Note: This recap appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 6 newspaper on Page A1.

January

Second Amendment rights were on the minds of Vinton County residents at the start of 2020.

Vinton County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to protect the right to bear arms in the county.

Vinton County Commissioners Mark Fout, William Wellman and Tim Eberts passed a resolution declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary at their Jan. 28 meeting. The resolution was drafted by the Vinton County Prosecutor’s Office.

A Second Amendment Sanctuary, also known as a gun sanctuary, refers to states, counties or other locations in the United States that have adopted resolutions to say that they don’t agree with the enforcement of certain gun control measures that are perceived to violate the Second Amendment.

The resolution was proposed by New Plymouth business owner Judi Phelps which she then drafted with assistance from attorney Mike Moran.

The gesture was essentially symbolic as no laws or statutes were truly changed. It was more of a statement to state and federal officials as to where the county stands on the Second Amendment.

February

Longtime Common Please Court Judge Jeff Simmons announced his retirement from the position ending the longest tenure of any judge in that role in Vinton County history.

Simmons, a graduate of Ohio University and The Ohio University College of Law (now Moritz College of Law), worked as the Common Pleas Court judge for over two decades. He has over 40 years of experience in the law business.

The judge has seen many changes to the courthouse throughout his time there including the addition of air conditioning and security measures such as metal detectors and security cameras.

The court services have changed as well with the addition of the Community Corrections program and a Drug Court program which was part of a nationwide effort to better manage low-level drug offenders rather than the traditional route of jail time.

Simmons is looking forward to retirement and is open to whatever opportunities come his way. Spending time with his family, in particular his grandchildren, is at the top of his to do list. Unlike other retirees, Simmons won't be moving somewhere warm and tropical. He will be staying right here in the place he has always called home. 

March

Former editor Sydney Dawes, now editor at Athens News, had the chance to interview Alex Johnson, a 5 year veteran mixed martial arts fighter from Vinton County.

Johnson grew up in Allensville and still lives there with his wife and their son. His dad is a black belt in karate and was the biggest inspiration for him to start MMA. As a child, Johnson would love checking out his fathers trophies.

On March 7, Johnson fought Easton Johnson at the Arnold Sport festival in Columbus and won. At the time of the interview, he was preparing for the fight, training 5-6 days a week with some days including 2 training sessions.

When he's not fighting or training, Johnson works full time driving a fuel delivery truck for Bulk Plants Inc.

Prior to his first professional MMA win, Johnson's amateur career stats included 8 wins and 4 losses with 2 amateur titles to his name.

Johnson finished the interview saying, "I hope that people can look at what I have done and realize that no matter who you are or where you come from you can do anything you put your mind to."

April

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Vinton County in late April nearly two months after the pandemic caused shutdowns across the state. 

Two positive cases were reported with both having contact with residents outside the county. 

This ended a two week span where Vinton County was the only county left in Ohio without a positive case.

Further information regarding the spread of the virus in Vinton is documented in The Courier's piece on other top headlines of the year.

The National Weather Service reported an EF1 tornado that touched down in southern Vinton County on April 9.

It was reported to have occurred along Ohio Route 124 about 1.5 miles from Wilkesville.

Damages included a double-wide mobile home being shifted off the foundation, a destroyed garage, and another mobile home being blown off its foundation by a few feet. Trees were uprooted providing evidence for clear rotation of te winds.

May

Commencement looked different for graduates all across the country this year. From virtual ceremonies to diplomas arriving by mail, nothing seemed normal about this joyous celebration of achievement.

For Vinton County High School Class of 2020 graduates, a procession of cars replaced the procession of students as the school opted for a drive-thru commencement ceremony in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Cars were decked out with balloons, streamers, banners, and signs with photos of the graduates. 

The Class of 2020 missed out on many opportunities from prom to spring sports but the graduates refused to let it get them down. 

