By ASHLEY WOLSTONCROFT
Time flies! Another year has come and gone. 2017 is now knocking on the door, bringing with it new memories and progress for Henryetta. Before moving forward, let's pause to reminisce on some of the top local events of 2016.
Wilson school evacuates for bomb threat
School ended early on Jan. 20 for nearly 200 Wilson students. The students were evacuated after an unidentified caller assumed to be a young male informed the school, “There is a bomb in the building” and then hung up around 11:40 p.m. Immediately, Wilson Fire Department, Emergency Management for both the county and Creek Nation, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Okmulgee County Sheriffs Office responded to the bomb threat. A bomb unit from Oklahoma City was dispatched, but did not arrive at the school for several more hours. Because of the delay and inability to serve the students lunch, Superintendent Andrea James made the decision to ask parents to take their children home. The City also responded by closing Wilson Road a half mile south of the school and a quarter mile north of the school. Road blocks were also set up. By 4:00 p.m., the threat was eliminated and the facility was considered safe.
HFL moves to east main
Cookson Hills Publishers Inc., owner of the Henryetta Free-Lance, purchased the Event Center building at 302 W. Main in Henryetta and officially made the move in January. HFL had previously been leasing a building at 811 W. Main St. from its former owners. Jeff Mayo, publisher of the Free-Lance, explained to the public that the new location allows for better parking and accessibility. After a fresh coat of paint and addition of internet outlets, the new office has become a vibrant, energetic atmosphere for the community and second home to its employees.
Police identify man with help from the public
Social media was put to use when the Henryetta Police Department asked the public for help in an investigation of stolen property. A suspect had allegedly stolen a wallet at Jiffy-Mart, and although police believed the thief to be local, they had few leads other than a still shot from a security camera and blurry photo of a late model Ford Ltd. As community members shared the photos on Facebook, an individual was able to locate who had previously owned the car. Later, a social media user recognized the man as his neighbor and police were able to arrest him.
Clason named 2015 Henryettan of the Year
Each year, a local citizen receives the Henryettan of the Year Award at the annual Henryetta Chamber of Commerce Banquet. With approximately 40 nominations, Henryetta Mayor Jennifer Clason was the chosen recipient. Former Free-Lance editor Angel Ellis presented the award to Clason at the banquet, which also happened to be on Clason's birthday. Nominations for Henryettan of the Year 2016 are still being accepted until Dec. 30, 2016. Nominations can be sent to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Emergency workers threatened by gunman in highway accident
When emergency personnel received word of a traffic accident involving a semi-truck on US 75, they never imagined it to turn into a crime scene. The semi had departed the highway from the northbound lane of the roadway and landed in the Deep Fork Wildlife public fishing pond.When first responders arrived, the driver of the semi identified as John Henry Neuman, refused to exit his vehicle, drew out a gun and began shooting. Police instructed him to drop the gun, but Neuman refused. A deputy returned fire and Neuman fell into the pond. When crews assisted to keep him from drowning, he arose from the water and began shooting again, and that's when the deputy began to return fire again. Soon after, authorities said that attempts to save Neuman's life had failed. Both lanes of US 75 were halted during the altercation. Police later released that Neuman had a violent track record, including being charged in the death of his wife.
Council appoints White as interim city manager
City Council hosted a special meeting to decide who would be named the interim city manager during the month long paid suspension of Henryetta city manager Ted Graham. Council woman Christy Jeffcoat made the motion to appoint Donna White as the interim city manager; Shannon Scott seconded the motion. White had prior experience with serving as the interim city manager before Graham.
Wilson school bond funds plans for the school to offer football
Wilson Public Schools passed a $290,000 bond to provide funds for the purpose of constructing, equipping, repairing and remodeling school buildings and acquiring school furniture, fixtures and equipment. Voters in the Wilson school district approved the proposition with 86 in favor and 21 opposed. Wilson schools used the bond money to fund a new marquee and construct a football field and football house.
