Photo published with story: “Academy holds opening”

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The picture was published on page 9A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016, accompanying a story about the opening of the Northwest Kansas Gymnastics Academy (the story was not written by me).

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Homesteaders in Decatur County topic of museum ‘brown bag’ talk

By Angie Baldelomar

A great part of the history of the United States involves the Homestead Act, which promoted settlement of the western half of the country.

Dick Carman, a museum board member, explained the history that led to the landmark federal law during a “Brown Bag and Learn Program” on Thursday at the Old Bohemian Hall at the Last Indian Raid Museum.

He talked about the different methods by which people could acquire land during the settlement era. At first, he said, parcels were awarded depending on rank as payment for military service. After that, the Land Ordinance of 1785 established guidelines on how to manage public lands of the 13 colonies. The Preemption Act allowed land sales up to 160 acres at $1.25 per acre.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which allowed people to file an application for 160 acres of land in exchange of building a home, making improvements and farming the land for five years. After that, they needed to find two neighbors to sign a “proof” document and present it to the government.

Other methods of land acquisition included the Timber Culture Act of 1873, which granted 160 additional acres in exchange for maintaining 40 acres of the land in trees for 10 years, the use of preemption rights and provision for school lands.

Fraud was a big problem during this period, Mr. Carman said. One of the most common methods was taking advantage of the fact that the structure built on homesteaded land had to be at least 12 by 16, but since the act did not specify feet or inches, some people built a small structure.

Mr. Carman also gave information on homestead applications filed in the Decatur County area, but only the part south of U.S. 36. He said he still is researching the area north of the highway.

In Decatur County, he said, homesteading started in 1873. Many of the claims were filed between 1878 and 1885, but a lot of them were abandoned by the later year. A lot of homesteaders were not farmers to begin with, he said, which added to the eventual abandonment of the the land.

After his presentation, Mr. Carman showed some township maps divided into land sections that were homesteaded and who the owners were. Some of the audience members knew of some of the people who filed homestead claims.


The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Construction project to lengthen main runway

By Angie Baldelomar

Construction on the extension of the south end of the main runway at the Oberlin Municipal Airport has been underway the last couple of weeks.

The project will add 800 feet to the south end of the main runway. Airport manager Britton Scott said this may be used for takeoff on either direction, giving pilots more room during the summer when heat limits lift, and for landing to the south only.

Right now, the runway length is 3,798 feet long, he said, but with the south end closed for construction only 2,922 feet are usable.

Mr. Scott said the runway originally was 4,300 feet before the city, acting on advice from the Federal Aviation Administration and from a former engineering firm, removed 600 feet on the south to create a safety zone for the highway and the fairground. That project added just 30 feet on the north, where a steep grade limits expansion. That contract, which involved removing all the pavement and replacing it with new asphalt, failed to remove the hump in the middle which limits visibility on the ground.

The new runway area won’t be available for landing from the south, Mr. Scott said, creating the required safety zone. This zone would be marked off with paint and touchdown bars located to the north of the restricted area.

Diane Hofer, project engineer from Olsson and Associates, said that the cost for the project is $818,000. A grant by the Federal Aviation Administration is paying for 90 percent of the cost, she said. This money comes from aviation fuel and ticket taxes, she said.

The city of Oberlin is paying for the other 10 percent, Mrs. Hofer said. She also said the project includes installing a new beacon, a rotating light that indicates the airport’s location to pilots at night.

The contractor for the project is Smoky Hills Heavy Contractors of Salina, with vice president Scott Erickson in charge.

Mr. Scott said the completion date is Sept 1, but that he thinks they will beat that.


The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Groups hope to hire marketer

By Angie Baldelomar

The Oberlin Convention and Visitors Bureau board decided to partner with the Last Indian Raid Museum to hire a marketing manager during its meeting Thursday.

One of the biggest issues since the idea of hiring someone to develop and implement marketing initiatives for the city was brought up a couple of meetings ago was whether the person should work on an independent contract or on someone’s payroll.

After member Lisa Votapka went to the City Council to report on the board’s plans, City Attorney Steve Hirsch suggested not using the independent contractor route because the position did not offer specific duties.

The city does not have the space to have the person work at the city office, City Treasurer and bureau member Steve Zodrow said.

Bureau President Gary Anderson said he had gone to the Economic Development Corporation’s board to discuss whether that agency would put the marking person on its payroll system. However, board members were not sure if they would have time to supervise someone. One member, Mr. Anderson said, suggested the museum as an alternative.

He said he spoke with museum Director Sharleen Wurm, also treasurer of the bureau, and Dick Carman, museum treasurer, about the idea. They said they thought the museum could do that, but they would have to discuss it with the museum board first.

Mrs. Wurm said the museum has the space needed for the person to work there. Mr. Anderson said whoever they hire could work eight to 10 hours a week for the museum as a way of covering the rent. Mrs. Wurm agreed with the idea.

She said she would bring the issue to the next museum board meeting.

The bureau board members agreed this seemed to be the most viable choice. The museum would pay the person and the bureau would reimburse the museum, they agreed.

