Drought of 2012 tops list of 10 biggest local stories of the year

An irrigation system puts down water on a cornfield west of West Quincy, Mo., because of the lack of rain. The drought of 2012 was something that touched us all as the year unfolded. (H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Dec. 28, 2012 4:09 pm Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 9:16 pm
Mary Thomas loads a flat sorter machine at Quincy's postal processing facility in this file photo. The site is expected to close in 2013. (H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

In a physical sense, none of us could actually see or feel the drought of 2012, but it was something that touched us all as the year unfolded.

And there is a good chance it will continue to weigh upon us into 2013, when we will begin to feel the impact of the trickle-down effects it will have on local, regional, state and national economies.
All sorts of government-related data cut right to the chase: The consensus is the drought of 2012 will eventually go down as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The drought has covered more territory since any similar disaster since the 1950s, and is currently among the 10 most severe droughts since the late 1800s, according to agencies such as the National  Climatic Data Center and National Weather Service.

Some of the first telling signs of the drought in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri came during the summer. That's when the usual flowing fields of corn stalks in these highly rural areas were showing stark signs of stunted growth and brown foliage — instead of the lush green patterns that normally dominate the warm-weather months.

"Drought severity, as calculated by corn yield loss, was greater in 2012 than for any year within the past 50 years," said Bill Wiebold, an agronomy specialist for the University of Missouri Extension.

Many initial comparisons of this year's drought were being made to what unfolded in the region during a drought in 1988, but the predicted yield loss for 2012 is expected to be double that of 1988, although final United States Department of Agriculture statistics will not be available until early 2013.

What is expected to be a 35 to 40 percent drop in overall corn production in Illinois and Missouri will result in a loss of more than $10 billion to farmers in those regions, although an estimated 80 percent of that loss is insured.

As the year progressed, so did the growing side effects of the drought. The dry weather, coupled with a mild winter that saw minimal snowfall, began to impact the Mississippi and other major rivers. Water levels plummeted, which affected trade and commerce. Barge operators have been forced to carry smaller loads and raise rates.

In recent months, food prices have seen a 4 percent increase due to crop failures tied to the drought. More than 2,000 U.S. counties have been designated disaster areas by the USDA because of the drought.

At least 70 percent of the U.S. crop and livestock production comes from counties affected by the drought, so it's no surprise the USDA says additional price increases involving beef, pork, poultry and dairy products are expected to be felt in early 2013. Higher feed costs are also tied to the loss of crops.

Gardner Denver/Harris

Two of Quincy's biggest and most well-known employers have, or are in the process of attempting to change ownership. The long-term impact of both potential sales will probably not be known until sometime later this decade.

Harris Corp. announced in early December it had reached an agreement to sell its broadcast communications division for $225 million to The Gores Group LLC, a Los Angeles-based investment firm. Chris Parsons, global vice president of operations and supply chain for Harris Corp., called the sale "a positive move" for Harris' Quincy plant, where more than 300 people are employed.

Quincy Mayor John Spring also was encouraged by news of the sale.

"The Gores Group looks like a very positive, A-plus company," Spring said. "People who work here should feel good about this. This is a positive sign that the economy is turning around for sure."

Harris had announced in May that it planned to sell off its broadcast division. Quincy's plant involves manufacturing for transmission and other devices. The Gores Group has offices in Boulder, Colo., and London.

Gardner Denver ended talks late this month with Charlotte-based SPX Corp., and has invited the private equity firms that had made offers for the company to re-engage in a sale process. Gardner Denver had been in exclusive negotiations to be bought by SPX, which reportedly submitted a $4.2 billion purchase offer for its longtime competitor.

Talks of a Gardner Denver sale or merger began July 28 after ValueAct Capital recommended a sale to boost shareholder profits. ValueAct made its request in a 13D/A document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The documents are required when investors whose holdings exceed 5 percent of company ownership express their intentions.

ValueAct made its suggestion to the board of directors after what it called the "surprising resignation" of former Gardner Denver CEO Barry Pennypacker on July 16. Chief Financial Officer Michael Larsen has been serving as interim CEO since Pennypacker's departure. Goldman Sachs has been Gardner Denver's financial adviser during the potential sales process.

Gardner Denver announced in August that it would shut down some of its European manufacturing facilities and trim its work force to reduce costs. That move came after the company reported a 36 percent drop in orders for the company's engineered products division — mostly petroleum and industrial pumps — during the second quarter.

Gardner Denver has been restructuring its global operations in recent years, eliminating the corporate manufacturing services department from Quincy operations in September 2008. Gardner Denver's global corporate headquarters began moving from Quincy in September 2010 to Wayne, Pa.

