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Top stories of 2021

Miley Worker, 2021 Ms. Fayette County Fair Queen

This year was supposed to be different. COVID was supposed to have been eradicated, and generally, things were supposed to be better.
While some may consider it better than its predecessor, many just viewed 2021 as a continuation of 2020, and many are hoping 2022 will definitely be different.
There were many stories in Fayette County that were newsworthy – from governments, to hospitals, to sports, and more.


It was the beginning of serious health care in Fayette County, and in January, the Fayette County Hospital Annex, build as Dr. Mark Greer Hospital in 1925, was demolished. The demolition, which included a house just to the north of the old hospital, were torn down to make room for additional parking space at Fayette County Hospital.
The statehouse also saw a Facelift, as reported in the first Leader-Union of the year, as new windows and the trim being painted was completed. Thanks to the help of community members in donating and raising money, and local businesses for their work in installing and painting, the Statehouse State Historic Site looks much better as a result of their efforts.
Cars began to line up in the county as more vaccines were made available for residents. Despite having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, lines of cars could still be seen at the Fayette County Health Department as additional doses were made available.
Also, numbers of cases began to decrease, allowing for students to return to school for four days during the week, as determined by the Vandalia School Board in January. Students had been under a hybrid system of part in-person learning and part distance learning.


Fayette County Board challenged Governor J.B. Pritzker to veto the crime reform bill sitting on his desk, which the board felt, was against police officers, especially those in rural areas. County board members had passed a resolution stating as much at their February board meeting.
Fayette County Sheriff Chris Smith publicly announced his resignation in February, during the monthly county board meeting. Chief Deputy Chris Palmer was named as his successor, and Palmer announced his resignation from the position in September. Board members finally named David Russell to succeed Palmer, effective Oct. 1.
The Fayette County CEO sponsored a skate in downtown Vandalia as their business project on Feb. 6 on Fourth Street, next to the Statehouse.
Vandalia saw two institutions in the community either begin or complete fund raising efforts to better the community. The Fayette County YMCA announced it had planned to move on to Phase II of its expansion plans. The facility, once upgrades are completed, will be the largest, area-wise, in the State of Illinois. The fund raising will continue into 2022. Also, Evans Public library completed its fund raising goals later in the year.
Rich Bauer, who had been editor at the Leader-Union for more than four decades announced his retirement near the beginning of February. John Broux of Pana was appointed to assume Bauer’s responsibilities.
The annual Lincoln Dinner, sponsored by the Republican Party, was postponed in February due to COVID restrictions. It was held later in the year, as restrictions were lifted.
Andy Powell, of Brownstown, and of Andy’s Body Repair in Vandalia, appeared on the cover of a national auto repair magazine, Fender Bender. He was featured as a result of him keeping up with current trends in the business.
The Vandalia School Board voted to fully return to in-person learning at the schools, beginning March 15.
A usual winter snowstorm hit the area virtually shutting things down in Fayette County for a day. Snow amounts varied, but many inches accumulated in the overnight storm, with much drifting and blowing.
Chris Sutter of Beecher City announced plans for a waste transfer facility south of Brownstown in late February. The project would lessen the burden on garbage haulers, while many residents in the area of the proposed location protested against it throughout the year. Later, Sutter reworked his plans for the facility, beginning the process over again. A public hearing on the proposal was held in November in which Sutter defended the project in front of the county board. Some errors were on the description of the location, and if Sutter wishes to proceed with the project, these must be corrected and a new application submitted to the county, according to State’s Attorney Josh Morrison.


The Downtown Vandalia Partnership renewed its meetings after a hiatus due to the pandemic. The group was developed out of meetings in order to improve and develop the downtown area.
Three persons were arrested on Friday, March 12 in connection with a child pornography sting in Vandalia. Andrew and Amber Wehrle, were arrested on a follow-up investigation following the arrest of another Vandalia man, Ferrell Kissiar, a week earlier. All of the cases are ongoing in Fayette County court.

Ed Durbin, a 25-year veteran of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, resigned his positon, effective March 15.
James Dierkes, a former Vandalia teacher and coach, had his sexual abuse of a minor case continued throughout 2021, and it is continued to January 2022.
Taylor Dothager, high school senior, addressed the Vandalia School Board, stating her objections, and the objections of many others who signed a petition wanting to return to normal at the school.


