Like many service groups and other community organizations, the Hastings Noon Rotary Club has been thrown off its regular schedule and program of activities by the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
The club’s weekly Friday lunch meetings at Mary Lanning Healthcare were suspended until further notice in March. Since then, club members have gathered for meetings virtually over Zoom a few times but have convened an in-person meeting only once.
But there’s much more to Rotary, or any service organization, than just a weekly meal, program and fellowship. And with key involvement from several members, the Hastings club members have found a way to continue doing good works through several months of social distancing.
“As COVID-19 continues to slam our country and as people of action, members of the Hastings Noon Rotary Club have answered the call,” said Marie Butler, who ended her year-long term as club president at the end of June.
One of the Hastings club’s signature events is its annual Student Recognition Luncheon in early May. Working in collaboration with the Central Community College Foundation, the club organizes the event at Central Community College-Hastings to celebrate the scholastic achievements of several dozen of the top graduating seniors from Adams County high schools. Scholarships also are awarded on a competitive basis.
While the luncheon couldn’t go forward this year due to public health restrictions, Hastings Noon Rotary pushed ahead with the recognition aspect of the project, visiting students’ homes one by one to present them with an engraved “Rotary Scholar” medal as well as a gift and a newspaper page provided by the Hastings Tribune on which their honor had been announced.
Gifts to the seniors have varied through the years, with a dictionary eventually being replaced by a computer flash drive. This year, long before COVID-19 was at the top of the world’s mind, the group decided to present the students with a cloth they could use to clean their electronic devices.
“Who knew when we decided upon a Rotary remembrance gift of a device cleaning cloth for academically recognized high school students, that this cloth would be so significant of the time we are experiencing when disinfecting and cleaning would be so important?” Butler said.
Seven Rotarians stepped up to volunteer for duty traveling around the county to make the presentations. Butler said the club members enjoyed the chance to visit with the seniors, and in some cases their parents, and learn about their plans for higher education at four-year institutions or community colleges.
The Student Recognition Luncheon, gifts and scholarships are made possible by donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. Dean Moors, a club member who also is executive director of the CCC Foundation, heads up the fundraising effort.
Despite the economic pain and uncertainty facing the community at this time as a result of the pandemic and a struggling agricultural sector, donors were generous this year.
“Dean Moors had such great response from the community for sponsorships that Hastings Noon Rotary was able to provide three $1,000 scholarships this year,” Butler said.
A fourth scholarship, the William B. Vaughan Memorial Scholarship, was sponsored as usual by Livingston-Butler-Volland Funeral Home and Vaughans Printers Inc.
In addition to the Student Recognition project, Hastings Noon Rotary applied for a grant through Rotary International District No. 5630 and was given $3,750 to spend on COVID-19 relief initiatives.
The district had received a grant from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International for COVID-19 relief, then passed along the money to local clubs.
The Hastings club divided the money into thirds and spent one-third working with the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska, and the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce.
Butler went shopping with Salvation Army Major Dale Brandenburg, a fellow Noon Rotary member, to purchase groceries for the Salvation Army’s evening meal program. Brandenburg was able to secure enough meat and other groceries with that money to help with two weeks of the hot meal program.
Then, Butler and Brandenburg met Phil Rosno from Catholic Social Services to pick up hamburger and other meat Rosno had preordered from Allen’s of Hastings, and Brandenburg helped load the meat onto a CSS truck. The meat was to be used in CSS’ meal program, and Rosno planned to use the balance of the money the agency received from Rotary for other grocery items like buns.
Rotary used the final one-third of its grant money to purchase Hastings Bucks, which are sold by the Chamber of Commerce and redeemable at local businesses, which could use a boost following months of COVID-19 disruption.
The Hastings Bucks will be incorporated into a future club fundraiser for the inclusive playground being planned by the city of Hastings, Butler said.
The club gathered in person on June 26 for the first time since March 13. The meeting was in the pavilion at Highland Park and included a presentation of the Rotarian of the Year Award to member Ron Seymour.
