A laundry list of new, unusual and sometimes groundbreaking experiences marks 2016 as a year most Oklahomans won't forget.

Year In Review

Top 10 sums up 2016

Note: The Shawnee News-Star compiled a list of the most memorable stories this year.

A laundry list of new, unusual and sometimes groundbreaking experiences marks 2016 as a year most Oklahomans won't forget.

The top stories of 2016 feature a mix of new openings and community-based programs or projects, earthquakes and fracking issues, as well as a clear split of opinion over many state questions, crowned by major election drama on many levels.

Shawnee continues to change the way many in the community shop; Avedis grants — for yet another year —have graciously padded budgets for countless organizations to meet their goals; all have been affected by the state's budget shortfall; and downtown Streetscape construction seems to be finally wrapping up.

Stories are summarized below:

1] Budget impacts SPS, 34 positions cut;

$32M bond issue set for April ballot

The end of April, Shawnee Public Schools administrators began notifying staff and parents of positions and resources being cut across the district — just weeks after voters passed a $32 million bond issue to make district-wide improvements, including building a new elementary school.

The announcement comes on the heels of the state’s largest budget deficit, which is impacting school districts across the state.

Shawnee's annual revenue has remained flat for the past seven school years with the current year’s state aid still falling below the 2008-2009 level. The flat budgets coupled with the downturn of oil and gas revenues (and other revenue sources) the state relies on to fund schools have and will negatively impact SPS, officials said.

“Dealing with budget issues is challenging during the best of times, and they are particularly difficult during this year of economic shifts,” said Superintendent Dr. Marc Moore. “As you’ve no doubt read and heard on the news, Oklahoma school districts are facing some of their biggest budget hurdles in recent history. Shawnee Public Schools is no different.”

On April 5, voters approved a $32,225,000 school bond to update and upgrade a large chunk of the Shawnee Public School district's needs.

The proposition passed by 72.45 percent.

Larry Walker, seat 1 board member, said, “This is a gift from the citizens of Shawnee, that will positively affect the children of our city for years to come.”

He said enhancing the facilities will be a boost academically and athletically.

“A new elementary school and a refurbished high school parking lot will reap long-term benefits,” he said.

“The legacy of our past bond passages made me very confident that our citizenry would pass this one, and they came through again,” he said.

2] Veterans Memorial gets final piece of project

The 11-year Veterans Memorial project to honor fallen Oklahoma veterans was completed in Shawnee in December as 10 black granite panels inscribed with names of Oklahoma military members who have died in combat since the Spanish-American War were installed in Woodland Park.

Bill Ford, with the Veterans Memorial Committee, said there are five panels on the north side, and five to the south.

He said each panel weighs 5,400 pounds — 2.5 tons collectively — and the grouping displays the names of Oklahoma military members who have died in combat since the Spanish-American War.

He said the names were compiled and verified by the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense, then the list was given to the committee.

“Names are engraved on both sides of the panels, representing more than 7,000 Oklahomans who died in combat,” Ford said.

3] Local, state, national elections

There was no shortage of political tension in 2016, with elections going on from the White House down to Shawnee City Commission. Whether it be President of the United States, State Legislators or local offices, months of campaigning took its toll on voters.

Donald Trump was elected America's 45th president, an astonishing victory for a celebrity businessman and political novice who capitalized on voters' economic anxieties, took advantage of racial tensions and overcame a string of sexual assault allegations on his way to the White House.

In the race for Oklahoma House District 26, Democrat Nick Atwood conceded to Republican Dell Kerbs; for House District 27, Josh Cockroft, a Republican from Wanette, defeated his opponent John Karlin, a Democrat from Tecumseh; and Republican Tom Newell won House District 28 seat against Democrat Marilyn Rainwater — though Newell has since resigned, effective today.

Pottawatomie County voters approved a measure that will allow alcoholic drinks, such as wine and liquor, to be served by the drink at restaurants on Sundays; and voters rejected a 1 percent sales tax increase that would have funded teacher pay raises, delivering a blow to the state's public school educators, who are among the lowest paid in the nation.

Shawnee voters finally filled City Commission's Ward 1, as incumbent Ward 2 Commissioner Linda Agee stepped down immediately after losing her seat to Ron Gillham Sr.

4] Deputies arrest man sought since 1980s

A fugitive on the run since the 1980s from the state of Washington was arrested in Shawnee Wednesday afternoon, where deputies say he has been living a normal life in plain sight as a well-known member of the community.

With a positive fingerprint match confirmed through a national database, Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said deputies arrested Shawnee resident Warron Big Eagle, which is his alias name. His confirmed identity is Ronald Lee Paulson, Booth said.

Deputies believe he is 70 years old, although alias birthdates list several possible years of birth — 1944, 1945 and 1946. He also has additional alias names.

