Tuesday, January 29, 2008

School Yearbook Will Salute 1927 School Building

The Times has learned that the 2008 Dorchester School Yearbook will pay tribute to the 81-year-old school building scheduled to be razed this spring.

The drawing accompanying this story was created by Dorchester art instructor Stacy Lutjemeyer, and will be featured on the cover of the 2008 yearbook.

According to information sent to the Times, there will be a section dedicated to the1927 school building. For Dorchester residents and others interested in purchasing this special edition of the yearbook, prices are $30 if paid by Feb. 15. After that, the price increases to $35.

Orders will also be taken at the Dorchester Alumni Basketball Tourney and the school auction planned for May 9, 2008. The auction will feature items from the old school building.

For more information on the 2008 Dorchester Yearbook -- or to place your order -- e-mail Sandy Severance at: sschenk@esu6.org. This is a great opportunity for those with Dorchester ties to own a piece of our community's future as well as its past.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pleasant Hill Still Making Headlines

Pleasant Hill -- Dorchester's sister community -- is still making headlines, years after its supposed demise.

Over the past month, The Crete News has published a four-part series recalling the history of Pleasant Hill. The last story of the series can be found by clicking here.

In the Jan. 23 issue of The Crete News, the paper recounts the late chapters of the little community in the middle of Saline County and the "two businesses (that) kept Pleasant Hill barely on the map and in the minds of area residents — a tavern with a small store and the garage Bill Mariska started in 1923."

The Pleasant Hill Store (remembered by most for its cold beer, good food and fine polka) saw a laundry list of owners in its final three dacades -- the Jiskras; the Kubes'; Louis Ladman; the Breitkreutzs; Hub Weber; and John and Vel Busboom, "who couldn’t keep the doors open anymore. They still live there." When the last beer was served at the Pleasant Hill Store in 1996, it brought an end to the longest running business in Pleasant Hill -- after nearly 130 years.

According to The Crete News article, "The tavern was the center of activity for the rural area during a time when the residents in the original town numbered less than forty. Theresa Vernon, daughter of Alfred and Libbye Jiskra, remembered many activities at the tavern and store when her parents ran it. Outdoor movies were a favorite, with kids sitting on wooden benches watching “Ma and Pa Kettle” or the often popular westerns. Bingo nights and coon feeds accompanied duck dinners and live music on Sundays when certainly one or two accordion players could be found. People came down from Lincoln on Sundays in search of a drink. 'We were packed on Sundays,' Vernon remembers."

Another key Pleasant Hill business, the garage, was started by Bill Mariska in 1923. It stood just south of the old schoolhouse facing Franklin street. The Mariska's "sold used cars, were the first to sell tractor tires in the area, and had working gas pumps from 1923 to 1976. The shop also sold radios, refrigerators and some of the first gas powered mowers starting in 1950. ... Bill’s son, Bob Mariska, now 88, remembers they had the largest stock of Case parts for a hundred miles. Customers from Grand Island and Kearney were frequent, and one flew in, landing his small plane in a field not far from the garage.

"Bob Mariska now lives in the house his father built next to the garage in 1929, the house he grew up in. 'I have been here a long time and I have a pretty good memory. I’m proud of that,' Mariska said. He remembers watching with his classmates as the mill burned in 1930, the streets being vacated, those frustrated over the increase in their taxes when the land was officially made theirs. 'They were farming that land for free before it was vacated,' he said. Some of the houses in the dying town burned. For a period of time between 1924 and 1932, blocks of the town were bought up and the empty houses were moved.

There have only been three homes built in Pleasant Hill in the last 80 years, according to Bob Mariska. The first was his father’s 1929 family home; the second was his own first home next door; and the last was a brick house built in 1980 in what was once the north section of town. Mariska thinks the town died around 1900. Transportation was poor, no railroad came through, and the county seat had been lost.

The article also references Warren and Jo Cerny, who have lived on the east edge of Pleasant Hill for 50 years. “The community doesn’t get together anymore,” Jo Cerny said.

Mariska knows Pleasant Hill will never be incorporated — it never was to begin with. But, it is still a location, people still see the signs, remember what was. Darlene Kubes, whose grandfather was Joe Kubert -- owner of the saloon in the old courthouse -- lives in the house that was once his. She is the fifth generation of her family to inhabit the homestead. Even after a tornado last spring questioned her desire to live out in Pleasant Hill, she stayed. She wouldn’t live anywhere else, she said.