Continuing to practice old skills and learning new things prompted Kassie Kimle, 14, of Kenesaw to participate in the static exhibits part of the Adams County Fair this year despite the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Kassie’s been participating in 4-H for about nine years and has tried many different projects over the years. This year, her favorite was a sewing project in which she crafted a dress and then modeled it on video for the judges.
Normally, she would show off the dress in the fashion show, but that was canceled this year to allow the activities to keep with social distancing guidelines. While she misses being able to see other 4-H’ers and share ideas and projects, Kassie was glad to be able to still participate.
“While it might be different, I still have something related to a fair,” she said. “It may not be like other fairs, but at least we get to do something.”
For her 12-year-old brother, Blake, the favored project was making a tie blanket.
Blake said the projects provided a way to keep busy during a spring and summer where he couldn’t spend much time with friends due to social distancing.
“I like how we still got to do things,” he said. “We don’t just have to be at home.”
On Tuesday, the Kimle family brought their exhibits to the Adams County Wallace Building, the former school that now houses the Adams County Extension Office.
Although the static exhibits are being handled differently, Julie Ochsner, an extension staff member and member of the fair committee, said it was important to provide this opportunity for 4-H participants to learn, grow and develop the skills to become successful adults.
“It gives the youth the opportunity to showcase their items and also to get comments from the judges,” she said.
She said the judges’ feedback is crucial to the learning process for the kids.
In order to be compliant with health department guidelines, families set up appointments to bring in static exhibits between Sunday and Tuesday. Members of the public weren’t allowed to walk through and view the exhibits but judges agreed to come and view the items to provide feedback to the participants.
Open Class competition was canceled for this year. Ochsner said they knew they wouldn’t have as many entries this year and the process of setting up the 4-H exhibits went smoothly.
“We’re trying to eliminate any possible exposure,” she said. “Everybody has been very understanding and excited their kids have the opportunity to do something.”
On Wednesday, judges will view items in the floral and horticulture categories. Foods will be judged Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, the clothing and child development areas will be judged. Friday will see the home environment category judged.
By spreading out the judging times, Ochsner said they will be able to limit the area to six people at a time, further following the guidelines set out by the South Heartland District Health Department.
After the judging is complete, Ochsner said families will make appointments to pick up their items and during that time, staff will make videos of each project to publish on social media.
“That will allow the community to be able to see it,” she said.
Members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors provided support Tuesday for four projects determined to improve life in Adams County.
The supervisors voted 7-0 on each of the four improvement fund grants presented by Anjanette Bonham, director of the Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The grants include $5,000 for a new sign and landscaping at the Hastings Municipal Airport; $25,000 to update the 20 full-service camping pedestals at the Adams County Fairgrounds to 50 amps; $25,000 to help with the construction of the Roseland Community Center; and up to $22,400 to transform the Carter Park tennis courts, in south Hastings, into pickleball courts.
“These are four worthy projects,” Supervisor Scott Thomsen said after hearing Bonham’s presentations for each of the projects.
Improvement grants are used for improvements to attractions or recreational facilities owned by the public or nonprofits that attract visitors to Hastings and Adams County.
“I’m really excited for these organizations and the opportunities for these communities too to get the improvements they are requesting,” Bonham said. “It’s a great opportunity to use our funds and put them back into the community of Adams County.”
Funds would help offset the cost for a new sign and landscaping at 12th Street and Marian Road as well as landscaping at the airport entrance at 12th Street.
“A new, updated look increases their presence and shows potential businesses and travelers from out of state and other Nebraska counties that Hastings is welcoming and open for business,” Bonham said.
She said the airport had a great turnout when the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor was there last summer. The airport also was selected to host the 2021 state fly-in.
The planned improvements symbolize the airport’s vision for moving forward to continuously improve the economic development impact of the airport and business partners in the community, she said.
By updating the camping pedestals, the fairgrounds will be able to offer more power to campers there. The fairgrounds see many campers during softball and baseball tournaments.