Education Foundation hosts fundraiser banquet
The 2016 Henryetta Education Foundation hosted a banquet to raise funds that would allow students to receive multi-cultural immersion, such as trips to festivals and musicals. At the banquet, community members were treated to a fancy dinner and took part in an auction. Over 200 attendees were present at the event, helping to make possible the nearly $450,000 total scholarships and grants that have been provided to Henryetta students from the Foundation.
Spring storms bring hail
Hail stones measuring as large as 1.75 inches were reported as a brief but strong thunderstorm rolled across Okmulgee County.
Air Evac arrives in Henryetta
Several members of the Air Evac flight team and Henryetta officials welcomed Air Evac to Henryetta. Henryetta's base is the company's 14th in the state of Oklahoma. Air Evac Lifeteam is the nation's largest independently owned and operated air ambulance service, and its crews provide on-the-scene medical care, rapid medical transport and transfers between medical facilities. An Air Evac Lifetime Crew, which includes a registered nurse, paramedic and pilot, is on call at the Henryetta station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since April, Air Evac has made several appearances and fly-overs at public events, including Henryetta sporting events and parades.
Henryetta relay raises $18k
The Henryetta Relay for Life raised over $18,819.00 to contribute to putting an end to cancer. Among the top contributors and teams was Moore Motivation, FFFCU Cancer Crushers, Moving Mountains for Alana and Hott Shotts. Before the event, a proclamation was made at City Hall by Henryetta Mayor Jennifer Clason to name the date of the race and point out the good works the organization does to recognize individuals battling cancer. The 2017 Relay for Life Kickoff event party is scheduled for Jan. 10 at the Henryetta First United Methodist Church, 6:30 p.m.
West inducted into hall of fame
Terry Don West, a four-time World Champion Bull Rider from Henryetta was inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame recognizes and commemorates the legends of the sport of bull riding. West has received several major titles, including IPRA World Champion Bull Riding, PRCA Reserve World Champion, PRCA World Champion Bull Riding, PBR second place record for most consecutive rides (15) and PRCA World Champion Bull Riding. He also travelled to Brazil and Australia to compete for Team America Bull Riding. Now, West hosts bull riding schools in Henryetta. Also inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame was Henryettan Jim Shoulder's bull, Tornado.
Phase two of tennis court remodel approved
Henryetta City Council approved the next phase of the tennis court remodel project. Phase two included construction of a 50 by 30 foot pavilion, handicapped-accessible and family-style restrooms and lot improvement on the south side of the courts. The proposal included a price run-down of the following: restroom facilities $34,525, pavilion $35,065, lot improvements $800 and slated sidewalk $11,715.
Audience enjoys a little 'Hakuna Matata'
Before school dismissed for summer, Henryetta Elementary School debuted their production of the 'Lion King.' The play featured all the favorite hits from the movie, including “I Just Can't Wait to be King” and “Be Prepared.” The 'Lion King' is a 1994 American animated epic musical film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 32nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics.
May proclaimed National Buddy Poppies Month
Each year the City of Henreytta begins the preparations for Memorial Day in Henryetta with an official proclamation that declares the month of May as the National Campaign of Buddy Poppies.
The VFW conducted its first poppy distribution before Memorial Day in 1922, becoming the first veterans' organization to organize a nationwide distribution. The poppy soon was adopted as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. During the 1923 encampment, the VFW decided that VFW “Buddy” Poppies would be assembled by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work to provide them with financial assistance. The next year, disabled veterans at the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh assembled VFW Buddy Poppies. The designation “Buddy Poppy” was adopted at that time. The majority of the proceeds derived from each campaign by VFW Posts and their Ladies Auxiliaries is retained locally to provide Veteran services and welfare.
Doughboy fundraising begins
Henreytta former Mayor Bill Goodner partnered with the Henryetta Free-Lance to call the community to action for a special project that updated Henreytta's iconic landmark, the Doughboy statue and plaque. Bill and his wife Verna conducted research that uncovered 70 names of soldiers killed in action that needed to be added to the plaque. By June 24, Goodner and the Free-Lance acquired nearly half of their $4,600 goal by generous sponsors and donors.