The article concludes: Mariska and Kubes, who both spoke Czech when they entered school, and the Cernys, who cling to their Atlas that shows the plotted map of a town that could have been, are among the last to hold the living history of Pleasant Hill. The faded signs still stand to the north and south of town on County Road 1600. The signs on highways 33, 15 and 41 were taken down by the Department of Roads several times but put back up in 1997 after a petition garnered 129 signatures. Residents and those with connections to the area don’t want to lose one of the last physical remnants of Pleasant Hill. Scrapbooks tell the tales of Pleasant Hill. But the richest memories lie with the people.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Karpisek Aims To Recapture Some Of Local Money Sent Abroad

The Omaha World-Herald reports that the state senator representing the Dorchester area has introduced legislation to recapture some of the millions of dollars sent abroad by illegal and legal immigrants in communities like Crete.

District 32 Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber has introduced Legislative Bill 1071 to put a 1% excise tax on wire transfers of money. Revenue collected under the bill would go into the state school aid fund.

Karpisek told the World-Herald that LB1071 is intended to recapture money that is often wired abroad by immigrants to their home countries.

Karpisek said he hasn't found any information about how much money is wired from Nebraska to other countries, although he said estimates of wire transfers nationally range up to $25 billion a year.

He said money wired elsewhere typically is earned in Nebraska, often by immigrants who are here illegally, yet does not benefit the state or local economy. "It will at least capture a little bit of it," he said of his bill.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

DHS Alumni Basketball Tourney Set For March 14-16

The Times has received a forwarded e-mail with details on the annual DHS Alumni Basketball Tournament, which will be held this year on March 14, 15 and 16.

It appears this year, for the first time, the tournament will feature a separate competition for alumni age 39 and older. The 39-and-over bracket will consist of half court, 4-on-4 games.

Tourney organizers say that the regular alumni tournament format will not change for those participating in the full court competition. D-Club sponsors are requesting that team rosters be submitted by e-mail at jvacek@esu6.org or by calling the school at (402) 946-2781. Rosters should include T-shirt sizes and player numbers. There is a $25 per player entry fee.

Those wishing to play in the alumni tournament should send in their entry no later than March 1.

According to the e-mail sent by D-Club sponsors Joshua Vacek and James Dankert, there will be a D-Club sponsored concession stand available serving snacks and drinks. "We encourage you to support our sponsors and enjoy dinner and supper downtown," the e-mail said. "It is our hope that we can continue to make this weekend enjoyable for the players, the fans, and the community."

Our thanks to reader "CJ" for sending this information along to us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Smaller Schools Score Big In Governor's Study

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that smaller schools perform better in tightening the budget belt.

According to the
article, when the state got its "financial bombshell in December in the form of a $53 million unexpected increase in state aid to schools, Gov. Dave Heineman wanted to know more. What was driving the increase? Which school districts were spending the most and why?"

The Journal-Star reports the governor learned the 53 schools in the category of “sparse” enrollment increased spending an average of 4.4% from the period 2005-06 and 2006-07. The smallest schools reported 6.2% spending growth. The largest schools — 18 of them — with budgets over $20 million, increased spending an average of nearly 8%. Omaha and Lincoln were included in the 18 largest schools, with increases of 9% for Omaha and nearly 8% for Lincoln.

Lexington Public Schools had the highest increase of large schools, at 15%. Kearney schools showed a nearly 13% increase. South Sioux City, 11%. And there were lower increases, most notably Norfolk and Scottsbluff schools at about 2% each.

The reasons for the increases are as complicated, as the governor is learning. But Dennis Pool, Omaha Public Schools assistant superintendent, said increases come from three main factors:

  • high numbers of students whose primary language is not English;
  • from large increases in heating and bus fuel costs; and
  • from double-digit health insurance increases.
School aid is predicted to increase under the current financing formula by $132 million, or 17.5%, next year, and by 11% each of the following two years. The state is expected to send about $885.5 million in general fund taxes to public schools next year.

We think this news is positive proof that schools the size of Dorchester are not the key drivers behind the unsustainable increase in state aid costs. Large, urban education bureaucracies and the teachers' union are more likely culprits. Neither has ever seen a tax or spending increase that's too big. Savvy taxpayers knows that about two-thirds of their property tax bill goes directly to the local school district. Folks in Lincoln, Omaha, Lexington, South Sioux City and Kearney can't be too happy after reading the Journal Star's story.

However, we also believe this article and its staggering figures serve a reminder to Dorchester school board members and administrators that the pressure is on to hold the line on spending.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

$5,000 Grant Will Help Pay For New Park Equipment

In the coming days, Dorchester is expected to be featured on a list of grant recipients who will benefit from the generosity of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, thanks to the efforts of local leaders. But help is still needed from residents to put the finishing touches on an improved and expanded play equipment area.

According to information received by the Times, several months ago, the Dorchester Area Community Foundation (DACF) wrote a $5,000 grant application on behalf of the Village of Dorchester for additional playground equipment in the city park. The Village Board agreed to match any Kiewit money awarded up to $5,000, which is the amount approved by the Kiewit Foundation board -- making a total of $10,000 available for the new park equipment.