Marilyn Truitt was selected as the featured artist for April at Kaskaskia College.
The administrator and board members of the Fayette County Health Department turned in their resignations to the Fayette County Board in April after some disagreements and allegations of a hostile work environment within the department.

Fayette County Hospital

Vandalia Mayor Ricky Gottman is re-elected for his sixth term, and is the longest serving mayor in the town’s history. Also, newly elected was Alina Braning of Ramsey and Kim Baron of St. Elmo, both as mayors. A tie occurred in the Bingham election for village president between Leroy Longwell and Clifford Snider, both of whom received 9 votes. The tie was broken a couple of weeks later as both men drew a number out of the hat, with the lowest number winning. Longwell pulled #1, to win the election.
Chris Palmer was sworn in on April 1 as the new Fayette County Sheriff, succeeding Chris Smith. Palmer served in that capacity until October 1, stating risk factors associated with the criminal justice reform bill as reasons for his resignation.
Morgan Lidy and Carson Lotz were crowned as homecoming queen and king in a dance hosted by parents.
The Vandalia FFA Dairy Judging team was the first of several successes of county schools at the state level. The team, comprised of Elizabeth Cole, Cassidy Anderson, Alexi Hartlieb, Logan Smith and Kyle Miller, finished first as a team, and Anderson took first place individually.
Atlas 46, a new business/industry which recently moved to Vandalia, began its hiring in March. The business could bring upwards of 100 jobs to the community.
Vandalia mourns as it losing its very Abraham Lincoln Portrayer Lewis Clymer.


Dorothy Donley, Pat Click, and Debbie Hobbe were honored as Abe Award recipients during the Greater Fayette Chamber Commerce’s annual banquet. New President Aaron Alderson began his term.
Jessica Carr Martin is the new Assistant States Attorney and Valerie Dothager is the Chief Deputy County Clerk.
Peggy Bowen serves her last day as Vandalia City Clerk on April 30, after 24 years of service.
Jennifer Garrison was named a Superintendent of Distrinction for the Kaskaskia Region of the Illinois Association of School Administrators.
Jason D. McCaslin was found not guilty in Fayette County Court on charges of aggravated criminal abuse. He was released after another charge of criminal sexual abuse was dropped a couple of weeks later.
Cassie Beesley was named as the Woman of the Year by the Vandalia Soroptimist Club.
Howie’s Sixth Street Syndicate announced plans to open the first week of June.
Vandalia School Board announces a return to school for the 2021-22 year on a normal basis.
Sen. Jason Plummer is guest speaker for the postponed Lincoln Day Dinner, held on June 5.


The remains of a Texas man was found in a field near Brownstown. Joel Anthony Mason was believed to have been visiting relatives in the area. His remains were found just north of Route 40 near 1700N Street. The investigation was conducted by Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois State Police.
In perhaps what could be the most important story in a long while for the county, Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital, which has been running Fayette County Hospital, made an offer to purchase the hospital. SBL runs several clinics in Central Illinois, and if approved, the Fayette County Hospital purchase would be the first such purchase by the Coles County hospital. Since, the board has requested an appraisal of all the assets of the Fayette County Hospital District in order to make a decision as to accept the offer.
Bicentennial celebrations for Fayette County were held at the historical museum. Tours, acitvities, and a special presentation from Rep. Blaine Wilhour during the day.
Jerek Wehrle and Morgan Lidy were crowned royalty at the 2021 Prom for Vandalia Community High School.
Evans Library District reaches its goal for the building of a new library, and readied necessary paperwork to turn into the state. Groundbreaking is expected soon after the project is approved by the state.
The South Central Cougars win the IHSA Class 1A State Baseball Championship and is greeted to a hero’s welcome.
Jerek Wehrle was champion in the IWOCA tournament in the 105-pound weight class and Lauren Dothager was the state runner-up in the 126-pound class. Vandalia wrestlers competed in the tournament as an alternative to the IHSA tournament which was canceled due to COVID.


The Fayette County Fair returns after last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic. The fair was greeted by many days of heavy rain, but events generally continued for a successful run. Miley Worker was crowned fair queen and Mabry Booher was crowned Little Miss.
Many school from around the state, and several from the Fayette County area signed a joint letter to state officials urging them to allow schools to decide their own standards in dealing with COVID at the start of the school year.
Tony Thomason stepped down as chief, and after 30 years of service to the Brownstown Fire Department.
Vandalia hosts the summer meeting of the Illinois Municipal League, with meetings, workshops and local tours in and around Vandalia.
Vandalia Mayor Ricky Gottman served as president during the past year – the reason for the meeting being held here.
A sidewalk improvement plan valued in excess of $1 million was received in Vandalia. Accoridng to City Administrator LaTisha Paslay, work could begin sometime within 2022.


