell and Tammy Taylor.

A ballot issue in Valmeyer concerning school board member residency restrictions failed by one vote.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced the Illinois Caverns site in rural Waterloo would reopen in June after being closed for more than a decade.

As businesses began to reopen, a shortage in available workers began to affect many different industries. School bus routes for Waterloo district schools needed to be modified due to its bus service not having enough drivers.

The Waterloo School Board voted to hire Justin Imm to succeed Zahnow Elementary School Principal Mary Gardner, who retired in June after a 34-year career in the Waterloo schools. 

Longtime Columbia High School Music Director Craig Ryterski announced his retirement after 28 years with the district.

The rash of vehicle thefts and break-ins continued in Columbia as well as Waterloo. 

After canceling the annual rite of passage, Columbia and Valmeyer high schools held proms and crowned members of the senior and junior classes in combined coronations. Waterloo High School students crowned a king and queen during a home football game and celebrated an “un-prom” at Mr. BBQ at Mystic Oak at the end of the month.

A fatal crash occured on Bluff Road near Trout Hollow Road when a vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed lost control and collided with a box truck. The driver of the vehicle and two local teenage passengers – Joshua Moate, Savannah Amsden and Hailey Lattina , all from the Dupo area – were killed. The driver of the box truck was uninjured.

One of the oldest fire fighting units in Illinois, the Millstadt Union Fire Department, celebrated its 150th year of existence.

As the rescheduled fall and winter sports wrapped up, local school baseball and softball teams as well as girls soccer began their seasons.

MAY 

After widespread complaints that Monroe County was not receiving its fair share of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier in the year, Monroe County led the state with 37.55 percent of its population being fully vaccinated per IDPH data.

Due to low turnout at recent vaccine clinics, Wagner announced the Monroe County Health Department would not be scheduling any new first-dose clinics.

In the middle of May, there were only nine active cases of COVID-19 and just one resident hospitalized with the virus – the lowest numbers in almost a year.

Near the end of an over two-and-a-half hour meeting, the Waterloo Planning Commission decided to not take action on two petitions regarding a planned recovery residence, Cornerstone Laine, that would be located at 228 Mueller Lane.

Concerns over the condition of Monroe County-maintained Country Club Lane by City of Waterloo residents who travel on it regularly took center stage at a Waterloo City Council meeting. 

Immaculate Conception School in Columbia announced David Gregson would be its next principal, succeeding Mike Kish. Kish retired after 50 years at ICS.

Local high schools held in-person graduation ceremonies after having virtual or modified commencement ceremonies the prior year.

The old turf athletic field at Waterloo High School was pulled up as part of repair work being done, and the school district allowed anyone in the community to pick up a roll for free.

Sheriff Neal Rohlfing brought a proposal to the Monroe County Board to purchase 14 body cameras for deputies.

A Red Bud police officer shot and killed an individual after that person shot and wounded another officer near Monroe County’s southeastern border. The officer was later found to have been justified in use of this deadly force. 

Timothy P. Mayer, 41, of Waterloo, pled guilty in federal court to defrauding his former employer, Jung Truck Service of Mascoutah, out of more than $600,000.

The Village of Dupo appointed Dennis Plew as its new police chief following the resignation of Kevin Smith.

The Waterloo High School wrestling team continued its winning ways after the sport was given the green light to commence. 

Mon-Clair League baseball kicked off its season. Sporting new uniforms that bore the name of late longtime manager Dennis “Boog” Pieper, the Lakers opened their first season without the beloved skipper since 1971.

JUNE

Illinois entered Phase 5 of its COVID-19 reopening plan in the middle of June, meaning businesses and organizations could resume normal activity – although some limited restrictions remained in place.

Former Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson was sentenced to two years of probation, 40 hours of community service and a $500 fine plus $100 special assessment after pleading guilty in March to lying to a federal task force about his insurance dealings with the City of Columbia.

By a 5-3 vote, the Waterloo City Council amended city ordinance by adding recovery residences as allowable in a B-2 General Business District with a special use permit. The change provided a boost in efforts to open a women’s drug and alcohol recovery residence at the former independent senior living community known as Rosedale House at 228 Mueller Lane.