Splash pad opens to public
The splash pad project at McCutcheon park was finally completed after the summer heat allowed for concrete to dry. The project had seen several unexpected delays due to flooding the spring before. The project began July 2015 when former Henryetta Councilman Henry Koelzer revealed his idea for the splash pad to the Council. Now, locals can beat the summer heat by cooling under the fountains.
Taco Bueno breaks ground
A ground breaking ceremony took place with City officials and Taco Bueno franchisee Rick Verity. After six months of construction, the restaurant hosted their grand opening ceremony on Dec. 19. Attendees received a tour of the kitchen as well as coupons for a free meal.
The Shack and Co. opens
Whitney and Amanda Welmer and Melissa Yaerger transformed the building located at 509 W. Main St. into a restaurant featuring a coffee bar with espresso drinks, specialty hot chocolates and ice cream and fresh food. The business's slogan is “Live like a local.” Since their opening on June 17, the quaint, little shop has become famous for its daily lunch deals including “Taco Tuesday.”
Mayor proclaims Daniel Cox Day in Henryetta
When walking Veteran Thomas Hudson visited Henryetta, third-grader Daniel Cox noticed he could use a drink of water. After helping him on a hot, summer day, Cox and his family took Hudson to eat at Cowboy Corner. There, Cox said a prayer over the food and Hudson claimed it was the best blessing he had heard. He was so moved by Cox's generosity that he took his story to the Mayor, who later declared July 8, 2016 as “Daniel Cox Day.” The Walking Veteran will return on Jan. 28, 2017 to donate his wagon to the Henryetta Historical Society.
Sheward files citizens' petition for second audit
News that Howard “Buck” Sheward had filed a petition to audit the city circulated at July's City Council Meeting. The council set aside a special meeting as an FAQ to learn more about the audit. Sheward was given 30 days to collect signatures and return them to the State Auditor and Inspector's Office. After the 30 days, the State Audit Board announced that the petition failed. Three months later, a new petition was drafted, submitted and passed. The audit is expected to take place in the next 90 days, and will cost approximately $75,000.
Severe showers flood main
A quick and fierce thunderstorm dropped massive amounts of water on Henryetta in just a few short minutes. Many area residents woke up to broken tree limbs and power outages. Main Street was also flooded. The City of Beggs was also affected with power outages and water outages.The Emergency Management Director informed the county to report any damages from the string of storms.
Ruptured pipe pushes back first day of school for students
Henryetta teachers and students received an unexpected extra day of summer vacation when a major water leak had been detected. While the leak was not on the school property itself, it was puling water away from the tank on 3rd street. Mayor Jennifer Clason called Superintendent Dwayne Noble and expressed her concern that the schools' water could run out by the end of the school day and parents would have to come retrieve their children. That morning, construction crews began work on the pipe and school resumed on time the next day.
Stolen Twin Hills buses burned
Police continued to investigate the two Twin Hills buses that went missing and were later found intentionally burned using shoplifted lighter fluid. Suspects were later identified as Joshua Coppedge and Garrett Raynor, both 18.
The Okmulgee County Sheriff's Office had said that the teens, and possibly others, were drinking on the Twin Hills school playground before they stole the buses. Four months later, both teens pled guilty.
Labor Day events kick off
The annual Labor Day Pageant kicked off a series of Labor Day events. The contest included 31 entries from boys and girls 0-37 months. Other events included the annual Jim Shoulder's Living Legends Rodeo featuring professional “funny man” clown McCracken, carnival, Gospel concert, car show, contest games, live music, a performance from the HHS Knights Brigade, a parade and fireworks.
OBU graduate Ashley Wolstoncroft was welcomed as the new Free-Lance newspaper editor. Prior to employment, Wolstoncroft wrote for the International Mission Board in South Africa (including Baptist Messenger), the Tri-County Herald, Shawnee News-Star, Shawnee Outlook and Bison Newspaper.
