Christmas songs filled the air in the National Guard Armory as people signed off next to their names with candy cane-shaped pens on Wednesday morning.
It was the culmination of Blue Valley Community Action’s Wish List program, which gives Christmas presents to foster children and families in need with help from the community.
For the past couple of weeks, Christmas trees at the Wal-Mart and Shopko in Beatrice were trimmed with little paper stars that each featured a Christmas wish list for a child in need. Shoppers could pick them up, do a little shopping and bring the gifts back to Blue Valley.
On Wednesday, those presents—hidden carefully from prying eyes inside big, plastic bags—were picked up by families who were also able to find clothing, household items and even some brand-new toys donated by organizations around Gage County.
This year, the Wish List program served 68 families and 157 foster children, Blue Valley Community Action’s Shelly Franzen said. Not all of the stars got picked from the trees this year, she said, but that’s where the work of donors and organizations come in.
The American Legion Auxiliary, Beatrice Public Schools, St. Paul’s School, St. John’s School, Wal-Mart, Shopko, Gage County United Way, Priority Printing, the Four Seasons group at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, as well as other businesses and organizations, all contributed to the cause, said Donna Leikam, who’s been working with the program for more than 20 years. They also had a sizable donation of brand-new toys for families to take home, thanks to the Clatonia Cares organization.
Leikam wasn’t sure exactly how long it’s been going on, but it’s been around at least since she started in 1996. She organized the project for the past 10 years, she said, but passed the torch to Franzen this year.
People have been generous this year, Franzen said. One child got a guitar he’d asked for and several people brought in brand new bikes. There were no telescopes this year—a traditionally popular gift, Leikam said—but there were plenty of science kits. There were about five skateboards donated and even some drones.
Kids also get a $25 voucher for clothes at Wal-Mart or Shopko, and parents who bring in an electric bill also get a $50 credit toward paying it.
Sometimes, the things children want most fall into place, Leikam said. Last year, she had a child who was a big fan of Harry Potter. Despite their search, Wish List organizers couldn’t find appropriate gifts related to the boy wizard.
Then they got a surprising donation. A woman who had collected Harry Potter memorabilia dropped off a huge selection of all things Potter.
“We could not purchase anything Harry Potter last year,” Leikam said. “And I was able to give that child a Harry Potter wand in a box. That mother cried, she was so happy.”
But the Christmas season is not the only time that Blue Valley is looking for help. They provide services throughout the year, Franzen said. Things like homeless assistance, emergency shelters, the Head Start program and housing assistance are a few of the services they offer.
“We always need donations for emergency assistance,” Franzen said. “Someone needing a place to stay, so we can put them in a hotel or emergency shelters. Clothing and we have a food pantry at Southeast Community College in the office there.”
A lot of the physical donations that BVCA received was on display across dozens of tables in the armory. Donated clothes, toys, pots, pans and even Christmas decorations could be taken home by participants.
Blue Valley always likes to see Christmas stuff at the Wish List giveaway, Franzen said, because a lot of people don’t have much to decorate with. They’d even given away a few Christmas trees on Wednesday, which will make a perfect companion to the gifts, she said.
“I love when the parent says, 'Now I've got to go home and wrap presents,'” Franzen said. “Because that's what I want. I want the people who are going to wrap the presents and put them under the tree.”
Franzen said she hoped that people will remember Blue Valley at other times of the year and consider making a donation, no matter what it might be.
“Whatever they're willing to bring or give,” she said, “we find a place for it.”
The stretch of Second Street in front of the Gage County Historical Society Museum is open to traffic again, but there’s still some sand laying on top of the brick roadway.
That was done on purpose, Beatrice City Engineer James Burroughs told members of the Beatrice Board of Public Works on Wednesday, and there’s still some work left to be done before the project is complete.
Most of the structural work is finished, Burroughs said. The only thing left to do is a walk-through with representatives from the state and the museum.
The brick portion of Second Street has been closed since July when a joint project between the state of Nebraska, Beatrice and the Gage County Historical Society began to restore the historic roadway.
Although the street is now open, the bricks still have to settle. Cars driving over the bricks will help that process along, Burroughs said.
While the bricks are being settled, it's possible that some may become dislodged, especially during snow removal operations. Fortunately, the bricks are under warranty for a year.
“We'll have the contractor come back in and make sure that those are all set back into place,” Burroughs said. “Until they get their final positioning and get some time on them, we might have to deal with that a little bit.”
Mayor Stan Wirth asked Burroughs if he thought bricks coming out of place would be a recurring problem for the road.
“Not once we get everything settled in, get some moisture on it, traffic on it,” Burroughs said. “That's why we left some sand on there. If you noticed, we didn't completely clean the roadway. We left sand on it right now to let the traffic work that into the bricks and get them even tighter yet.”