Several area departments assisted Columbia in responding to a fully involved structure fire at Sugar Spring Ranch, 1385 Centerville Road. The 8,000-square-foot barn, which burned completely to the ground, was not occupied during the incident and had just opened its doors for weddings and special events.

The Illinois General Assembly passed new state legislative district maps that changed the House and Senate districts in which Monroe county resides. The new maps  renumbered the House district from the 116th to 115th district and expanded its boundaries to include all of Monroe and Randolph counties and part of Jackson and Washington counties. 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police and Monroe County Sheriff’s Department responded to multiple reports of a large bear seen roaming through rural backyards between Waterloo and Valmeyer. While no further reports were called in locally, bear sightings were reported to the east near New Memphis and then near Dubois.

Remaining counts in the litigation brought against Columbia business Sunset Overlook beginning in 2018 have been dismissed, essentially ending the case.

The Waterloo Park Board and unveiled more detailed plans for a splash pad to be constructed next year at William Zimmer Memorial Park off Rogers Street.

The City of Waterloo announced winners of its first ever Waterloo Mural Contest. The winners painted murals on several Waterloo businesses throughout the summer. 

Madison Lammert, a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, became the newest addition to the Republic-Times newspaper staff as a reporter.

The Valmeyer High School softball team won its first regional title in school history.

Many high school teams made it to their respective sectional championship games, with the Waterloo and Valmeyer softball teams, Waterloo and Columbia girls soccer teams and the Columbia baseball team all losing in the title matchups.

JULY

A medical situation may have led to a July 2 morning truck crash that resulted in the death of 47-year-old Walmart employee Jason Helberg in the store parking lot.

Competing in the ages 15 and under division, Vincent Goodman of Waterloo placed 26th overall in the 2021 PDGA Junior Disc Golf World Championships. 

A Good Samaritan died in mid-July when he stopped to help crash victims on Bluff Road. Roger Muertz, 57, of Modoc, was electrocuted by a downed power transmission. His family and friends remember Muertz as a kind-hearted man who was always concerned about others, as evident by his manner of death. 

While the 125th anniversary of Hecker’s incorporation was technically in 2020, the pandemic pushed back several facets of the village’s year-long celebration into 2021. On July 17, the Quasquicentennial planning committee hosted a fireman’s muster at Back Street Wine & Dine. September saw a parade and picnic in the village. 

For the July 21 issue of the Republic-Times, Kathy Blattner sat down to discuss what it is like being one of the oldest women in the U.S. to give birth at 62 years old. Erma, the special baby, was born five months prior to Kathy and her husband, Dr. John Blattner, of Smiles R 4ever in Waterloo. Both Erma and the Blattners’ 2-year-old son were conceived via in vitro fertilization, using donated eggs from Kathy’s eldest daughter. The egg donor, Sarah, is not biologically related to Dr. Blattner. 

The Monroe County Fair returned after last year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, and its arrival did not disappoint. In terms of attendance, the 2021 fair yielded the highest numbers on record. Monroe County Fair Association President Don Schrader thinks this is because people were excited to get out after a year of being asked to distance. 

The only thing that may have been dampened at this year’s fair because of the pandemic was livestock entries, as this year’s were down compared to other years. 

Waterloo High School alumna Alexis Mudd was crowned 2021 fair queen, with Alexa Moore being crowned Little Miss. 

Fair week further heated up with Cornerstone Laine being denied special use permit approval to operate at 228 Mueller Lane by the Waterloo Zoning Board of Appeals. Little did advocates and their opposition know, this decision would in essence be reversed a few months later. 

Red Bud Mayor Tim Lowry resigned from office shortly before a federal charge was handed down against him for lying to investigators about his insurance dealings with the City of Columbia and its mayor at the time, Kevin Hutchinson. Susan Harbaugh was unanimously elected acting mayor of Red Bud. Lowry entered a guilty plea to the charge in August and was sentenced in November to probation. 

Columbia’s Josh Fleming was one of five Tampa Bay Rays pitchers to combine for a seven-inning no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader against the Indians.

The Waterloo City Council OK’d the purchase of land on the Waterloo VFW property for $75,000 to build a new, $2.5 million water tower.

AUGUST

The second pandemic summer proved it is far from over, as the Delta variant made itself known in the county in August. In May and June, Monroe County was seeing its lowest points of the COVID pandemic with just a few cases a day. In August, the county saw approximately 10-15 new cases per day. 

