Archive for Sunday, December 31, 2000

Y2K a sum of suspense, relief, joy, grief

December 31, 2000



After a tense New Year's Eve in the business world waiting to see whether the Y2K bug would bite, 2000 began with a sigh of relief.

The Journal-World heralded the new year with calm reassurance. "Despite all the hand-wringing over Y2K, not much bad happened Friday night or early today," the front page stated.

After the spring term started, Kansas University reported a decrease in the enrollment of black students, a decline that began in the mid-1980s.

On Jan. 20, the largest American Indian groups in North America met with imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth. Spokesmen for the groups emerged at a news conference to demand his release and clemency.

On Jan. 28, more than 30 residents of Southridge Plaza Apartments were displaced by an afternoon fire. It was the worst of three structure fires that hit Lawrence in a couple of snow-covered days.


February got off to a "smashing" start.

The month began with a legendary rock band, Smashing Pumpkins, signing autographs at Kief's Downtown Music just months before the group broke up.

On the legislative front, Lawrence's Braiden Maidens testified against a proposed state law that would require hair braiders to undergo 1,500 hours of training to be licensed cosmetologists. The Braiden Maidens worked several weekends each year at the Renaissance Festival in Bonner Springs.

Manuel Brown, 20, pleaded guilty to the August 1999 drunken-driving wreck that took the lives of four American Indian passengers.

The debate about the future of U.S. Highway 59 continued. Douglas County commissioners rejected options on the highway's proposed alignment between Lawrence and Ottawa, but the Kansas Department of Transportation said it would proceed with plans to build the new freeway a mile east of its current alignment drawing condemnation from local officials and civic activists.

The month ended on a tragic note. In Oskaloosa, 13-year-old Dakota "Cody" Back was killed in his home shot in the head by a friend fooling around with a 9 mm handgun during an evening of drug use. It was the second violent death of an Oskaloosa teen-ager in less than six months. Camille Arfmann was killed in November 1999.


March winds blew plenty of surprises into Lawrence in 2000.

One of the biggest came from Lawrence Public Schools Supt. Kathleen Williams. At the end of the month she announced she was stepping down for "personal and professional reasons."

The Eudora school district lost its superintendent as well, when Dan Bloom resigned in a mutual agreement with the board of education.

Kansas University fans and alumni were saddened when Dick Harp, KU's legendary men's basketball coach from 1956 to 1964, died at age 81. Roy Williams, KU's current coach, called Harp "Mr. Kansas Basketball."

Also in basketball, Duke ended the KU men's team's hopes in the NCAA tournament with a 69-64 defeat in the East Regional bracket.

The National Labor Relations Board came down on the management at Farmland Industries' Lawrence nitrogen plant. The board said it found evidence of bad faith contract negotiating by Farmland with its union employees.

In Jefferson County, citizens were shocked upon learning more about the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Oskaloosa 13-year-old Dakota "Cody" Back. Other youths and his mother were charged in the case.

At Lawrence's Central Junior High School, a troubled 14-year-old student was arrested for bringing a gun to school.

There was perhaps no bigger surprise than what awaited about 30 people who happened to be in the Driver's License Examining Station on March 24. A 53-year-old woman, apparently upset at having to wait in line, pulled down her pants and urinated on the floor. She was arrested.


April in Lawrence finished with news of the death of John Lowe, a homeless man who was struck by a hit-and-run driver in the alley behind the Community Mercantile at Ninth and Mississippi streets. Lowe was sleeping in the alley early on the morning of April 28 when a car ran him over and dragged him into the street.

The day before, the trial for the accused killer of a 14-year-old Oskaloosa girl wound up with a guilty verdict being returned by a Jefferson County jury. Floyd S. Bledsoe was convicted of the murder of Camille Arfmann in November 1999.

The theft of copies of Kansas University's University Daily Kansan on April 11 led to accusations between rivals for the student body presidency. Eventually four students confessed to the crime.

The same day, university officials were surprised when a federal court jury in Kansas City, Kan., found that KU had retaliated against former art history professor Marie Aquilino for complaints that she was a victim of discrimination. She won $35,000 in damages.