The two photos accompanying this story show the playground pieces that have been ordered. Photos are courtesy of DACF president Carol Olson.

Olson said DACF included the cost of gravel in the grant proposal, but that the organization is still in need of retainers to keep the gravel confined in the areas. Olson noted that railroad ties were used around two of the existing areas and more permanent playground timbers around the third.

Community leaders had planned to replace the existing railroad ties with timbers, but the rising cost of the material delayed the action. Olson said the goal now is to outline both the new equipment area and two of the existing areas with timbers.

Olson said that Dorchester area residents should get in touch with her if they have know of anyone selling used playground timbers. "In the meantime," she said "we will need more railroad ties if anyone has access to them."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Karpisek Bill Would Increase Penalties For Marijuana

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, the state senator representing the Dorchester area wants stiffer penalties for those who use or sale marijuana.

State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber says it’s unfair that kids caught drinking beer get stiffer penalties than anyone caught smoking pot — not that either of those things is OK. Karpisek believes the fine and jail time for marijuana possession should be increased to parallel minor-in-possession penalties.

Karpisek told the Journal Star: “We’re sending the wrong message to youth ... saying if you have a little marijuana, we’ll look the other way. I’ve thought for years it wasn’t right. ... It’s always been one of those things that’s stuck in my craw.” Karpisek's bill (LB844) would raise possession of an ounce to a pound of marijuana to a Class II misdemeanor, with a maximum six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Under current law, someone caught with an ounce of marijuana or less gets a $100 fine and the possibility of attending a drug course. But a minor is possession of alcohol can be fined $500 and sent to jail for 90 days.

Considering the event that took place last week on the grounds of Dorchester Public Schools, we at the Dorchester Times applaud Karpisek for his effort. For too long, too many parents, lawmakers and judges have looked the other way when it comes to the use of this illegal substance. Karpisek's legislation shows that he is willing to take the lead as a thoughtful lawmaker -- and as a concerned parent.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dorchester Grad Is Focus Of Saturday Fundraiser

A large fundraising event to benefit a Dorchester High School graduate is scheduled for this Saturday, Jan. 12.

At the age of 27, Aaron Stutzman was diagnosed with cancer last fall. Throughout the past several months, Stutzman has undergone intensive chemotherapy treatment. However, due to the the length of his employment prior to his diagnosis, insurance has not covered the bulk of Stutzman's medical expenses.

Stutzman, a pharmacist at Wal-Mart in Crete, and his wife Missy (Velder), also a native of Dorchester, have one son, Devan.

Saturday's fundraiser will be held at the Seward Ag Pavilion located at the Seward County Fairgrounds. A free-will offering meal will be held from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. A large auction will start at 1:30 p.m.

Items for the auction will include: a family weekend get-a-way package; a five-year old horse; a meal for a family of four; a Mexican dinner once-a-month for a year for six people; NU basketball tickets; antiques; home furnishings; and a large selection of services. There will also be a silent auction and retail boutique.

All proceeds will be sent to the Stutzman's to help with medical expenses not covered by their limited insurance.

For those unable to attend, donations payable to Aaron Stutzman can be mailed to: Tosha (Stutzman) Springer, 2510 Denton Rd., Milford, NE 68405.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Community Block Grants Could Help Address Community Concerns

In a recent Times poll, a majority of readers said that Dorchester's infrastructure is the community's top concern. In the online survey taken last month, more than 50 percent of Times readers voted the town's streets, water system, and sewage system as the biggest challenges facing the Dorchester area. Another 39% listed housing and Dorchester's downtown business sector as top concerns.

The question, of course, is how does the community pay to maintain and improve the village's critical infrastructure? How does Dorchester find the funds needed to explore potential new housing or downtown improvements?

One of our readers has alerted us that Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman recently awarded $195,000 in Community Development Grant Funds to 10 communities in our state to assist with local planning efforts.

For example, Diller will receive $12,800 to perform a housing market study. Fairbury will receive $16,100 to conduct an affordable housing study. Fillmore County gets $17,700 to develop an affordable housing study that includes strategies for meeting the needs of Exeter, Fairmont, Geneva, Grafton, Milligan, Ohiowa, Shickley, and Strang, as well as the county’s remaining unincorporated areas. And North Loup gets $19,000 to conduct a sewer study examining the village’s existing sewer conditions and infrastructure and outlines potential future needs.

Funding for the Community Block Grants are always in question, since the dollars are funneled through Washington to the states. However, we think Dorchester leaders -- including Village Board members and DACA leadership -- would be wise to explore the opportunities available through the Community Block Grant program, which is administered by the Nebraska Dept. of Economic Development.