Kim Papenberg was the lucky winner of the Queen of Hearts drawing at Outsider Tavern in Waterloo that benefits Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School. She won the jackpot total of $86,979.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Prairie du Rocher celebrated its 300th anniversary.

St. Mary Catholic Church in Valmeyer celebrated its 100th anniversary.

With the new school year, Immaculate Conception School students saw a new principal: David Gregson, a devout Catholic from Hecker and member of the parish. 

The Columbia school district met Alyssa Smith, its new assistant superintendent, as well. 

The start of the school year also brought school mask mandates to the forefront of school board conversations. Both the Waterloo and Columbia school boards heard from many community members who wished not to have their children wear masks in schools. 

Ultimately, all local districts said they would comply with Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order mandating masks be worn when inside schools. 

August also brought the end of an era, as long-time Waterloo Buds/Millers manager Vern Moehrs retired after 60-plus years. With his retirement at age 87, he passed command of the Mon-Clair League baseball team onto former player Barry Grant. 

Also in baseball news, the Millstadt Green Machine swept the best-of-three Mon-Clair League championship series for the first time in its history.

Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014 steam engine rolled through the Bottoms in late August, providing nostalgia for train fans and long-time residents of the county. 

For the first time since the Chris Coleman case, Monroe County hosted a jury murder trial. Kyle Roider, 33, of Waterloo, was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in connection with the January 2019 death of Waterloo’s Steven Becker, who was 35 at the time of his death. 

The jury found Roider not guilty on both charges, and after being held in jail for 2.5 years without bond, Roider walked out of the Monroe County Courthouse a free man on Aug. 27.

At trial, the defense argued Roider shot Becker twice in self defense. T.J. Matthes of St. Louis firm Rosenblum, Schwartz & Fry, P.C. led the defense, with Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer spearheading the prosecution. 

Red Bud High School junior Lillian Vandeford, 16, died in an Aug. 27 crash after the car she was driving went around a railroad crossing in Prairie du Rocher and was struck by a train.

SEPTEMBER

In early September, Harrisonville Telephone Company President and CEO H.R. Gentsch sat down with the R-T in honor of HTC’s 125th anniversary. 

Longtime Waterloo Junior High School baseball coach Mark Vogel recorded his 500th career victory.

A new memorial honoring first responders was installed at William Zimmer Park off Rogers Street in Waterloo.

Sugar Spring Ranch owners Greg and Melinda Meyer closed on a second special events location in September – what used to be Tin Rooster off Route 3 in Waterloo is now Sugar Spring South. The venue hosted its first wedding reception in early October. 

Songs4Soldiers was back in action this year, with its September 2021 total raising approximately $270,000 for veterans. This year’s headliners were Josh Turner and Night Ranger, with local star Alexandria Kay gracing the stage as well. The concert was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

On Sept. 20, the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce presented its 2020 Community Service Award to Gordon Gregson. Gregson has made a name for himself within the community, both in his professional work with State Bank and through various service efforts. He was a founding member of Waterloo Foundation for Excellence in Education and the mastermind behind its golf tournament, and is involved in several other organizations. 

Both the Waterloo Police Department and Columbia Police Department spent the fall season preparing new four-legged staffers. Waterloo police officer Steve Moravec welcomed his K-9 Tobi to the force, and Columbia police officer Kyle Hannon welcomed K-9 Raz. 

COVID-19 Executive Order No. 88 and the Illinois State Board of Education’s related emergency rules state all school personnel must either be vaccinated or submit weekly test results to the district. These stipulations went into effect in September. Some districts cited the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to allow employees to not undergo the testing or vax requirement based on deeply held personal beliefs. 

During the September meeting of the Waterloo School Board, resident James Link refused to put his mask back on after being told to and was asked to leave but refused. Waterloo police then escorted Link from the building and placed him under arrest.

Following weeks of closed sessions regarding Oak Hill personnel matters, Brian Koontz resigned as administrator of the county-run senior care facility. The Monroe County Board announced Kim Keckritz, who served as Oak Hill’s administrator for nearly 20 years until reaching semi-retirement, is acting administrator. Keckritz filled this role for the remainder of 2021. 

