HANSEN — Volunteers spent the week rebuilding a veteran’s workshop that was lost in a fire here on June 30.
Ken Hegwood of Hansen used the workshop to keep his collection of historical military artifacts, including helmets, medals, patches, pins, toys, books and more. He also used the space to paint on collectibles, adding division information, insignia or other art to bring out the history of an object or military unit.
Hegwood said he couldn’t express the gratitude he had for all the people who have stepped up to help in his time of need. He said at the age of 88, he didn’t think he would be able to rebuild on his own and would have to give up his hobby.
Not only did people offer to help fund and build the structure, but it will be a little larger than his original workshop.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “The only thing I asked for was an antique front door to match the one on my house.”
As soon as he learned about the fire, Steve Gerritsen of Hastings started trying to figure out how to make Hegwood whole again. Gerritsen has known Hegwood since he was 14 and considers him an adopted father.
One of his first calls was to retired U.S. Army Col. Frederic Drummond Jr. of Tampa, Florida, who graduated with Gerritsen at Hastings High School 40 years ago.
Drummond hadn’t heard from Gerritsen for years, but said he was compelled by the story of a fellow veteran’s loss. Drummond flew back to Nebraska, where he has family, and met Hegwood.
After seeing the artwork Hegwood had completed over the years, Drummond was on board to help.
“I knew I had to come back and help out,” he said. “I wanted to bring his building out of the ashes and put him back to work.”
Drummond, who served many years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, designed the building from his home in Florida and flew back to Nebraska this week to oversee the project. Although the pandemic made his high school class unable to meet for its 40th reunion, he invited many classmates to come back to help with the construction.
Dozens of people from the Hastings area and beyond came out to help. Several came from the Omaha area, and one was from Iowa. Some were veterans themselves. Others knew Hegwood through his artistry.
Drummond said the bulk of the project would be done before he leaves on Friday, but he’s confident local volunteers will be able to put the finishing touches on the structure.
“It is humbling to see the local flavor of Nebraskans helping Nebraskans,” he said.
Justin Osborne of Hastings with Hastings Industrial Irrigation said he wanted to help out because Hegwood was a friend of his father’s and the family owns some of Hegwood’s art. He was pleased to see people from across the state turn out to help.
“It’s great seeing people from all over the state come to out help on this,” he said.
Craig Hubbard of Hastings owns Hubb’s Repair and Construction and brought crews out to help on the project as well, focusing on the trusses. He heard about Hegwood’s story and wanted to help.
“My dad is a 40-year veteran of the Army,” he said. “I feel veterans are important and deserve our respect. It was an opportunity and a cause I felt good about helping with.”
Other businesses that donated money, manpower or supplies included Dutton-Lainson Co., Home Depot, Hastings Industrial Irrigation, Moose Roofing, Raynor Garage Doors and Trent Meyer Construction.
Other organizations provided meals for the volunteers constructing the structure, including Barrel Bar, Freddy’s Steakburgers, Harvard United Church of Christ, Pepsi Bottling Co. and the Village Diner at Good Samaritan Village.
My Place Hotel provided rooms for the volunteers to stay while assisting.
Gerritsen said he was grateful so many people and businesses were willing to help out.
Brian Hayes, another classmate and Hastings native who returned to help, said he heard about it and felt it was the right thing to do.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “We help each other out.”
WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse told Nebraska constituents in a telephone town hall meeting that President Donald Trump has “flirted with white supremacists,” mocks Christian evangelicals in private, and “kisses dictators’ butts.”
Sasse, who is running for a second term representing the reliably red state, made the comments in response to a question about why he has been willing to publicly criticize a president of his own party. He also criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said Trump’s family has treated the presidency “like a business opportunity.”
The comments were first reported by the Washington Examiner after it obtained an audio recording of the senator’s comments, which has been posted on YouTube. Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said the call occurred Wednesday.
Two other Nebraska Republicans, U.S. Rep. Dan Bacon and state GOP executive director Ryan Hamilton, told the Omaha World-Herald that they disagree with Sasse’s characterizations of the president.
“Senator Sasse is entitled to his own opinion,” U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, another Nebraska Republican, said in a statement. “I appreciate what President Trump has accomplished for our country and will continue to work with him on efforts which help Nebraska.”
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh declined to comment on Sasse’s comments, the World-Herald said.
Sasse has positioned himself as a conservative willing to criticize Trump, and he is seen as a potential presidential candidate for 2024. His comments Wednesday were in response to a caller who asked about his relationship with the president, adding, “Why do you have to criticize him so much?” Trump carried Nebraska by 25 percentage points in 2016.