"Things don't always go as planned," co-valedictorian Jade Kempton-Trainer said. "But we can choose to face challenges with optimism and hope."

Five valedictorians and one salutatorian were honored in the Class of 2020 along with 28 honors students, 33 National Honors Society members, two recipients of Ambassador Torch Awards, TVC honorees in Cross Country, girls basketball, volleyball and boys backetball, a graduate with perfect attendance throughout her entire school career (Josie Ousley) and eight students who enlisted in the military.

All co-valedictorians expressed hope for the future and gratitude that even though the celebration was unorthodox, they were able to commemorate the milestone.

Those who graduated from the Class of 2020 are the following: Daniel Asher Abele, Lafe Justin Adkins, Maxwell Lucas Anderson, Gavin Hunter Arbaugh, Jacob Levi Arthur, William Larry Kenneth Arthur, Logan William Baker, Abigail Elisabeth Bakies, Rosalinda Ann Bapst, Riley Thomas Barnes, Nathan James Beckner, Dakota Ray Berryman, Adam Lee Betts, Kelsey Dawn Beyer, Zackery Thomas Blair, Ethan James Blanton, Amanda Kay Boring, Chelsea Brianna Bryan, Makayla Nicole Camp, Kaymen Kole Canode, Kaitlyn Mae Carpenter, Brett Michael Case, Luke McKenzie Caskey, Jordan Ray Champion, Justin Tyler Chaney, McKenzie Lee Channell, Austin Layne Christian, Jamie Shyann Clary, Kaitlyn Nicole Clowes, Jeremiah Matthew Clowes, Zackery Nathaniel Coleman, Brodee Nalyn Collins, Haley Noel Collins, Joshua Allen Corley, Katelyn Elaine Cox, Kasey Lynn Daniels, Kassidy Ann Daniels, Alliyah Lynn Dawson, Ethan Parker Dougherty, Jacob Wesley Dover, Joseph Michael Dover, Eli Daniel Downs, Barbara MaeAnn Marie Dunn, Jasmine Mackenzie Ann Elkins, Rylee Elyse Fee, Hayden Robert Fetherolf, Okey Wallace Fitzwater, Austin Lloyd Fout, Jamie Lee Frank, Courtney Lynn Frazier, Zoe Elizabeth Games, Emma Jo Gilliland, Noah A. Graves, Harley Nicole Gregory, Marcazia Jasmine Griffith, Jaymee Lea Grigsby, Mackenzie Paige Grigsby, Gia Leanne Gross, Mason Ray Hall, Brooke Riley Harber, Steven Dean Harlan, Autumn Marie Harris, Morgan Elisabeth Hayes, Josie Lynn Hembree, Harmony Tierra, Chantel Henderson, Jacob Edward Hudnell, Maylea Olivia Huff, Mason Jeffrey Huston, Ryan Gadge Jonas, Emily Kathryn Jean Jones, Kyle Thomas Justice, Jade Olivia Kempton — Trainer, Emily Nicole Kight, Cassidy Renea King, Sydnee Elizabeth Knox, Brodie Chase Lambert, Anna Mary Lang, Hunter Isaiah Legg, Alec Tyler Lizak, Zachary Jonathon Long, Levi Gabriel Mace, Serena Love Marshall, Brooklyn Paige Martin, Kelsi Jade Martin, Destini Sylvia McCartney, Chloe Grace McCarty, Taylor Bryce McFerren-Stephenson, Shannon David McGinnis II, Gretchen Elise McIntire, Alyssa Nicole McKinniss, Abrianna Hope McManis, Trace Anthony McManis, Charlie Everett McNally, Stephen Alexander Mineer, Taylor Rose Moore, Steven Lee Morris Jr., Luca James Mullins, Gabberial Emmily Murphy, Dena Marin Myers, Zeke Allyn Newman, Kayla Marie Nichols, Merishika Lynn Nicholson, Dale Allen Ohm III, Josie Layne Ousley, Dakota Ray Owings, David Preston Peoples, Bryce Levi Perry, Morgann Elizabeth Perry, Kaylen Nicole Petty, Derik Thomas Wayne Piatt, Timothy Ryan Pierce, Nicholas Evan Pittman, Jaryn Elise Pollock, Valerie Elizabeth Pratt, Sydney Dominique Quackenbush, McKenzie Ann Radabaugh, Lilith Kiana Radcliff, Okala Renee Reffett, Dennis Eugene Robinette, Breanna Rachelle Roddy, Jacob Tristan Rogers, Justen Edward Ross, Kelsey Ann Rutter, Emily Rose Salyer, Owen Grant Salyer, Chaylin Dawn Savage, MaKinzie Erin Scarberry, Kaitlynn Dawn Sexton, Hunter Jacob Sharp, Jacelynn Renae Sharp, Allexia Gabriella Sinclair, Felicity Raine Smith, Sidney Aliece Stepien, Aaron Matthew Stevens, Isiah David Tackett, Caytlyn Ann Thompson, Eric Robert Toney, Thomas Edward Travis, Daisy June Vanover, Jonathon Daniel Vanover, Andrew Scott Walker, Lexie Elizabeth Walker, Logan Arther Ward, Steven Hunter Webb, Jacob Andrew Wells, Lora Jo Wells, Olivia Claire Wells, Bryar Levi Whalen, Faith Ann White, Hunter Ryan Whiteman, Alyssa Faye Wilkinson, Brittany Lynn Wilks, Darcy Ann Williams, Quinton Wayne Williams, Courtney Madison Winnett, Terrence Mason Woodall, Marsha Ann Workman, Tania May Worrix, Tyanna Michelle Worrix and John Wesley Wright.

