A lot happened in 2019.
Personally, it was my first full year in Knox County. I experienced my first raccoon dinner (yes, I tried it); got to cover a state championship (congrats, Sam Bethea); and had the privilege of interviewing an 105-year-old woman, an Oscar winner, two 9/11 first responders, and countless other everyday heroes – right here in Knox County.
2019 represented a changing of the guard locally. Mount Vernon, Centerburg, Danville and Gambier all elected new mayors. Several municipalities elected new council members.
The Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival changed hands, as did the Mount Vernon Christmas Walk and Parade. Several new businesses – including restaurants, retail stores and specialty shops – opened, while others closed.
And yet, much in Knox County stayed the same. We still enjoyed the Fourth of July fireworks at Ariel-Foundation Park; we still packed the fairgrounds to watch rough truck and tractor pulls; and we still flooded downtown Mount Vernon for the Dan Emmett Festival and First Fridays.
As 2019 wound down, I went through old stories to find out what exactly happened. Like usual, we gathered our top 15 most-read stories of the year (which, interestingly enough, were also Knox Pages’ most-read stories of the decade).
But this year, I wanted to take it a step further. I wanted to highlight all the good, interesting and honorable things that happened here this year. I wanted to recognize the people who moved Knox County forward; who started businesses here; who put Knox County on the map for their achievements; and who inspired us, simply by the way they went about their daily lives.
You’ll find their stories below. You’ll also find a bonus section: Mark Jordan’s top 10 history columns of 2019! I asked Mark to pick his favorites, and he went above and beyond – he also included explanations of each selection, which I think you’ll find fascinating.
Here’s a look back at the year that was:
Unfortunately, this section is typically reserved for crime coverage. However, this year’s top 15 represented a refreshing mix. There were human interest stories, business features, and investigative pieces included. Thank you for reading them all.
1. Jake’s Steakhouse in Mount Vernon to close (Sept. 26)
2. East Knox faces criticism for coach-led prayer (Dec. 3)
7. 'A nursing home is not a place to go to die' (Jan. 21)
12. Kokosing River depths have a history of tragedy (June 15)
14. A Malabar Farm legacy comes to an end (Nov. 2)
15. Mount Vernon man found dead after tubing accident (June 7)
BONUS (16): Business could soon fill former Pat Catan’s location, officials say (Nov. 9)
Mark Jordan's top 10 favorite history columns of 2019 (with analysis from Mark!)
1. The Linda Kohlmeier murder case retrospective (2/16/19). "An in-depth examination of a tragic story that also shows how modern journalists have corrected the sensationalism that ruled coverage of the case when it first happened."
2. The history of drownings on the Kokosing River (6/15/19 and 7/13/19). "Very happy how we were able to work together to deepen the coverage on an important local story by delving into a long history of incidents."
3. The personal account I wrote of my interactions with Ellen Bromfield Geld and Malabar Farm (11/02/19). "It documented for the historical record some insights into the family of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield."
4. The Knuck Harris article (12/07/19). "It's important to acknowledge the diversity that has existed in this community over the years."
5. Tracking down the people in a mysterious photo found at a garage sale in Brinkhaven 30 years ago (9/21/19). "This is one of several photos from the Knox Time Collection that I have explored and expanded on."
6. The story about the Foster Gang that plagued Centerburg with robberies and arson in the early 1900s (5/18/19). "History Knox has been an ideal forum for reviving almost forgotten history."
7. The latest installment in my series of articles related to the Maplehurst Mansion (10/26/19). "I will have at least one more article as a follow-up in 2020 to document the conclusions I revealed during my Chautauqua Series talk on Halloween Night at The Grand Hotel."
8. The Bob Evans windmill (09/08/19). "I was able to use a personal connection to tell the story of the connection between Mount Vernon and Bob Evans Farms in Rio Grande, Ohio."
9. The Miser and the Lovers (03/29/19). "I love retelling the old folklore of our area. Powerful stories never die."
10. The column about the unresolved murder case in Bladensburg in 1901 (04/27/19). "This led to a relationship with a publisher who will be publishing books of my historical research in the near future."
Those who innovated
Here's to the people and organizations that moved Knox County forward in 2019.
