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Kansas man honors America with coin art

SMITH CENTER, Kan. — With 40-50 hours of labor and $40.30 worth of coinage (plus a little more) issued by the U.S. government, a Smith Center man has transformed a 3-by-5-foot board into a shining symbol of American patriotism.

Jaime Isom started work in October 2018 on an American flag made almost entirely of pennies. He finished it up on Dec. 16, and since then has lent it out for display at six different banks in Smith Center, Phillipsburg and Beloit, Kansas.

He brought the flag home just in time for the 2019 Smith County Free Fair in Smith Center, which ended July 22. He displayed the flag alongside a companion portrait of President Abraham Lincoln and a board displaying “KU” (University of Kansas) in the National Guard Armory building adjacent to the fairgrounds, which is used for static displays and activities during the fair.

Isom, 67, is a carpenter by trade. He said he’s a longtime collector of pennies, always on the lookout for rare ones, but made his first foray into penny art last fall and winter with the flag, Lincoln portrait and KU sign.

He found patterns online and set to work.

“I saw it on the internet, and I said, ‘I can do that,’ ” Isom said.

The flag includes 4,030 pennies, laid out in bands of older, duller-colored coins and newer, shinier ones to represent the stripes in Old Glory.

The star field is filled out with pennies that he gave a light spray coating of blue paint. Shiny quarters represent the stars.

When putting the flag together, he paid attention not only to the color of the pennies, but also to their years of issuance. He was sure to place pennies in order from the years 1941-45 to represent World War II, as well as coins bearing the years of birth and death for many family members.

araun / Andy Raun/Tribune  

Penny Abraham Lincoln made by Jaime Isom is displayed at the Smith County Fair in Smith Center, Kan., July 20.

Isom said his process of collecting pennies includes attending coin auctions and buying batches of pennies from banks. When he goes through the bank pennies one by one, he keeps his eye out for “wheat pennies,” which were minted from 1909-58, and older “Indian head” pennies, which were minted from 1859-1909.

The wheat pennies have President Lincoln in profile on the front, but the reverse, or “tails” side, depicts two heads of wheat. He has found good numbers of wheat pennies over the years.

“I’ve gone through about 100,000 pennies just looking for wheat pennies,” he said. “I got quite a few wheat pennies out of that, plus a couple of Indian head pennies.”

Isom figures he spent 40-50 hours, working on and off as his schedule permitted, to complete the flag. The Lincoln portrait probably took another 30 hours, although he wasn’t keeping close track of the time.

The Lincoln portrait, in particular, required looking and re-looking at the emerging image and moving coins around for the best effect.

Various compositions of metal have been used through the years in the production of pennies. Those variances, plus certain variations in markings in the coins’ design, make some pennies rarer, and therefore more valuable, than others.

Isom said the oldest wheat pennies he has found by going through batches date back to 1910 and 1911.

The “Indian head” pennies obviously are rarer, being older. The front of the coin bears the image of a woman representing Liberty wearing a Native American headdress. Isom said he has found a couple of “Indian head” specimens through the years.

His collection of rare coins also includes a “large penny” from 1816 (pennies back then were about the size of a half-dollar) and a 2-cent piece from 1865. Two-cent pieces were minted for circulation from 1864-72 and for collectors in 1873.

Isom said he has gotten other family members involved in collecting pennies and enjoys it.

“It’s just a hobby,” he said.

Now that he has some experience making art displays, he has some more projects in mind, including an image of the historic Home on the Range Cabin northwest of Athol, a barn quilt design, and a special piece for his 50-year high school class reunion a year from now.

“I’m going to make one for my class reunion out of 1970 pennies and 2020 pennies,” he said. “I’ll do that in the wintertime.”

Project Sunflower offers financial help to those dealing with dementia

It was more than a decade before her passing from onset dementia Alzheimer’s disease that Kelly Bonifas of Hastings first noticed her mother, Sheryl Brehm, wasn’t her usual self.

As she reflects on dealing with that downward spiral of memory loss and how the journey affected the lives of her family and friends, Bonifas, a registered nurse at Mary Lanning Healthcare, is grateful her newly founded Project Sunflower nonprofit corporation will give others dealing with dementia the financial support they need to lift some of the caregiving burden from their shoulders.