In the first two weeks of the month, famous lawyers visited the KU campus. Clinton prosecutor Kenneth Starr spoke about lessons he had learned investigating the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas offered insights about the high court to law school students.

And fans of Wheatfields Bakery went through withdrawal most of April and several more months after an April 6 fire knocked the store out of business.


Mixed with May's usual abundance of spring flowers was an equally abundant crop of bad news.

On May 5, Lawrence-area media learned a member of the women's soccer team at KU had told police she was groped by two KU football players outside The Yacht Club, 530 Wis., on Feb. 26. Initially, the woman reported the incident to KU head football coach Terry Allen, who, she said, promised to discipline the players. The woman went to police after learning Allen's discipline involved making the players run extra sprints after practice. Allen later apologized for his handling of the incident.

Unable to compete with Lawrence's high-volume grocery stores, Joe Schmidtberger announced plans to close Alvin's IGA.

On May 11, a late-night tornado ripped through Tonganoxie, damaging at least 150 buildings including the city's elementary school. Adding to the devastation, 4-year-old Kaela Humburg was killed during the May 12 cleanup. Kaela was sitting on a porch swing when the roof above her collapsed during efforts to remove a fallen tree limb.

On May 16, Lawrence City Commission approved a controversial tax-abatement package aimed at inducing American Eagle Outfitters to locate a regional warehouse in Lawrence. American Eagle eventually stiffed Lawrence, instead choosing a site in Ottawa.

On May 22, roughly 5,300 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students took part in KU's graduation ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. For the first time, the event used the stadium's giant video board to televise images of the participants.

On May 30, persistent drought conditions caused Kickapoo tribal leaders to announce that their reservation near Horton was two to four weeks away from running out of water.

On May 30, the Lawrence school board ratified a one-year contract for Assistant Supt. Randy Weseman, making him acting superintendent. Weseman replaced Kathleen Williams, who resigned to accept a similar position near her suburban Chicago home.


In June, Kansas University graduate student Craig Sundell unearthed eight Tyrannosaurus rex teeth after two weeks of digging in an east-central Wyoming field. With the help of four other Kansas paleontologists, Sundell also found half the skull and some ribs of the T. rex skeleton he first identified in April. That added up to 55 bones about 15 percent of the 65-million-year-old skeleton. Even 60 percent of the skeleton could draw between $1 million and $4 million from an interested buyer, Sundell said.

Later in the month, the 125 members of the Lake Edun Foundation Edun is "nude" spelled backward butted heads with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce after the organization backed out of a long-planned gathering set for July at the private lake near Topeka. The foundation's members had joined the chamber through their treasurer, Webb Garlinghouse, a Topeka businessman who owns the lake where Edun members hang out. Even though the summer event was to have included clothes for the chamber's sake the organization still got cold feet and canceled.

June ended on a nervous note for Jayhawk basketball fans. On June 30, basketball coach Bill Guthridge of the University of North Carolina announced his retirement, plunging Kansans into speculation that Roy Williams would leave Lawrence to coach at his beloved alma mater. Sources close to Carolina basketball indicated that the job would be Williams' to accept or turn down.


In early July, Roy Williams kept Jayhawk fans in suspense as he weighed his options to stay in Lawrence or leave for North Carolina.

On July 6, a tired-looking Williams said two magical words, "I'm staying." His message was displayed on the Megavision board at Memorial Stadium in front of an estimated crowd of 16,000 fans and was broadcast live on televisions across the nation. Williams cited his players, past and present, in his decision to stay at Kansas.

On July 14, an explosion jolted Farmland Industries Inc.'s nitrogen fertilizer plant on the eastern edge of Lawrence. It was the worst of two such incidents in one week, and nearby residents began to worry. The plant's troubles originally started when a compressor malfunctioned.

A few days later, a rural DeSoto family had a scare when two men impersonating police officers robbed their home. It was the second Lawrence-area case of police impersonation in a month.

After taking a look into the unknown, the University Press of Kansas decided to publish a scholarly book on UFOs called "UFOs and Abductions." The book contains a collection of essays by scholars and researchers studying different areas of the phenomena.

Near Clinton Lake, bird enthusiasts enjoyed a rare peek at a painted bunting, a colorful, elusive sparrow-sized bird. The bird is not common in this part of the country, but some were found nesting near the lake.

