You, the readers, selected the stories of 2017 that impacted Antelope County the most. Some stories were fantastic. Others devastating.
Sydney Loofe. Nate Metschke. Abigail Ervin. They all received a majority of the votes. The top 10 stories of 2017 are details below.
As for the top story of 2017 — it was almost unanimous. The worst storyline of 2017 was the biggest impact with readers — Sydney Loofe’s death.
Nearly every person who voted in the annual Antelope County News poll selected Loofe as the biggest story of the year, which wasn’t at all unexpected considering how the community pulled together to support the George and Susie Loofe family during the horrific time.
No. 1 — Sydney Loofe: Sydney Loofe, a 2011 graduate of Neligh-Oakdale, was last seen in Wilber, Nebraska, on Nov. 15. After weeks of searching by multiple agencies, including the FBI, Lincoln Police Department, Nebraska State Patrol and many others, Loofe’s body was recovered on Dec. 4, in Clay County.
Hundreds of people gathered on Dec. 11 for a memorial service where friends and family released green balloons with notes to Sydney. The Loofe family requested donations be made to the Henry Doorly Zoo in her memory since she was an avid animal lover.
At this time, no arrests have been made in connection to her death; however, two persons of interest — Aubrey C. Trail and Bailey M. Boswell — remain in custody on unrelated federal charges.
No. 2 — Nate Metschke: It was music to his ears. Sure, that old bell outside Neligh-Oakdale has seen better days, but that clanging never sounded sweeter than it did in late August when it rang to signify Nate Metschke as cancer free.
It was just days earlier the band teacher heard those words from his doctor, but it really hadn’t sunk in until he stepped in front of his school, in front of hundreds of students and rang the coveted victory bell.
Metschke rang the bell at the Carson Cancer Center after his final chemo treatment, but uncertainty remained since his scans weren’t back. But this time, he knew it was over.
“It wasn’t until I rang that bell that it felt real. This time, it felt like I was ringing the victory bell,” Metschke said.
Metschke was diagnosed with colon cancer last February. He had surgery to remove his sigmoid colon and all of the lymph nodes around it just one week after the birth of their third child, Ansley.
He was shocked, scared and ready to fight. He faced his disease with the same intensity he demands from his students, and he battled colon cancer publicly.
No. 3 — Abigail Ervin/Bullying: Titled “Open Letter To NOHS” and directed to administration, Abigail Ervin — a 2012 graduate of Neligh-Oakdale — detailed her junior high and high school experience with bullying. More specifically, it accused Neligh-Oakdale of not addressing the issue.
“Bullying is normal. Bullying to the point of mental illness is not,” Ervin wrote. “Plenty of the former students brought their concerns to the administration at Neligh-Oakdale, but it’s clear that little to nothing has been done to impart actual change at the high school. This is now an issue of the institution.”
Ervin’s blog was posted to Facebook at 9:17 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Less than 18 hours later — at 2:36 p.m. on Wednesday — Superintendent Scott Gregory announced a special meeting of the Board of Education to “receive and discuss legal advice on multiple student issues.”
There was no mention of Abigail Ervin or the blog. The term bullying was not used. The email did state, “We have no comment at this time.” It also said the 7 p.m. special meeting would likely go into closed session. Not all board members wanted the conversation to be behind closed doors. Kenny Reinke voted against it, but majority ruled.
At 7:04 p.m., the doors closed with only the board members and superintendent inside. At 7:57 p.m., they reconvened publicly and voted “to authorize and direct Gregory to release a statement regarding student matters, conduct and investigation, work with legal counsel and to report his findings of the investigation to the board.”
Still, there was no mention of the term bullying. It wasn’t until 9:15 a.m. Friday that bullying was officially used by the district. That’s when Gregory sent a statement to the media.
No. 4 — Megan Erickson/Sportsmanship: It was a display of true sportsmanship and genuine kindness.
The actions of Megan Erickson will be remembered long after the 2017 District D-5 Cross Country Meet in Ainsworth on Thursday.
Erickson, a senior runner from North Central, rounded the corner toward the finish line when she saw another runner go down. Her eyes were no longer on the finish line just 50 meters ahead. Without hesitation, she ran straight to sophomore Emma Bixler of Neligh-Oakdale.
“I saw her when I came around the corner,” Erickson said. “She was staggering side-to-side and falling. I just thought she deserved to cross the finish line, and if I could help her do that, I was going to.”
She reached around Bixler’s shoulders to keep her upright and walking toward the finish line. They were getting closer, both of them still easily in the top 15, even as some runners passed them. But even with help, Bixler struggled and went down. Erickson tried to allow her to cross the finish line on her own.