Robert Soutee, 36, was fatally struck by a vehicle while he was in the roadway on Bluff Road about one mile east of Prairie du Rocher.

Brad Yearian was hired as the new building inspector/code administrator for the City of Waterloo.

A new Trout Crest Monument was unveiled outside of Columbia City Hall in commemoration of the 25-year Sister City partnership with Gedern, Germany.

Waterloo High School football kicker Lexi Stephens made herstory this season as the first female to score a varsity point on Waterloo’s football team. This was Stephens’ first year playing the sport on a team, and said she found the environment to be very supportive. 

“Part of me was afraid that people were going to be like, ‘Oh my God, she’s a girl on the football team,’ but it was the total opposite of that,” she told the R-T in September. “Everyone has been so great and accepting.” 

OCTOBER 

Despite reservations being voiced at previous meetings on the matter, the Monroe County Board unanimously approved to rezone 125.19 acres of agricultural land between Columbia and Waterloo for business use to provide for Stumpy’s Spirits & Distillery’s long-awaited expansion off Route 3 near Hanover Road. Distillery owners Adam and Laura Stumpf said much of the land’s use will be dedicated to visitor experience. The property will house several lakes, a rickhouse and large multipurpose venue. 

Also in early October, the county reached a grim milestone: Its 100th COVID death was recorded. 

Four local veterans embarked on an honor flight Oct. 5: Vietnam-era veterans included Jim Reeves, Lawrence Hanegan and Alan Buchholz and Jim Schroeder was the only local Korean War-era vet on the trip.

Columbia boys soccer beat Gibault in mid-October, earning them a Class 1A regional title. 

Local parents joined a large lawsuit to fight school masking mandates, exclusion policies and other COVID-19-related school procedures. In total, the suit named 145 districts as defendants, including Waterloo, Columbia and Valmeyer, as well as the governor, IDPH and ISBE. 

Thomas DeVore, an attorney based in Greenville who has made headlines for bringing about several suits challenging the governor’s lawful authority to enact such mandates, originally filed the complaint in October in Macoupin County. Since then, the large suit has been consolidated with similar cases and is to be heard in Sangamon County, per an Illinois Supreme Court ruling. 

The Columbia High School football team advanced to the first round of the IHSA Class 4A playoffs but lost 49-13 to Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, therefore ending its season. 

Don Mertz of Mertz Ford in Millstadt sat down with the Republic-Times in October to reflect on the family business’s 100th anniversary. 

Norman Roy announced he was selling the Weir companies, which includes Weir Parts Center and multiple auto dealerships, to a company based in Florida.

Longtime Columbia Postmaster Christina Buss celebrated her retirement.

Allen Seidle was named interim Waterloo High School boys hoops coach following the resignation of Scott Spinner after just one season. 

NOVEMBER

November began with Cornerstone Laine getting official approval to operate at the site of the former Rosedale House, thanks to the Waterloo City Council now having the final say. In August, the city council amended its code to change the special use permit process to where the city council has the ability to override Zoning Board of Appeals’s decisions. 

The Waterloo High School volleyball squad ended its season after a Class 3A Civic Memorial Sectional championship loss against Taylorville. Just days later, Gibault volleyball fell at the supersectional to Springfield Lutheran, staying behind while their opponent advanced to state. The Hawks trumped the Pirates to advance to the supersectional. 

Still, all three ended the season as regional title holders. 

Local cross country athletes represented Monroe County well at state. In the Class 2A girls race, Waterloo placed 17th as a team, earning them the title of highest placing metro east team at state, thanks to sophomore Angelynn Kanyuck, sophomore Danielle Mudd and freshman Cameron Crump. 

In the Class 2A boys race, Waterloo’s junior Joe Schwartz placed 16th, earning all-state honors. 

Columbia junior Madison Missey placed 96th overall in the Class 1A girls race. She holds this season’s Cahokia Conference champion title. 

The Waterloo Metzger-Crook VFW Post 6504 and its auxiliary hosted a special celebration for its 75th anniversary on Nov. 7. Valmeyer’s American Legion and Auxiliary Post 901 also reached this milestone anniversary in 2021. 

A benefit basketball game between Immaculate Conception School and Columbia Middle School at ICS was played in honor of longtime Columbia police officer Mike “Muscles” Conrad, who was diagnosed with cancer.