The board decided that if the museum board members accepted the idea in its meeting next Tuesday, they would start advertising the position.

In other business, the board:

•Heard Mr. Anderson report the bureau has received a $3,500 Dane Hansen Community Grant to pay for part of the television segment about Oberlin for the Smoky Hills Public Television show “Traveling Kansas.”

• Heard members report positive feedback on the state tourism seminar last month. Mrs. Wurm said it had gone well, and those who attended learned a lot, but that they needed the marketing person to put some ideas into effect.

• Heard Mrs. Votapka suggest board members get name tags to wear during activities.


The story was published on the front page of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Voters change commissioners

By Angie Baldelomar

Former city leader wins primary ballot

First-time candidate Karen Larson apparently beat incumbent Sid Metcalf for the 2nd District county commissioner’s seat in the Republican primary election Tuesday.

The unofficial results gave her a 14-vote advantage over Mr. Metcalf, 156 votes to 142.

Since no Democrat filed for the office, Mrs. Larson, a former Oberlin city administrator, stands to be without opposition in the general election this fall if her margin holds up. The race could be affected by provisional ballots which might be counted during the canvas of the votes by county commissioners Monday.

Mr. Metcalf was looking for a second term as a commissioner after upsetting long-time incumbent Ralph Unger four years ago.

“I feel very humble and honored to have secured the majority of votes,” Mrs. Larson said. “Thank you all who voted for me.”

Long-time sheriff hangs on to his job

Long-time Sheriff Ken Badsky secured another term in the office by defeating former Deputy Bret Marietta in the Republican primary election on Tuesday.

The final results gave Mr. Badsky 490 votes to 403 for Mr. Marietta.

Mr. Badsky won in Dresden and Oberlin, carrying both city precincts, while Mr. Marietta won in Jennings and Norcatur and got the lead in the advance vote.

He noted that he never carries either Jennings or Norcatur.

The Oberlin Herald was unable to reach either Mr. Badsky or Mr. Marietta for comment on the results.

Mr. Badsky, who has been sheriff for 32 years now, will serve his ninth term in the position. He said that only two of the sheriff’s elected in 1984 beside him are still in office, and both are retiring when their terms expire in January.

“This will probably be my last election,” he said.

Deputy to move up into clerk’s position

Decatur County Deputy Clerk Nora Urban defeated newcomer Brandi Diederich for the county clerk’s position in Republican primary voting on Tuesday.

The final results were 584 votes for Mrs. Urban, who has worked at the clerk’s office for more than a decade, and 296 for Ms. Diederich, a Decatur Community High School graduate who hoped to move back home to take the job.

Mrs. Urban will serve her first term as a county clerk, replacing Colleen Geihsler, who is stepping down at the end of her term.

“Eleven years,” the winner said, nearly done with a long night of vote counting. “I hope I’ve learned something by now.”

“I enjoy what I do. I am happy to continue serving Decatur County. As I said at the (candidate) forum, there’s always room for improvement, but a lot of what we do is dictated by the state.”


The story was published on the front page of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Here an egg, there an egg, everywhere an egg

By Angie Baldelomar

As soon as the farm comes into view, you can see the chickens roaming free around the front of the house. On one of the hen houses, surrounded by a fence, the door hangs open.

Beaver Valley Poultry co-owner Whitney Witt said she lets the chickens roam free during the day. At her place, she said, she has around 1,400 chickens, and together with her mom, Kimberly, they have around 2,500 in their family business.

“I only realize there are that many,” she said, “at night when I close the buildings and in the morning when I let them go free.”

The chickens are calm around new people. A gate in the fence that surrounds their building in front of the house is open, so the birds can roam around the house during the day. The house and barns are surrounded by crops, which Ms. Witt said, is why they are put inside at night. Inside the fence, they have food, along with oyster shells, which as Ms. Witt explained, contain calcium that makes their egg shells hard.

The firm is licensed to sell eggs in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska, she said. They deliver to the Nebraska Food Co-op in McCook, from where the free range, non-GMO eggs are shipped to other area states. In Kansas, they deliver to grocery stores and restaurants in Oberlin and to a co-op in Atwood, from where eggs are shipped to Colorado.

It all started because of Whitney, her mom recalls. She was the one who talked them into starting a chicken farm. Whitney said she had gone on a field trip with her mom’s second-grade class to a farm that supplied eggs commercially.

“We began fixing up old buildings we had on our farm,” she said, “to convert them into chicken houses, building nests and roosts.”

They pride themselves on the fact that their eggs are farm fresh, non-GMO, that is, they haven’t been fed any genetically modified grain.The hens are free to roam around the place and lay their eggs in the same hen house they go to at night. The Witts have a candler machine where they can spot any eggs that may be unfit to sell. Then they wash and process and package all of them on the farm each day.

When they need to get more chickens, she said, they use an incubator and then, once they have little chicks, they take some laying hens to be moms and put them with the chicks in a different pen.

The women said they don’t plan to increase the size of their flocks. It is already a time- consuming job for the family, they said, but they enjoy what they do, and from the passionate way they talk about the farm and the chicken flocks, there is no doubt they will continue to do that.


The story was published on page 1B of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.