We asked our Facebook fans and staff to choose the biggest stories in Brown County this year. These were the headlines with the most votes.
1. Jeff Boley remembered as ‘perfect person’
Some knew Jeff Boley as a football or wrestling coach. Others knew him as a teacher, a volunteer, a missionary and the man they trusted with their medication at the Nashville CVS Pharmacy.
Boley, 56, lost his battle with leptomeningeal melanoma Jan. 12.
Story continues below gallery
On July 9, the Brown County Community Foundation awarded Boley the John D. Rudd Community Service Award, the highest honor for a local volunteer.
At the time of his death, Boley was an active board member for Brown County’s soup kitchen, Mother’s Cupboard. Accepting the Rudd award on his behalf, his wife, Rhea Ellen, talked about him continuing to travel to Indianapolis to pick up donated food, even when he was sick.
This year, a new headquarters was built for Mother’s Cupboard and Habitat for Humanity at the Brown County Fairgrounds, completely through donations. Boley had championed that project. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Habitat President Denny Kubal noted Boley’s dedication with a moment of silence.
“All I can say is, ‘We did it, Jeff,’” Kubal said. “We did it.”
2. IU student’s body found in county; Bloomington man arrested
On April 24, a Brown County woman discovered the body of 22-year-old Indiana University student Hannah Wilson in a vacant lot off Plum Creek Road.
Wilson, of Fishers, was weeks away from graduating with a degree in psychology when she decided to go out with friends to celebrate IU’s Little 500 weekend. She was found 7½ hours later, 20 miles from where she was last seen at Kilroy’s Sports Bar in Bloomington.
Police found a cellphone at the scene and traced it to Daniel E. Messel, 49, Bloomington. He has been held at the Brown County jail since his arrest April 24.
Police and prosecutors have not explained how Messel and Wilson may have come into contact, but police said they found DNA belonging to Wilson in and on his vehicle.
Prosecutor Ted Adams asked that Messel be charged as a habitual offender because of past violent crimes and said he might add other charges before the trial begins.
About 150 local people could be in the jury pool. The trial is scheduled for June 1 and could take up to three weeks.
3. Flood tears county apart; residents pull together
On July 13, Brown County was hit with the worst flood since 2008. Homes, valuables and irreplaceable personal items were lost.
Thirty-seven-year-old Travis Watkins died when he attempted to cross Gnaw Bone Creek to check on his grandmother the night of the flood and was swept away. His body was found the next day.
A benefit raised about $1,300 for Watkins’ family and about $1,900 for other flood victims. Residents and visitors donated almost $4,000 to county government to cover other flood recovery costs.
About 43 residents reported being affected by the flood. Seven homes were destroyed, 13 reported major damage, and 12 reported minor damage. Several businesses in the Salt Creek Road area also sustained losses.
The county highway department put in about 320 hours of overtime clearing roads and doing emergency repairs that month. Highway Superintendent Mike Magner estimated the cost around $75,000, not including payroll.
4. ‘Doc’ Brester intends to keep practicing
Dr. James Brester will celebrate his 50th year practicing veterinary medicine in 2016.
It’s an anniversary he and his clients weren’t sure would come after he posted notice in September that he was “going to have to retire because the Indiana Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is going to revoke my license.”
But after meeting with his lawyer, he decided he could abide by the stipulations the state placed on him after an inspection. They concerned recordkeeping, sanitation and sterilization issues, according to his lawyer.
Brester, 72, treats as many as 100 animals per day. His clients flooded his office, state agencies involved in licensing and social media with pleas for him to keep his Bean Blossom Animal Clinic open. “I don’t especially want to (retire). I think I’m doing a good job,” Brester said.
He continues to treat all types of animals six to seven days a week and nearly around the clock.
5. Auditor’s office discovers lost, found money
Brown County’s books have been in considerable flux most of the year.
In March — her third month in office — Brown County Auditor Beth Mulry and staff found $131,253.76 in unspent fees collected by the county clerk’s office over several years.
A couple of months earlier, at the end of 2014, county commissioner Diana Biddle had found $685,084 in riverboat gambling money sitting unused. It was directed to health care expenses for 2015.
By March, Mulry’s digging had uncovered about $300,000 in overspending over several years. As a result, the county changed how it funds several jobs and created additional oversights.
In July, news broke that the line item for paying off the 4-H Fairgrounds building bond was around $90,000 short. Mulry and Biddle had worked for several months to figure out how this had happened, then worked with county council President David Critser to reschedule future bond payments. In the end, the ledger showed $24,043.64 overspent.
Though it had been a known issue for most of the year, it was not until November that Mulry and Treasurer Mary Smith and their staffs were able to reconcile the accounting of excise tax revenue. Local taxing units received about $400,000 more to distribute in December, with the county getting about $100,000 of that and Brown County Schools getting about $200,000.