City approves ATV purchase
The City of Henryetta approved the $10,336.75 purchase of a side by side fire truck at a September City Council meeting. The all terrain vehicle allowed the city to quickly respond to brush fires and accidents occurring at events.
McCutcheon Park opens playground
The cooler temperatures came just in time for the official opening of Henryetta's McCutcheon Park. The City unanimously voted for the park upgrades totaling $49,000 in June. The decision came shorty after the completion of the park's splash pad. Since then, outdated equipment has been removed from the park and replaced with handicapped-accessible playground equipment that follows updated safety regulations. The equipment serves children ages 5-12.
Housing Authority Director accused of embezzlement
Former Housing Authority Director Brenda Lee Bible, 58, of Henryetta was charged with embezzling housing authority funds totaling $56,267.74 between Sept. 5, 2011 and April 16, 2016.
MCN terminates 123 employees
A total of 123 MCN Department of Health employees lost their jobs. Another 55 tribal workers were transferred to different positions. The layoffs were in response to a massive deficit in the health department's budget. Principal Chief James Floyd signed each of the termination letters and explained the goal was to “reorganize the Health Department operations and infrastructure in order to continue to provide needed access and quality of patient care.” A few days later, a petition circulated to remove Floyd, who was accused of “treason, incompetence and abuse of power.” The petition failed.
Haskell player injured at football game
A tragedy united rivals at a Henryetta football game. Haskell freshman Reuben Wheeland was flown to St. Francis Hospital following a major head injury that occurred during the game. In the days to follow, communities joined together at the Haskell football field to pray for Wheeland. Other Oklahoma teams wore his number and organized fundraises for him and his family. Wheeland is still recovering two months later. He woke up from his coma on December 8, but is still in a vegetative state, meaning he will have to relearn how to follow simple commands and movements.
Cruise Knight burned rubber
Henryetta's fifth Cruise Knight was a large success, bringing several individuals flocking from out of town, and even state.
Raid vests donated to HPD
Henryetta police received a new wardrobe. Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Director and Schulter Graduate John Scully donated six raid vests to help protect some of Henryetta's heroes. Each vest was worth an estimated $1,850, totaling $11,000 worth of donated equipment. The new vests included a handle and were heavier, making them appropriate for raids and violent situations.
Election season for 2016 came and went, after several discussions involving state questions and the District 16 seat. Okmulgee Republican Scott Fetgatter won the District 16 seat for House of Representatives against opponent Democrat Ronnie Kell. Fetgatter collected 7,038 votes and Kell ended up with 6,095. Donald Trump was voted as the new president elect while state questions 776, 780, 781 and 792 passed.
Doughboy Plaques dedicated on Veterans Day
The community gathered around the iconic Doughboy statue to dedicate the plaques to fallen veterans and their families. The ceremony began with the National Anthem performed by the Henryetta Knight Brigade HHS band. Afterward, Mayor Jennifer Clason was invited to speak, followed by a presentation from Bill Goodner. Goodner explained the story of Specialist Edward Allen DeVore Jr., a Henryetta-born soldier who joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1967. Not long after he died in battle and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Train kills man in Henryetta
Henryetta Police were contacted on Nov. 18 from Burlington-Northern Railroad, and were advised that they believed a train had struck a pedestrian who was on the tracks. The incident occurred about a mile North of the Main Street railroad track intersection. The train engineer said that the train was traveling between 20-25 mph when he observed a man (later identified as John Josie, 55) sitting on the tracks. As the train approached, the man did not move and was struck by the engine. Josie died at the scene. His body was transported to the Medical Examiner's office for examination.
Kindergarten building ready for use
Students jumped, giggled and hollered as they toured their classrooms in the new kindergarten building. The building was made possible through voters' support of a $9.6 million bond proposal to bring STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) to the Henryetta Public School District. Apart from the new curriculum, the building is FEMA-approved and will provide a safe place for children during ill weather.
City addresses audit costs
Beginning in January, a $6 surcharge will be added to every Henryetta water bill. The decision was made at December's council meeting. The extra funds will be used to pay for a $50,000-$75,000 audit against the city that will take place this budget year.