June

After nearly four decades with the McArthur Fire Department including 18 years as the department's fire chief, Chuck Fri announced his plans for retirement at the end of June.

He was considering retirement earlier in the year but decided against it as the pandemic seemed an inopportune time to leave the department. 

“I’ve been mulling it over for a year,” he said. “I think it’s time to turn it over to younger folks.” 

Chief Fri was given a plaque in recognition of his service by McArthur Village Mayor Steve Hammond. 

July

Medical aid organization Direct Relief in collaboration with the National Association of Community Health Centers announced $50,000 of grant funding would be awarded to Hopewell Health Centers, Inc.

HHC planned to use the funds to continue to provide access to dental services that had been reduced to only allowing emergent procedures during the Stay-at-Home orders issued in the state. With limited access to PPE, HHC began phasing in more services slowly since the restrictions were lifted in May.

Health centers including HHC provide health care for approximately 30 million people in the country, assisting 1 in 12 residents.

August

The former Vinton County Drug Task Force has gone through a makeover and rebranded as the Vinton County Prevention and Recovery Coalition and began a mission to address the impact opioid addiction and other issues linked to addiction has had in the county. 

The coalition takes a more holistic approach to addiction by not only focus on opioids but also tackles addictions such as alcohol or gambling. 

With the pandemic limiting in-person interaction, meetings were held over Zoom. On Aug. 20, the group discussed the topic of suicide as September 6-12 was National Suicide Prevention Week. 

A study lead by Orman Hall of Ohio University, in collaboration with the Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance) and Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF) found that there were 15,563 deaths by suicide in Ohio between 2009 and 2018. 

Four of the top five counties reporting higher rates of suicide hail from the Southeast region. In the top ten Ohio counties, eight were located in Appalachia. Meigs County was listed at the top with a rate of 24.4 per 100,000 people with Hocking County listing a rate of 19 percent which is higher than the average.

By comparison, Vinton County was one of the lowest in the state with 11 per 100,000 people and 15 people lost to suicide in the ten year span studied. Jackson County had a higher rate at 20 per 100,000 people with 65 suicide deaths from 2009-2018.