At the end of the month, questions into local investigations of American Indian deaths were raised by the city's American Indians, who said the probes dragged on and seldom were concluded. However, local authorities defended their actions and said crimes against American Indians got as much attention as any other crimes.


Triple-digit heat in August withered most of Kansas, prompting record water use and a plea from officials to conserve water.

But it wasn't just the weather that was hot.

Politics sizzled on the national stage with the political party conventions and on the community stage with the Aug. 1 primaries.

The national presidential ticket was set with the nomination of Democratic Vice President Al Gore, who picked as his vice presidential running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the first Orthodox Jew to run on a presidential ticket. Republicans nominated Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who picked former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his running mate.

In Kansas, the GOP primary torched the hopes of two anti-evolution incumbents for the Kansas State Board of Education. A year earlier, the education board adopted science standards for public school students that de-emphasized the teaching of evolution. Two of the three school board members who voted for the proposal and sought re-election Linda Holloway of Shawnee and Mary Douglass Brown of Wichita were defeated in the Republican Party primary.

In the GOP primary for the 3rd District congressional seat, Phill Kline of Shawnee won a three-man race, but was dispatched in November by incumbent Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat.

On Aug. 10, fire destroyed the main building of the Raintree Montessori School, 4601 Clinton Parkway, doing $1.5 million of damage. Within days, school officials found a temporary home in a former Lawrence school district building at 3705 Clinton Parkway. Fire officials have said the cause of the blaze was undetermined, but added that it was probably caused by discarded smoking material that ignited a wastebasket outside the building and then spread to the school.

Dr. Kristen Neuhaus, the Lawrence area's only doctor performing abortions, was told by state officials to stop using sedatives until she followed national standards.

State childcare officials were rocked by reports that the state's adoption contractor, Wichita-based Lutheran Social Services, was near bankruptcy. State officials eventually transferred the adoption contract to another service.

The suspected killers of Kansas University graduate Amy Watkins, 26, were arrested in New York City. Watkins, a social worker in New York, was fatally stabbed in March 1999.


September was a mixture of joy and sorrow.

There was the night at the end of the month that Steve Allen, pioneer of late-night television, entertained a crowd at the Lied Center. And there was Sept. 8, the day 4-year-old Isiaha Hagans of Lawrence died of meningitis.

Lawrence could be proud that LHS graduate Jason Thompson was awarded the medal of valor by the Los Angeles Police Department.

But the Farmers Cooperative Assn., based in Lawrence, filed for bankruptcy. That came after the announcement that 300 jobs were in jeopardy because of the departure of Sallie Mae's Lawrence servicing center and injury of two workers in a fire at Farmland Industries' fertilizer plant.

Pat Berry resigned as Douglas County community corrections director.

The celebration was huge after the KU football team defeated Alabama-Birmingham 23-20 for its first victory of the season just two weeks after being flogged 31-17 in Dallas by SMU.

But victory couldn't dilute sadness that emerged after a survey showed a dozen KU athletes had been sexually assaulted while at the university.

The month couldn't end without news of the bizarre.

Richard Lee Knowlton, a former Kansas Lottery technician accused of stealing $62,000, admitted in a just-free-from-jail interview with the Journal-World that he tampered with computers to turn 12 losing tickets into winning tickets. He said he did it to expose security flaws at the agency.


October unveiled a newsworthy lineup of promotions, allegations, growth estimations and development changes.

Randy Weseman was named superintendent of the Lawrence school district after 25 years in the district. He had been interim superintendent since June, when he took the reins from Kathleen Williams.

After 14 years as a judge on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Lawrence resident Deanell Tacha was tabbed to become the Denver-based court's chief judge in January. The 16-judge panel hears appellate cases from a six-state region that includes Kansas.

Prosecutors declined to press charges against two Kansas University football players who had been suspected of sexually assaulting a female soccer player in February. But a KU administrator issued a report criticizing KU football coach Terry Allen and the school's athletics department for their handling of the situation.

Douglas County sheriff's deputy Ron Wilson, an independent candidate for sheriff, confirmed that he had been suspended from his deputy's job for two days in early 1995 for making a "tasteless, funny little joke" directed at a female intern.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Douglas County was the fastest-growing area in the state, and among the fastest-growing in the country. The county's population swelled to 98,343 as of July 1999, up 20.2 percent from 81,798 in 1990.

