By Jason Schock
This week, the year two thousand and fourteen will come to an end, and as we sort through the top headlines that made many of the past 365 days memorable, we realize 2014 brought with it the good, the bad and the bizarre.
We watched Falls City change economically, for better and for worse. A sausage company put its money where your mouth is and placed a bet on southeast Nebraska, Ames called the corporate bluff and WASP celebrated an anniversary by showing its hand – a full house. Merz Farm Equipment, a third generation Falls City family business, “sewn securely into the very fabric of this farming community,” we wrote, bravely doubled down, while another, Hoy’s Ideal Cleaners, sadly folded.
On 17th and Stone Streets, Falls City’s most famous artwork prepped for a change of scenery, while two blocks south, the Elks gave themselves a nice facelift.
The year started with a most literal bang – on Jan. 18, explosive charges blasted Rulo’s early Sunday morning serenity and sent a 75-year skyline into the icy waters of the Missouri River. It only got louder weeks later in a gymnasium in Nebraska City, when the FC High School basketball team shocked second-ranked Lincoln Christian 37-36 to earn a second state tournament berth since the 1960s. The silence inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center after Wahoo’s miracle comeback in the first round? Absolutely deafening.
We couldn’t believe our eyes – and in June we couldn’t believe our ears when a Richardson County Sheriff’s Deputy reported shots fired, officer down and a Hispanic gunman at large. When that same deputy fessed up, admitting to fabricating the story and shooting himself in the arm, he traded his badge for instant notoriety and a life-long felony conviction.
Falls City was at times on fire in 2014, both figurately and literally. Both on the streets and in chambers, two places currently under new management, or about to be. Can you put out the fire, yet keep the flame lit? That’s not a question a new Mayor or Sheriff, a City Council, or even the Judge alone can answer. It’ll take teamwork to solve that riddle.
Here is a look back at the top stories of the last year. Lucky you, we kept a Journal.
As hundreds of people watched, explosive charges blasted the morning serenity as well as the previously cut metal girders of a 425-foot-long span, sending part of a 75-year skyline into the Missouri River.
What took years and $760,000 to build in 1938 was in seconds bathing in icy water. A lot of money, yet about $1 million less than the demo contract of $1.73 million, and more than $31 million less than its successor, dedicated in September 2013.
—TIGERS, THAT’S WHO!
For any fan of the underdog and especially those who also pledge their allegiance to orange and black cats, the Nebraska City gym was the place to be on one particular Monday night in March, as the FC Tigers upset Lincoln Christian 37-36 to earn, for the second time in 51 years, a trip to the State Basketball Tournament. With 7.2 seconds left and FC down a point, senior Mitchell Harling drove to the bucket, elevated up, evaded a massive defender and slipped the ball over the iron rim. The 24-2 Tigers were the “tougher” team, FCHS Coach Don Hogue, the winningest coach in school history, said.
Even the toughest hearts broke 10 days later. In the first round at state, a two-point Tiger lead evaporated in :2.7 seconds when Wahoo threw the length of the floor and the ball was tipped to a Warrior of good fortune under the hoop. He tied it at the buzzer and FCHS eventually lost in overtime.
But FC ultimately lived to fight another day. Hogue earned career win No. 200 on the first night of the 2014-15 season.
—A HEART BEATS
Speaking of heart, the story of JR Ramer warmed ours. Seven years after being diagnosed with heart failure, four months after leaving home for a hospital bed in Omaha, and just weeks after a 10-hour heart transplate surgery, JR and his wife Lisa returned by motorcycle escort home to Falls City.
The motorcade made its way into Falls City as citizens, lined up along Harlan Street, cheered and waved
“Seeing all the people who care so much was very overpowering,” Lisa said.
—’You had to be a big shot, didn’t ya?’
“Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Nincehelser is recovering well from a gunshot wound suffered in an early Monday morning shootout just off Highway 75, about four miles north of the intersection of Highways 4 and 75,” The Journal reported June 10.
Two weeks later, we learned the 25-year-old would recover – but his career in law enforcement would not.
Two weeks later, Nincehelser was escorted from the jail to the courtroom, facing felony charges after he admitted to authorities of fabricating the story of a shoot-out with a Hispanic gunman on a dark county road in the middle of the night. In reality, he shot himself in the arm and filled the Sheriff’s Dept. patrol truck full of bullets. Nincehelser later pled guilty to a felony charge of criminal mischief and currently awaits sentencing.
“Performance such as this is characteristic of Deputy Nincehelser’s grace under pressure and ability to calmly respond to high stress situations, which reflects great credit upon himself, the Richadson County Sheriff’s Office and all law enforcement officers,” Houser said told The Journal on June 10.
And two weeks later: “We all feel betrayed,” Sheriff Houser said.
—’I never really left Falls City’
The John P. Falter Museum at 17th and Stone Streets is still under construction but will soon display the works of the world-renowned artist. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which included Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, was held in September.
Falter Museum fundraising efforts, spearheaded by Dobey Haws, who’s father was a first cousin to the artist, successfully pushed the collection effort past the $100,000 mark.
“John Falter once said that he never left Nebraska,” Steve Kottich, speaking on behalf of the Richardson Foundation, said. “Once you have been introduced to and know the people of Falls City, sooner or later we pull you in.”
Meanwhile, just down the street two blocks, The Falls City Elks Lodge #963 fundraising committee in August announced that some $400,000 had been secured for its interior remodel. A “wall-breaking” ceremony was held in November. The facility now has a more modern, wide-open look, as well as new plumbing and electrical systems. The Elks Club should be able to accommodate 300 people.
Even Falls City’s furry friends got an upgrade in digs. The Humane Society unveiled a new $80,000, 900-square-foot shelter on West 14th Street in October. The facility is complete with state-of-the-art air conditioning and heating units and kennels for nine roommates.
Falls City EDGE in November announced that Gold Star Sausage Company was planning to expand into FC and expected to hire more than 40 employees at the former Whole Sale Meat and Mickelberry building (810 E. 5th St.).
The company plans to start production of hot dogs and sausages of all varieties in early 2015.