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News
Grandparents go to summer camp with grandkids

The energy of grandchildren and wisdom of grandparents came together for for an outdoor educational summer camp this week.

“It’s a heartwarming camp,” said Michael Jank of Lincoln.

Michael went with his wife, Jill, and their grandson, Zade Habash, 5, to Prairie Loft on Friday for the grandparents camp, a joint summer program between Prairie Loft and the Hastings Museum.

Grandparents brought their grandchildren to the two-day program. On Thursday, they spent time at the Hastings Museum and on Friday they walked around Prairie Loft. The camp sets itself apart from other summer programs in that kids usually do not get to spend time with family while during a program.

“We had a kid say ‘you are coming with me? You’re not just dropping me of?’ “ said Maria Kavan, lead educator at Prairie Loft.

On Thursday, the groups focused their attention on the sky with a visit to the planetarium and looking at star charts. They also read a book about corn, showing how tall it could get.

On Friday, they focused on the earth, learning about gardening and birds. The group walked through Prairie Loft’s seed corn plot, letting kids experience the tall stalks.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm  

Four-year-old Ollie Munter of Hastings and Deb Ryan of Lincoln use plush birds to learn about chirping sounds made by native Nebraska birds Friday during grandparents camp Friday at Prairie Loft.

The camp was focused on teaching kids about parts of the natural world, but the grandparents also jumped personalizing a few of the lessons.

“Does popcorn come from corn grandma?” Quinn Robinson asked as they walked through the corn field.

“Yes it does,” Shannon Graham, Quinn’s grandmother, said.

There was still something for everyone to learn. In the corn field, Amy Sandeen, executive director of Prairie Loft, showed the group how each strand on the silk of corn is connected to a kernel to help supply nutrients. A few grandparents said they never knew that fact.

The kids also practiced their manners, encouraged by relatives, while they had snacks and lunch. Hoff said the kids were well behaved during the program and the grandparents likely had some influence over it, but the kids were eager to learn.

At Prairie Loft, the group walked through the wooded trails to learn about different birds and the noises they make. While the kids focused most of the time, grandparents occasional had to try and bring them back on track.

“He’s not very focused sometimes, especially when it’s grandma’s interest,” Jill said.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Amy Sandeen, Prairie Loft executive director, talks about birds Friday during grandparents camp.

This is Prairie Loft’s third year doing grandparents camps and this is the first time for the Hastings Museum. Hoff said someone suggested to the museum that they do something similar with kids and grandparents. After trying to get more information from Sandeen, they decided to just make it a joint program and expand the previously one-day event to two-days. Hoff and Sandeen have worked on several projects together before.

“It’s so easy,” Hoff said. “It doesn’t even feel like work.”

The program was a chance for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren. Michael said that they see Zade often, but going to the museum and Prairie Loft let them have a shared experience.

“Its really fun to see him grow,” Michael said. “We treasure these moments.”

Susan Stickels came with three of her grandchildren, age 5 to 11. She said she is an educator and having learning programs outside opens up unique lessons they can’t get in a building.

“So many kids don’t have opportunities like this,” Susan Stickels said.

Prairie Loft recently announced a 10-year land management agreement that adds 65 acres to its 8-acre property.


News
Ring of familiarity returned to owner

A ring of familiarity missing for 40 years was reunited with its owner Friday in Hastings.

The silver specialty band— a Class of 1979 class ring from Adams Central High School — was returned to its owner, Kerry (Foelgner) Jones of Greeley, Colorado, in an emotional reunion at the home of Laura Jackson just hours before Jones joined former classmates for the Class of 1979 40-year reunion.

Jones remembers removing the ring — along with the sweetheart ring given to her by her then-boyfriend — and placing it atop the bathroom counter to wash her hands during a football game her senior year at Adams Central.

“I walked out the door and maybe 10 minutes later turned around looking for them and they were gone,” she said. “I was devastated. I had never owned jewelry before and absolutely adored my rings.

“I just thought some girl picked them up and I’d never see them again. I cried and mourned for a long time. I’ve always told my kids, ‘Don’t ever take your rings off when you’re washing your hands.’ And I never did again.”

johnh / John Huthmacher  

Adams Central alum Kerry (Foelgner) Jones of Greeley, Colo., shows off her 1979 class ring found by Laura Jackson of Hastings. Jackson returned the long-lost class ring Friday just hours before the 40th class reunion.

News that her ring had been found was delivered by former classmate and close high school friend Robin (Ely) Schilling. It was Schilling’s mother, Willa Rundle, who first learned of its discovery while listening to a party line radio broadcast earlier this month.

“What got my attention was that it was in the class with my daughter,” Rundle said of the ring. “I knew they were having their 40th reunion, so I got hold of the lady who called about finding the ring (Jackson) and started the conversation with her to see if we could figure out who it was.”

Jackson shared what clues the ring contained to help identify its owner, including the initials K.F., Patriot and megaphone symbols. From those details, Schilling was able to ascertain the ring belonged to her longtime friend, a former cheerleader.

