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lnichols / The Associated Press 

New England Patriots quarterbacks Brian Hoyer, left, and Tom Brady, right, run on the field while warming up during NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots are scheduled to host the Tennessee Titans in an NFL divisional football AFC playoff game on Saturday.

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Ethan Buss wins American Legion Auxiliary award

When Ethan Buss turned 10, he didn’t want an Xbox or a PS4, or any presents, really. Ethan just wanted to help people.

His birthday party was originally going to be a small get-together for friends and family, with the goal of raising money for hurricane relief.

But plans changed when the party grew much larger, and eventually, the entire community was invited to Ethan’s birthday party at Risky’s in Beatrice on Oct. 29.

Ethan ended up raising more than $5,000 to help people hit hard by last year's hurricanes. As a way of recognizing his work and generosity, the American Legion Auxiliary of Beatrice awarded him with their Good Deed Award.

The Good Deed Award is given to children whose positive actions do something to give back to the community. Whether it’s donating hair to Locks of Love, organizing a canned food drive or, in Ethan’s case, raising enough money to help more than 2,000 people, the Good Deed Award represents the Auxiliary’s motto of “service not self” and the award comes signed by the American Legion Auxiliary’s national president, Diane Duscheck.

The American Legion Auxiliary had heard about Ethan’s fundraiser, according to Ethan’s mother, Amber Shufeldt. The Auxiliary wasn't able to send any representatives to the spaghetti feed at Risky’s—during which Ethan and his friends personally served dinner. The Auxiliary did, however, send along a check for $100 to help with the effort.

The dinner raised $5,000 for the Red Cross, which then used the money to purchase 2,000 hygiene kits for disaster victims.

A few days later, Shufeldt got a call from Marian Melcher with the Beatrice American Legion Auxiliary, asking if they could nominate Ethan for the award. That was the last Shufeldt had heard about it until recently.

“I kind of had forgotten about it,” she said. “They called us a week or two ago and said that he was selected for that award.”

This Monday, the group presented Ethan with the award and thanked him for his contribution to those in need.

Over the last few months, Ethan has gotten a lot of media attention, Shufeldt said, from newspapers, radio and even TV, but he’s been pretty unfazed by the whole thing.

Shufeldt said that Ethan’s a smart kid, but she’s not sure if he understands all the attention, but said it’s not slowing him down.

“He is very, just genuine,” Shufeldt said. “Just a very kind, genuine person.”

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Snow cancels schools, slows traffic

A light rain on Wednesday evening turned into snow by Thursday morning, forcing several area schools to cancel classes and creating a treacherous morning commute. 

Snowfall in Beatrice intensified around 8 a.m. Visibility proved to be the biggest challenge for morning commuters, as strong winds sent snow flying and made it difficult for drivers to see lanes, signs and other commuters.

Street Superintendent Jason Moore said Beatrice received about 2 inches of snowfall Thursday morning.

Efforts to clear the streets were hindered by the strong wind gusts, which posed an added challenge to workers.

“The high winds have been extremely difficult,” Moore said. “Anytime you have high winds, what you need to hope for is you can get the streets plowed down and scraped off the best you can. What ends up happening is, if you apply salt to the road, the salt will make snow melt and create wetness. Then the blowing snow will stick and build up on that.”

Street department crews were out at around 4 a.m. Thursday, shortly after sleet started to fall.

Moore said the department set out to clear the streets as best as possible for the 6 a.m. commute.

He added that by Thursday afternoon, most of the snow routes were in good shape, and that crews would be out first thing Friday to clear any problem areas where snow was blowing.

Early Thursday morning, Beatrice Public Schools had announced a two-hour delay. But shortly before 8 a.m., Superintendent Pat Nauroth chose to cancel school for the day.

Diller-Odell, Freman, Lewiston, Norris, Tri County, Pawnee City, Wymore, Sterling also closed for the day, in addition to St. Paul and St. Joseph's schools in Beatrice. 

Fairbury, Meridian and Southeast Community College in Beatrice were planning to start the school day two hours late.

Thursday games in the ongoing MUDECAS basketball tournament in Beatrice were postponed until Friday, and by Thursday afternoon, organizers were still working out the schedule for the rest of the tournament.

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Homestead National Monument had record number of visitors in 2017

Thousands of visitors last August contributed to Homestead National Monument of America hitting its highest annual attendance on record.

Homestead Park Superintendent Mark Engler said the unofficial count for 2017 was 123,399 visitors, setting a new record and marking the second year ever that attendance has topped six figures.

Last year’s attendance intensified in August, as the total solar eclipse generated international attention for the National Park Service site.

“That weekend was a huge weekend for the park and especially the day of totality, that Monday, was huge,” Engler said. “I think one of the great things that comes from these numbers is the economic impact generated from those thousands and thousands of people who found their way to the monument. The benefits of their spending were seen within the community, regional area and within the state and beyond.”

Homestead National Monument was deemed a prime viewing spot for the eclipse since it was directly in the path of totality, and also experienced total darkness for one of the longest durations.

The 2017 estimate represents an approximate 40 percent increase over 2016’s attendance of 87,755.

Engler said attendance on Monday, Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse, was 20,991. The Homestead hosted numerous events in the days leading up to the eclipse, including presentations from NASA scientists. Total attendance for the four days of festivities was 36,749.

But the boost generated by the eclipse wasn’t limited to only the four days.

“All through the year leading up to totality, we had people traveling here to basically determine if they were going to come here for the eclipse,” Engler said. “Not only to determine if they were coming here, but to scope out where in the Monument they could view the eclipse from. There was a lot of traffic leading up the eclipse that had a positive impact on the visitation, as well.”

In addition to the eclipse, Homestead was the site of programs throughout the year to celebrate Nebraska’s 150th year as a state that contributed to attendance figures.

Engler said several thousand people also visited Homestead as the result of a price increase to a NPS pass program for seniors.

Homestead doesn’t charge an admission and programs are free, but it does sell America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands passes, which cover admission to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country.

Lifetime passes for seniors age 62 and over were previously $10, though the price was bumped to $80 for a lifetime pass or $20 for an annual pass, prompting thousands of people to get it at the cheaper rate.

The only other year Homestead’s attendance has topped 100,000 was in 2012, when 103,000 people visited the site to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862, for which the NPS site was established. To mark the occasion, the Homestead Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln himself, was on display in Gage County.

The 2017 eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, though Engler speculated the rare event will have an impact on Homestead for years to come.

“Along with the thousands that found their way to Homestead for the eclipse, thousands, if not millions, learned about the monument through news media and special coverage of the event,” he said. “I have to wonder if the eclipse is still in play from the standpoint that people learning about us through the eclipse want to learn more about Homestead National Monument of America in person.”