The net result of all discoveries was that the county had less money than its leaders thought it had.
At the end of they year, Mulry was cautiously optimistic that they’d found all the surprises.
6. Crouch’s Market closes
For 43 years, Norma Crouch manned the counter at Crouch’s Market. But with no one committed to helping her this year; and due to problems with her back from all that standing, she didn’t reopen it in the spring. It was the first time she’d closed the store for the winter.
Van Buren Township residents who gathered there nearly every day lost their live link to all the neighborhood news. And visitors who came by year after year lost their favorite old-fashioned country store.
Norma said she didn’t plan to try to sell the store; she was holding out hope that when the time is right for them, someone could revive it. That hasn’t happened yet.
News of the closure reached more than 10,000 county residents, former residents and visitors on the Brown County Democrat’s Facebook page, making it one of the top-viewed stories in the past three years.
7. Brown County IGA changes ownership
On July 14, Brown County IGA closed early and reopened the next day under new ownership.
John Davis sold the store to Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Houchens Food Group, July 9. His family had owned it for about 40 years.
In October, new store manager Wayne Koester — who had been assistant manager for 17 years — addressed community concerns over the changes, which included some new staff and different products.
He said they were making an effort to keep or replace customers’ favorite items and they invited requests. A large suggestion box appeared in the lobby.
The IGA is continuing its community involvement, Koester said, including having a fundraiser for Mother’s Cupboard inviting Boy Scouts into the lobby to sell popcorn. “We’re not turning anyone away,” he said. “We’re actually, I feel, opening up the doors more to the community.”
8. Indiana flunks ISTEP testing process
Third- through eighth-grade students statewide take the ISTEP test every school year to measure what they have learned. But testing this school school year caused more headaches than it did solve problems.
Final scores will not be publicly released until Jan. 6, but initial reports are that the grades are much lower than last year’s.
The headaches started last spring when Indiana lawmakers opted out of Common Core academic standards and decided to create a new set of standards for Indiana. Then, a new test was created based on those standards.
Teachers had less than a year to prepare students before they would be tested. The state also raised the score needed to pass the test and lowered the score needed to earn a “pass-plus.”
In addition, Helmsburg and Van Buren elementary schools took one version of a paper test, while Sprunica Elementary took another version. Many schools across the state took the test online instead. The Indiana State Board of Education determined the online test was more difficult than the paper/pencil versions, so extra points will be awarded to students who took it online.
“This is supposed to be a source of feedback on our instruction. This is supposed to tell us how well our kids are learning,” said Deborah Harman, director of student learning. “It’s fallen way short of that. We’re not going to be able to use it for that purpose.”
Scores factor into teacher evaluations and pay, and the state’s accountability grades for each school building. Public school leaders across the state, including Brown County, have asked the General Assembly to not count this year’s scores.
Students will be tested over 2015-16 school year material in April.
9. Education advocate John Mills dies
Many will remember John Mills as the potter, the beekeeper, the public servant and the artisan.
Mills, 74, died May 7. He was serving his third consecutive term on the Brown County school board. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 but continued working in the fields he loved.
Mills had been a potter in Brown County since the late 1960s. He had studied with Karl Martz of the original Brown County Pottery. John Mills Pottery began in the summer kitchen of the Ferguson House, across the alley from the site of the original shop. Mills later adopted the name Brown County Pottery.
John and wife Maggie worked there together until they divorced in 1990. John and Beth Mills married in 1992; Beth, Martz’s niece, is now the potter.
Brown County Schools Superintendent David Shaffer credited many recent successes in the school corporation to Mills’ leadership.
Board President Carol Bowden said she’d remember “his ability to speak his mind even in disagreement with the board, but yet support the board decisions as they are made.”
“I want to hope to channel John in future meetings as I am able to do so,” she said: “‘What would John think about this?’ or ‘What would John say?,’ like I do with my parents.”
10. Superintendent David Shaffer named a Sagamore of the Wabash, plans to retire
At the end of this school year, Superintendent David Shaffer will say goodbye to his office in Brown County Schools’ “White House.” He is retiring after eight years as superintendent of Brown County Schools and 43 years in education.
On Nov. 11, Shaffer received a Sagamore of the Wabash award from Rep. Eric Koch, the highest award bestowed by the governor. In his nomination letter written by the administrative staff, Shaffer was described as “one of the great educational leaders of his time.”
Looking back at his time as superintendent, Shaffer noted Sprunica Elementary School’s National Blue Ribbon award, Sprunica and Helmsburg elementary schools being named Four Star Schools by the state, and the Brown County Junior High We the People team winning state and national championships — “not things that I did, but by being here at the time those happened are really sources of pride,” he said.
The school board is advertising for a new superintendent.
Shaffer’s advice to that person: Give credit when it’s due and listen.