Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

January 7, 2013

Drought, Santorum visit make EDN top 10

EFFINGHAM — While it's not unusual for folks in a rural area to spend a lot of time talking about the weather, 2012 gave the area something to talk about.

That's because a horrific drought - the worst since the 1950s - decimated the area corn crop for many farmers and made the month of July one of the hottest on record.

The drought - and its effects - was easily the top story of 2012 in the Effingham Daily News circulation area, as picked by Daily News staff members.

Other stories in the top 10 for 2012 including the visit to Effingham by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the commitment of admitted killer Gary Schmitt to a mental institution, the Class 1A state champion St. Anthony Bulldogs baseball team and another state tournament trip for the Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City girls basketball team.

The second half of the area top 10 included what is believed to be the first conviction in Illinois for selling synthetic cannabinoids, the opening of a new historical museum in a very old building, dedication of a county veterans memorial, the effort to make the county's 911 system more efficient and continuing business expansion.

Here's the Effingham Daily News Top 10 for 2012:

1. The drought

Area farmers were pleased as punch to have a dry spring that enabled them to get their fields planted earlier than usual. But those same farmers didn't get the moisture they needed in early summer, causing area corn to not pollinate - and not grow. Coupled with one of the longest stretches of sustained high temperatures in the month of July, many area farmers simply plowed up their corn fields and thanked God for crop insurance.

2. Santorum visit

Effingham County has gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the most politically conservative areas of Illinois. Nearly 2,000 of those conservatives came out to the new John Boos & Co. facility south of Effingham to greet Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania was trying to drum up support for a strong showing in the upcoming Illinois primary. He didn't win the nomination, but his visit was still the first trip to Effingham by a major presidential candidate in more than a generation.

3. Gary Schmitt

The fall of this former Metro East school board member and Effingham native was made complete during a Dec. 11 commitment hearing in which it was agreed that he would be sent to a "secure" mental health facility. Schmitt, 48, had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in October after admitting he killed his father, Jack, in the summer of 2010 and stabbed a high school acquaintance and her daughter as part of a bizarre series of events in January 2011.

4. St. Anthony baseball

The St. Anthony Bulldogs had developed a series of strong teams before 2012, but their way to the state tournament had been blocked in Class 2A. But a drop to Class 1A made coach Kenny Miller's team invincible last season. Led by senior pitcher-shortstop Reed Willenborg, the Dogs carried a 29-8-1 mark to Peoria before beating Alton Marquette in the state semifinals and Tuscola in the championship for their first-ever state baseball title.

5. CHBC girls basketball

After an upset loss in the 2011 Class 1A sectional, only a cold fourth quarter in the state championship game kept coach Carolyn Wendte's Hornets from a state title. Led by junior all-stater Micah Jones, CHBC dominated area competition on its way to a 29-4 mark and a state runner-up finish.

6. K2 conviction

Synthetic cannabinoids were all the rage in the summer of 2011. Marketed as K2, K4, Spice and many other names, the fake marijuana was hailed by many users as a way to get high and still be able to pass a drug test. Then people started getting sick from the stuff, not just in Effingham, but nationwide. Effingham County officials acted that fall to ban the chemicals that give fake marijuana its kick. In 2012, the former owner of Gemini Coin Shop was found guilty of distributing the ersatz smoke in what is believed to be the first-ever trial on fake marijuana charges. Jimmie Poole avoided prison time, but was still sentenced to three years periodic imprisonment in Effingham County Jail and fined $10,000.

7. Museum opening

After several years of hard work, a dedicated group of volunteers opened the first floor of the old Effingham County Courthouse as the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum in November. Several rooms are devoted to displays, while the old first-floor courtroom is used for the popular historical presentation series.

8. Veterans Memorial

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many local communities began honoring veterans from all wars with various types of memorials. Effingham County had such a memorial, but in 2012, the county replaced its old plywood list with a set of shiny black granite stones containing more than 3,500 names. The Effingham County Veterans Memorial was dedicated shortly before Memorial Day in front of more than 400 people.

9. 911 consolidation

Many people thought the county's emergency telephone system should have been operated from one dispatch center from its inception in the late 1990s. But a turf war between city and county police caused the establishment of two such centers. In 2012, officials began studying the possibility of consolidating the two centers. By the end of the year, an ad hoc committee had been set up to study system "efficiency," a concept that may or may not include consolidation.

10. Business expansion

Effingham again displayed growth in its business community. Notable developments included a 40,000-square-foot addition to Heartland Dental Care, a new headquarters for Midland States Bank, and a new Fifth Third Bank building. Fifth Third moved to make room for an expanded Helen Matthes Library - a project that may begin this year. By the end of the year, a developer was beginning to work on the old Fedders plant on the south side of Effingham, giving hope for the future.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.

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