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Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Life in Cape and Jackson: Some of the top stories in 2018

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, tumult plagues the national and international scenes, while locally, progress presses ahead.

Along with President Donald Trump, the leaders of France, England and Germany stand precariously, their popularity on the wane and protests in the streets. In Washington, the government is "closed", and one of the president's most important and able advisers, Sec. of Defense Gen. James Mattis, has resigned in protest of another rash Trump decision. Meanwhile, the stock market, thanks to an autumn slump and December collapse, in part sparked by concerns around the president -- trade policy, Mueller investigation, lack of seriousness or personal discipline -- combined with an incoming Democratic House and rising Fed interest rate, injects concern and anxiety into millions of Americans. The general economy, meanwhile, continues to hum, and unemployment remains at historic lows, conditions that are overshadowed.

Thankfully, at home in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, the world stands calmer, and as we prepare for a new year, it's a good time to reflect on what happened during the past one. Here are some of my top local stories from 2018, in no particular order, in some cases assisted by traffic statistics on semissourian.com.

Government and Politics

Trump came. A packed Show Me Center (composed of thousands who braved heavy rains and strong winds) saw the president make his final pitch before the 2018 midterm election. He left. Venit, vidit, discessit?

It was the fourth visit by a sitting president in Cape Girardeau's history, taking place only after a previously scheduled Trump rally was canceled due to a hurricane elsewhere. Among the highlights, when a woman collapsed and was prone on the floor for several minutes: the crowd's spontaneous singing of "Amazing Grace" and the president's patient compassion. Besides that: the enthusiasm caused by the throwing of red MAGA hats into the crowd and the raucous reception for celebrity speakers, including native Rush Limbaugh, was palpable.

Cape Girardeau state Rep. Kathy Swan was one of many who voiced her concerns about a Republican governor's indiscretions, and she was among the first Republican officeholders to call on him to resign. Ultimately, Eric Greitens did. The new governor Mike Parson visited several times, including in an attempt to rally support for an increase in the gas tax to rebuild state infrastructure. It lost. Medical marijuana won. For U.S. Senate, the politically talented Josh Hawley vanquished the politically talented Claire McCaskill.

Harry Rediger successfully completed eight years as mayor of Cape Girardeau; city councilman Bob Fox was elected, unopposed, to replace him. Incumbent Cape County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy kept his seat, as did incumbents Swan and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, overwhelmingly. Barry Hovis won a first term in the Missouri House, replacing Donna Lichtenegger, who had been term-limited. The four Scott Co. government seats up for election flipped from Democrat to Republican.

The Missouri Supreme Court set wrongfully convicted David Robinson free after nearly 18 years of imprisonment. The Sikeston police detective at the heart of the matter, excoriated in a special investigation by the court, lost his job, belatedly. For his reporting on the case, Southeast Missourian editor Bob Miller was recognized with a B Magazine Newsmaker award -- along with 13 other individuals who make a difference. Ruth Dickerson became Cape County's first-ever female sheriff; John Jordan, a U.S. Marshall.

Business and Restaurants

At the Cape Chamber annual dinner, Bob Neff was recognized with the Limbaugh Award, and a new award named after the Drury family was announced to recognize entrepreneurial success. Marco Construction Products won Small Business of the Year. In Jackson, for a lifetime of service, Billy Joe Thompson was bestowed the R.A. Fulenwider Award. Dr. Karen Hendrickson was recognized with the Zonta Lifetime Achievement Award. Navy veteran and long-time business leader Raymond Buhs won the prestigious Southeast Missourian Spirit of America Award.

Local business progress was a big theme in 2018, and the new, flashy B Magazine (a sister product of the Southeast Missourian) was launched to popular acclaim to cover it. A new 102-bed behavioral health hospital was announced, now moving forward as a partnership between SoutheastHealth and Universal Health Services but without Saint Francis. The Town Plaza area continued its resurrection -- soon to include Dogwood Social House, Krispy Kreme Donuts and Rosati's Pizza Sports Pub. Harbor Freight opened there in the summer. Buffalo Wild Wings, which used to be in the Plaza, opened an attractive new venue on Siemer's Drive. In fact, many new eating spots opened in 2018 (or are near opening), too many to mention. But among them: news about Sugarfire Smokehouse near Panda Express, Zaxby's on the southwest side, and Sugar Chic Creamery in downtown with its new ice cream mobile, all registered high in semissourian.com page views.

A majestic new hotel, Courtyard by Marriot, opened in the historic H&H Building. The interior details, meticulously recreated by a developer team led by Scott Rhodes and Jeff Maurer and executed by Boulder Construction, are sights to behold. Across the street, the Marquette Tech District flourished -- with Codefi, its main tenant, and the Tech District Foundation, named recipients of a $400,000 grant from the Missouri Tech Corporation to expand their tech startup competition:1st50K. Meanwhile, youth coding camps under the auspices of Codefi also grew, making this area more conducive to the future economy. Kohlfeld Distributing acquired Bluff City Beer, Drury Southwest purchased the Lorimont complex, Realty Executives acquired the Lorimont Place realty company.

Cape Girardeau opened a new police station and municipal court building and overwhelmingly passed the extension of a city sales tax to fund storm water projects and local parks improvements, including a new, still-to-be-finalized (and much debated) aquatic center. After voters in Jackson approved a new sales tax measure for police and fire, Jackson and the Cape County Commission finalized plans on a new police station and courthouse, respectively, both to be built by Penzel Construction. The Southeast Missouri Regional Port was offered $19.8 million in a federal grant to help fund a $33 million project to construct two loop tracks and a terminal along the Mississippi River: project on hold until additional funds secured.