The killer of Illinois State Police Trooper Nick Hopkins, a Waterloo native, was sentenced to 480 months for Hopkins’s death. Because Christopher Grant had already served 27 months, this counted toward his sentence. After his prison release, Grant must serve three years of probation. 

On Nov. 23, Gov. Pritzker signed a new congressional map into law. Under this new map, Illinois now has 17 districts instead of 18 due to population loss, but each district now contains more people. Monroe County is in the new 12th District. Republican representatives Mike Bost and Mary Miller are now put in the same district. 

Dylan T. McEwen, 24, of Swansea, was charged with boating while intoxicated in connection with a boating incident that resulted in the death of Waterloo’s Sean Jouglard, 21, at the Lake of the Ozarks in August. Jouglard and two others are also named in a wrongful death lawsuit in Camden County, Mo., for their alleged role in Jouglard’s death.

Local legends Butch’s Polka Kings celebrated their 50th anniversary on Nov. 27 at the beloved Hecker Community Center. 

“If the Good Lord lets us go, we’re going to keep going,” band founder Butch Sparwasser said. 

Local cancer warrior Elsa Wiemerslage had her bedroom transformed into a posh wonderland courtesy of Special Spaces St. Louis.

Red Roof Liquor & Lottery at 301 Southport Drive in Columbia sold a $500,000 jackpot winning Lucky Day Lotto ticket.

An old abandoned farmhouse known locally as the Old Schanz Home at 8970 Bluff Road near Fountain was destroyed by fire.

Dollar General opened its doors for business at 401 S. Main Street in Hecker.

LifechurchX announced plans to move into the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital urgent care building next to the YMCA off Route 3.

DECEMBER

Monroe County’s “McFamily” – the Burris franchisees – retired at the beginning of the month. Between them and their two daughters, Ed and Jamie Burris owned and operated eight McDonald’s restaurants in the area, including the Waterloo and Columbia’s restaurants. 

“We the People of Southern Illinois” hosted a rally including big names like Thomas DeVore, the attorney who has numerous cases regarding masking in the state moving through courts, and U.S. Senate candidate Peggy Hubbard (R-Belleville). 

On Dec. 10, tornadoes struck Illinois and neighboring states. The unusual winter tornadoes took over 90 lives across five states, ABC reported. Six died as a result of an Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, just 40 minutes away from Waterloo.

Kentucky saw a death toll over 70 as a result of the disasters, and upon hearing a call for quilts, the Monroe County-area quilt guild Friends in Stitches donated 37 quilts to Hancock’s of Paducah through the guild’s charitable group Heart Strings. They were then distributed by the fabric store to those in need. 

“It’s giving them something that belongs to them and it’s theirs, because they have lost everything,” Friends in Stitches President Pearl Braun said. 

On Dec. 11, Immaculate Conception Church hosted its 175th anniversary celebration. The night began with Mass and continued in the gym with music, food and dancing. 

Dennis Knobloch was elected new chairman of the Monroe County Board. He replaced Vicki Koerber, who was the first woman chair in county history. 

Douglas “Brad” Hicks, of Columbia, was sentenced to 160 years in prison on four counts of predatory sexual assault of a child. Hicks was initially charged in November 2019 with multiple felony counts pertaining to the manufacturing and distribution of child pornography, but all charges except the four counts he pled guilty to were dropped. 

Robyn Gaubatz and Jarvia Bryant, both teachers in the Waterloo school district, along with several other educators across the state filed a lawsuit against their respective school districts, Gov. Pritzker, ISBE, IDPH and these agencies’ leaders. DeVore, the same attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of local parents earlier in the year, is leading this suit. 

Freshman Mason Swope of Waterloo won a silver medal in his division of the Special Olympics State Bowling Tournament in early October. 

Just before Christmas, the neighboring community of East Carondelet/ Prairie du Pont saw an unusual change to Prairie Du Pont Fire Department leadership, as the board removed John Rosencranz from his chief position and named Jerame Simmons as acting chief. Simmons pled guilty to arson decades ago for setting part of Dupo High School on fire as well as a vacant home. He was pardoned by the governor, but Simmons’ alleged history still led to 10 of 13 firefighters resigning. 

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