The First Christian Church of Brownstown marked its 150th anniversary.
The Hot Rod Power Tour, and nationally famed tour of street rods and like vehicles, travelled through Altamont to Brownstown and beyond in their annual parade through the region. Many from the towns sat and greeted the vehicles as they came through.
Madonna of the Trail Statue gets a new paint job to help protect the statue, on the corn of the Statehouse in Vandalia.
Several area schools defy Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s mask mandate for the new school year. Those who voted to enact their own COVID prevention and preparation programs were sent a letter by the Illinois State Board of Education notifying them they will be put on probation if the policies were not rescinded, and scheduled meetings with each district warned as such. After the meetings, nearly all of the school district voted to comply with the state recommendations.


As schools return to session, parents hold protests against the reversal by the Vandalia school board with regards to the mask wearing policy.
Josie Barnes, former Vandalia student and bowling standout, won the US Women’s Open. She is the daughter of former bowl owner Larry Earnest.
Kendra Craig was confirmed as the Fayette County Health Department Administrator after serving in an interim capacity since the former administrator and several board members resigned earlier in the year.
Brownstown schools were put on temporary lockdown as a result of a shooting in the building’s area. At no time were students or faculty in danger according to officials. The lockdown was taken as a safety precaution.
Vandalia Wrestling Official Bob Culbertson was inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.
Wine and Ale with Abe returns after being canceled in 2020. There was no portrayer of President Abraham Lincoln this year out of respect for Lewis “Abe” Clymer who past earlier in the year.
The Better Newspaper Inc. family and St. Elmo area loses Anna Jean Rhodes, correspondent of many years for the St. Elmo area.
The Gut Check, Gold Star 500, and The Great American Relay all come through the area.
David Russell to assume office of Fayette County Sheriff following the resignation of Chris Palmer effective Oct. 1. Russell will be the third man to hold that position this year.


The Grande Levee returns, as with other area events, after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Leo Krueger and Elizabeth Barenfanger are named royalty for VCHS homecoming week.
Bear-sun, also known as Jesse Larios of Los Angeles, walked through the county during his trek across America to raise money for various causes. The costumed activist was quite the talking point for several days as local residents anticipated his arrival, and during his journey through the area.
Eric Barenfanger completes building of tables at the Old State Cemetery for his Eagle Scout rank.
OctoChem is honored by the state during Manufacturing Month, which is October.
Farm Girl Fabrics opens its door in Ramsey.
The Fayette County Hospital District boards hears the appraisal of hospital assets is expected sometime in December.
The Vandalia Communiy High School Golf team brings home the state championship in the IHSA Class 1A State Golf Tournament. They were greeted by enthusiastic fans at the high school as they return home.


Jim Koonce receives the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Alumni and Friends Foundation.
Conner McCall completes work at 6:35 Food Pantry, in order to qualify for his Eagle Scout rank.
Annie Chandler and Levi Barker were crowned homecoming royalty at Brownstown High School on Nov. 13. The elementary school also recently received a new LED sign.
Vandalia School Board votes to return to local control on COVID mitigations at its monthly board meeting in contrast to state mandates.
Amber Daulbaugh, Vandalia Director of Economic Development, resigns to take a position with a local industry.
Old Tyme Christmas held for three days in Vandalia.
Ramsey Elementary Principal Travis Portz and Vandalia Radio WKRV General Manager Todd Stapleton Excellence in Education Award recipients in the Illinois Principal Association Kaskaskia region.


An EF2 tornado started near Bingham and traveled northeast through the county, passing over Ramsey Lake State Park and a nearby subdivision, causing much destruction. Gov. J. B. Pritzker declared those counties affected by the storms disaster areas. A tornado which moved through the Edwardsville area destroyed part of an Amazon warehouse, and a deadly tornado spawned went through Kentucky, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.
Vandalia Junior High School hosted its first ever wrestling meet as the pilot program began. The program is expected to be a feeder for the high school. The team earned their first wins and the first victory in school history was earned by Eli Waller, by forfeit.
Ramsey teen Isabella Waggoner wins the title of local Miss America Outstanding Teen, and moves on to compete for Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen in June.