A fundraiser, “Forget Me Not,” will look to bring awareness to the fledgling agency from 6-9 p.m. Aug. 8 at The Lark, 809 W. Second St. The dinner and cocktail event will include an awards presentation recognizing a local caregiver for going above and beyond the call of duty while caring for a loved one.

Tickets are available exclusively online at, through the web site or by email at

“This disease robs you and your family of so much,” Bonifas said of dementia. “I really wanted to do something for people who are in the thick of it here and now to help cover the costs of respite care, medications and household expenses.”

In her mother’s case, it was Brehm’s beautiful handwriting that was the first thing to go. The once meticulous notes she included in care packages and greeting cards sent from her Arizona home to Kelly and her younger sister suddenly were becoming harder and harder to understand. And yet the signature was always perfect. It didn’t add up.

“Her handwriting started to go up the side of the card or check,” Bonifas said. “Or you couldn’t understand what she was trying to say in the card.”

Other signs followed. More than $50 in change was discovered at the bottom of Brehm’s old purse as Bonifas was helping to relocate its contents to her new purse. The reason, Bonifas learned later, was that Brehm had begun using large bills to pay for store purchases because she had lost the ability to make change.

But perhaps the most obvious and telling clue was revealed as Bonifas readied for her wedding in October 2006. Her mother, a capable seamstress who had made multiple dresses for both her daughters for years, suddenly was unable to sew on a simple button back that had become detached from one of Bonifas’ bridesmaid dresses.

Four months later, in February 2007, Brehm was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the Bararow Neurological Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona.

From that day on, Dave Brehm would become completely immersed in caring for his wife at home as her condition worsened. The toll it took on him was the inspiration for starting Project Sunflower, which is named in reference to Brehm’s favorite flower.

“My dad really needed a break,” Bonifas said. “He didn’t take care of himself because he was worried about taking care of her. Respite care is a huge need, and I think that the resources are out there. But people can’t always afford to pay for them.

“Things like household items and medications are very expensive. Medicare doesn’t cover everything these people need. Ultimately, the goal is to keep your loved one at home as long as you possibly can.”

Through Project Sunflower, financial assistance is available via a grant application process to caregivers and individuals diagnosed with dementia in Adams County who provide a doctor’s note verifying the diagnosis. Acting as a third party, the nonprofit corporation provides confidential financial assistance covering such expenses as utility bills, medications, caregiving services and other household costs.

Information on how to apply is available online at the corporation’s homepage

Contrary to what many think, dementia is no longer a disease that affects only the aged. Diagnosed at age 53, Sheryl Brehm succumbed to the disease at age 64. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of reported cases of dementia continues to rise in all 50 states.

“It’s a huge problem, and it’s only going to get worse,” Bonifas said. “Everybody has a story, just different addresses. I feel like if I’m able to have a caregiver tell me, ‘It wasn’t such a bad day today, I had help,’ that would make me feel good.”

Democrats' divisions test Biden's front-runner strength

DETROIT (AP) — The ideological divisions gripping the Democratic Party intensified on Wednesday as presidential candidates waged an acrimonious battle over health care, immigration and race that tested the strength of early front-runner Joe Biden's candidacy.

The former vice president was repeatedly forced to defend his decades-old political record against pointed attacks from his younger, diverse rivals, who charged that Biden's eight-year relationship with President Barack Obama was not reason enough to earn the Democratic nomination.

The attacks on Biden in the second presidential debate were most vivid coming from California Sen. Kamala Harris, who declared that his willingness to work with segregationists in the U.S. Senate during the 1970s could have had dramatic consequences on the surge of minority candidates in political office. And, she said, it could have prevented her and fellow presidential candidate Cory Booker, both of whom are black, from becoming senators.

"Had those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, Cory Booker would not be a member of the United States Senate, and Barack Obama would not have been in a position to nominate" Biden to become vice president, she said.

When pressed, Biden repeatedly leaned on his relationship with Obama.

"We're talking about things that occurred a long, long time ago," Biden said. "Everybody's talking about how terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew who I was."