Postal center moving

Workers at Quincy's postal processing facility at 4330 Postal Drive — near 42nd and Wismann Lane — were told early this year the site would be closed sometime in 2013. The Quincy plant is one of 140 postal processing facilities that will be eliminated in the coming year as the Postal Service tries to overcome a revenue shortfall.

About 60 career postal employees who now work at the Quincy facility will have the option of retiring or relocating to other Postal Service sites. Career postal employees will have the ability to move to jobs held by workers with less seniority. They also can displace postal support employees, who are paid less and receive few, if any, fringe benefits.

"Where a community loses is that we lose more than payroll (about $3 million)," Mayor John Spring said. "We lose those people living here, shopping here and paying taxes here. There's a ripple effect."

The Postal Service, which has reduced the size of its workforce by 244,000 career employees since 2000, reported in April that it is losing an average of $23 million a day as Americans send less mail.

The agency's finances have been shaky since the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act required the agency to prefund health and pension benefits at a rate of $5.5 billion a year starting in 2007.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., inserted a provision into an appropriations bill that would require the U.S. Postal Service to conduct an audit that shows cost savings before closure or consolidation at 11 postal processing centers — including Quincy — scheduled for shuttering. All of those sites were found to be efficient operations in recent years through independent reviews.

Durbin is chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. He included his postal audit provision in the fiscal 2013 appropriations bill for financial services and government. It has not yet been approved in the Senate and would need to be approved in the House to become law.

Quincy area mail, originating in the 623 ZIP code area, started going to Springfield, Ill., for processing in early August. The Quincy mail sorting center will continue to handle mail for the 634 and 635 ZIP code areas of Northeast Missouri until February, when that work will be taken over by a processing center in Columbia, Mo.

Education leadership changes

Four major education leadership positions in the region had openings this year, including the Quincy Public Schools, which saw Lonny Lemon resign as superintendent to accept a position in the Chicago area.

The Quincy superintendent's position drew 33 applications, including 16 current superintendents and five principals. Fourteen of the candidates were from Illinois, four from Missouri, two from Iowa, two from Indiana and 11 from other states. The position is expected to be filled in early 2013, but the new superintendent would not start work in Quincy until the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Ray Heilmann retired as principal at Quincy Notre Dame, ending a 39-year association with the school at Tenth and Jackson. After teaching for nearly a decade, Heilmann became an assistant principal at QND in 1982 and was named the school's first lay principal 1995.

Mark McDowell was named Heilmann's successor. McDowell graduated from QND in 1995 and has been an educator since 1999.

John Letts became the fifth president at John Wood Community College, succeeding Thomas Klincar, who resigned amid controversy in the fall of 2011. Letts has filled several roles during almost a quarter of a century at the college.

Klincar was bought out of his contract by trustees. No one would talk publicly about the departure, but behind the scenes Klincar's military background and style of leadership allegedly rubbed some the wrong way. So did the fact that once the resignation and buyout were announced, Klincar soon after accepted the chancellor's job at Central Texas State.

Letts began his tenure at JWCC in 1988 as dean of student services and has served as interim president on two different occasions. Prior to accepting the president's job, Letts was serving as vice president for student services.

Anthony Allen was named the 17th president at Hannibal-LaGrange University, replacing the retiring Woodrow Burt. Allen had been working as senior vice president for administration and chief administrative officer at Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

Allen said one of his goals at HLGU is to maintain the university's strong relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention, which supports around 2,000 Southern Baptist churches across the state.

Working cash bond

Voters approved by a comfortable margin a plan by the Quincy School District to issue $6.2 million in working cash bonds to eliminate debt, avoid borrowing and strengthen the district's long-term financial outlook.

The approval was a welcome result because eight times since 1978 the School District had put a referendum before voters, and eight times the measure had been defeated, some in resounding fashion. The last successful referendum came in 1969, a $7.95 million bond issue to finance construction of a new high school and elementary school.

Issuing the bonds will enable the district to eliminate a carried-over deficit of $2.2 million in the Education Fund and erase an ongoing $4 million shortfall in the district's checking account, caused largely by the state's inability to meet its obligations. School Board President Bill Daniels said issuing the bonds will "put us on a more solid financial footing."

The passage of the working cash bond measure means the ailing Education Fund is now projected to have a $2.3 million balance by 2015, its healthiest in at least two decades. But the uncertainty over future financial payments from the state could jeopardize that forecast.

Niemann/Knapheide gifts

Quincy University and the Quincy School District benefitted from the philanthropy of two of the city's most prominent families.