Bonham said getting more campers there will generate more taxes for the community.
The Nebraska Good Sams State RV Rally is among events that use the camping pedestals.
“Good Sam, a lot of them got to where they said, ‘We can’t use your facilities because you need more power,’ ” Supervisor Dale Curtis said. “They’re losing business because of it.”
Roseland Community Center
“I was really thrilled to get this grant request from a surrounding Adams County community rather than just within our city,” Bonham said.
She said the building will be available to residents and guests for a variety of events. The building will include a large event room that will hold up to 300 people.
The space will be flexible, allowing use for receptions, graduations and other large gatherings.
The plan is to also include a small conference room with space for about 50 people.
Construction is anticipated to begin in fall 2020.
The Roseland Community Club has raised $222,000 through fundraising efforts and was awarded a $375,000 Civic and Community Center Financing Fund grant in 2020.With a budget of $811,000 for the building, the Community Club is on the final drive to secure funds to complete the project.
“The current surface of the (Carter Park) courts are in poor shape,” Bonham said. “The cement is broken up and it needs to be redone.”
She said the city has 18 other outdoor tennis courts.
The pickleball courts would allow Hastings to hold tournaments like those that already take place in Kearney, Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha.
“Being able to host these tournaments will bring in lots of visitors to Hastings and Adams County,” she said. “So there is opportunity for growth there.”
A pickleball club in Hastings with about 40 members recently formed an official board of directors.
“They’re going to grow the game and interest in the community,” Bonham said. “They would be the ones that would host some of these tournaments.”
In other business, the supervisors:
Unanimously approved closing one mile of Winchester Avenue north of Old Sod Road, which has been unkempt for many years.
Unanimously approved tabling an agreement between Adams County and Heartland Pet Connection for care of impounded animals.
Unanimously approved the written memorialization of the Isolated Land Ruling of July 7.
Unanimously approved a resolution to dissolve the West Blue Township.
Unanimously approved a resolution to dissolve the Ayr Township.
LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska’s new president expressed confidence Tuesday that all four university campuses will be ready for in-person classes this fall despite the threat of the coronavirus.
Ted Carter said the campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney have already taken steps to welcome back students while minimizing the risk that the virus will spread.
Carter said students who arrive on campus for the fall semester will see smaller, spread-out classes, less crowded dorms, mandatory masks and buildings that are cleaned more frequently.
“We’re not going into this with hope and a prayer,” Carter said at a news conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts. “We’re going into this with a bias for action.”
University officials have left open the possibility that they will return to online learning if the pandemic worsens. But Carter said it’s important for the university to offer in-person instruction. He said university surveys have shown that the vast majority of students and faculty members want to return for in-person classes, and extra precautions will taken for those who are at greater risk.
“You cannot get the same level of education through a Zoom call,” Carter said.
Carter said the university is better-positioned than many other schools because each of its campuses is spread out over large areas, making it easier to keep people at a safe distance. The university has roughly 51,000 students and 16,000 faculty and staff members at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
In May, the university’s flagship campus in Lincoln announced that it would start classes online for one week on Aug. 17 and then transition to in-person learning for the rest of the fall semester, starting Aug. 24. The semester will be shortened, and scheduled to end before Thanksgiving.
Carter was sworn in as the university’s new president in January, just a few months before the pandemic forced widespread closures in Nebraska and the rest of the country. The university closed its campuses in April as the pandemic worsened.
The campuses also shifted to online classes during the spring semester to try to keep the virus from spreading.
Nebraska’s community colleges are taking similar steps. For instance, Northeast Community College in Norfolk announced in June that it will offer a combination of small, socially distanced on-campus classes and online instruction.
They also expect to take a leading role in training people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, said Greg Adams, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association.
The state has set aside $16 million in federal coronavirus aid to help pay those educational costs. Ricketts said community colleges will administer the program and distribute the money in the form of scholarships for people going into high-demand jobs.
“We need to get (people who lost their jobs) back in the workforce as quickly as we can,” Adams said.