The dynamic showcased the challenges ahead for Biden and his party as Democrats seek to rebuild the young and multiracial coalition that helped Obama win two presidential elections. Those differences were debated on a broad menu of issues including health care, immigration and women's reproductive rights.

But it was the discussion of race that marked an escalating rift shaping the Democratic primary. At the same time, polls show that Biden has far more support from minority voters than his challengers, especially in the crucial early voting state of South Carolina.

Booker, who at times adopted the position of peacemaker, also took Biden to task over criminal justice issues and his role in passing a crime bill while a Delaware senator in the 1990s. When Biden fought back by criticizing Booker's tenure as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, before becoming a New Jersey senator, Booker shot back: "You're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor."

In Detroit, a city where Democrats desperately need strong minority turnout to beat President Donald Trump next year, Biden, 76, repeatedly clashed with the two black candidates in the race, as well as the only candidate of Mexican heritage, all of whom are more than two decades his junior. Biden emphasized his work as vice president to help the auto industry and the city repair its bankrupt finances.

For Democrats, the internal fight, while common to almost every primary cycle, is one many would rather avoid, favoring instead a focus on defeating Trump. Several candidates said they thought Trump should be impeached and others called him a racist.

"The first thing I am going to do is Clorox the Oval Office," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.

Biden's struggling 2020 competitors see no better way to undermine his candidacy than raising questions about his commitment to black voters and women.

Anticipating a rough night, Biden greeted Harris onstage by quipping, "Go easy on me, kid."

She did not — and he often responded in kind.

Biden charged that Harris' health care plan would cost taxpayers $3 trillion even after two terms in office and would force middle-class taxes to go up, not down. He said that would put Democrats at a disadvantage against Trump.

"You can't beat President Trump with double talk on this plan," he said.

Harris slapped back that Biden was inaccurate.

"The cost of doing nothing is far too expensive," Harris said. She added: "Your plan does not cover everyone in America."

For the first time in the months-old Democratic contest, Harris faced pointed attacks on her plan to provide universal health care. Harris faced criticism from all sides this week after releasing a competing plan that envisions a role for private insurance with strict government rules, but she wants to transition to a single-payer government-backed system within 10 years.

And she was also challenged for her record as a prosecutor and California's attorney general, notably by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

"Sen. Harris says she's proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she'll be a prosecutor president, but I'm deeply concerned about this record," Gabbard said. "Too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."

There were also tense exchanges on immigration that pitted Biden against former Obama housing secretary Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race.

Biden suggested that some of his rivals favor immigration laws that are far too forgiving. Castro, for example, would decriminalize illegal border crossings.

"People should have to get in line. That's the problem," Biden said.

Castro shot back: "It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one has not."

Biden did have a defender of sorts in Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who derided the cost and impact of "Medicare for All" on middle-class families and those with private health insurance.

While the first primary votes won't come for six more months, there is a sense of urgency for the lower-tier candidates to break out. More than half the field could be blocked from the next round of debates altogether — and possibly pushed out of the race — if they fail to reach new polling and fundraising thresholds implemented by the Democratic National Committee.

The dire stakes have forced many Democrats to turn against one another in recent weeks. But their common focus was how they characterized Trump's impact on American life.

One of them, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, was particularly blunt.

"We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House," he said.


Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Detroit and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

Fed cuts key rate for first time in more than a decade

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve cut its key interest rate Wednesday for the first time in a decade to try to counter the impact of President Donald Trump’s trade wars, stubbornly low inflation and global weakness.

It left open the possibility of future rate cuts, but perhaps not as many as Wall Street had been hoping for. During a news conference, Chairman Jerome Powell struggled to find just the right words to articulate the Fed’s strategy and what might prompt future rate cuts at a time when the risk of a recession in the United States seems relatively low.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled to finish down 333 points, or 1.2%. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.01% from 2.06% late Tuesday, a sharp drop.

The central bank reduced its benchmark rate — which affects many loans for households and businesses — by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. It’s the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession, when the Fed slashed its rate to a record low near zero and kept it there until 2015. The economy is far healthier now despite risks to what’s become the longest expansion on record.