Millennial Mount Vernon established the city's first 'Internet Purchase Exchange Location' to promote e-commerce safety... Danville High School VoAg students got creative in revamping their village's snow plow... City council members worked with Mount Vernon High School students to study citywide traffic patterns... One local artist established Knox County's first Ukelele Club... A Mount Vernon businessman introduced a possible solution to the downtown parking dilemma... One local family worked with a regional non-profit to preserve their family farm... The Mount Vernon Fire Department, Knox County Community Health Center and Mental Health & Recovery for Licking & Knox Counties joined forces to establish an official 'safe station' for those suffering from substance abuse... Knox County 4-H broke ground on its new activity center... Mount Vernon City Schools, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and the City of Mount Vernon collaborated on a $20 million initiative that will substantially improve the local recreation scene... Mount Vernon's Harmony Playground, the first of its kind in this area, opened in April... The Knox County sheriff's office hired a four-legged friend to help with cases involving crimes against children... A new crop of leaders stepped up to save the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival... MVNU broke ground on a $2.7 million soccer and lacrosse complex... A local non-profit installed an ADA-accessible kayak launch at Ariel-Foundation Park... Plans developed for the old Mount Vernon middle school property on Mulberry Street... The Knox County Fair introduced a beer garden for the first time... Knox Area Transit began its village express service, to reach communities beyond Mount Vernon... Construction began on upper-level apartments in downtown Mount Vernon... Five new parking lots were built downtown through public-private partnerships... Local law enforcement utilized chaplains to help serve the emotional needs of first responders and their families... City council created a stormwater utility to help fund future stormwater projects... and the Area Development Foundation unveiled its long-term vision for downtown Mount Vernon.
Those who opened
Here's to the people who started businesses in Knox County in 2019 (there were so many, I couldn't even cover them all!).
One local doctor began a new family practice in Mount Vernon... LakeFit Nutrition brought healthy meal alternatives to eastern Knox County residents... Half Baked Café and Catering, offering scratch-made treats, opened on the square... Gordmans took the place of Peebles on Coshocton Avenue... A local family opened an old-fashioned candy shop on Public Square... Walk Eat Mount Vernon began offering downtown tours involving food and history... Everlasting Cup brought new ideas – and a new flavor – to Mount Vernon... A new call center opened in the former MC Sports building... and The Scent Life allowed customers to make candles and memories in downtown Mount Vernon.
Those who excelled
Here's to the people who put Knox County on the map for their remarkable achievements in 2019.
Knox Community Hospital's CEO was named to the Ohio Hospital Association Institute for Health Innovation’s board of directors... Two Mount Vernon High School orchestra students performed alongside the state's best... The Danville High School mock trial team made its ninth straight state appearance... MVNU baseball coach Keith Veale surpassed the 1,000-win mark... Centerburg High School's newspaper, the Trojan Crier, earned All-Ohio honors once again... Centerburg's Cate Wheeler and Mount Vernon's Owen Decatur were honored as two of the nation's top students... Senior sprinter Sam Bethea brought a state championship to Mount Vernon High School for the first time since 1999... Gambier's Baylee Arsenault, 7, competed at the Loretta Lynn's AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in August... A Mount Vernon illustrator made the New York Times Best Sellers list... Mount Vernon's Vincent Jingwei Baker won the Ohio High School Chess Championship in April... One local business earned statewide recognition for its community impact... East Knox senior Drew Salyers placed second at the state golf tournament, while the Bulldog football team qualified for the state semifinals... and the Woodward Opera House collected a prestigious state award.
Those who inspired
Here's to the people who allowed us to dream, and to realize our potential as human beings, just by doing what they do every day.
Fredericktown native Chad Cochran is making a name for himself in the Americana/music photography scene... Phil Houbler, Mount Vernon's self-made, long-time Cadillac salesman, reflected on a career (and a life) unparalleled... Kenyon College sophomore Ruby Schiff reflected on winning an Oscar... The friends of Fredericktown's Ellen Divelbiss, a remarkable quilter and human being, told her story... Mount Gilead senior Bradley Landon, born with amniotic band syndrome, won a state title in the seated shot put... A man from Massachusetts passed through Knox County on his countrywide trek for veterans... A Mount Vernon man saved a family's life through quick, selfless thinking... An Apple Valley woman turned 105 years old – and received 108 birthday cards... A longtime local 4-H educator left behind a sterling legacy... A 94-year-old World War II veteran received the letter of a lifetime... A group of Mount Vernon High School students mentored younger students and changed lives... Two 9/11 first responders visited Ariel-Foundation Park to reflect on serving during America's darkest days... A Mount Vernon woman overcame addiction to honor her late mother... Two local brothers, who long ago experienced an unthinkable tragedy, came back to share their story... Two local athletes – Highland's Riley Kemmer and Mount Vernon's Maggie Williams – blazed trails for future generations... and Mark and Denise Ramser, two of Knox County's most generous philanthropists, reflected on a lifetime of service.
These stories didn't fit into any of the categories above, but were some of my favorite in 2019. Many involved answering community questions, one of journalism's most important functions.
Why are gas prices higher in Mount Vernon? (April 30)
We also started our membership program in 2019. This program is crucial to our future as a news organization. It's a way for you, our readers, to support our work financially – because our stories will always be free to read, but they are not free to produce.
If you like the work we did in 2019, and you want to see it continue into 2020 and beyond, then become a Knox Pages Member today. Click here to learn more about how you can support our mission of telling Knox County's story every day.
Thank you, Knox County, for a wonderful 2019. Here's to an even better 2020.