“We (she and Rundle) had to talk about three times before we got the initials straight,” Schilling said. “At first we thought it was F.K., and there was no one in the class with those initials. When she finally said K.F. I didn’t even have to look for my list of classmates.

“Kerry and I had been tight since fourth grade, so I shot her an email asking, ‘Are you missing your class ring?’ and she got very excited.”

Schilling connected Jones with the party line website, where she obtained contact information for Jackson and arranged to meet with her when she came to town for the class reunion. The reunification was one neither is likely to forget.

“I don’t even know why it was in my jewelry box,” Jackson said. “My daughter was visiting and we were looking in my jewelry box for my ‘mother’s ring’ — which I found — and when I found it (the class ring) I said, ‘I’m going to find out who owns this ring.’ “

courtesy  

Kerry (Foelgner) Jones pictured in her senior photo at Adams Central High School.

Jackson believes it is possible she and her late husband, Jack, may have purchased the ring at an auction among other pieces of jewelry. Another possible explanation is that Jack, who worked as a janitor at Adams Central during the time the ring went missing, found it and brought it home, where it somehow ended up in his wife’s jewelry box.

Whatever the case, Jackson said she is glad to see it returned to its rightful owner after all these years.

“I don’t know how it got there or how long I had it, but when I found out it was an Adams Central ring, I thought, ‘I will just see if I can find out who owns it,’ “ she said. “I really wanted to get it back to her.”

Jones said the unlikely recovery of her ring still seems surreal. In her mind, the odds of ever seeing it again were slim and none. It took all of her willpower to resist driving straight-away from Greeley to Hastings to retrieve her prized possession, she said.

“I told her, ‘Hang onto it and take good care of it,’ “ she said with a laugh. “I don’t think people can really grasp the sentimentalness of getting this back. I never thought I’d see it again. I’m very blessed.

“That was a really special time in my life going to Adams Central High School: A lot of amazing memories. So to get this back is really a treasure. How do you put a measure on that?”


News
Assessor’s office answers questions about valuations

Protest season for property valuations in Adams County has come and gone and while the number of protests filed was higher than normal, more property owners withdrew their protests than is typically seen after meeting with the county assessor.

A valuation protest can be filed throughout June, whether or not the property’s valuation changed.

There were 272 valuation protests filed with the Adams County Clerk’s Office this year. Comparatively, there were 212 filed in 2018, 254 in 2017, 145 in 2016 and 283 in 2015.

“We’re right on track for what we typically see in a year,” County Assessor Jackie Russell said.

Some Adams County property owners experienced sticker shock when they received their 2019 valuations in late May. Many land values saw large increases.

Of the 272 protests filed, only about 140 were heard by the Board of Equalization. The Board of Equalization is comprised of members from the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

That is because 65 of the protests were withdrawn. There were also 64 value agreements reached before the Board of Equalization met Monday through Wednesday.

Each property is given 10 minutes for discussion during the Board of Equalization meeting.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had 65 withdraws in a year,” Russell said. “We’ll have a handful, maybe less than 10. These people were completely blown away (by high land values), just like anybody else would’ve been. We were able to educate them on the process and they understood it.”

According to appraisal standards that are established by the International Association of Assessing Officers, among the principles and procedures used is the allocation method, a minimum of 15 percent of a sales price should be attributable to the value of the land.

The size of the increases were determined by sale prices within the surrounding neighborhood that took place between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2018.

Hastings has about 20 neighborhoods. Suburban Hastings is a neighborhood, as is rural Adams County most of the villages are combined as a neighborhood. Kenesaw and Juniata are their own neighborhoods.

Property valuations are required by statute to be 92 percent to 100 percent based on the median assessment to sales ratio for all sales within that two-year period.

When a property sells for more than its valuation that sale affects the value of all properties within that neighborhood.

Russell said the rule of thumb is if a property owner could sell his home for the given valuation then it is probably correct. That is market value.

Russell said most Adams County neighborhoods are around 93 percent or 94 percent.

Russell said some property owners withdrew their protest after meeting with appraisal staff. The assessor’s office may also enter into a value agreement if the assessor feels the information provided does support a different value from the assessment.

A lot of this is an education process for the public, she said.

“A lot of people are very irate when they come to us,” she said. “After we have that conversation with them and we’re able to explain our side of the story and they know where these values are being derived from, it’s a little easier for them to understand and handle.”

Russell said she received complaints after the valuations were released from property owners who thought their own property was not worth the valuation presented, or that the condition of a neighboring property would lower the value of the protestor’s property.

“For those instances, that may be something in which the property owner could do some homework, or maybe they have an appraisal friend to come and talk to and say ‘Hey, do you think this is really having a derogatory effect on my value or is not enough to make it any different?’ ” she said. “We can’t cherry pick. We can just change values here and there and in different areas. We have to keep it in mass appraisal standards. That’s what we’re bound by statute to do, as far as my office is concerned. That’s what the Board of Equalization is here for.”

She said the Board of Equalization had a complaint from a property owner who argued a neighboring property was being used as a junkyard and some of that trash ended up on the complaining party’s property and is negatively affecting the desire to live there.

