COVID-19 dominates year

By Vicky O. Misa | | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

Reminiscing on the past 12 months, the most significant of events glaring back is clearly COVID-19 — and how it has upended life as we know it.

Whether it's been health scares, shutdowns or mask mandates, the pandemic has forced everyone to reimagine how to function safely from a distance.

The year began as usual, with news of new business coming and a church marked its centennial.

January (Pre-COVID-19)

• A formal sentencing hearing took place for defendant Byron James Shepard, 38, of Okemah, convicted in the 2017 murder of Tecumseh Police Officer Justin Terney. On the felony count of murder in the first degree, the death sentence was issued to Shepard.

• This month also brought lighter news of eateries coming to town, like City Bites and Marble Slab.

• And South Central Industries hosted its first special needs prom.

• Monks Marketplace opened its doors mid-month, selling items made in monasteries around the country. The endeavor was hoped to function as a way for the monks to share local abbey life with the community, as well as to serve as an added revenue source.

The Monks Marketplace opened to the community in 2020.

• Calvary Baptist shared 100 years of history in Shawnee as it celebrated its centennial anniversary.

• The City of Shawnee adopted a Complete Streets Policy. Planning Director Rebecca Blaine said it is an approach to planning and designing streets and street networks that prioritizes safe and convenient access for all modes and users, regardless of age or ability, instead of prioritizing automobile travel over all other modes.

• President of Pacific Air Holdings Darrin Lofton houses an aircraft-leasing operation at Shawnee Regional Airport and added a repair station, KSNL Aero. Officially becoming FAA-certified in January, KSNL is able to offer services to larger planes — and companies, like airlines. KSNL Aero works on a variety of turbo prop and turbine aircraft.

February (Pre-COVID-19)

• The Avedis Foundation and Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care, a state-wide foster care agency, took on a partnership in 2018 to collaborate on a building project that would provide homes for sibling sets in foster care in Pottawatomie County. Avedis doled out a $450,000 grant to Circle of Care, and the partnership constructed two foster sibling homes — in addition to a clubhouse/activity center — in Shawnee.

• Tropical Smoothie Cafe set up shop in Bison Crossing.

• February brought with it an introduction to a controversial plan to design options for a Broadway project — ultimately residents resoundingly shut down a proposal for bike lanes along the 40-foot wide street.

• An installation project began to upgrade and replace the city's outdoor warning system.

• Home Integration, Inc., a nonprofit organization formerly operated on the St. Gregory’s University campus. Father Paul Zahler, O.S.B., Ph.D., started the organization in 1976 with a mission to serve children with delays in development and their families. A PUD was approved for a 40-acre campus on a strip of land west of the northwest corner of East 45th and North Bryan to be managed by the National Institute on Developmental Delays (NIDD) — for Zahler's program.


• As a tourist destination, the Pottawatomie County Historical Society museum, at the Santa Fe Depot site, agreed to make specific tourism-related efforts, and in return, receive funds from the city, which entered into a deal to compensate the museum financially — in total, $300,000 spread over a period of five years.

• By mid-March, shutdowns and shelter-at-home edicts were becoming the law of the land. SEFF's Redbud Festival and May Block Party were cancelled. Soon after, the public library and the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art shut down events.

• In response to declarations of a state of emergency on the national and state levels, Mayor Richard Finley declared a state of emergency from March 17 to April 6. Special event permits were revoked and no new permits were issued for gatherings on city-owned and operated properties. Gatherings of 10 or more people on city-owned and operated properties were prohibited. At that time there were 10 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the state.

• Project H.E.A.R.T. developed a drive-thru meal system at the Shawnee Community Center to continue serving meals to seniors.

• The Kiwanis Club cancelled its annual pancake feed and Little Olympics events.

• Pottawatomie County reports its first COVID-19 case.

• Many businesses, especially restaurants and local gyms are hit with severe limitations as shelter-at-home precautions were issued. Operations deemed non-essential were to temporarily shut down.

• Community Renewal organized a bear hunt in town. Neighbors around the community put teddy bears in their windows so families on walks could try to spot them in their neighborhoods. The We Care. Bear made rounds as well, to cheer residents stuck inside.


• An official shelter-in-place directive was declared by Finley. Residents were cautioned to refrain from all unnecessary travel. He also extended the state of emergency to April 30.

• Vyve partnered with the Shawnee Public Schools to help families in need with online e-learning and families and business financially impacted by the pandemic.

• Under the CARES Act distribution plan, the Shawnee Regional Airport was eligible for a $30,000 grant.

• Georg Fischer Central Plastics proactively began cleaning and disinfecting (every 60–90 minutes) all high touch areas and restrooms, wiping down manufacturing equipment between shifts, having all employees wear disposable masks while on property, and requiring daily temperature taking and issuing color-coded wristbands long before many guidelines were recommended. Central Plastics provided free meals to its workers from local restaurants as a way to further support the Shawnee economy and its workforce.

• Organizers made the announcement that the International Finals Youth Rodeo (IFYR), held annually at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, was cancelled.

• Tecumseh parks closed.

• Four COVID-19-related deaths were reported in Pottawatomie County in April.


• Four nonprofits received COVID-19 relief funding from United Way of Pottawatomie County. The funding came from donations United Way received for disaster response. The four partner agencies that received grants were Community Market of Pottawatomie County, Legacy Parenting, Mission Shawnee and Salvation Army.

• At SSM Health St. Anthony-Shawnee hospital notes of encouragement lined the windows inside — sent to offer support and encourage local health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Notes line an inner courtyard at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee. The well wishes were displayed as an encouragement for health care workers during the pandemic.