“I saw she couldn’t go,” she said. “I tried to hold her up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry her, so I just pulled her across. I wanted to help her so she could have as close to the place as she deserved.”
No. 5 — Neligh-Oakdale Runner-up: One way or another, Neligh-Oakdale’s incredible season was going to come to an end in March at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. It may not have finished quite like they expected, but they certainly brought home some hardware to put on the wall.
Neligh-Oakdale fell to Ponca 52-45 in the Class C2 State Championship Game to take runner up for the third time in school history.
The Warriors struggled out of the gate from the floor. They shot just 22.2 percent in the first quarter compared to 55.6 percent from the Indians to trail 14-7 after one.
They battled back in the second to head into halftime trailing just 21-19. In the third quarter, it looked much like the first as the Warriors once again hit just 2-of-9 shots.
In the final frame, Neligh-Oakdale hit four threes to close the gap, but Ponca’s hit 14 of their 19 free throw attempts to pull away and seal the game.
No. 6 — Dawson Kidney Transplant:Troy and Heather Dawson made a vow in sickness and in health. But neither imagined Heather would have to give part of herself to save her husband’s life.
Less than two months ago, Heather donated a kidney to Troy, due to complications with diabetes. But it’s not just the Neligh family counting their blessings this Thanksgiving. That’s because as a doctor at Antelope Memorial Hospital, giving the gift of life to Dr. Troy Dawson potentially impacts the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in the area.
“A patient said me, ‘Just think of the number of people you are helping by giving him a kidney,’ ” Heather said. “He can treat so many people, and I never really thought of it that way. It’s pretty amazing to think of how many people he’s impacted.”
It’s not hard to find the sincerity in Troy’s eyes. He and Heather saw first-hand just why “community” and “blessing” are often used in the same sentence.
No. 7 — Solar Eclipse: Once in a lifetime is often overused, but on Monday, the phrase rang true as a solar eclipse brought an eerie near darkness to Antelope County.
With about 98 percent coverage of the sun by the moon, Antelope County residents saw a rare almost total eclipse without even leaving their home or school. For those who ventured about 90 miles south, they saw the first total eclipse in Nebraska since 1954.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Orchard fifth-grade teacher Jana Wilhelm. “A total solar eclipse is once in a lifetime. Honestly, I kind of regret not taking a day off to go further south and see it, but our students really learned and experienced so much on Monday. It was a tremendous educational day.”
But she, like most teachers in Antelope County, did what they do best — used the experience as an educational tool.
No. 8 — Keystone XL Approved: The Keystone XL pipeline received the support - albeit slim - by the Nebraska Public Service Commission thanks to a 3-2 vote to approve the TransCanada application.
The commission approved the “mainline alternative” route that will go through Antelope County.
Crystal Rhoades was the lone commissioner to speak before the official vote and made her stand clear by citing six reasons as why she was about to vote no.
Rhoades and Mary Ridder voted against the application while Tim Schram, Frank Landis and Rod Johnston all vote in favor.
No. 9 — Faith Regional Clinic: Neligh’s newest medical clinic is open and accepting patients at its new primary care facility in.
Neligh Family Medicine, part of the Faith Regional Physicians Services family, is located in the recently constructed Mill Pointe Plaza that also houses Midwest Medical and State Farm Insurance.
Dr. Doug Dilly, one of two providers at the Neligh clinic, said adding the location in Neligh was to be more accessible to Antelope County patients.
“One of the reasons I moved the clinic here was because we have a lot of patients out this way and we can better serve our patients by having this facility here,” he said.
No. 10 — School Merger Talks: A potential five-school merger began with talks but quickly slipped to three schools. When Clearwater and Orchard voted to separate schools, talks immediately began between Clearwater, Neligh-Oakdale, Ewing, Elgin and Orchard.
By July, Orchard and Elgin formerly pulled out those talks — although Orchard said it would consider other scenarios but not the five-school merger — leaving just the three schools.
The three schools met twice in public session in 2017 with all board member present — in October and December. At the latter meeting, the three-school merger’s on-again, off-again relationship appeared to be back on despite more board members questioning what the next steps should be.
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Other stories receiving the most votes were Elkhorn Valley qualifying for state volleyball, EPPJ qualifying for girls state basketball, Uprooted Traveling Boutique created, Tilden Bank constructing a new office in Clearwater, the Royal Bar opening under Diane and Gary Ober as owners, the 65th anniversary of the TK Starlite Drive-In and the new pool opening in Elgin.