Application forms for CBDGs can be found here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

DHS Football District Set For 2008-09

** UPDATE: 1/7/08, 10:30 a.m. **

According to a recent report in the Lincoln Journal Star, Dorchester football will see changes in their district for the 2008 or 2009 seasons, although district rivals are all familiar faces who have appeared on past DHS schedules. A reader corrected an earlier report by the Times.

For the two-year football classification period that begins next fall, District D1-2 will consist of the following schools: Deshler, Freeman, Dorchester, Meridian, Exeter-Milligan, Pawnee City.

Powerhouse Howells is returning to Class D-1, where it won six straight titles before a two-year stint in 11-man football. The Bobcats lost in the semifinals and the quarterfinals the last two years. Also moving to eight-man football are Pender, Lyons-Decatur Northeast, Heartland, Hemingford, Osceola, Burwell, Conestoga, Franklin and Emerson-Hubbard.

Among Saline County schools, Tri County, Friend, and Wilber-Clatonia will remain in Class C-2 competition. The status of back-to-back Class B champion Crete will remain unchanged as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Giltner Housing Project Is Good Model For Dorchester

In tiny Giltner, Neb. (population 407), fostering growth isn't just a nice thing to try; it's essential to survival. In that respect, Dorchester and Giltner share more than just school colors.

According to a recent article in the Grand Island Independent, several Giltner residents have banded together to work to provide adequate housing via a 29-lot development, called Parkside Subdivision.

The project is not so much a business venture as it is a recruiting tool. Like Dorchester, the Hamilton County village has lost interested potential residents because there simply aren't enough adequate or modern houses or lots.

According to the Independent's story, seven couples came together to form a limited-liability corporation when they finally had enough money to develop a large chunk of land that had been available.

Greg Ashby, a member of the development group, said bringing families in and keeping student enrollment up are essential to maintain a school district that is the community's lifeblood. "I've seen other towns that have lost their school, and it seems like they've lost their identity," Ashby said. "It just seems like that's the first nail in the coffin when you do lose a school district."

Because Giltner is within a 25-minute drive from Aurora, Grand Island and Hastings, the developers say Giltner is a convenient place to enjoy small-town Nebraska life. The lots, 15,000 to 30,000 square feet, range from $7,500 to $15,000. The village has chipped in as well to see the subdivision developed. It's providing water, sewer and electric extensions to the lots. The city will install electricity as needed and water as needed, with about 1,000 feet of water main to be added beginning this spring to complete a loop in the area. It will bond the costs of sewer improvements. Members of the development group said a handful of the subdivision's lots are spoken for, and they will likely ramp up their promotion of it once the city's improvements are made next spring.

The project is one of several pro-active steps community members have taken over the past several years. A new $600,000 community center is under construction, and a community foundation and a cooperative school promotion group have recently been formed. The town has also aggressively tried to sell itself to newcomers through its annual Experience Giltner tour of homes.

Our take: Modern housing and a good school are the basic building blocks for any community. Dorchester has a leg up on Giltner, with the $4 million school renovation project currently underway and our proximity to Lincoln -- the state's second-largest employment base. However, Dorchester is falling behind in the race to develop new, attractive homes suitable for younger working families, as well as retirees.

We hope more than a few Dorchester residents will consider a collective development effort such as the one taking place in Giltner, which has 200 fewer residents than our town. As the Times has mentioned previously, we tip our hat to citizens such as Ron Zoubek, who currently has lots for sale in northwest Dorchester.

However, for such a housing effort to be a true success, it will take assistance from the Village Board and the entire community. Like Giltner, Dorchester's Village Board needs to offer water, sewer and electric service to any lots offered by folks who have the town's best interests in mind.

Because the long-term success of Dorchester depends on good housing, the Times will actively support any incumbent or challenger for Village Board who promotes actions such as those occurring in Giltner.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year Brings A New Look For School

The Times wishes our readers a happy 2008!

With the new year comes a new look for Dorchester Public Schools. During the final days of December, a construction crew from Ayars & Ayars erected the walls of the school's new west campus, encapsulating the gymnasium.

The sight is one to behold, as a steady stream of onlookers has filed past the construction site in recent days. (Our thanks to Ron Sehnert for sending us the picture of his 9th Street view.)

With the west campus walls up and the large crane on site, workers will now begin framing the roof, removing casting beds, pouring floors and starting interior work.

Construction on the western portion of the project is slated to continue through spring. Demolition of the 1927 building will go ahead as planned on or around May 15. The Times has not been informed whether if any special events are planned to commemorate the 80 years of education provided in the 1927 school building.

It is known, however, that Superintendent Don Pieper is forming a committee to oversee the school auction planned for May 9.