Lawrence and Douglas County lost a $35 million economic development deal when American Eagle Outfitters abandoned its embattled plans for a warehouse and distribution center in the East Hills Business Park. It bought a former hardware warehouse in Ottawa instead.

Construction of the Downtown 2000 redevelopment project began, requiring the closure of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street to make way for a new parking garage, arts center and mixture of retail, office and residential space. The temporary loss of parking spaces rankled some business owners.


The mother of a disabled East Heights School student claimed the boy was abused by school staff. The allegation was made public after district officials had suspended Laura Blevins, the school's principal.

Flu vaccine remained in short supply with shots made available only to those considered at high-risk of complications should they get the virus.

Vicki Weseman announced she would resign as principal of Prairie Park School and seek work outside the district to avoid any appearance of favoritism or conflict of interest. Her husband, Randy, earlier was named the district's new superintendent.

Mike Fuqua, a bell ringer for the Salvation Army's annual kettle drive, found out that he might be in need of assistance himself. While Fuqua was out collecting money for the needy, his house caught fire.

Kelly Fisher of Lawrence filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission accusing her former employer, GTECH, of trying to coerce her into digging up dirt on employees at the Kansas Lottery. GTECH works under contract to the lottery.

Kansas University settled with the Internal Revenue Service, agreeing to pay $776,900 in back taxes, penalties and money owed to temporary and student employees. The settlement ended a five-year IRS audit at the university.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued four citations to the Lawrence Farmland Industries plant after finding inadequacies in the plant's policies and procedures. The OSHA review came after a series of summer explosions at the plant.

Two Johnson County men were charged with murder after the beating death of 86-year-old Vivian Johnson of rural Ottawa. Johnson and her husband, Howard, were beaten on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1; Mrs. Johnson died Nov. 18 at a Johnson County hospital.

A federal appeals court ruled that relatives of an electrician who died in a 1997 accident at KPL's Lawrence Energy Center could not seek compensation in the courts. The family of Charles Edward Price had sued Western Resources, KPL's parent company, for wrongful death. A Kansas court held that the only benefits the family could receive as a result of the death were through the workers compensation system. The federal court upheld that decision.


An unusually early cold spell froze area lakes, sending bald eagles to the open water below the Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River in Lawrence.

An early season storm left Lawrence under more than a half-foot of snow. That, in turn, brought about the tale of the 12-foot snowman at 2305 W. 26th St. that withstood assault from a sport utility vehicle. Roommates Brent Ingham and Josh Hernandez built the snowman. They were awakened Dec. 22 by the driver of an SUV trying to push it over in their front yard. The attempt failed.

The city launched its new bus service on Dec. 16, but there were few riders on opening day. Bus officials blamed the snow and cold winds. Ridership had increased to an average of 140 per day by the first week.

The Vinland Living Nativity celebrated its 25th anniversary at a new location: The Vinland Fairgrounds.

Kansas University football assistant coach Darrell Wyatt resigned his job to join the Oklahoma State University Cowboys as passing game coordinator. His resignation came a month after KU head coach Terry Allen announced a promotion for Wyatt.

KU graduate Dean Smith, a native Kansan who became a basketball coaching legend at the University of North Carolina, was named Kansan of the Year by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas.

House Speaker-elect Kent Glasscock announced four new committees in the Kansas House of Representatives, including one dedicated solely to higher education issues.

President Clinton pardoned dozens of convicts in the waning days of his administration, but American Indian activist Leonard Peltier whose defense committee's headquarters are in Lawrence wasn't among them.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center named David Johnson its new chief executive. Johnson, 49, from Iowa, will replace Sandra Shaw, who headed the agency for 21 years.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved a 5.7 percent increase in on-campus housing fees to take effect at KU in fall 2001.

City commissioners voted 4-1 to limit to two the number of unrelated people allowed to live together in homes in single-family neighborhoods.

City, county and state officials continued to squabble over the state's role in completing the South Lawrence Trafficway. City and county officials said they would proceed with a local effort to improve 31st Street and asked the state to butt out.

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