The senator said he has worked hard to have a good relationship with Trump and prays for the president regularly “at the breakfast table in our house.” He praised Trump’s judicial appointments.
But he said he’s had disagreements with Trump that do not involve “mere policy issues,” adding, “I’m not at all apologetic for having fought for my values against his in places where I think his are deficient, not just for a Republican, but for an American.”
Sasse began his list with, “The way he kisses dictators’ butts,” and said Trump “hasn’t lifted a finger” on behalf of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
“I mean, he and I have a very different foreign policy,” Sasse said. “It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies. It’s that we — the United States — regularly sells out our allies under his leadership.”
Sasse said he criticizes Trump for how he treats women and because Trump “spends like a drunken sailor,” saying he criticized Democratic President Barack Obama over spending.
“He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” Sasse said. “At the beginning of the COVID crisis, he refused to treat it seriously. For months, he treated it like a news cycle-by-news cycle PR crisis rather than a multi-year public health challenge, which is what it is.”
Two more Adams County residents have died of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and 123 more residents of the South Heartland Health District have been confirmed positive for the presence of the virus in their bodies since Tuesday.
The district health department reported the two deaths and 123 new cases in a news release Thursday night.
Both of the fatalities were men — one in his 70s and the other in his 80s — and both had underlying health conditions, said Michele Bever, health department executive director. Both men’s positive cases had been reported previously in South Heartland COVID-19 statistics.
The health department doesn’t report COVID-19 deaths as such until it receives official notification of the causes of death as listed on death certificates.
The two fatalities reported Thursday night bring to 16 the total number of South Heartland district residents who have succumbed to the novel coronavirus disease, which is caused by infection with the virus. All 16 of the victims lived in Adams County.
Bever expressed her sadness at the men’s deaths and warned district residents to take COVID-19 seriously.
“While some people have moderate symptoms and feel ill for a couple of weeks, others can have severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization or death,” she said. “Many other people may experience very mild, allergy-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all (asymptomatic), and are able to spread the virus to others unknowingly and unintentionally.”
The South Heartland disrtrict this week has exceeded the 1,000 mark in its running total of positive cases of COVID-19 recorded to date.
As of Thursday night, the district’s total number of cases to date stood at 1,061.
The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The district’s first positive case of COVID-19 was announced on March 18.
New cases recorded for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday include 58 in Adams County, 34 in Webster, 20 in Nuckolls and 11 in Clay.
The district recorded a total of 101 new cases for the previous four-day period, Friday through Monday.
To date, the running case totals by county include 758 in Adams County, 139 in Clay, 85 in Nuckolls and 79 in Webster. Numbers reported Thursday reflect a correction made recently to subtract one case from Nuckolls County that was mistakenly counted twice last week.
On Wednesday, the health department announced that the district’s risk dial reading, assessing the likelihood of further spread of the virus, remains in the middle of the “elevated” (orange) zone for this week.
As of Wednesday morning. hospitals in the district were treating a total of 12 patients for COVID-19, with five patients in critical care and three on ventilators.
Meanwhile, 13 school systems across the four-county district were dealing with a combined total of 238 student and staff member absences somehow related to COVID-19. And six long-term care facilities in the district were coping with positive cases among employees and/or residents.
The tally of South Heartland residents who are classified as recovered from COVID-19 stands at at least 563, but that number hasn’t been updated in some time due to health department employees’ increasing workload. South Heartland officials hope to bring that number up to date soon.
Bever used her news release to implore district residents to take precautions and help thwart further spread of the virus.
“We need to change this course,” she said. “If we continue on this path, we can expect our schools, worksites, and health care system to be severely impacted.
“Here’s what you can do to help turn the trend down: avoid crowded places, avoid close contact, and avoid confined spaces. Be vigilant, protect yourselves and others everywhere you go, in everything you do. That includes maintaining 6 feet (of) distance from people you don’t live with and masking up to reduce risk of close contact exposures.”
In other COVID-19 news, the neighboring Two Rivers Public Health Department has recorded a total of 20 new positive cases in Kearney County, six in Franklin County and four in Harlan County since Monday.
For more South Heartland information visit www.southheartlandhealth.org. Two Rivers information is available at www.trphd.org.
Hastings Utilities staff members continue to evaluate a proposal from a Sanitary Improvement District east of Hastings about operation and maintenance of a new water system, with the hope to make a proposal to the Hastings Utility Board and eventually the Hastings City Council.
Hastings lawyer Chuck Shoemaker, who represents SID No. 1 of Clay County, told utility board members during the public comment portion of their Oct. 8 meeting that this matter goes back to the 1940s when the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot was developed east of Hastings.