The board did make an adjustment in that instance.

“It’s not that I’m always 100 percent in agreement with what the Board of Equalization does, because obviously I feel the land values are 100 percent equalized based on what’s going on in the market in those areas,” she said.

The board has the ability to overturn the values of the assessor.

“They still have to stay within their own standards of equalization,” she said. “It is those situations when there is an outlier situation they might possibly make a motion to change that value.”


News
Murder suspect indicates alibi

A 22-year-old Hastings man accused of murder may be providing an alibi during his trial later this year.

Defense attorneys for Daniel B. Harden filed a notice of intent to offer alibi evidence on Wednesday, and that notice was discussed Friday during a pre-trial hearing in Kearney County District Court.

Although Harden’s charges are based in Adams County, Friday’s hearing was held in Minden for the convenience of the judge, who had other cases in Kearney County.

Harden, who faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony, is accused of trying to rob 19-year-old Jose “Joey” Hansen and killing him in the process in 2017.

In the notice, defense attorneys intend to prove Harden was not present with Hansen at the time of his death. At that time, the defense claims Harden was at a house where he resided, based on interviews with witnesses, including Errich Holston, Dustie Martin, Michael Martin and Laikyn Willison.

A number of other pre-trial motions were discussed at Friday’s hearing, including a motion to limit certain evidence at trial.

In a motion in limine filed Jan. 30, the defense asked to not allow hearsay evidence from Katherine Creigh and Serenity Crossfield, who reportedly overheard discussions about the shooting, arguing that hearsay evidence isn’t allowed and neither individual was present at the time Hansen was shot.

Investigators believe Crossfield overheard conversations about Hansen’s murder, first at Creigh’s residence about 3 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2017, and then hours later during discussions in Creigh’s vehicle while driving from Hastings to Lincoln.

The defense also asked to prevent information about any polygraph examination or Harden’s invocation of his rights from being introduced to a jury.

The motion seeks to prevent the assertion, argument or implication of any DNA, fingerprints, hair or biological evidence or other scientific evidence linking Harden to the shooting since the discovery provided by prosecutors have indicated no such evidence exists.

During Friday’s hearing, prosecuting attorney Corey O’Brien with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said that any physical evidence offered would be used to corroborate other testimony as opposed to providing a direct link from Harden to the murder.

As for the hearsay testimony that could be offered by Crossfield and Creigh, O’Brien said it would be premature to restrict evidence without context.

Denise Frost, one of Harden’s attorneys, concurred that hearsay evidence objections will need to be handled at trial, but wanted the opportunity to provide a written argument to the judge before trial. She also provided police reports and transcripts of depositions conducted with Crossfield and Hastings Police Department Capt. Raelee Van Winkle.

“We feel you would be in a better position to decide on them at trial,” Frost said.

A second motion in limine was filed on July 16, asking to exclude statements Harden made after his arrest and to exclude a shell casing recovered from Creigh’s vehicle during the investigation because the model of the gun or ammunition used in the shooting is unknown.

District Judge Terri Harder gave attorneys for each side 10 days to submit written argument for the motions, and she took the matter under advisement. Another pre-trial hearing in the case was set for Sept. 11 at 2 p.m.

A motion for disclosure of intent to offer character evidence was filed on Jan. 3. O’Brien indicated the state didn’t intent to offer such evidence, but agreed to disclose any such intent by Aug. 15.

A motion requesting the use of supplemental juror questionaires to aid both parties in identifying possible conflicts for potential jurors was filed on July 8. Harder approved motion as long as the attorneys can agree on the additional questions to be asked of prospective jurors. If an agreement can’t be reached, a further hearing will be Sept. 11.

A motion regarding the admissibility of expert witnesses was filed on July 16. O’Brien said the state planned to present expert testimony regarding DNA, fingerprints, pathology and ballistics. The state is to confirm all evidence has been submitted to the defense by Aug. 15 and the defense will determine if a hearing on the matter is needed. If needed, it will be held on Sept. 11.

O’Brien also advised the state didn’t object to Harden appearing at trial in street clothes or without restraints.

Harden pleaded not guilty to the charges on Feb. 27, 2018.

Creigh, 22, of Lincoln and Deante Mullen, 20, of Lincoln also have been charged in the case.

Authorities say Harden and Mullen allegedly intended to rob Hansen and the attempted robbery led to Hansen’s death on Sept. 11, 2017, in 700 block of West G Street. Hansen was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back.

Mullen faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony. He pleaded not guilty March 5, 2018. A pre-trial hearing in his case has been set for Nov. 12 at 11 a.m.

Creigh, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time, also was charged with accessory to a felony for helping Harden and Mullen avoid arrest after the shooting. A preliminary hearing in Creigh’s case has been scheduled for Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.

First-degree murder is a Class 1 or Class 1A felony punishable by death or life in prison, respectively. Prosecutors haven’t indicated whether they will pursue the death penalty. Use of a firearm to commit a felony is a Class 1C felony punishable by five to 50 years in prison. Accessory to first-degree murder is a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.