Top ten stories of 2004

Friday, December 31, 2004

In 2004, we blew up old bridges, fixed up old buildings.

We painted walls, we changed mascots and began changing public school leadership.

The year 2004 was transitional for Southeast Missouri.

It was also a time of tragedy, politics and health issues.

The following are the Top 10 stories of the year as voted by the Southeast Missourian news department:

1. Mississippi River bridge demolition

Last year ended with the opening of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. This year was noted for tearing down the old one. The 76-year-old bridge was long past its prime. But however old and narrow, however rusty and beat-up, a certain reverence was evident among the thousands of people who crowded the riverfront to watch the landmark bow to explosives.

"I paid a lot of tolls on that bridge," said Gene Edwards of Thebes, Ill., who said he had crossed the span thousands of times.

The demolition, which cost $2.23 million, started in July with the dismantling of the bridge deck. The first blasts took down the piers and span on the Illinois side on Aug. 3, followed by several other planned explosions.

In September, a demolition blast did more damage than expected as each of the remaining spans crashed into the river. The only span that was supposed to go was the span nearest the Missouri shore.

The demolition and river cleanup continued through October.

2. Introducing the Redhawk

Like it or hate it, Southeast Missouri State University is now symbolized by a flying, hook-beaked creature: The Redhawk.

The school formally adopted the nickname this year, dropping the Indians moniker that had dated back to 1922.

The community was divided on the idea of changing school nicknames. Many ridiculed the decision, saying the Indians nickname was appropriate due to the Native American heritage in Southeast Missouri. Others thought the Indians name was disrespectful to Native Americans.

3. Floodwall murals

Forty years after it was built, Cape Girardeau's floodwall has become more than just a floodwall.

In 2004, it became a colorful history lesson.

Chicago artist Thomas Melvin was hired by the River Heritage Mural Association to paint murals along the wall. The hope is that the murals will draw tourists to the area and help revitalize downtown.

They are 24 snapshots of Cape Girardeau's history, from the Carolina parakeets that are now extinct to Louis Houck's railroad.

4. Marquette Hotel renovation

The Marquette Hotel was rescued in 2003. In 2004, it was given an extreme $6 million makeover. Once on the road toward demolition, the building -- now known as Marquette Towers -- has been restored to its original 1928 condition and is now a source of downtown pride. It houses several state offices, a martini bar and a rooftop penthouse addition that will support a restaurant.

5. Local troops serve in Iraq

At the end of 2003, families of the 1140th Engineer battalion braced for departure. In early January, the local troops were deployed.

Scores of local troops from the 1140th and the 35th Engineer Brigade as well as many career military men and women from Southeast Missouri served overseas in Iraq in the past year.

6. Jackson High School bond issue fails

Despite pleas from school district officials and students to pass a $27 million bond issue, voters narrowly rejected the 67-cent levy for a new high school in November. The school noted many building deficiencies.

The plan included a new 30,000-square-foot gymnasium, a two- or three-story facility for agribusiness and a new 60,000-square-foot building for administrative offices, cafeteria, English, social studies and business classes.

Because it was a bond issue, a four-sevenths majority -- 57.15 percent of the vote -- was required for passage. After all the votes were counted, 56.38 percent voted yes. The bond issue failed by fewer than 100 votes.

7. A change in school leadership

The Cape Girardeau School Board voted not to renew superintendent Mark Bowles' contract for next year. The decision met with some criticism, including a group of teachers who not only supported Bowles but also chastised the board for advertising an increased salary for the next superintendent. The teachers said the higher salary was inappropriate considering the many cuts the board made earlier in the year. Earlier this week, the board announced that Dr. David Scala of Sioux Falls, S.D., would become the next superintendent.

8. Hot political races

Twenty county residents filed for just two county commission spots in 2004. A restaurant owner, former and current police officers and a retired school teacher were in the fray.

In the end, incumbent Larry Bock won the 10-man race in District 1. Local politician and businessman Jay Purcell won District 2.

9. Trooper struck on I-55

Sgt. Bradley Lively, 37, a zone supervisor for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, was seriously injured in June when he was struck in the passing lane of Interstate 55 while trying to make a routine traffic stop.

The motorist, Talisa M. Jackson, 25, of St. Louis was ticketed for driving 75 mph in a 70-mph zone. She was going 34 mph when she hit the trooper.

Both of Lively's legs were broken in the accident.

Several members of Lively's Notre Dame Regional High School class of 1985 raised more than $5,000 for the trooper's family to help pay medical costs not covered by insurance and other expenses.

10. Autism series

A Southeast Missourian series on many aspects of autism shed light on several issues that face the families and professionals who take care of autistic children.

Parents told the Missourian how too few medical and educational services are available locally and complained that many schools do not accept a medical diagnosis.

More studies emerged that suggest a vaccine preservative called thimerosal, which contains mercury, may be a cause of autism. Children's vaccine schedules increased dramatically in the 1990s, the same time that autistic cases increased exponentially in the U.S.

In the last few months, a local autism group called Ethan and Friends has grown and is bringing more autism services to the area.

Other stories considered were: Cape residents pass fire sales tax and city increases salaries; Jackson wins first round of road and bridge tax battles in court; Cape Girardeau School District makes budget cuts; Anton Shannon Miller shot and killed outside of the Taste, a former Cape Girardeau night club; construction begins on federal courthouse; a Southeast Missourian report of a Leopold woman who struggled with infertility, conceived triplets and had complications that led to the death of one of her babies; a Scott City man, Chad Chaney, was fatally stabbed during a party fight; Trans-Siberian Orchestra draws big crowd to Show Me Center; a Southeast Missourian narrative details the first year of teacher Jason Bandermann; plans announced for multimillion-dollar condo project in downtown Cape Girardeau; Missouri Department of Transportation finishes Route K work in time for holidays; Sears, Kohl's choose Cape Girardeau for new stores; Renaissance Aircraft departs county; Jackson and county squabble over inspection rights; Jackson stuck with more than $100,000 in losses over easement ruling.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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