Hip, hip, hurrah!

In sports, among many noteworthy accomplishments: Cape Central won its third-straight state swimming championship, and Southeast Missouri State University football made history by winning its first-ever national football playoff game. Redhawks coach Tom Matukewicz was named OVC coach of the year and his contract extended. The SportsPlex packed touring teams into top-notch competitions (as well as into local hotel rooms and restaurants) while opening for more weekday sports leagues. Basketball phenom Lisa Leslie inspired the crowd with grace and beauty at the Semoball Awards, which also featured bring-the-house-down remarks by Cape Girardeau Central stalwart Terry Kitchen, who received the Semoball lifetime achievement award.

In entertainment, a new full-day music festival, Shipyard, dazzled all who attended in downtown Cape Girardeau, even as they danced through the rain. The Vintage Now fashion show wowed its crowd at the Show Me Center with a circus theme, all to benefit the Safehouse for Women (which broke ground on a new building). Southeast Missouri State survived another year of budget cuts, won business and cybercrime competitions -- and re-organized its departments -- while producing amazing productions at the River Campus, including Southeast faculty member and writer Kenn Stillson's "An American Hero," which won Best in Festival at the New York Musical Festival in July. The Cape Catfish, a new summer-league baseball team to start play at Capaha Park in 2019, was announced alongside a major redesign of the field's amenities. A new skate park was built in Arena Park. The city approved the placement of a statue featuring a black Union soldier in Ivers Square.

The Esquire Theater was approved for a redevelopment TIF (though construction is delayed as property lines are sorted out). United Express added additional jet flights to Chicago (and boardings grew closer to the million dollar goal: 10,000 in a year). More delivery services opened in the area, while Cargo (with much thought and careful preparation -- though not enough for the chief of police) began delivering alcohol -- leading to debate around rules for such things. The Southeast Missourian embarked upon a test with Google to elevate civility and engagement within online commentary via technology and more human moderation. Former mayor, current university regent and long-time banker Jay Knudtson earned his undergraduate degree, "36 years after" he started, and delivered a rousing address to December graduates. With the installation of new LED lamps, Broadway got brighter. Long-time federal prosecutor and genuine good man Larry Ferrell retired.

LaCroix church and hundreds from around the area came together to pack meals, more than 800,000, for Feed My Starving Children. Thousands of local residents marched, walked, ran, volunteered, and donated to help others, to fight cancer, to beat Alzheimer's, to feed and clothe the needy, and to do so much more, selflessly, nobly, inspirationally. Toybox and Toys for Tots coordinated closer than ever before, delighting even more children during Christmas.

Sad farewells

In 2018, our community buried good friends and strong leaders, several whose accomplishments marked historic firsts. Among them: councilwoman Loretta Schneider, singer Neal Boyd, Judge Marybelle Mueller. We said goodbye to Dortha Stack, famous for growing farmers, and Gary Friedrich, for comic-book writing. Longtime museum director James Parker brought art to Southeast Missouri, while designer and businessman Harry Rust turned people's homes and businesses, literally, into livable art. From business and community leadership, among others, we lost Melvin Gately, Dr. Ray Ritter, Gene Penzel, Leland "Freck" Shivelbine, Mike McKinnis, Lowell Peterson and a bartender who brought the sun in with his smile: Marcellus Jones. A longtime university first lady succumbed to a vicious disease and had her name lovingly memorialized in the Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theater and Dance at Southeast's River Campus.

Then this week we lost one of Cape's friendliest and most civic-minded, long-time Schnucks manager Dennis Marchi. Incomparable in his high spirits (even against high odds) and with a boundless desire to help, Dennis touched the lives of an entire community. We lift up our prayers for his wife Kathy and their family.

Meanwhile, Mark Ervin, a former meat cutter for Schnucks, inspired the living with fun and humor, told through his Southeast Missourian obituary. Among its lines: "He died as he lived, in dramatic fashion and without pants. He would have liked you to believe he was still younger than 62 years old.... He was preceded in death by almost every person who ever lived on this planet, including, but not limited to, Abraham Lincoln and John Bonham."

On the national level, but in many ways, part of our own: through heartfelt ceremonies, prayers and commemorations, we marked the lives and contributions of the Rev. Billy Graham, former first lady Barbara Bush, Sen. John McCain and President George H.W. Bush.

In news of death and renewal, the old gum tree at the top of Cardiac Hill on Southeast's campus split during a windstorm; a new one was planted.

Thank you for reading today -- and thank you for reading every day, for your support of this newspaper, for your subscription. All of the above was originally reported in the Southeast Missourian, and drawing from it, I could have written about so much more: the many heroes in our midst, the volunteers, the teachers, the philanthropists, the churches, the hardworking men and women who make America great. This is what the Southeast Missourian does every day, in more detail, in more breadth, it tells the story of our community -- of our neighbors and our local institutions, of our places of prayer and our gatherings for fun; of our families, of ourselves. It does it in words and photos, thanks to the hard work of those who work here. Thanks to your contributions and contacts. Thanks to your support, your readership, your encouragement.

Happy New Year! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all! May you be blessed in 2019.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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