Hall explained that the reason for the higher rates in the Southeastern area could be caused by the “deeply entrenched economic conditions” that are pervasive in Appalachia, but he also noted that the increased access to firearms in the area may also contribute to people completing suicide at higher rates. The percentage of suicide deaths by firearms over the ten year span rose by 3.22%.

A general lack of willingness to talk about mental health issues could also be causing damage and the coalition is hoping to reach out to more community members to combat this.  

For more information about the coalition’s committees, contact Homonai at homonai.3@osu.edu.

September

The fifth installment of the series detailing the death of Vinton County Sheriff Harold Steele and his killer's trial ran in the Sept. 30, 2020 edition of The Courier.

Spoilers are ahead so for those who wish to read the full story, each installment will be listed in our piece on other top headlines of 2020.

To recap the crime, the sheriff was shot on Aug. 31, 1970 at the age of 61 while trying to execute a search warrant at the residence of James Oliver Mills near Creola. No one was there to witness the shooting.

As reported by local paper, The Logan Daily News, Mills proclaimed that the sheriff was wounded when he attempted to take Mills' shotgun from his hands. In court, Mills claimed that his finger was not on the trigger when the shotgun went off. 

The trial's closing arguments were originally supposed to be heard on Feb, 1, 1971 but were delayed after an hours long meeting between Judge Robert Tague, Prosecutor Arlo Chatfield, Assistant Special Prosecutor John Peck and attorneys David Kessler and John Connor. 

The following day, Prosecutor Chatfield began closing arguments with a 30 minute appreciation speech directed towards the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, the state highway patrol, the defense counsel and Judge Tague. Chatfield stated his belief that the events of Aug. 31 "would go down in history in Vinton County and will 'stay in our minds forever,'" according to the Logan Daily News. Chatfield implored for the jury to find Mills guilty of first-degree murder and to impose the death penalty for the crime.

Mills attorneys Kesser and Connor followed by focusing on the easement from the power company, the validity of the bench warrant that brought Sheriff Steele to Mills residence, and the credibility of Wilbur's testimony. 

The initial reason for police involvement was due to Mills reportedly threatening power company employees who were on his property to do an easement on the power lines near his home in exchange for an electric line being dropped to the home. Mills received a $15 bill for the power line but the company did reach out apologizing for the error.

Due to the warrant being one of a civil nature and not criminal, Kesser argued that Steele could be considered a "common trespasser" according to the law.

On Feb. 3, 1971, the verdict was included in that days edition of the Logan Daily News stating that Mills was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after an 11 hour deliberation.

Reports claimed that the Prosecutor Chatfield was displeased with the verdict, exclaiming it was "a complete miscarriage of justice. Unlike Chatfield, special prosecutor Peck agreed with the defense the Steele was overreaching when serving the warrant but also noted that the death occurred about half an hour after Steele arrived on the property.

Judge Tague explained during the trial that while Mills had the right to defend himself that wold only be if he was in immediate danger of bodily harm. If the shooting was intended to escape being arrested then it wouldn't be considered justified. 

Mills was taken to Ohio State Penitentiary in Mansfield on Feb. 8, 1971.

Another installment of the series was printed in the Oct. 7 paper and will be brought to a conclusion in the new year.

October

The Vinton County Board of Commissioners was awarded one of seven $1,180,000 grants to build three communications towers in Vinton and Meigs counties to provide wireless broadband service to those areas of the counties where service has not previously been possible.

The Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization grants, also referred to as POWER grants, total in $5.7 million worth of funds to organizations across the state.

These grants are funded federally and used to serve those areas of the country that have been particularly impacted by the loss of jobs in the coal industry including mining, power plant operations, and supply chains. Coal jobs are becoming more and more obsolete as the country's energy needs continue to grow and change.

U.S. Senator Rob Portman released a media statement that included the following, "The $5.7 million in federal ARC POWER grants is great news because it will help ensure that these organizations across Ohio have the resources needed to expand world-class technology in their regions, to support entrepreneurship, and thus help ensure economic development and job creation in these towns and local communities.".