Quincy University received its largest-ever gift from a living donor — a $1 million donation in June from Rich Niemann Sr. and the Niemann Foods Foundation. Niemann, the chairman of the board of Quincy-based Niemann Foods Inc., said he was making the donation to honor his wife, Connie, whom he describes as the "unsung hero" of his business and personal life.

"The driving reason why I want to honor Connie is because she's been the silent one and has supported me in so many different ways," Niemann said. "She's been the one behind me — always there to console and consult. She's always been that way. She's the unsung hero, and by gosh it's time for me to recognize that."

The $1 million gift will be used to redevelop a section of a building on QU's north campus into the Connie Niemann Center for Music. This renovation work will take place primarily in the space now occupied by two connected chapels in the "B Building" facing Seminary Road.

Plans call for converting the south chapel into a multi-purpose reception area, while the north chapel will be developed into a performance venue. Both spaces will have moveable seating and can be used jointly for big events.

The Knapheide  Manufacturing Co. and the Knapheide family are partnering with Quincy School District and the Quincy Public Schools Foundation to implement a major technological upgrade for all of the district's public schools. The project was announced in December.

The upgrade is one of five priorities of the $4 million "Dream Big" campaign started by the Quincy Public Schools Foundation in 2010.

Knapheide's information technology department will team with the district's IT department to design and implement a wireless and wired infrastructure throughout the school system. The upgrade will result in network and wireless Internet access in classrooms, a mobile digital environment in instructional areas of school buildings, a centralized infrastructure to support the technology and devices to access the Internet.

"It's huge," Joel Murphy, district business manager, said of the Knapheide's commitment. "It will bring us into the 21st century."

Murphy said very little wireless technology now is used in the district's school buildings.

"We're going to team up with them and kind of review the options they have for the project," said Dave Kater, Knapheide's senior vice president in charge of information technology. "We're going to provide them with whatever technology expertise that we can bring to the party."

Tragic fires

One local toddler survived a tragic house fire, but another did not. These two stories ran the gamut of emotions for family and community members alike during much of the past year.

Ella Cain, 15 months old at the time she was trapped in a second-floor crib on the city's southwest side, was burned badly over half of her body and was not expected to survive the day of the Jan. 3 fire that destroyed the home of her parents, Elvis Cain and Sarah Ginster. Cain, Ginster and Ginster's 6-year-old son, Grady, all suffered smoke inhalation trying to save Ella. The fire started near an electrical outlet on the second floor of the family's home, just a short distance from Ella's crib.

"Baby Ella," as she became known to the community, was airlifted to Springfield where a team of specialists at St. John's Children's Hospital worked around the clock to first save her life, then to repair her tiny body. Ella remained in Springfield until late March, when she returned to Quincy.

She has made numerous trips back and forth, and at last report had undergone more than 20 surgeries.

Baby Ella can now walk again, and recently took part in her first dance recital — less than a year after the fire that nearly took her life.

Two Quincy Firefighters received the state's highest honor for firefighters for their efforts in rescuing Baby Ella. Firefighter Justin Twaddle and Lt. Eric Becks received the Firefighter Medal of Honor at the a ceremony at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. They also were awarded the Quincy Fire Department's Medal of Valor, the highest honor in the city. Firefighter Mark Bichsel also received a letter of commendation for his part in the rescue.

Incredibly, the same morning of the fire involving Baby Ella, a fire in Hamilton claimed the life of 5-month-old Jillian A. Lorigan. The infant's home was part of the 900 block on Broadway that went up in flames. The origin of the fire that destroyed half of the block was found to have been in the bathroom of the apartment that was rented by the baby's mother, Stevie N. Walker. Walker and her two other children escaped unharmed.

"Just devastating," said 93-year-old Arygle Webster, who grew up in Hamilton and now lives in nearby Carthage, about the fire.

A popular Quincy restaurant — Sprout's Inn — was destroyed by fire in June. Sprout's had been a longtime landmark on the city's north side. Owner Jennifer Wiemelt vowed to rebuild the restaurant, where many local memories had been forged since her grandfather, Cecil M. "Sprout" McClean, first opened the business in 1940 at 1029 Broadway. The business was relocated in 1950 to its current site and had been enlarged several times.

One of the city's oldest structures went up in flames in August when the 137-year-old Anna E. Brown home was destroyed. The three-story building was one of Quincy's grandest homes when it was erected circa 1875 at the northwest corner of Fifth and Maple. Anna Brown had been widowed by Charles Brown in 1868, after which she built the three-story brick house and lived there until her death on Oct. 22, 1893.