In the late 1990s a portion of the water system that was owned by a private individual was developing nitrate issues with the well that provided water service. The owner of the system no longer wished to operate it.
There were a number of users on the system in that area, including Central Community College.
As a way to assure the continuance of water service at the college, a request was made for Hastings Utilities to take over the operation system.
That request “was not pleasantly received” by the Hastings Utilities administration, Shoemaker said.
The issue of providing public services went to the City Council.
“The City Council told the Board of Public Works, ‘You need to take this over,’ ” Shoemaker said.
So an agreement was reached that the portion of the system, called Community Municipal Services, that serviced the college was acquired and folded into the operation of Hastings Utilities.
Under the agreement, the division point where the services would be treated as owned by Hastings Utilities was well site 19, where water originally was provided to the system.
That well was shut down in the process of connecting the area to the Hastings Utilities system.
The water system for the area east of there near the Adams and Clay county line, Industrial Park East, continued to have private ownership.
That was the case until 2017 when the private owner of the system decided to no longer operate that part of the system.
That is when the SID was created. An SID is a political subdivision. The only power of the SID is operation of the water system.
The SID pays Hastings Utilities for the water it provides to its customers.
There was a loss of 80% to 90% of the metered water.
“It was a problem we knew of, and it was a problem we spent a couple of years trying to figure out how to deal with that, trying to find the source of where the water was going,” Shoemaker said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office made a proposal to the SID, which was accepted to make a loan and grant to reconstruct the system.
“We have since totally rebuilt the system,” he said.
Customers were hooked up to the new system during summer 2020.
Hastings Utilities has provided meter reading, billing and collection.
The SID is governed by a volunteer board of trustees.
“They are just there because they care about the services that are provided,” Shoemaker said. “Most of them are business owners out there. They live elsewhere, but they operate businesses that are customers of the SID.”
SID No. 1 is part of the industrial infrastructure of Hastings, he said.
“I see no reason why customers out there should be treated any different than the customers who came into the aging water system at the time Hastings Utilities took over operation of the water system to the west of well 19,” he said.
The one difference, Shoemaker said, is that when Hastings Utilities took over that system it was aged.
“We’re asking you to take over the SID’s system, a brand-new water system,” he said.
The SID would continue to pay the 40-year loan.
Brandan Lubken, HU superintendent of water and wastewater operations, said SID No. 1 of Clay County runs from Maxon Avenue to east of Inland. It serves 23 customers and 31 meters.
Hastings Utilities bills two meters along the water main, and then the SID bills its customers.
A local plumber does the operation and maintenance for the system.
Hastings Utilities has some concerns, including man hours for service.
“We are appropriate staffed, I feel,” Lubken said. “As a region that’s a long way out there.”
The HU service area for water stretches as far west as Westbrook, between Hastings and Juniata.
There is also a concern about customer density.
Hastings Utilities has about 205 miles of water main and averages about 50 customers per mile of main.
“The SID is a vast area, with a lot more main and a lot fewer customers,” he said.
Lubken said there are about five customers per mile of main.
“That’s significant in our eyes,” he said.
There is also concern about reliability.
“Every drop of water that comes out of a sprinkler head, every drop of water that comes out of a fire hose, every drop of water in the community has to be drinkable,” he said.
Hastings Utilities does a lot of water sampling.
“There is constant monitoring of that water quality, and that would have to be rolled out further into this service area,” he said.
There has been daily contact between the two organizations.
The SID system isn’t set up to the HU water system operators’ comfort level with the success of being able to isolate and flush the system in the event of a bacterial infection.
“That’s a risk not only for the operator, but for the community,” Lubken said. “You want to be able to do it as best as you can do it.”
Utility board chairman Bill Hitesman said he would like to see the board become better educated, so if a recommendation is made, the board is well versed enough to make a recommendation to the City Council.
Lubken said he would like to see a longer analysis time of the new main, to get a more accurate picture of costs.
There is a two-year maintenance contract with the installers.
“That might be a good target to look at and analyze what you guys are paying,” he said.
Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson suggested HU staff come back to the board with a full presentation with pros and cons.
“It’s going to take a lot more designated focus, understanding and conversations to bring you all up to speed,” he said.
Board member Shawn Hartmann asked Shoemaker about economic development opportunities.
“If you’re doing operation and maintenance, we would love to have you to receive the benefit of any additional customers,” Shoemaker said. “We’re not looking to make money, we’re just looking to provide service. We would love to have you to take over ownership of the system if you wanted; the problem is there is $1 million in debt that comes with it.”