Multiple other Southeastern Ohio entities also received POWER grants including $1.5 million to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio which helps grow capital resources for social enterprises in Appalachian Ohio and West Virginia. The grant was set to be used to form an investment fund to attract private capital.

Appalachian Growth Capital was awarded $1 million to grant access to capital for small businesses in Appalachian Ohio. $514,827 was given to ACENet from Athens to bolster the hardwood manufactured products sector in the region. 

November

Another round of vandalism was reported over the weekend of Nov. 14 at Moonville Cemetery leaving few headstones left standing. The trailhead sign had also been stolen not long before. 

Caleb Appleman of the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau detailed the multiple occurrences of vandalism that have occurred over the years at one of Vinton County's most historic landmarks, "Aside from spray painting over the signs, we've also had them shoot at them and even use grinders to cut beams off to steal the trailhead signs."

In total, three signs have been stolen each costing a few hundred dollars to replace.

Much of the cemetery has been lost to either time or vandalism. The tunnel, a staple of the Moonville Rail Trail and their annual Midnight at Moonville event, is often found defaced with graffiti amongst the trash left by vandals and curious onlookers alike. Large appliances such as tvs have been brought out to the site to be inevitably tossed off the bridge with the remnants left behind. Trash cans and benches have been lit on fire and destroyed as well.

Over the years, it has been estimated that all the damages added up to at least a few thousand dollars with much of the repairs funded by community donations and GoFundMe campaigns.

One donation campaign currently underway is hoping to accumulate $15,000 to erect an obelisk in the cemetery as a de-facto replacement for all the headstones that are essentially beyond repair. Funds are also being raise to place trail cameras in the area in the hopes of capturing those who are causing damages to the site and deter others who would consider doing the same.

Approximately a few dozen former residents are buried at Moonville and the VCCVB is hoping to memorialize them as proper Vinton Countians. The markers date back to before the American Civil War when Moonville was first established wiht the last of the residents leaving around the mid 1940's. 

The Moonville Rail Trail Association and VCCVB are often "chasing their tails," according to Appleman, "We put something nice up, somebody tears it down, and we have to put it back up."

Both groups don;t take the vandalism as defeat though. No matter what challenges occur, they are determined to keep the history area in tact and available to those wishing to learn about the history of Vinton County.

December

After a year of non-stop news concerning COVID-19, from all the deaths to curfews and gathering restrictions, December finally brought us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.

In mid-December on the 14th, the first COVID-19 vaccines were given at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center as well as the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

30 front line medical workers were vaccinated at the Wexner Center as a trial run to ensure smooth operations before the first full day of vaccinations on Dec. 15.

Mercy Health St. Vincent Hospital in Lucas County, Cleveland Clinic and Metro Health Medical Center in Cuyahoga County, Mercy Health Springfield Regional Medical Center in Clark County, OhioHealth Riverside Hospital in Franklin County, Aultman Hospital in Stark County, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in Athens County, and Genesis Hospital in Muskingum County also received vaccines on Dec. 15. 

Following the inoculation of front line healthcare workers, the elderly and those working in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities began their vaccines on Friday Dec. 18.

Since those began, Governor DeWine has expressed concern over the low number of nursing home staff that have received the vaccine, with only about 40 percent willingly getting the vaccine.

During a press conference at the end of 2020, he strongly encouraged all who can be vaccinated to get it done, not only to protect themselves but those around them. He pointed out that once the window for that phase has passed, there is no guarantee when the vaccine will be available to that group again.  

The average American still has not gotten the chance to be vaccinated as Ohio is still giving them to those most vulnerable. Hopes are that the time will come around late April according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nations top infectious disease expert.

Twitter: @amhulvalchick

Email: ahulvalchick@vintonjacksoncourier.com

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