Burroughs said his department would be reevaluating the situation in a couple of weeks and will probably pick up the remaining sand at that time.
BPW member Darin Baehr asked Burroughs if the city anticipated heavier traffic on Second Street now that it’s in better shape, especially from trucks leaving the nearby industrial areas.
Burroughs said he thought it would be a popular route now, especially since traffic isn’t rerouted through downtown traffic lights.
“People often brought up that they liked the extreme dips and everything in there,” he said. “They felt like that slowed traffic down. That has been taken out and it's a smoother ride. I'm sure you're going to see some speeds increased that we might ask the police department to maybe look at those.”
Burroughs also said that there weren’t any weight limits for the brick section of Second Street, as it was designed for heavy truck traffic due to being a route out of the industrial area.
Wirth added that, when he drove by the street on Monday evening following its opening, the first vehicles he saw on the road were three semi trucks with hoppers.
BPW chairman Dave Eskra said it’s important to remember that Beatrice’s share of the cost was only 20 percent. The historical preservation issue of restoring the brick roadway was what paid for the rest of it, he said.
People have asked him why the city didn’t just pave the street, he said, but that decision wasn’t the city’s to make.
“The key thing on this project for the public to remember is that these funds would have not been given to the city of Beatrice if it wasn't for the historical part of putting the street back to brick,” Burroughs said. “Otherwise, we would not receive those funds. So that's the key component to that project.”
A jury trial was avoided in Gage County District Court this week after a plea agreement was reached shortly before opening arguments were scheduled.
The trial against Dusty Mayhew, 52, was scheduled to last three days. Jury members were selected Wednesday morning, with arguments scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Over the lunch hour, a plea agreement was reached with prosecutors.
Mayhew was charged for a December 2016 burglary. Per the agreement, the charge was reduced to accessory to burglary and a habitual criminal enhancement was removed. The charge is a class 3A felony, punishable by up to three years imprisonment, followed by nine to 18 months of post-release supervision and a fine of up to $10,000.
Mayhew pleaded no contest to the charge and will be sentenced Jan. 3.
An arrest warrant was issued for Mayhew in May for the burglary near Holmesville.
According to the warrant, the window on a back door of a residence was shattered and around $1,000 worth of items were taken.
A pair of gloves with the initials K.R. was found, and determined to belong to co-defendant Kenenth Rainey.
Mayhew is currently serving a prison sentence for failing to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by 48 months of post-release supervision on that charge, and three months in prison on a separate charge of driving under suspension, with the sentences being served concurrently.
In addition to the burglary case, Mayhew will also be sentenced on Jan. 3. in another case where he charged with possession of methamphetamine.
Per Tuesday’s plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending that sentencings in the two cases run concurrent.
Weighing the rights of homeowners and farmers was the topic of conversation as county officials discussed updating the current zoning regulations.
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission has been considering regulations for months, with assistance from Hanna:Keelan Associates, a Lincoln-based firm hired to go through the regulations and make recommendations.
Through the process setback requirements, the qualifying number of animal units and how land is categorized have been key topics.
Discussions continued Tuesday night when the commission met for its monthly meeting.
“We looked at considering changing setback requirements for the animal units, or consider recommending larger requirements of land area for an acreage, perhaps try to avoid a spread out situation,” Commission Chairman Dennis Rosene said. “For instance, Gage County will expand and continue to grow and have residences built. The question is: do we want 100 houses spread out, which will impact ag more than if we had 100 houses in subdivisions throughout the county?”
How the county defines its ag districts has also been discussed, as some special use permits have drawn controversy, due to the number of residences in proximity to ag projects.
“Right now, as the regulations stand, we have a density issue,” Planning and Zoning Administrator Lisa Wiegand said. “Regulations are set in AG-1 areas, four residences per quarter section. In AG-2 district, which is when you take your land use map and follow the map, that is five homes per quarter section.”
County regulations define AG-1 as a district that is designated for general agriculture use, intended to preserve and protect agriculture production from encroachment by incompatible uses.
AG-4, an urban reserve district, is intended to provide for low-density, acreage residential development in selected areas in close proximity to towns, or in rural areas with reasonable access to major rural roads.
Generally, these districts are located near urban and built-up areas within reasonable reach of fire protection and hard-surfaced roads.
“I don’t see animal agriculture as a road block in Gage County’s construction business at all,” commission member Terry Acton said. “If we’re going to change policy or push something forward that we recommend, I can’t even begin to see that happening. There’s so little of it going on right now.”
Discussions on regulations will continue at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting next month.