Paulson allegedly fled from Port Orchard, Washington, during court proceedings on five counts of first-degree rape, Booth said, with the cases reportedly involving two victims.

5] Earthquakes shake central Oklahoma

Dozens of buildings sustained "substantial damage" after a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck an Oklahoma town that's home to one of the world's key oil hubs, but officials said Nov. 6 that no damage has been reported at the oil terminal.

Cushing City Manager Steve Spears said 40 to 50 buildings were damaged in Sunday's earthquake, which was the third in Oklahoma this year with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater. No major injuries were reported, and Spears said the damage included cracks to buildings and fallen bricks and facades.

Oklahoma has had thousands of earthquakes in recent years, with nearly all traced to the underground injection of wastewater left over from oil and gas production. Sunday's quake was centered 1 mile west of Cushing.

Oil and natural gas regulators in Oklahoma ordered operators of 70 disposal wells to either shut them down or reduce disposal volumes after a 4.5 magnitude earthquake shook northern Oklahoma near Pawnee just two days earlier — on Nov. 4. Scientists have linked Oklahoma's increase in earthquakes to the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production.

6] SHS graduation venue changes

Shawnee High School's graduation venue for the Class of 2016 was held at the new FireLake Arena, a move that many praised because it allows more family members of seniors to attend.

The vote follows a committee recommendation and results from both an online survey and a survey of current Shawnee High School seniors. 

Then-Superintendent Dr. Marc Moore reported that 84 percent of both the online survey respondents and seniors indicated FireLake Arena was their choice for the 2016 graduation venue.

“The new venue accommodates more guests of the graduates,” he said. “Each senior will be able to invite approximately 13-14 people.”

The previous graduations held at Raley Chapel, on Oklahoma Baptist University campus, accommodated five to six guests per senior.

7] Moving day arrives for health care staff of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital

Moving day has finally come –– St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital has just finished an extensive construction project that tripled the square footage of its campus without adding a single licensed bed to its facility.

In March, the hospital began moving three departments into its brand new west tower.

The new construction was a 119,000 square-foot, three-story addition –– a significant expansion of the facility –– that houses the new Women's Center, intensive care unit, and surgical services.

Each floor of the new tower serves as a particular department: Surgery, ground floor; Women's Center, second floor; and ICU, third floor.

Chuck Skillings, hospital president, said the project is a major milestone for healthcare in the community.

The expansion is touted to be a bold effort to step firmly away from traditional –– and outdated –– methods of operation.

“We thought we were a pretty good hospital coming into this; we are a better hospital today,” Skillings said, “because we are here every day to strive for the exceptional in everything we do and, as a result, for those of you who don't work in this building, you can benefit from those services.”

8] Oklahoma Baptist University gives corner facelift

Oklahoma Baptist University traded in its iconic OBU hedges for a herd of galloping Bison sculpted from nails — along with a brick wall and lighted lettering, at the intersection of Kickapoo and MacArthur.

9] Shawnee gets new Chief of Police, School Superintendent

In April, Shawnee welcomed its new Police Chief Mason Wilson, who replaced Russell Frantz after he retired in November 2015.

“We had a very extensive review process, including an interview panel comprised of area police chiefs, chief law enforcement officers, and law enforcement personnel and city staff,” City Manager Justin Erickson said.

A total of 23 applications were received from individuals representing nine states, he said. From them, three finalists were selected –– Shawnee's interim chief Mason Wilson; Dan Dennis, chief of police for the City of Forest Hill, Texas; and Larry Lindsey, captain/commander of Homeland Security for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in Memphis, Tennessee.

Wilson has been employed with the Shawnee Police Department since 1989.

Wilson was a lieutenant prior to his interim appointment and has held various other positions within the Shawnee Police Department. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration, with a major in public management. He graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2013.

In May, a grueling search finally came to an end for Shawnee's Board of Education –– putting in place a new superintendent to oversee the next school year, as well as upcoming bond projects.

From a pool of 23 applicants, Dr. April J. Grace, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Putnam City Public Schools, accepted an offer to become the superintendent of the Shawnee Public School District. Board members unanimously selected Grace at a special meeting.

“I’m honored by the board’s confidence in me and look forward to forging lasting relationships within the school and community,” Grace said after the selection.

10] Shawnee back-to-back baseball champions

Shawnee baseball won their second straight Class 5A State title last May with a strong returning cast from the 2015 team. University of Kansas commit Eli Davis took to the mound for his second start in three days, throwing the complete game shutout in a 9-0 win over Piedmont.

Many other stories deserved recognition as well, among them — finding a home in our honorable mention category — were:

• Community Market opening

• Pottawatomie County Museum being built

• Downtown Streetscape wrapping up

• Grants to SMS, Expo from Avedis Foundation