• The Knights Car Show was cancelled.

• Framing of SSM Health Medical Group's 33,000 square foot ambulatory medical building started at Domino Plaza.

• Many restaurants went to curbside service — like Tapatio Mexican Restaurant and Paul's Place, while others closed for a time, like Hamburger King.


• PAVE featured two online forums so residents could get to know candidates running for local office. Questions had to be submitted in advance, since there was no audience allowed.

• Local elections: Winning his bid for office against three opponents, at-the-time Ward 1 Shawnee City Commissioner Ed Bolt switched hats to serve as mayor. Bob Weaver replaced Ron Gilham Sr. in Ward 2; Travis Flood replaced James Harrod for Ward 3; and Darren Rutherford retained his Ward 4 seat.

• F7 Work Activity Center, at 301 S. Kennedy, encountered a fire that immediately suspended operations at the recycling center; F7 had to relocate.


• Tropical Smoothie Cafe and one of the Walgreens pharmacies, at the corner of Independence and Harrison, closed temporarily for cleaning.

• Longtime Gateway to Prevention and Recovery Executive Director Sallie McLaughlin retired after serving as the nonprofit's leader for 35 years. Longtime staffer Jon Greenwood was named interim executive director.

• Mayor Ed Bolt and commission face the controversial decision of whether to issue a mask mandate — ultimately a mandate becomes official — and is still in effect through June 2021.

• Dirt work begins at the corner of Grant and Harrison for the new building for Red Rock Behavioral Health Services.

• In a partnership between the Absentee Shawnee Housing Authority and Community Renewal, a Friendship House — the second one of its kind in the city — is under construction at the southeast corner of Main Street and Bryan Avenue in the Rolling Hills South Addition on Absentee land.

• The Salvation Army in Shawnee distributed 120 food boxes and $3,000 in gift cards to members of the community, due to a partnership between The Salvation Army and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to help provide relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


• A Community Garden program was implemented in Shawnee in part through the efforts of Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County.

• The city increased water and solid waste service rates.

• Larch-Miller Park rededicated during an anniversary related to its namesake suffragist Aloysius Larch-Miller who gave her life in the fight for women’s right to vote 100 years ago.

Mayor Ed Bolt read a proclamation at Larch-Miller Park celebrating the service of local suffragist Aloysius Larch-Miller 100 years ago.

• Daniel Matthews is appointed Ward 1 Shawnee City Commissioner, filling the seat after Bolt vacated it to serve as mayor.

• Blue Zones Project made the announcement that Pottawatomie County achieved certification as a Blue Zones Community.


• The Salvation Army-Shawnee’s emergency disaster services vehicle deploys to serve aid to those affected by Hurricane Laura.

• The Salvation Army-Shawnee's annual Spaghetti Day fundraiser becomes a drive-thru event.

• Fall events, like Halloween Town, Boo on Bell and Shawnee Mall's Trick or Treat are faced with challenges of how to safely carry out large gatherings. Ultimately, Halloween Town ended up cancelled and Boo on Bell and the Mall Trick or Treat became drive-thru events.

• The city's mask mandate was extended through November.

• After nearly 80 years, U.S. Navy Fireman 1st Class James Cecil Webb laid to rest at Dale Cemetery. He died at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, on the USS Oklahoma.


• The Pottawatomie County Kayak Club saw a flash flood of new members since COVID-19 made the scene.

While kayaking is not necessarily new to the Shawnee Twin Lakes, club co-founder Denoda Rutherford said COVID-19 — as well as the club's recent Facebook presence — pushed the sport to overflowing.

• Local developer Mike Little shared news about a $10 million project planned downtown at a bank building on the corner of Main and Broadway.

• Shawnee's first parklet managed to make its debut for travelers participating in Boo on Bell's trick-or-treat event on Main Street.

• An unusually early winter storm caused power outages all over the area that lasted for days — in some places, weeks. Tree debris was an issue all over the city.


• Voters streamed to the polls to vote in the presidential election. A winner still hasn't been officially determined yet.

• The Good Neighbor Friendship House — in a partnership between the Absentee Shawnee Housing Authority (ASHA) and Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County — celebrates its grand opening.

• In a special effort to celebrate the military on Veterans Day, American Legion Shawnee Post 16 delivered 56 handmade plaques for veterans at four area nursing homes. Local nursing homes have been under extreme pressure to protect their residents from COVID-19 exposure. Because of COVID-19, veterans are not getting to go out and people aren't getting to go in to see them.

• Anthony Wittmann takes reins as Fire Department Chief after Rodney Foster retired.


• Shawnee's Christmas Parade follows suit with other events through the year, turning into a downtown drive-thru lights display event.

• Shawnee Forward seeks money from local entities to offer a small business grant relief program.

• KGFF celebrates 90 years of service to the community.

• Shawnee Walmart closes for a day and a half for cleaning.

• Avedis announced plans to fund the design and construction of a 1,700 square-foot calming space for healthcare professionals at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee to provide a respite amid the demands of the pandemic.

• Local pharmacy Richards Drug, after serving the community for more than 80 years, is shuttering its doors this week. The business cited difficulties of getting reimbursed from insurance companies as a reason behind the closure.

• Benton's Cafe owners closed for good over the holidays, as well, after a long-planned retirement. The restaurant was in business for 71 years. The Benton's Cafe sign was taken down this week and transported to the Pottawatomie County Museum.

• Some other businesses that have permanently closed this year include Stage, Sam's Southern Eatery, JC Penney and Golden Corral.