At one time, the site served as a home for the aged, eventually merging with Good Samaritan Home in 1970. The home later was owned by a series of developers who operated apartments and became vacant when it deteriorated.

Blessing expansions

The city's largest employer committed more than $80 million to two major building projects.

Blessing Hospital's new $70 million patient tower at its 11th Street campus is a project that is expected to take about two years to complete. The addition will allow Blessing to move its three inpatient behavioral medicine units from the 14th Street campus to 11th Street, consolidating all inpatient care in one location.

"This has been a long time in the works and we're all very excited to be moving forward," said Jerry Jackson, vice president of engineering and facility development for Blessing Corporate Services.

"This will be an asset for (everyone in the community)."

The addition will create 104 new single-bed rooms, with 52 in the new addition and the other 52 in converted spaces in Blessing's existing patient facility.

"A private room is among the most common request of our patients," said Maureen Kahn, president and chief executive officer of Blessing Hospital. "In addition to making hospitalization a little more comfortable, private rooms decrease the risk for infection."

Blessing Health System also broke ground for a $10 million addition to the Blessing Health Center complex at 927 Broadway, expected to be finished in June 2013. That four-story building will connect with the two existing Blessing Health Center facilities to the east and provide an additional 62,000 square feet that will house more of the Blessing Physician Services operation.

Mentesti retires

Jim Mentesti's retirement as president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation marked the end of an era, one that help restore economic stability to a region that was hit hard by major factory closures in 1976 and 1982.

Mentesti, 73, was with GREDF for almost 27 years, and during that time emerged as "the face of economic development" in Quincy and Adams County. Mentesti was named executive director (a title that was later changed to president) of the organization in 1986 following the death of Al Sellers.

"If you go back to those early days, we were still in a world of hurt because of the 3,500 jobs (1976) that were lost when Motorola closed and the 1,500 jobs (1982) that were lost at Electric Wheel," Mentesti said.

The loss of those manufacturing jobs was a huge economic blow. The community of 42,000 had unemployment of 10 percent or higher for years. The county's unemployment rate is now the second-lowest in the state.

The entities that merged to become GREDF were formed to "stabilize the jobs and establish a strong economic development program," Mentesti said.

Over the years, GREDF has seen lots of economic development successes and has adopted a broader mandate to boost quality of life, work cooperatively across county and state lines, and provide funding for some vital projects.

Phil Conover, a former GREDF Board chairman, was named interim president. Board Chairman Tim Finlay hopes to name a permanent replacement for Mentesti by next spring.

Miss Quincy is Miss Illinois

Megan Ervin will provide all 40,000-plus Quincy residents a reason to tune in and watch the Jan. 12 Miss America pageant on ABC-TV. The native of Rushville who won the Miss Quincy and Miss Illinois crowns earlier this year will compete for the coveted Miss America crown next.

Ervin, 23, is seeking to become the sixth Miss Illinois to be named Miss America and first since 2002. The last local winner of the Miss Illinois pageant was Mary Lee Inzerello, who was Miss Adams County, in 1966. The last Miss Quincy winner to win the Miss Illinois pageant was Viola Hutmacher in 1948. Ervin is the first pageant winner from West-Central Illinois since Carthage's Colleen Metternich, who was Miss Heart of Illinois in 1973.

To say the odds were against Ervin winning the Miss Illinois title is probably an understatement.

Twenty-seven of the past 37 winners have come from the immediate or greater Chicago areas, while Ervin hails from Rushville, a town of 3,192.

"I don't think some realize how (rare) it is for someone downstate to win," said close friend Stacey Briney. "It wasn't surprising to me she won, and it won't surprise me if she wins at the next level."

Being named Miss Illinois means Ervin is surrendering a year of her life to wear the crown, sash and six-inch high heels on a daily basis to ribbon-cuttings, interviews, public appearances, giving speeches and similar events.

"Some days, there is no time to catch your breath," Megan said. "It is a sacrifice for a year, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It makes you grow up pretty fast."


Ray Heilmann gets a standing ovation after addressing the faculty, staff and student body and gets a hug from his wife Judy, to end an assembly at Quincy Notre Dame that paid tribute to the retiring principal. (H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley)


Kathy Eighinger holds granddaughter, "Baby Ella" Cain, who survived a tragic house fire in January. (H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson)


Miss Quincy Megan Ervin, who was crowned Miss Illinois earlier this year, shares a laugh with Cathy Redshaw before a ribbon-cutting event in Rushville, Ervin's hometown. (H-W File Photo/Phil Carolson)


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