But Powell stressed that the Fed is worried about the consequences of Trump’s trade war and sluggish economies overseas.

“Weak global growth and trade tensions are having an effect on the U.S. economy,” he said.

Powell also said that sluggishness in some sectors of the U.S. economy, like manufacturing, along with inflation chronically below the Fed’s target level justify the “insurance of a rate cut now.”

Yet he struggled to explain clearly whether, why and by how much the Fed might further reduce rates.

“It’s not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts,” he said. “I didn’t say it’s just one or anything like that. When you think about rate-cutting cycles, they go on for a long time, and the committee is not seeing that — not seeing us in that place. You would do that if you saw real economic weakness.”

Market analysts said it was no surprise that stock traders were disappointed.

Trump, who has repeatedly attacked the Fed for failing to cut rates aggressively, expressed irritation with its message Wednesday.

“Powell appeared very reluctant to suggest that additional rate cuts were likely, only doing so when he was asked if this cut was ‘one and done,’” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at Alliance Bernstein. “Even then, he emphasized that if there are additional cuts it would likely be a brief cycle.”

“What the market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, the European Union and other countries around the world,” Trump tweeted. “As usual, Powell let us down.”

He added, “We are winning any way, but I am certainly not getting much help from the Federal Reserve!”

In addition to its rate cut, the Fed also announced that it would stop shrinking its enormous bond portfolio in August, two months earlier than planned. This step is intended to avoid putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing rates. The Fed had aggressively bought Treasury and mortgage bonds after the financial crisis to drive down long-term rates but had been gradually shrinking its balance sheet as the economy strengthened.

The Fed’s action Wednesday was approved 8-2 vote, with two dissents: Esther George, president of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank, and Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Fed, wanted to keep rates unchanged. It was the first time there have been as many as two dissents since December 2017 and suggested that Powell may face opposition if he seeks further rate cuts this year.

Compared with when the Fed previously cut rates more than a decade ago, the economy is now solid by most measures, if not spectacular. Consumers are spending. Unemployment is close to a half-century low. A recession hardly seems imminent.

Yet the Fed has decided that a rate cut could help provide a kind of insurance policy against an economic downturn. The idea is that lowering its key short-term rate could encourage borrowing and spending and energize growth.

A key concern expressed by the Powell Fed is that Trump’s pursuit of trade conflicts, with his punishing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese and European goods, have escalated uncertainties for American companies. Some companies have put off plans to expand and invest.

Powell has also expressed concern about undesirably low inflation. In delivering the Fed’s semiannual monetary report to Congress this month, he noted that the central bank needs to prevent the economy from sinking into a low-inflation trap like the one that has bedeviled Japan’s economy for more than two decades. Ultra-low inflation can slow growth by causing consumers to postpone purchases, which, in turn, slows consumer spending, the economy’s main fuel.

Another source of pressure for the Fed has been the relentless series of public attacks by Trump over its rate policy under Powell. Trump has blamed the Fed’s four rate hikes in 2018 as a key reason why the U.S. economy is slowing.

Powell has asserted that Trump’s pressure has had no effect on the rate policies of the Fed, which is considered an independent agency. But the president’s incessant criticism raises the question of whether the attacks could eventually undermine confidence that the Fed will remain politically independent and not try to boost the economy before next year’s presidential election.

Recent government reports— on economic growth, consumer spending and orders for durable manufactured goods — have confirmed that the economy remains on firm footing even with pressures at home and abroad. As a result, some analysts believe the Fed may pause after Wednesday’s rate cut to see if the economic outlook further brightens before deciding on any further easing.

And skeptics wonder whether Fed rate cuts at this point would do much to bolster an economy whose borrowing rates are already low. Some even worry that the central bank will be taking a needless risk: By cutting rates now, the Fed is disarming itself of some ammunition it would need in case the economy did slide toward a recession.

The impact of the Fed’s decision will be muted when it comes to consumer rates, unless there are more cuts ahead, said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

Mortgage rates and savings rates were already historically quite low. And credit card companies are less inclined to lower rates in response to a Fed move than to raise them, especially when the move was so modest.


AP Business Writers Josh Boak in Washington and Sarah Skidmore Sell in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.